Tag Archives: Seraphina

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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LitBeetle’s Top 10 Books of 2014

6 Jan

Another year passes and another ten trillion books made their weaselly way onto my reading list, but I managed to read 39 of them, so Sisyphus ain’t got nothin’ on me. It was a science fiction-heavy year, and this is a science fiction-heavy list, but I’m unapologetic! Bring on the Future! Of the books I read and reviewed in 2014, here are my top ten.

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10. The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe goes full Twilight Zone in this Kafkaesque novel about futility. In a nightmarish series of events, a professional man on holiday stumbles into a dune-side village and finds himself a prisoner at the bottom of a sand pit where he must continuously shovel sand to keep from being buried alive.   Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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9. Seraphina by Rebecca Hartman

Strong female heroine? Check. Compelling subplots of socioeconomic and racial differences? Check. Positive message about body image? Check. Dragons? Check, CHECK, CHECK. Rachel Hartman is building a beautiful universe with Seraphina, the first of this young adult series, filled with complex politics and shape-shifting dragons. Seraphina is a young court musician who must hide her mixed lineage from a bigoted society, but for all her efforts, the young resourceful girl still wraps herself up in a murder mystery and the deadly politics of two nations on the verge of all out war.   Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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8. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Twilight fiends beware: Dracula is not the inspiration for the glittering, abusive boyfriend of Stephanie Meyer’s blockbuster hit. This is the story of one man’s PTSD after encountering one of the most horrific predators in literature. If you don’t think you can handle the fear, the darkness, the soul-sucking solitude of Bram Stoker’s classic, don’t panic–Dr. Abraham Van Helsing will make sure you survive the night.    Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

 There are few things I love to read more than stories wealthy, entitled young people leading lives of wanton excess and torturing themselves with unrequited lust in the heat of the Spanish countryside while intoxicated on authentic leather skins of cheap wine, and in this highly specific genre of literature, Ernest Hemingway is king.    Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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6. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Three children witness the stars disappear on one fateful October night on Earth. Jason and Diane Lawton and best friend Tyler Dupree all face the post-Spin world differently, but their fates–as well as the fate of the rest of humanity–tie them together as they journey to discover how their entire planet was encased in a physics-defying dome.    Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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5. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

If there’s one person who can renew age-old stories of revenge, magic, and prophesy, it’s Brandon Sanderson. In Mistborn, the first of a series, Vin, a street urchin and bottom rung of a gang of con artists, wakes up to find her world changed when she meets Kelsier, a legendary Mistborn who can ingest metals and use their magical properties to alter himself and the world around him. Kelsier teaches the gifted Vin everything he knows, and together the two take on the seemingly immortal Lord Ruler and his oppressive Final Empire.    Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Don’t be fooled by the fact that it took me four years to read and I only happened to finish it in 2014. JS&MN is probably going to find its place among my favorite books of all time, because somehow, probably through some authorly incantations of her own, Susanna Clarke makes 1,006 pages fly by faster than a smoke break on a Monday afternoon. Mr Norrell takes up a personal mission to bring magic back to 19th Century England. His apprentice, the dashing young Jonathan Strange, takes up the same mission but with jarringly different methods. The two engage in the rivalry of all rivalries.   Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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3. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Criminal Minds meets Star Trek-level space-time continuum plot twists. Lauren Beukes’s dangerously enthralling crime thriller made its way to the top of my list for its originality, unique tone, and sheer entertainment value.   Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

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2. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

My penchant for creepiness extends to all areas of my life, but finding creepiness in a book is my favorite. John Darnielle takes a brief hiatus from brilliant songwriting to grace the literary world with his tragic and grotesque storytelling in Wolf in White Van. Sean Phillips creates a refuge from his horrific past in the form of a play-by-mail role playing game called Trace Italian. When two misguided teens become obsessed with the game, Sean must do what he fears most: face himself.   Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

 

Of all the book review blogs in all the Internet, this book had to walk into mine. It’s the ultimate, bestest, most favorite book I read in all of 2014:

Ancillary-Justice

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

 No book comes close to generating the enthusiasm I felt for Ann Leckie’s Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning debut novel Ancillary Justice. In a fresh take on AI, Leckie tells the story of Breq, a human body inhabited by the last remaining ancillary of the massive artificial intelligence that operated a battleship and its soldiers. As she unfolds her past, Breq’s current mission of stone-cold space revenge becomes clearer and clearer. Leckie’s brilliant depiction of personhood and perspective come alive in this heartbreaking sci-fi saga about one individual’s terrible loss and terrible thirst for vengeance.  Read the Review   Buy the Book   Go to Goodreads

I’m looking forward to a new year and tackling the mountain of unread books that haunt my dreams every night. A huge thank you to my followers and visitors! LitBeetle would be nothing if not for you! Now let me know in the comments which books were your favorites to read in the great year of 2014!

Happy New Year from Seattle!

Happy New Year from Seattle!

On Rachel Hartman’s “Seraphina” (Seraphina #1)

18 Nov
seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman takes readers to a world entirely believable and logical. It just happens to have dragons in it.

