Tag Archives: Sequel

On Rachel Hartman’s “Shadow Scale” (Seraphina #2)

31 Mar

Shadow Scale [2015] by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale [2015] by Rachel Hartman

I am notoriously bad at finishing series. Fourteen-book Wheel of Time was no problem for me, but I generally take two to five years to finish a trilogy. There was no doubt in my mind, though, that I would be reading the sequel to award-winning young adult novel Seraphina. Rachel Hartman’s beefy Shadow Scale hit the shelves on March 10 and, while not with the fanfare of something like Twilight, thrilled a lot of readers who waited patiently (or not so patiently) for the continuation of the story of Seraphina Dombegh, the world’s favorite half-dragon girl. In book two of the Seraphina series, our hero confronts more of her own personal demons while trying to gather a force of others like her to save Goredd from an impending invasion of dragons. If Seraphina can’t come to terms with her own flaws in time, the land she knows and loves will be absolutely burninated.

In Seraphina [2012], the titular protagonist lived two lives: a public life as a court musician for the royalty of Goredd, and a private life as the progeny of human and dragon parents. While struggling to keep her taboo parentage a secret from her highly prejudiced countrymen, Seraphina finds herself wrapped up a murder investigation with the kind and bookish Prince Lucian Kiggs. Together, the unlikely pair must solve a mystery and navigate their way through increasingly hostile dragon-human relations in an era of fragile peace. But another discovery will change Seraphina’s life forever: the combination of dragon and human biology imbues her with extraordinary gifts … and she isn’t alone.

In Shadow Scale, Seraphina’s mixed race is out in the open. The people of Goredd struggle to come to terms with Seraphina’s birthright; the dragons must come to terms with the breakout of civil war between the conservative, racist Old Ard and the human-sympathizers; and Seraphina must come to terms with the fact that she isn’t the only person of mixed parentage. Her fast friends Kiggs and his betrothed Queen Glisselda hold down the proverbial fort while Seraphina ventures outside the realm of Goredd to search for the other half-dragons known as ityasaari. She plans to bind the ityasaari together to defend Goredd and her allies from the attacks of the genocidal Old Ard, but not all are willing to leave their respective hiding places–whether out of fear or hatred of the human society that rejected them for their biological makeup. As Seraphina crosses the plains of Ninys and the rainy mountain ranges of Samsam, she realizes she isn’t the only one trying to unite the ityasaari. Some strange force is bending the minds of Seraphina’s fellow half-dragons to an unknown and nefarious will. Can our hero be the savior of her people, defend Goredd, and fight this new mysterious power? Can she do all this without great and heartbreaking loss?

Mount Rainier

Seraphina searches out the other ityasaari through the mountainous terrain of Goredd’s neighboring countries. (Photo from “Ed Suominen“)

Hartman tackles a difficult topic in Shadow Scale that she had just barely touched the tip of in Seraphina: finding community. Seraphina grew up an outcast in her own home and survived adolescence by essentially closeting her identity. Now that she is outed, she wants nothing more than to find her true family by seeking out the ityasaari. The community she finds redefines her understanding of the meaning of belonging, but the relief she feels at finding it resonated with personal experiences of my own. Young people can expect to go through rough patches and sometimes feel utterly alone and misunderstood (that’s called hormones, kids), but there are some among us who feel extra alien, extra “other,” in a way that our traditional communities couldn’t possibly fathom. Seraphina addresses her otherness with a militant plan to unite ityasaari in forced communion. She might discover that people hate being bullied almost as much as they hate loneliness.

Not willing to pull any punches in her second book ever, Hartman also uses her fantasy realm of dragons and saints to comment on the power and folly of religion. Don’t get me wrong: Shadow Scale isn’t some didactic bludgeon of a book, but Seraphina comes across dangerous discoveries during her travels through the countryside, and some of those discoveries have her questioning the very foundations of her faith. The saints of Goredd are worshiped and served like deities but may not be all that they seem. Seraphina’s beliefs may waver if she can’t separate faith from religion.

