Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina #2
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 599 (ARC)
Source: Gifted From a Friend
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?
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

This is going to be a long review, mostly because I have a lot to say after waiting to read this book for three years. In the end, the wait was worth it. I understand now why it took so long for Hartman to write this book. The intricacies necessary to weave everything together the way she did is not something that is easily done, and this is definitely a stupendous sophomore novel. However, with that in mind, I do have a few issues with this book and that is the very ending, but I'll get to that in a moment.

This book is 600 pages long, and you feel every one of those 600 pages. That's not to say that this book drags because it doesn't, but it certainly feels long. I re-read Seraphina prior to reading this one and it definitely enhanced my reading experienced, but as long as you remember the end of book one you're fine with book two. The author told me that the finished copy of book two will have a prequel chapter from a monk's perspective recapping book one to help readers who read book one right when it came out like I did. I think that this is definitely a smart move on the publisher's part.

Book two picks up where book one left off. It's not a spoiler for me to say that Seraphina is on the hunt for the other grotesques in her garden since she did stumble across some of my ultimate favorites in book one. These other half human half dragons make up a motley crew of interesting characters. I find myself loving most of them, despising few of them, and not really knowing some of them, but either way they all stand apart from each other and Hartman's description and knack for unique characterization shines through among all of them whether it be the man who is now a woman, the fiendish looking lawyer, the plague doctor, the librarian obsessed with books, star athletes, etc. Lars will forever be my favorite, though, followed closely by Abdo and then a few new grotesques that I want you to meet for yourself!

Seraphina's task is to gather these grotesques and send them back to Goredd where Kiggs and Glisselda are waiting for their assistance to stop a war with dragons and other country's that is led by a very surprising villain. Along the way Seraphina is being hunted by humans and her journey is definitely full of adventure. This aspect of the story takes up a great majority of the book. When I say that, I mean, like, 90% of the book is her journey. And I loved this 90%. It's the last ten percent where things got iffy.

As I said earlier, this book is incredibly long. It is well worth the read, but my point is that if I am willing to read 550+ pages to get to what is supposed to be an insanely epic battle, then you can tack on another 30 pages to that battle and I'll be perfectly fine with it. Those 30 pages that are lacking made this battle beyond disappointing. I can honestly say I had a hard time following the final showdown, which is beyond disappointing x2. It was more confusing than anything else, told in a sequence similar to AND THEN THIS HAPPENED THEN THIS HAPPENED THEN THIS HAPPENED instead of Hartman's usual flair of beautiful detail, explanation, and imagery.

But that's not the only reason the ending is disappointing. The ending is disappointing because there are a lot of loose threads and unsatisfactorily tied loose ends. For example, what's up with the grotesque Pandowdy? If you don't remember who Pandowdy is, it's the grotesque that Seraphina prefers to avoid because he just chills like a slug in the swamp inside her head covered in mud and barely moving. I also want to know what, exactly, happens to the villain. Sure, I know the bare bones of it because the villain is either going to win or lose, but what happens after the battle since said villain most certainly does not die? What happens to the grotesques that survive the battle? Things like that are kind of important yet we are never really told.

And then there are things that we, as readers, want and are led to believe are a possibility and the way that Hartman chose to end it is almost more heartbreaking because of the fact that it was so unexplained. What's up with Phina's love life? It was almost an after thought at the end. I love how so little of this book was focused on romance, but it was a huge part of an overarching storyline and should be addressed properly. Also, Orma! If you read my review of book one, you know that I love Orma immensely. Orma is Phina's dragon uncle that feels for her despite his dragon nature saying he shouldn't experience emotions. The ending between the two of them leaves readers with an ounce of hope, but that's about it compared to the gallons of uncertainty, fear, and thus, heartbreak, that we experience because his storyline is not at all tied up.

There's also some really out of character moments near the end for certain characters we grow to love, like Eskar. I don't care if Eskar is half cold logic because she is a dragon, a small detail at the end jumps out at me repeatedly as beyond shocking and I can't get it out of my head. It's running laps in my head taunting me because I simply cannot believe it. Why break character? I don't understand.

Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that Hartman chose to not allow this ending to be all puppies and unicorns and rainbows. There is death, doom, destruction, surprising plot twists, and immense loss, but it's almost as if her attempts to piece our hearts back together were after-thoughts that were not properly fleshed out, which made it all the more frustrating to me, personally.

On Twitter, Hartman says she has more stories to be told in this world and, for that, I am very excited. I feel as if I am lacking in a lot of clarity and it greatly ruined the end of this book for me. Most of this novel was a positive experience, but I can't say I walked away fully satisfied, and that is why I am hoping with all hope that she does manage to continue to tell us stories in this world. Not only do I love this world, but I love 99.9% of the characters with an intensity that is rather surprising. I'm not ready to let them go, nor am I ready to say goodbye if I don't have to. I hope their storylines are explored further and tied up properly.

Hartman truly is a literary genius. She's an amazing writer with an eye for detail and plot intricacies that is pretty much unparalleled in the young adult fantasy genre dominated by dragons. Her characters are real people that you can't help but feel for in indescribably ways. I eagerly anticipate her future works. My poor heart only prays that I don't have to wait another three years.

4 stars


This is the longest and hardest review I've ever written...


  1. I own the first book, but haven't read it, yet. I think writing a duology would be very difficult. I'm glad you liked it, overall....

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    1. Overall, yes, but disappointed :(

  2. I know I’m more than two years late on this, but I just wanted to say, I agree with you about that moment with Eskar near the end. Small as it may have been, it seriously damaged my enjoyment of the book.