If there’s one thing pop culture needs more of, it’s dragons. And impressive female protagonists (who aren’t played by Katherine Heigl). So if there are two things that pop culture needs more of, it’s dragons and non-Katherine Heigl female protagonists, so thank the saints that Rachel Hartman has appeared gloriously on the scene with her epic young adult fantasy novel Seraphina. In a setting that feels like alternate reality Renaissance France, Seraphina, a young prodigious court musician, must navigate the prejudices and politics between humans and dragons. The land of Goredd is struggling with an uneasy 40-year peace treaty that bind the two species, but old habits die hard. Seraphina has her own secrets and troubles to worry about, but her curiosity, stubbornness, and compassion team up to embroil her in the middle of Goredd’s cold war with the dragons.

Dragons. They're so hot right now. Between games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and blockbuster hit shows like Game of Thrones, dragons have transcended the nerdy niche market they nested in, and are taking center stage in pop culture once again.

Dragons. They’re so hot right now. Between games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and blockbuster hit shows like Game of Thrones, dragons have transcended the nerdy niche market they nested in, and are taking center stage in pop culture once again.

Seraphina’s deep dark secret forms the foundation of the novel’s plot, and is an age-old, very human conflict: racism. Seraphina is a half-breed–her father, a human solicitor, married a dragon. She must hide her partially scaled body and her inhuman mental abilities from a world who would sooner stone her or drown her than accept such an abomination. As the assistant to the court musician, the task of remaining incognito is difficult enough, especially as her renown as a musical prodigy begins spreading, but when Seraphina gets wrapped up in a murder investigation lead by the headstrong Prince Lucian Kiggs, she finds it imperative but nearly impossible to keep her deadly secret hidden.

Seraphina’s dragon half gives her a logical strength Kiggs begins to find invaluable in his search for the cause of his uncle’s murder, but this half also brings nightmares–nightmares filled with grotesque, malformed beings–that nearly cripple Seraphina with their intensity. Facing her grotesques is the key to learning more about her own origins and learning how to reconcile her dual identity.

Music--combination of mathematics and passion

Seraphina’s dragon-like logic and human-like soulfulness makes her the best musician in all of Goredd. Think Mozart, but prettier and without the crazy.

Seraphina is not your run-of-the-mill spunky, female lead who doesn’t care what boys think, who kicks down doors, and takes on the world with her scathing, witty remarks. She’s not your Elizabeth Bennett protagonist. She’s your Fanny Price protagonist. She is ever in the background, trained since birth to stay out of the spotlight. Seraphina is unsure of herself, having never been told her abilities are outstanding, but she is undeniably logical and intelligent. In this first installation of Hartman’s fantasy series, one can only assume this is Seraphina’s coming-of-age story and that her unique, relatable character will only continue to grow. Right now, she is a fledgling hero who steps up into the role because she must. When she discovers a unique ability that ties her to other half-breeds like her, Seraphina knows she must put aside her insecurities to do something no one else in Goredd can do. It’s the greatest sacrifice for a shy, introverted outcast like her: to shirk her ignominy and take up the mantle of “hero.”

Speaking of dragons and unlikely heroes ... like San from Spirited Away, Seraphina's identity keeps her isolated from her peers, but her loyalty and unique inner strengths make her formidable.

Speaking of dragons and unlikely heroes … like San from Spirited Away, Seraphina’s identity keeps her isolated from her peers, but her loyalty and unique inner strengths make her formidable.

Read this book if … you’re looking for fantasy and/or young adult fiction that breaks molds. Seraphina is a protagonist I can get behind, someone to whom I can relate. She isn’t some world-class hero or unbelievable beauty–just a normal young person who steps up when forced into an impossible situation. My empathy for her and Hartman’s world-building ability makes Seraphina the perfect book for some intelligent escapism. And for the saints’ sake, we need something other than post-apocalyptic teen romances in the YA genre.

Don’t read this book if … you generally avoid high fantasy–with swords and princes, magic and arranged marriages–or if your version of fantasy is more along the George R.R. Martin blood-and-incest stories. Seraphina is definitely a young adult novel, though geared toward an older teen.

This book is like … the lovely novels of Diana Wynne Jones, but without all the silliness and snark, something I have started attributing to the unique qualities of British fantasy authors. Hartman’s Seraphina brings to mind all of my favorite girl protagonists, like Sabriel of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series or Harry Crewe of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword or any lead from a Hayao Miyazaki film. If you’re looking for content with female protagonists, secret hybrid powers, and a bunch of dragons for an older demographic, check out J.A. Pitts’s Sarah Beauhall series: Black Blade Blues, Honeyed Words, and Forged in Fire.

Rachel Hartman's sequel to Seraphina is due to be released on March 10, 2015, and will be titled Shadow Scale.

Rachel Hartman‘s sequel to Seraphina will be titled Shadow Scale and is set to be released March 10, 2015. My horses are being held, but just barely.