The combination of Seraphina’s quest to reunite the ityasaari, the mystery of the Goreddi saints, the ongoing dragon civil war, the rivalry with the cloaked mind-controller, and a secret romance can overwhelm readers. The plot of Shadow Scale is overfull and not as tightly managed as its predecessor. I wonder if Hartman was unwilling to break the story up into two novels instead of one, wary of falling into the fantasy author syndrome of never-ending series. The author claims Seraphina’s story is a duology, but I’m hopeful we see more of the dragons and of Goredd, especially after all of the thorough world-building Hartman accomplished. Considering how she handled Shadow Scale‘s epic finale, Hartman proved to have cut her teeth and is ready for grander things.

The ityasaari aren't the only findings Seraphina comes across in her voyage. The truth of the ityasaari also poses a threat to the foundations of Goredd's saint-based religion.

The ityasaari aren’t the only findings Seraphina comes across in her voyage. The truth of the ityasaari also poses a threat to the foundations of Goredd’s saint-based religion. (Photo from “IBBoard“)

Read It: If you’re into the whole “half-dragon, half-human racial and social commentary set in a fantasy framework” thing, or if you’re just looking for entertainment with a fresh voice, you will want to read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and Shadow Scale. The series’ protagonist leads readers through an imaginative new world in which dragons and humans struggle to coexist, but Hartman’s accessible prose and wry humor keeps this fantasy story grounded. The Seraphina series connects readers of all ages with a character who is challenged to find a balance between two very different worlds and still find an identity all her own.

Don’t Read It: Don’t read Shadow Scale if you haven’t read the first book. That is literally the only reason I can think of not to read this book. In actuality, though, this novel is defined as a young adult novel, but some of the themes in both books of the Seraphina duology are a little heady for a younger child. Shadow Scale especially includes some rather dark trauma.

Similar Books: Thank God the young adult world is seeing its fare share of books with strong female heroines. If you’re looking for some more spunky, butt-kicking leading ladies, check out the Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword (the second in a series, but it stands alone), Malinda Lo’s Ash, Kay Kenyon’s A Thousand Perfect Things (even though this is not YA), or Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. Of course, don’t forget to read the predecessor to this book, Seraphina.

Shadow Scale is only the second book Rachel Hartman has written, but it's as indicative as her debut that more great books are to come!

Shadow Scale is only the second book Rachel Hartman has written, but it’s as indicative as her debut that more great books are to come!

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On Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch, #2)”

11 Nov

After receiving incredible reception for her first novel Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie very quickly turned out the Imperial Radch sequel Ancillary Sword. I’m guessing she’s just a greedy S.O.B and her Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards weren’t enough for her, because Leckie will most likely rake in a few more with this novel. Ancillary Sword continues the story of Breq, a ship’s artificial intelligence program in a human shell of a body. Once made up of hundreds of bodies that crewed a massive troop carrier, Breq is now a single body with a single mind, and that single mind has set her on a quest for revenge against the empire that destroyed her life. In a similar captivating fashion that made Ancillary Justice such a success, Leckie delivers an entertaining sequel that only serves to make me love Breq and her supporting cast even more.

After uncovering a millennium-old conspiracy that threatens to tear the Imperial Radch apart from the inside, Breq leaves Omaugh Palace on a ship of her own, now the Fleet Captain of Mercy of Kalr with Seivarden as one of her three lieutenants. Breq’s mission is to find and protect the sister of her beloved Lieutenant Awn Elming, over whom she spent much of the first novel lamenting. But when Fleet Captain Breq and her new crew arrive in the Athoek system, they are met with more dangerous conspiracy with an underlying culture of socioeconomic prejudices that stand between our AI hero and her goals. Between the hostile environment, sociopath heiresses, and an emotional baby lieutenant foisted on her by the Lord of the Radch herself, Breq has her work cut out for her. Luckily, she just happens to be the most badass ancillary in the universe.

