Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dragons loyal to the Comonot are battling those of the Old Ard who want to depose him and return to the days where humans were food. They claim exposure to humans taints dragons, making them impure and in need of having their memories excised. Seraphina, Queen Glisselda, and Prince Kiggins know they must gather allies to help them battle the dragons of the Old Ard in order to save the humans of Goredd, so the Queen sends Seraphina as her emissary to nearby kingdoms to persuade them to provide assistance. The journey has another purpose, however: Seraphina has read of a sort of mind-net that was once created to defend against dragons in a former time, and she resolves to seek out her fellow ityasaari (half dragons) to learn whether such a thing is possible today.
Things do not quite go as planned, of course, and Seraphina learns that another half-dragon, Jannoula, who has the ability to invade and take over the minds of other ityasaari, is searching for the same people Seraphina hopes to find. Jannoula plans to use the mind-net for her own purposes, although uncovering all the twists and turns in her devious plot will be a long, frustrating challenge for Seraphina. One by one, she watches her friends fall under the spell of Jannoula, unable to save them until she learns the secret of unlocking her own mind-fire.
There are so many things to adore about this book, but I think the saving grace for me was that it was so easy to immerse myself instantly in the world Hartman has created, no matter how little time I had to read--including sometimes just the couple of minutes it took to heat my lunch in the microwave. I had to be creative in order to carve out a few minutes (or a whole half an hour!) here and there when I could read, and with Shadow Scale, I could pick up right where I left off and be transported immediately into the world of the story. Rachel Hartman's world-building skills are outstanding.
My second favorite thing was the character development, particularly of Jannoula. You really got to see and feel sympathy for how she came to be so twisted, and you understood the guilt Seraphina felt for her inadvertent role in that. I also loved the variety of characters and relationships, including that they were so seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story.
I also appreciated that not everything was tied up with pretty little bows at the end. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE happy endings. In this case, though, it felt so much more real for some things to be left a little more open-ended. In a war, people are injured and die, and not just "the bad guys." This story takes place during wartime, with some battles occurring far from a traditional battlefield.
Many thanks to NetGalley for the free Advanced Reader's Copy of the ebook for this fantastic sequel to Seraphina!
For readers' advisors: setting, character, and story doorways are strong. Language, too, given the many words Hartman has invented. There is no sex, and if I recall correctly, any swearing uses made-up words or phrases. The violence is not at all graphic and mostly happens "off-screen." It's LGBT-friendly.
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