Monday, August 8, 2016

Review - Shadow Scale

Original Title: Shadow Scale
Series: Seraphina, #2
Author: Rachel Hartman
Published: March10th, 2015

Publisher: Random House Children's Books


What happened here? How this went down so fast, and practically imploded? I gave Seraphina a five stars review, ready to jump over the second book of the series, and now I just have to be honest. Thank God this story has ended because I’m not sure if I would want to read a third book.

The first book was so good! I still don’t understand how it could go down like that. But I need to clarify I few things. The only reason I liked Shadow Scale only a little bit  is because I was seriously engaged since chapter one. I was so eager to find out more, after the previous book’s ending, that I sat and read for hours, passing the pages and wanting to know more. The world building is amazing. The geography, the religions, the languages, and the five nations of the land, each of them with their own traditions, cultures, buildings, royalties, and laws. I truly applaud that. It is a full display of imagination put to good use. Well done, Rachel Hartman!

But... Well, here we go to the not to so pleasant part. This book falls flat in many parts. The whole traveling thing is good, but tiring, and sometimes Seraphina’s thoughts are worthy of a slap on her face. She spends half of the book blaming herself for everything that is possibly wrong in the world, and the other, wandering in her mind garden. I didn’t think Jannoula would be so important for this story, given that she’s only mentioned briefly in the first book, but her appearance and materialization as the new villain is well developed. I didn’t fully like the whole mind-possession thing, but it is well done, and it keeps the suspense of the story, because Seraphina never really knows who she’s talking to; it could be her half-dragon friend (one of the ityasaari), or it could be Jannoula using her/his body. It was engaging enough as to keep me reading, and I truly grew to hate Jannoula, something we should feel for a villain, right? In that way, the job is well done. She has an interesting, terrible backstory, and overall, she’s a great villain.

I liked the fact that we could meet the other half-dragons whose images lived in Seraphina’s mind garden. Every single one was unique and fascinating, as they grew up in different realms, and had different ways to see the world. There’s some of them I felt quite curious about, and wanted to know more, like Od Fredricka, the muralist, and the Porphyrian twins, Gaios and Gelina, but there was no deepening in their stories, sadly. My favorite of all the ityasaari was Abdo, I really wanted him to find happiness, because he was strong, a natural born fighter, and I liked the fact that he finally could find the voice his scales denied him. His story, though, doesn’t fully explain what happened after the ending of the war, we only get a part of his plan upon going back to Porphiry and reunite with his priestess mother. However, his character’s development turned out to be, in a way, better than Seraphina’s. And let me explain why.

I’m not trying to get into the details, but Shadow Scale is one of those books in which you say “This was going so well, why did you do that?”. And in a bad way. I had so much hopes in a good romance, given that both Seraphina and Lucian fell in love in the previous book, and though from the prologue itself I could infer they were not going to end up together, I still had the hope that I had misread something, or that it was still too early to get to some sort of conclusion. But the romance in this book, that I loved so much in the first one, grossed me out. Seriously. I’m sorry that I put so much praise to it in my review of the first book, but it was good then, I didn’t imagine it would get ruined like this. There were things that simply were NOT NECESSARY. The brief moments Seraphina and Kiggs spent together were full of the things they shouldn’t do, feeling guilty afterwards, and I ended up completely unfazed by them. They love each other, right? But they don’t fight for their love, though I had the hope that they would at some point.

Don’t get me wrong. They way Seraphina and Lucian Kiggs’ story ended wasn’t the conventional one. But I hated it. And I would like to clarify thatunconventional doesn’t have to be a synonym for disgusting. On my review of the first book I mentioned the admirable fact that Seraphina, even with all her problems and the things about herself she needed to hide, still kept her dignity and wasn’t ashamed for who she was. But here, only a couple of months after the story told in the previous book, that dignity just flew over the window. When Glisselda suddenly kissed Seraphina, she discovered something about herself, but we are not told what that is (and in a way, I think is for the best). My first reaction, after that scene left me startled, was just “Seriously?”. And here we go again with the not necessary things. I didn’t see that coming, but I could have accepted it if that revelation had added something relevant to the story. We don’t get hints before, and no resolution after it. Well, we do get some sort of resolution, but I would hardly call it that. Lucian and Glisselda got married, as expected, but I just couldn’t accept the fact that they loved each other as brother and sister, and still went through with the wedding. Couldn’t she just reign on her own, and then, pass the throne to Kiggs as next heir? He disappointed me. I thought he was better than that. And that ending, oh my God! Keeping Seraphina as his mistress, all the while married to a lesbian? And Seraphina, agreeing with it? What kind of ending is that? Is it supposed to be a happy ending? What happened to her dignity, that now she’s happy to be his lover all the while he’s married to someone else –who, by the way, is in love with Seraphina herself? Could it be even more awkward? I seriously thought they were both smarter than that. I mean, she lived every day, during the first book, saying that her circumstances forced her to live a lie, and she didn’t like it, right? But now, she’s has no qualms about jumping headfirst to another big (and disgusting) lie, and, moreover, being happy about it! In which moment did Seraphina turn into a walking contradiction?

As for the story around Orma, I have mixed feelings about it. I deduced from the very start that there was some kind of relationship developing between him and Eskar, and during the whole book I shared Seraphina’s concern about him. But again, I just can’t say I liked it. Everything about him is an assumption. And by everything I mean, everything. Seraphina discovers his work in the Porphyrian Bibliagathon, but no certainty about his whereabouts, having only a short letter, stating he’s alive. They don’t know if he was seized by the Censors, and if his memories were erased or not, but they say it could be possible that he created a mind-pearl to preserve his memories. After all, I guess that was what the ring he left to Seraphina meant; but again, we don’t know for sure. I hated that his story didn’t get solved. At least Seraphina doesn’t give up on him, but that’s all there is. No memory regaining, and no happy reunion between niece and uncle. And I don’t like stories left in suspense like that.

Oh, and another thing. One of the best parts in the first book were Seraphina’s feelings (and those she created) while playing her music. It was truly magical, artistic, and it was wonderful to read it. But in this book, her music appears on the background, she only plays when she has time. One would think that such a talented musician, who sees such depth in art, would find a refuge in her music, given the sorrow and trouble Seraphina goes through, and would gladly indulge some moments only to play, as in the first book. Her music was a world in itself, but here it doesn’t get much space. Sadly, because I liked that.

If Orma’s story could have ended well, at least the book wouldn’t have been such a disappointment. At least Seraphina was able to discover her true power as a ityasaari, and use it to defeat Jannoula. And I knew that scaly slug she called Pandowdy was going to be important, as it was the only one she didn’t find in her travels. But still, his appearance as a giant Saint who took Jannoula away made me think more of a video game (those who have played Age of Mythology: Age of the Titans, will understand; remember when you need to command your army and fight a titan that cannot be killed, holding on until the help arrives?).

I can’t shake that feeling that the whole book could have been so much better. I can’t believe someone has that idea of “romance”, and I’m still trying to understand if it was a happy ending or not. It had good things, as I said, but the bad things were overwhelming, in a not so good way. I mean, when I think about the book in the future, that’s what I’m going to remember, sadly. 

The worst part of the whole thing is that the first book was excellent, but something happened along the way that lead to an unsatisfactory ending, inappropriate for a YA novel, in my opinion. But, well, it is not the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. I hate to say it, but it is true. Sorry, this is not for me.


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