Book Description from Goodreads:

Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, a New York Times bestselling YA fantasy, was my favorite debut novel of 2012. It hooked me with one of the more gripping prologues I’ve read, and it continued to be both well written and compulsively readable. Furthermore, the world and characters had depth, and Seraphina herself was a wonderful, compelling character. This long-awaited sequel, Shadow Scale, was one of my highly anticipated 2015 releases. However, I found it disappointing when compared to Seraphina, though I did enjoy it with some reservations.

On the surface, Shadow Scale seemed like it should have appealed to me more than Seraphina. It’s a darker novel and not everything ends up being 100% happy in the end, plus it features a fantastic villain. The sequel also expands on the world introduced in the first book, both through exploration of its cultures and the abilities and history of the half dragons. While the writing wasn’t as beautifully phrased as in the previous novel, it’s still a well-written book with some occasional humor and a few great scenes. Yet it never charmed me as much as the first book and its more intimate story of Seraphina and her struggles as a half dragon—mainly because Seraphina herself was not as compelling. She is more of an observer and messenger than a living, breathing character in her own story in Shadow Scale.

I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts on Seraphina’s character since I wouldn’t call her passive. She’s still courageous and has no qualms about going out and doing what she thinks needs to be done. When she wants to find the other half dragons both for herself and the good of the kingdom, she goes to find them. When someone close to her is in need of rescue, she joins the rescue mission. Seraphina is certainly a character who acts; however, her main role in the story seems to be observing and gathering knowledge. While her decisions have potential to change the course of the story, they largely fail to have any impact and seem to serve more as a way of introducing other characters, showing more of this vast world, or putting her in the right place at the right time to learn what she needs to know. While I appreciate that this is often realistic since plans do not always unfold exactly as hoped, I also felt like it meant reading a lot of pages with very little payoff—and that the story was not really about Seraphina even though she’s the main character. It’s more about the other half dragons and the war, and Seraphina’s own story seems secondary to the rest.

Seraphina does have her own struggles that need to be resolved, particularly unlocking her own half dragon abilities, but this is an outward problem rather than an inward one that causes personal growth. This issue is very quickly resolved toward the end of the book with no time to explore what it truly means to her instead of simply what happened to her. I like sequels to show more character development and build on the characters from the first book, and I didn’t think this one did that in a satisfying way with Seraphina or the other major characters. Kiggs and Glisselda, the more memorable characters from the first book, were not in this book as much. The romantic tension between Seraphina and Kiggs is carried forward, but I felt they had more spark when they were in the getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship (which is not unrealistic but is also not as fun to read). Glisselda had one of the standout scenes in this book—but it was also very frustrating because what happened was dropped and never came up again. This could have been addressed so easily, and it was very frustrating that there wasn’t just one more scene or even a little examination of one vague line that was a complete cop-out since it was one of the first person narrator’s thoughts. Even aside from this one particular instance, I would have liked Glisselda to have been a bigger part of the book since I was pleasantly surprised by her development by the end of Seraphina.

Although I was disappointed that more wasn’t done with some of the characters I’d come to know in the previous book, there was one very intriguing new character—Jannoula, the villain. She’s a competent, intelligent strategist and a master manipulator, both due to her mind powers and her ability to accurately assess people. Jannoula doesn’t have a single shred of kindness or compassion, but it’s difficult not to feel at least a little sorry for her. She’s been treated terribly from the moment she was born, and it makes sense that she became the person she did. Learning about her past with Seraphina was one of my favorite parts of the book.

While Shadow Scale was somewhat enjoyable due to its fascinating villain and revelations about half dragons, it was not as captivating as Seraphina largely because she and the other familiar characters were not as memorable as in the previous book. While I appreciated the wider scope in Shadow Scale, the books I love most have characters that come alive—and this book fell short in that area.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

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