I don’t know if Double Feature Tuesday will be a thing, but I will definitely try! For my first Double Feature Tuesday, we will take a look into the Seraphina duology. Shadow Scale just came out today, March 10th, 2015!
To summarize in one sentence: A fantasy about dragons that can assume human form.
The world of Seraphina is a rich and beautiful one, though it is not without its conflicts. Written by Rachel Hartman, these books are heavy lifting for the mind. Every page is filled with details, from the Saints that inspire the humans in the Southlands to the strange devices used by the dragons. Seraphina will dazzle everyone at first as this is the kind of book that gets straight into the point without much explanation. Readers will have to use context clues or use the glossary provided in the back of the book to keep up with the beginning, but I promise it is worth learning the terms. I say this as a person that usually despises glossaries in fantasy books, which usually turns me off to fantasy books in general.
Ooo, look. The Australian cover for Seraphina.
So let’s dive into the first book in the Seraphina series, which is named… Seraphina! As you may have guessed, Seraphina is the main character in this title. She is an assistant to the court musician Viridius at the young age of 16, music tutor to Princess Glisselda, and was tutored, herself, by Orma. She is quite accomplished, but she does have a secret which causes her to feel some anxiety as a public figure. She is only half human on her father’s side. On her mother’s side, Seraphina is half dragon complete with a band of silver scales around her left forearm and on her back. Her existence is taboo, as the humans and dragons have a tenuous relationship.
A bit of history about the humans and dragons: A very long time ago, the dragons used to hunt in the Southlands. One day, humans started to take over the area that would be known as Goredd, which drastically reduced their hunting areas. This caused war between the humans and the dragons. Forty years before the start of Seraphina, the Ardmagar, leader of the dragons, Comonot and the young Goredd Queen Lavonda struck a peace between the two races. From this agreement came a treaty, which does involve forbiddening dragon and human from coming together. However, in the works of the Saints, basically their Bible, the Saints warn humans against loving dragons or laying with them.
So Seraphina’s existence is taboo for two reasons: it is illegal in the first place and the Saints, themselves, forbid it. To make her life harder, her patroness saint is St. Yirtrudis, labeled the heretic. We do not know why she is labeled as such, but what is clear is that her works are not included in the bible for the humans that worship the Saints.
These details don’t even scratch the surface which is the depth of the world in Seraphina. Reader, if you are into world building and worlds that seem to be alive, this is definitely a read for you!
The central conflict in Seraphina is the death of Prince Rufus, as his head seems to have been bitten off. If true, only a dragon could have done it. This leads to a dilemma and an increase in the tension already present between man and dragon. Clearly killing humans and ripping off their heads is illegal, but doing it to royalty is literally asking for trouble. This murder occurs a couple of weeks before the visit of Ardmagar Comonot, and incites the violence from Sons of St. Ogdo, who are vehemently anti-dragon.
Seraphina, with her unique knowledge of dragons, tries to investigate, in her own way, to figure out who could have murdered the prince. She is soon accompanied by Prince Lucian Kiggs, Kiggs for short, and they work together to solve the case.
And still that isn’t even everything about Seraphina there is to talk about! Still, I highly recommend reading Seraphina. It is a fantasy murder mystery about dragons in its most loose description. Add in mind spaces, politics, the strange way dragons behave, and the relationships between the characters… this book definitely has something for everyone.
Shadow Scale the long, long awaited sequel to Seraphina came out today, March 10th, 2015. Why do I say long awaited? Seraphina came out in 2012 and the ending made it clear that war would happen. I won’t say between who or who is involved, but Seraphina herself would be at the very least. Suffice to say, a lot of people are rejoicing today.
I was lucky enough to earn my e-ARC of Shadow Scale from Netgalley, and I literally only finished Shadow Scale on March 8th. Or 12 AM March 9th if you want to get picky. Shadow Scale, as you may have guessed, is similar to Seraphina in its big scope. While Seraphina did a lot of the world building, Shadow Scale shows us the other human countries in the Southlands. This is incredibly juicy to read, as every country has its own personality, language, and their own versions of the Saints or even separate gods altogether. The novel even has a map at the front of it so you can know where Seraphina is located relative to everything else.
Shadow Scale is around a little over 600 pages, and with the amount of depth in this book even a fast reader will find themselves having to stop to take a breather. The novel is intense in detail, character growth, and the cast of characters also grows. Seraphina visits nearly every landmark you see on the map and it was exhausting to take the journey with her, in a good way.
In this title, Seraphina takes it upon herself to locate the other half-dragons, or Ityasaari as popularized by the Porphyrians, in a hopes to help the war effort. All of the Ityasaari seem to have a special gift, and her’s is her ability to connect with other Ityasaari with her mind. As she travels and locates the other Ityasaari, she has a run in with one which she doesn’t seek. The one named Jannoula. Jannoula was briefly described in the first book, but it wasn’t fully explored. In Shadow Scale, we learn that Jannoula tried to seize control of Seraphina’s mind at one point causing Seraphina to fully close off her mind to Jannoula and others that might try the same.
My favorite part of the book had to be in Porphyry, the city-state that Abdo is from. Abdo is such a fun character, a mischievous little boy, and seeing the culture of his people solidified why he behaved as he did. The Porphyrians are hard to describe. They have 6 or 7 different gender pronouns, and do have a day in their life where they choose their gender. It was really interesting to read about a place like that as I can’t think of any place in the world that is so open. What makes this section especially humorous is Seraphina’s inability to speak their language. She says the funniest things as she tries to communicate with the people.
My recommendation is to definitely try to read Seraphina. While Shadow Scale has an introduction which can fill the ‘What’ of the first book, it doesn’t fill in the world. Seraphina is definitely worth trying. If you love Seraphina, then you absolutely have to read Shadow Scale. It is an expansion of the world we knew from Seraphina, but some how even richer than before. However, there is one section that might cause people to feel upset.
Spoiler-Ish Section for Shadow Scale!!! I won’t reveal anything too sensitive, but it might spoil some things for some readers!
——At the end of Shadow Scale, Seraphina goes back to Goredd and it is here that some readers may have issues. Personally, I didn’t enjoy reading about some characters being powerless, some characters came off off-character, and overall I didn’t enjoy this section of the book very much. While there is a ‘final battle’ sort of situation which occurs, I had to go back and reread certain scenes of it, because I felt very confused and thought ‘Uh, what happened now?’ Finally, there is the absolute ending and Your Mileage May Vary in your love for it. While I think it was a realistic ending, many readers may find it unromantic and might find themselves upset about it. Many themes in Seraphina revolve around secrets, truth, hiding, and being open. The ending seems to choose secrets, lies, and hiding.——
End of Spoiler-Ish Section.
Overall, I would rate this series a 5/5 if I had to give it a rating. It is an imaginative, full world filled with history, politics, and culture. While there are some problems in the very last section of Shadow Scale it doesn’t devalue the work overall and it still makes for good reading.
Hope to hear from people and their opinions on this series!