You can tell because I’m sitting on a backwards-facing chair while I write this, like we’re pals on a 90s sitcom. See, the truth is, you don’t know me. This is only my third blog post, after all. How could you? (Unless you’re my husband* – in which case, Ash, you’ve heard and are bored of this rant. You can skip ahead to the footnote where I tell everyone how cool you are.)
My point is: You don’t know that I am tired as hell of YA authors birthing triplets. Most trilogies – within the recent trend – are unnecessarily drawn out, poorly paced, and simply not suited to the form. Given that fact, I was pretty surprised when I found out that the follow-up to Rachel Hartman’s “Seraphina” was being marketed as a companion novel rather than the second of three books – especially since Hartman wrote a series that could’ve used the extra word count.
=SPOILERS START HERE=
The titular character of “Seraphina” is a sixteen-year-old court musician trying very hard to keep her head down. It’d be easier if the court wasn’t in chaos: someone has murdered a crown prince of the realm, and it was probably a dragon. You can roll your eyes here if you want; I did. But Hartman has a knack for understanding that non-human beings have distinctly non-human priorities, and her dragons don’t disappoint. Neither, for that matter, does her world-building.
I usually make fun of books that make up too many words, yet “Seraphina” and its companion, “Shadow Scale” have the necessary heft to balance Hartman’s linguistic creativity.
“Seraphina” didn’t surprise me with its plot twists, but I didn’t mind. The discovery that Seraphina herself is a half-dragon, that there are others, etc., was well within what might be expected. Supporting characters were nicely developed and romance, while present, didn’t play more than a minor role. Nonetheless, I was excited to find “Shadow Scale” on my list of March releases, in part because of this good first (novel) impression.
The presence of gay and trans characters (it’s like they’re real, normal people!) was a major plus**, along with the diversity of race, ability, and age within the cast***. The plot moved in both expected and gut-punching directions. I was well invested in what Hartman had set up: so much so that my little sister was left baffled when she met me for lunch and found me tearing up over my Kindle. Basically, “Shadow Scale” lived up to my expectations – in all ways but one.
Rather than showing her readers how things ended – Seraphina’s romantic decisions, the fate of her fellow half-dragons, etc. – Hartman wraps up “Shadow Scale” with a final chapter that vaguely added up to “and they all lived happily ever after.” In particular, the fate of Orma, Seraphina’s uncle, is left dangling in an epilogue that was as brief as it was dissatisfying.
Worse, it felt like there was (gasp) a trilogy’s worth of material in these books, which means I have to eat my words. Two books was not enough, not here. But a clunky ending can’t totally mar what was an otherwise fun, charming read. “Seraphina” and “Shadow Scale” are well worth any weaknesses in execution Hartman experienced.
Four sparkly wands out of five.
* Full Disclosure: We’re not actually married. Ashley is my husband because I’m her wife; she buys the beer, I buy the Doritos, and we watch Supernatural while we paint our nails. It’s the perfect friendship.
** When lgbt characters show up as more than sideshow attractions (Look at the freaks! See how they live!) I automatically love a book about 1,000% more. I don’t penalize books for being non-inclusive, but when inclusivity is done right I want to sing from the rooftops.
*** If this was a book report, I’d talk about how “different =/= weird and horrible” is a theme in these books, and how happy it makes my heart. Suffice to say I want to go back in time and give these to my teenage self with a Lisa Frank Post-It: “SEE? YOU WILL BE FINE.” More of this, please.