Soaring fantasy

Title: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House March 2015
587pp with glossary and list of characters, maps
Genre: YA, Science fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, sequel
5 Stars *****
Author: Rachel Hartman won several awards for her debut novel Seraphina, including the William C Morris YA Debut Award, and Cybils Award for YA Fantasy. Seraphina quickly became a best seller, indie favourite and had many starred reviews. Her world building is fantastic, her plots clever, her story intricate and the characters unique and fascinating. Her love of music shines.
Story line: this is the sequel to Seraphina, and it must be read first. Seraphina, half dragon half human, searches for other of her ilk who can help end the war in the kingdom of Goredd. After reading the concise lovely prologue which introduced the previous story, I reread it anyway, remembering her magical prose and vivid descriptions. How dragons can seem real / normal is fabulous. Nothing about this story disappointed me. I wasn’t expecting where it went, rereading and savoring just amplified my enjoyment. Once to inhale, once to savor 🙂
While Seraphina was about finding herself, Shadow Scale is about the journey, finding her place in the world, understanding herself and comprehending the choices we all make. Seraphina interacts with many people, the larger complex cast is colourful and complicates the story.
I loved the foreshadowing in both the first book and the history prologue. I liked that this wasn’t a conventional romance, but that was also not unexpected given the ending of the first book. Their relationships are more private/subtle and much appreciated. Life isn’t full of answers, perhaps we don’t even have the right questions. We don’t always have to live by the rules of others.
A wfew months have lapsed between books, although we have been granted an historical overview (read prologue carefully). I also like that this is a sequel and isn’t spawning a dozen more to anticipate. The author is returning to this fantastically created world with another pair of books, and I hope it is with some of the other notable characters. Although any story with an older Seraphina (and her Uncle) would be most welcome.
There are excellent themes on how relationships work; the greater good, motivation and choices; exploration of cultures and peoples; how maturing affects our perceptions. I enjoyed her exploration of a saint based religion, and how secret books create ignorant society.
I loved the ending. This is a brilliant captivating tale: Well told with rich settings and heartbreaking characters. I won’t forget them.
Read on:
Kirsten Cashore Graceling, Bitterblue etc
Anne McCaffrey Dragonsong
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, but also new Uprooted.
And look for her next books in Goredd.

Opening sentence
:
I returned to myself.
I rubbed by eyes, forgetting that the left was bruised and the pain snapped the world into focus.
Quotes:
Lars distracted him with bagpipes.
I wasn’t thirsty, but any trace of kindness in my dragon uncle was a thing to encourage.
Lars is designing new war machines.
Mud, on the other hand, is infinite.
Herself seemed a terrible place to be; I still wished I could have saved her from it.
All the trials of a day may be endured if you know there’s such a sky at the end of it.
I saw that my assumptions had blinded me…
The thing itself plus nothing equals everything.
Never beyond repair good heart.
This was going to take all my courage, and I needed a little more music to get there.

I confess I started my Netgalley copy, reverted to hardback Seraphina, discovered I had purchased an Ebook as I couldn’t wait for this (before I was approved by Netgalley), and didn’t know if I would be at a bookstore. AND actually read it as a hardback personal copy when it was placed on the shelf in Barnes and Noble a day before publication. So, I didn’t highlight many quotes, as I never mark first editions. Random pages always found a memorable quotable sentence.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

BookScapes by Helen McIver

bookpile2
Seraphina (2012)
This is a marvelous debut YA science fiction novel by Rachel Hartman which has received numerous awards including:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)

If you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, here is a beautiful intricately crafted new kingdom, Goredd, where humans and dragons have tentatively, coexisted for nearly 4 decades. Dragons attend court in human shape as ambassadors, and are noted for their rational, mathematical minds which also suits universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, tensions increase when a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted court musician, she is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queens Guard, the perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they uncover a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina must protect her own secret, the reason for her musical gift. For Phina is half dragon and half human and totally unforgettable.

This heroine’s struggle, coming of age, is one readers will remember long after they’ve closed the book. The original world (new dragonlore), fun, fascinating and complex characters also demand the sequel to be written soon! I was captivated by the story, entranced by the beautiful, evocative writing. It was a pleasure to reread sections – a delight to return to highlighted passages (thank you kindle for nondestructive highlighting!)

