[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’re like me you see a thousand books go by that you must read. “I should definitely read that next,” you tell yourself. Or rather, you lie to yourself. For whatever reason, and those reasons are often varied and obscure, you never pick up that book, and every once in a while you might see it on the shelf at the library or the bookstore and feel slightly guilty, but you still don’t pick up the book.
Seraphina was one of those books for me, and it wasn’t until I got the galley for Shadow Scale that I forced myself, years after it came out, to finally read it. Which leads me to my next statement:
What have I been doing all my life?!
As a fan of world building I could not ask for more. Rachel Hartman creates a world filled with countries, Saints, history, music, protocols, and two vastly different societies that becomes as much a character in her book as her actual characters.
Seraphina is a half-dragon, and in the first novel, she thinks that she is the only one of her kind as well as an abomination that many in the city would gladly stamp out. In a time of peace between dragons and humans, dragons walk the city in human form, but with the visit from the dragon leader looming closer, the city is like a kicked ant hill. Seraphina becomes involved in the political intrigue and accidentally finds herself solving the murder of a member of the royal family.
Hartman integrates dragon and human society in a way that makes both poignant references to humankinds historical past, and subtle illusions to our present, where our best efforts to get along with each other often results in mere tolerance, and does not mean we understand each other, even as we make our comprises. And while that is a serious topic the humour that Hartman gracefully slips in means the story hits hard when it needs to, and doesn’t drag. The dragons in human form make for particular great sources of comedy, with their misunderstanding of human courtesies, turns of phrase, emotion… well, pretty much everything about us.
And all the while you’re exploring this world you are trying to guess the whodunit, but it’s not so easy to figure out. The odd murder mystery element to Seraphina means that the plot is stays moving, and the book does not leave your hand.
Shadow Scale takes a completely different vein. Civil war has broken out in the dragon kingdom and Seraphina must now find her fellow half-dragons, the only ones who can defend the city, before war ravages her home. But even as she searches out her own kind, someone else is hunting them down, someone who means them nothing but harm.
Where the first book was a fantasy murder mystery Shadow Scale is less easily classifiable. A strange mash-up war/espionage story coupled with an epic journey. I don’t think there is a genre for this book, which means that it’s very hard to figure out where the plot is going (and that is a very good thing). Hartman does a fantastic job of setting the odds against Seraphina, her task seemly impossible and the villain nearly undefeatable. And every time you round a corner and expect to see a cliché, the rug is neatly pulled out from underneath you.
If forced to choose which one I enjoyed more, Seraphina would be my choice. It was just a little bit tighter plot-wise, but together these books are fantastic pair. I don’t know if Hartman plans to continue writing about Seraphina, or if she plans to continue writing in this world but whatever she does in the future, you can guarantee that I’ll be watching, and I’ll be waiting.