Athoek Station and the planet below gains its notoriety for the high quality tea it provides to the Radch, an important commodity that separates the “civilized” (the literal translation of “Radchaai”) from the “uncivilized.” Foremost in the industry is Citizen Fosyf Denche who has a near monopoly on the tea plantations planet-side. The station governor and station security head Captain Hetnys seem to be in cahoots with the wealthy Fosyf, and all seem set on disrupting Breq’s plans, ambitious as they are. After all, Breq only wants to save Awn’s sister, bring socioeconomic equality to the universe, and defeat both factions of a warring, multi-system galactic empire, but for some reason, people won’t just let her do it.

On the tea plantations "downwell" on Athoek, the near slave-conditions of the Valskaayans are made clear to Breq.

On the tea plantations “downwell” on Athoek, the slavery conditions of the Valskaayans are made clear to Breq, and the discovery of missing Valskaay transport ships points to something more sinister.

Leckie stutters through an introduction as she brings AJ‘s story line back into focus for the sequel, and then proceeds to spend the majority of the book on a subplot of socioeconomic challenges on Athoek that has tenuous connection to the overarching–and much more captivating–plot of the conspiracy that threatens the Radch’s existence. AS seems to lack the same forethought and sophisticated plot design as AJ, which I attribute entirely to the fact that Leckie churned this sequel out a mere 12 months and six days after the publication of AJ.

Despite the plot structure feeling a tad wobbly, Breq is still a fascinating voice to read, despite the novelty of her nature as an ancillary worn off. Seivarden is still present but takes a back seat to Breq’s new supporting cast, and Breq’s relationship with them, her own unique voice, and the pervasive and captivating sorrow present in everything she does is all enough to keep AS successful. Leckie spends less time on building out the Radch universe, and less time developing the unique personality of Breq, who appears more like a kindly philosopher-king meting out justice and infallible wisdom to the less fortunate humans of Athoek Station, and spends more time with her social commentary and building an argument for socioeconomic equality.

The plot escalates as Fleet Captain Breq begins uncovering a case of bodies missing from storage.

The plot escalates as Fleet Captain Breq begins uncovering a case of bodies missing from storage.

Nevertheless, continuing Breq’s saga and reading the now-familiar cadence of her thoughts were enough to balance the unwieldiness of the plot flow, and there wasn’t anything in this universe that was going to stop me from enjoying more Imperial Radch action. The true tragedy of reading Ancillary Sword is it’s the harbinger of the trilogy’s end.

Rumors has it that the third book doesn’t have to be the end of the Radch, though: apparently someone bought options for a TV adaptation. But this is one book I don’t want to see adapted for any kind of screen. Unless, of course, networks suddenly give the green light to a bunch of beautiful, polyamorous, pansexual, androgynous astronauts being fabulous together, and I honestly don’t think this society is ready for that much fabulousness, which means they’re going to botch it and I’ll be the saddest girl in the world.

Read this book if … you read Ancillary Justice. Read Ancillary Justice if you’re tired of status quo sci-fi and bro-driven hero stories. Ann Leckie flips it upside down with the first installation of the Imperial Radch series, and Ancillary Sword is worth the read if only to immerse one’s self in the universe for another several hundred pages.

Don’t read this book if … you need to feel the g-forces of a spaceship dogfights or smell the singe of laser blasts. AS, like its predecessor, doesn’t get the heart pounding until the end (and then you’ll just about pass out from hyperventilation), and instead relies on its characters and the inherent mystery of the series-arching plot to carry readers through.

This book is like … few other books. I may not be well versed enough in the science fiction genre to compare this book to anything other than its own prequel, Ancillary Justice, because its characters are relatively unique and Leckie discovered a new way to discuss artificial intelligence. I compared the first Imperial Radch novel to Kazuo Ishiguro because of his similar style and penchant for stories of heartbreaking regret. AS is completely different, leaning more toward conspiracy thrillers.

I wanted to know what other beautiful things could come from Ann Leckie's mind. Wish = fulfilled.

I wanted to know what other beautiful things could come from Ann Leckie’s mind. Wish = fulfilled (mostly).