Seraphina and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

seraphinaShadow Scale

4 out of 5 stars.

May contain spoilers for the first book.

This duo is so amazingly awesome it is hard to describe. It plays with the idea of dragons in a way that I have never seen done before. This is a new author that you are going to have to keep an eye on!!

Seraphina is a human-dragon hybrid in a land that has had only a few decades of extremely uneasy peace between dragons and mankind. In the start of the first book, Seraphina is convinced she is the only one of her kind and has to keep her identity a closely hidden secret, even after discovering a treacherous plot to disrupt the relatively new peace and teaming up with the prince and princess of the kingdom (Lucian and Glisselda) and her dragon uncle (Orma) to try and maintain the flimsy political situation in the region. This book deserved all the praise that it got.

The dragons in this world are a combination of Vulcans off of Star Trek and shape shifters. They worship logic and try to suppress all emotions to the point of too much evidence of feeling getting dragons sent in for reprogramming and removal of tainted memories. This is all very good in dragon form, where they have control, but they can take human form which comes with the requisite emotional responses. Since the treaty between the two species requires dragons in human territory to be in human shape constantly, the ambassadors and scholars living amongst humans have to try their best to understand and mimic our emotions without getting sucked into actually feeling them. The portrayal of aloof and dignified dragons trying to understand sarcasm is really quite appealing. The frustrations that humans deal with trying to explain emotions and customs to dragons is even more so. Most dragons in human shape are required to wear silver bells on their outfits, leaving them prey to roving gangs of dragon-hating thugs which furthers the tensions in the kingdom.

The religion in this world is very, very well done. There are patron saints of EVERYTHING, and all of them hate dragons, and the possibility of hybridity with humans. The descriptions of the various saints, their weird physical manifestations, and their bizarre miracles was a nice, but strange, element in both books.

Seraphina (our protagonist) is a very skilled musician, and an assistant to the court composer, so her understanding of the world is often presented in very musical and artistic terms. She also struggles between loving music and wanting to perform, and her desperate need to keep hidden. She is a brave, complex character. Her friendships and love interests are wonderful to watch start and develop, since she begins as such a closed off person. The love storyline I really enjoyed because it was properly framed within the larger story, encountered some interesting problems, and did not overshadow the action or become to mopey.

The best part of the books, and the main focus of the second, is the garden Seraphina creates in her mind as part of a meditation exercise to control other beings that keep trying to contact her psychically at inopportune moments, causing her to lose consciousness in fairly dangerous and awful ways. We find out fairly early on in the first book that these other beings are actually other hybrids that have telepathically connected with our heroine. She eventually comes to empathize with, and even love, some of them, seeing them as her friends and family, and making her mental habitat for them beautiful and suited to each of their personalities.

One of the plots in the second book is Seraphina going out to look for all of her hybrid friends in the real world. She had met a few in the first, but now she gets to track down the rest. This was brilliant for several reasons. One, we get a chance to see what these people look and act like in the real world, and how the characteristics of their garden avatars translate into reality. Two, we get to travel further around the imaginary world and see more of the scenery and visit other kingdoms, which have varying dragon-tolerance and other weird religions. Three, we get to see how the dragon characteristics manifest in other people, with differing physical and mental abilities. We also get to see how the various kingdoms’ attitudes towards dragons have affected the lives of other hybrids. This book also includes some of the missing history of her early days with her hybrids that was missing in the first book.

Both of these stories are vivid and wonderful. The worlds are rich and realistic and the characters are sympathetic and their struggles are real. I strongly urge anyone who loves fantasy, even if you do not often venture into Teen lit., to give these a try.

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