There is a wonderul glossary of terms and a cast of characters (examples:)
Binou – breton bagpipes
Aurochs – extinct European cattle wild
Quine – 4 sheets of parchment (medieval paper)
Saarantrai – Dragons in human form
The main character is Seraphina Dombagh, often called Phina
Claude is her father
Orma is mentor and uncle and dragon
Prince Lucian Kiggs – is Princess Laurel’s bastard, and fiance to Princess Glisselda
Kiggs is also Captain of the Queen’s Guards
Viridius is the court composer

Quotes:
Most of the quotes are from the first half of the book, the pages flew and I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t interrupt it with anything. Magic quickly overtakes the reader.
Dragons have no souls and must wear a bell in human form unless they are scholars. They have silver blood, no beards, a peculiar smell not normally detected by humans. They have sulphurous breath.

The Music…was the answer to a question I had never asked, the way to fill the dread emptiness into which I had been born……My love of music eventually lured me from the safety of my father’s house, propelling me into the city and the royal court…I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light, illuminating me from behind.

Her Uncle Orma had…the scholar’s exemption from the bell, so few people ever realised he was a dragon. He had his quirks certainly: he never laughed; he had little comprehension of fashion, manners, or art; he had a taste for difficult mathematics and fabrics that didn’t itch.

It was good to see a dragon’s teeth. A dragon with his mouth closed was far more likely to be working up a flame. That seemed completely obvious…..Under the white winter sky the dragons looked rusty, a disappointing color for so fabled a species, but I soon realised their shades were subtle. The right slant of sunlight brought out an irridescent sheen in their scales; they shimmered with rich underhues, from purple to gold.

The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now.

We were friends; he just didn’t know it yet. ….He had a nose like a compass needle; it pointed with purpose.

Viridius planned to rehearse us within an inch of our lives.

I’d had more than my share of beautiful today. Tomorrow I’d give some back, restore and replenish the world.
4.5 stars
Read as an ebook from Rochester Public Library

February 24 – Random Reader

What are you reading now?

Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw – part of a trilogy about Sir Gawain of the Arthurian Legends (the first book is the Hawk of May and the last is In Winter’s Shadow). Bradshaw won awards for her first novel (Hawk of May), and I so loved it, I immediately found the second in the Library.  I had always believed Gawain (or Gwalchunai, his real name) to be Welsh, but come to find he was from the Orkneys, Scotland. He earns Arthur’s trust and friendship in the first novel and defends the kingdom while trying to unite Britain, with the usual characters: Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, Morgawse etc. This is a brilliant retelling of the Arthur legend, that will appeal to all ages. She wrote this trilogy in the 1980s, but they are being reissued in trade paper. I have discovered a new author and can’t believe the diversity of her writing.

Books On the bedstand:

Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie – I have been charmed by the Roman Medicus and read these as soon as they are published. This is another hilarious look at murder in Roman Britain, a bit further north of Londonium this time, but with an engaging cast of characters. You do need to read these in order, but what a treat.

How Literature saved my life by David Shields – perusing the library shelves this one just lept out at me!

Alys Clare – Out of the Dawn Light – she was touted as being the new Ellis Peters (Cadfael), which I return to and reread, as well as watch on PBS. I love this time period and the writing is fantastic: intricate plot, depth to all characters, well researched medieval history, skillfully written – in another series (Hawkenlye)!

The Book I am waiting for:

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd. I adore both of their series – both Insp Ian Rutledge and Nurse Bess Crawford. I have not purchased this one because I am in the throes of moving and packing and can’t bear the thought of another book (weight and volume)

The Book I am talking about:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – this was published last year but I can’t stop talking about this. I am writing a long review and ended up re-reading the entire book, enjoying it just as much the second time. This is a superb fantasy novel, not just for YA.  I  cannot wait for the sequel, for a series, for anything else she writes!

The previous book:

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Beekeeping for Beginners – Laurie R King. I introduced one of my bookclubs to the Mary Russell (Mrs Sherlock Holmes) series, and the writing of King. Yes, I have read almost every novel she has written. Full price on Kindle, hard copies when I can find them. This lead to several other books about Holmes and Doyle – surprised by how many writers belong to the Baker Street Irregulars!

Watching on the tele?
As I impatiently await the modern Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch (season 3), I have continued, in order, with re-watching the Big Bang Theory (and am also impatiently awaiting season 6 to be available on DVD). I love Sheldon. I can so relate to these guys.

Listening to?

Japandroids – Celebration Rock. Yeah, this surprised me too, almost as much as the Librarian who gave it to me. It was listed as one of the top five albums of 2012, so I had to try to listen to it. Of the five, only the Dylan will remain with me.