Let me start by saying that I don’t really want to review this book. It was not what I was expecting, and not what I’d hoped for. I had a lot of issues with it, but feel bad about those issues, wondering if maybe it was just my mood while reading. I loved Seraphina, the first book in this series. I loved The Audition, a short story prequel with many of the same characters. I thought the writing and characters were just as well written in Shadow Scale…and still, I found myself dissatisfied by the end of the book. Despite continuing to read. Despite staying up late to finish. Despite loving these characters and needing to know what would happen next. That makes this a particularly difficult book to review.
I suppose I should simply express my particular qualms about the book. Perhaps in writing it out, and with some time and distance, I can view the book with fresher eyes and see it more in the light that it was intended. I’ll start by stating what I’d expected the book to be: a book of war, rising conflict, and eventual understanding between groups. In a way, that is what Shadow Scale was, but it was so much more than that:
A quest. A coming-of-age story. Huge swaths of backstory and religion and cultural study. A long exploration into Seraphina’s history with Jannoula. A pointed discussion of gender, sexuality, and race. Psychological exploration. Narrowed focus on a villain who barely existed in the first book. Long periods of the book where many of the main characters would drop out of sight completely as Seraphina drifted from one place to the next.
This, I believe, is the bulk of my reservation about the book – it was just too much. Too much history. Too many storylines. Too many themes. Too many issues. It felt like several books melded into one, like it could have been parsed out into two or three volumes, expanded so that the backstories and histories were less exposition-drop and more integrated. It’s not that any of the stories were bad. It’s that the book started in one vein, then moved to a different one, then another, then another, until an end where there’s a conclusion, but the stories don’t fully wrap up. In the end, I had a difficult time seeing the cohesive thread through the plot, and that was hard for me as a reader.
On the other hand, there were some very wonderful things here. I loved meeting the other half-dragons, and how Seraphina became more self-aware as the novel progressed. I thought Jannoula was fascinating, and wish I could have spent an entire book learning about her powers and psychology. I loved the revelations about the Saints, and the various cultures in this world, and getting to know the different kinds of dragons. As a whole, though, the book didn’t come together for me, and didn’t quite live up to what I’d expected after Seraphina.