If you follow me on goodreads, instagram, or twitter, you probably noticed that for the past two weeks I’ve been on a huge dragon kick. I had a review copy of Shadow Scale and a copy of Seraphina on my shelves that had been gathering dust for the past year. For once I decided to get my butt in gear and find out what this series is all about and OH MY GOSH WHY DIDN’T ANY OF YOU FORCE THIS ON ME EARLIER?! I fell hard for these two books and with Shadow Scale‘s release, I wanted to do something a little differently. Instead of my usual review, I’m going to give you seven awesome things you’re missing out on by not reading this series!
Throughout high school I lived and breathed Fantasy. When it’s good, it’s great, and when it’s not, the problem comes down to one thing: the world-building. Contemporary fiction and Mysteries need world-building, yes, but because those genres tend to be firmly rooted in the Real World, it’s really not too difficult to make the setting sound convincing. Fantasy doesn’t work without a solid foundation. When I first started reading Seraphina and saw mentions of places like Goredd, Ninys, Samsam, and Porphyry, I was a little concerned. Would this debut author really have the chops to craft, not just a believable city, but an entire universe? …turns out that, yes, yes she can.
While the names might take some getting used to in the beginning, halfway through Seraphina they’re so ingrained in your mind that you think nothing of it. While reading, these countries became real, and that is the mark of a truly gifted writer. Although Seraphina takes place in Phina’s native country of Goredd, Shadow Scale introduces us to the other countries and I couldn’t wait to go exploring! Each land has a distinct voice, a distinct culture and I’m completely in awe of Rachel Hartman. Bravo, madam!
Just like any self-respecting Fantasy, this series comes with a massive multi-page glossary in both books – trust me, you’ll need it. Ard, quig, saar (a shortened form of saarantras), ityasaari, these words all have very specific meanings and you do not want to get them mixed up (I think a Son of St. Ogdo would have your head if you called him a saar). Again, initially I was a little confused (it took a while for me to figure out Ardmagar was a title and not a separate character!), but once I got the hang of it, I was golden.
As if the glossaries didn’t make my heart swell already, Shadow Scale features a map! If a book has a map in it, there’s a good chance I’ll read it; I’m a total map girl.
Rachel Hartman created a mind-boggling amount of characters here. Don’t worry though, because there’s another glossary just for the characters! (seriously, it’s like Hartman peeked into my heart and found everything that makes me happydance) There are characters that exist in the world and then an entirely separate set that exists in Seraphina’s ‘garden’ in her head. I could seriously go on for days about these fantastic people – including my little love Abdo ♥ Instead I’m going to tell you a little story: last weekend I had a nightmare. In this dream I was in a house inside a bedroom, but I couldn’t sleep because the house across the street had an evil ghost inside who could see through the walls and would stare at me. At one point I left that bedroom, ready to run downstairs in an attempt to flee and when I did, I left the bedroom door wide open. When I got downstairs, there was a voice asking me if I had remembered to shut and lock the bedroom door because if I hadn’t it meant the ghost could come through. When I woke up I was completely baffled and chalked it up to a movie or something…only to later realize that HOLY CRAP my dream was about Jannoula, an evil character who tried to slip into Phina’s mind and control her until Phina was able to trick her into being locked up inside a cottage. What I’m trying to get at here is that these characters are so expertly written that I’m constantly thinking about them – whether I’m awake or asleep.
The real kicker here. In Seraphina’s world, being half-dragon is seen as dirty, something to be ashamed of. Phina herself is half-dragon and she goes to great lengths to conceal her scales (a band around her waist and forearm). Phina’s condition really isn’t too bad – one character has to hide a tail and another (my dear, sweet Abdo) has never been able to speak because his mouth and throat are coated in scales. A treaty had been signed to make peace between the dragons and humans, but the hard feelings still remain decades later. There are groups who fiercely oppose the treaty and take it upon themselves to brutally attack anyone they suspect of being a dragon (hence Phina’s constant veil of secrecy).
That said, dragons are amazing teachers although they lack emotion to allow them to convincingly pass in their human form. This is actually pretty funny – there are multiple scenes where a dragon tries to joke or show affection and I giggled like crazy. In their dragon form, though, I wouldn’t dare dream of giggling – they’re all business.
So I might be getting a little ahead of myself, but not since Harry Potter have I come across such detailed dragons. This race has a history, they have their own customs and politics and more than a few blemishes in their past.
Oh, Lucien. The romance between Phina and Lucien has a BIG red flag all over it: he’s the Prince and engaged to the Princess…who happens to be Phina’s closet friend and student (Phina teaches music). Yeah, it’s messy and they both know it. I honestly wasn’t even sure if I should include their relationship here: it’s slow to the point of nonexistence (particularly after EVENTS in Shadow Scale)
SORRY GUYS, that’s all you’re getting from me here! I honestly was caught off-guard a few times.
THIS SERIES IS SMART
Not just in terms of subject matter (philosophy, politics, and religion all play HUGE roles), but in the way threads weave together. I can’t even begin to imagine what Hartman’s outline or notes must have looked liked! Minor characters mentioned in a chapter in the very beginning of the story play vital roles, there’s so much depth to the characters, and Hartman has seriously created centuries worth of history for these people. When I read Seraphina, I kept thinking about how it was trying so hard to be a Serious Story with its new language and constant talk of treaties and documents and pacts that happened decades (if not centuries) ago. But, no. This series wasn’t trying to be anything other than what it is: a damn good story with a wealth of secrets and hidden nooks and crannies. Check your pre-conceived notions at the door, folks, Seraphina is about to take you on the ride of your life.