Shadow Scale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The world is seldom so simple that it hinges on us alone.”

Shadow Scale by Rachel HartmanThe kingdom of Goredd has had an uneasy peace with the dragons found in the neighboring Tanamoot for the past forty years–a time in which the arts have flourished while Goredd’s dragon-fighting tools have languished.

When mounting tensions between humans and dragons threatens to draw Goredd into the middle of another treacherous war, Seraphina reluctantly finds herself as the center of the conflict. Goredd has few tools left to fight dragons save for rumors of a magical weapon used during the Age of Saints. A weapon Seraphina might be able to recreate with help from other half-dragons like herself.

After spending years hiding her true self, Seraphina sets out across kingdoms to seek out the other half-dragons–beings she’s only ever previously encountered in her own mind–before war breaks out.

As Seraphina gathers her motley band of allies, she soon realizes that war is not the only threat to the half-dragons, her kingdom, or even herself. With so many trying to stop her, Seraphina will have to embrace her true identity, and the ramifications it will have for herself and the other half-dragons, if she has any hope of stopping this senseless war in Shadow Scale (2015) by Rachel Hartman.

Shadow Scale is the highly anticipated sequel to Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. While this book does an excellent job of explaining key events from book one, it’s still crucial to read these in order.

Every aspect of Shadow Scale is handled brilliantly and often surpasses the achievements and charms of Seraphina, which is no small feat. This book is intricate, clever and often unexpected as many given facts from Seraphina are challenged or turned upside down.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the conclusion of Seraphina but soon moves the story in a new direction as readers learn more about Seraphina’s connection to the other half-dragons and how she uses her mind garden to interact with them. Where Hartman’s first book is about Seraphina finding herself, Shadow Scale is surely about Seraphina finding her place in the world.

Hartman blows  Seraphina’s world wide open in Shadow Scale as she crosses borders and visits neighboring kingdoms in her search for the other half-dragons. This book is the full package complete with a map and glossary to highlight all of the wonderful details that Hartman has included in this much-expanded world.

The way different plot threads and pieces of this world knit together is fascinating and wondrous to behold as this story asks (and sometimes answers) questions about ethics, friendship, love and even what being family can really mean. I can’t wait to see what Hartman does next.

Shadow Scale is a satisfying and often surprising conclusion to a story where nothing is ever truly neat or perfect but everything does have the potential to be beautiful. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

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Author Interview: Rachel Hartman on Seraphina

Rachel Hartman author photoRachel Hartman is the author Seraphina, a clever and original story about dragons, mystery, music and a ton of other things besides. Seraphina has also gotten a fair bit of critical acclaim including being selected as the winner of the 2013 Morris Award and the 2012 Cybils. Rachel Hartman is on the blog today to answer some questions about her wonderful debut novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Rachel Harman (RH): You might say I took the scenic route. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but it took me until about age thirty to decide that writing should be my career. Then it was another ten years before the book was published. I know that sounds appallingly slow, but I have no regrets. I’m a deliberator and a contemplator; I absorb and synthesize things as I go. The time is never wasted.

MP: What was the inspiration for Seraphina?

RH: The book had many inspirations. The very first idea I had for it, however, came to me when my parents got divorced. I was an adult, with a life and spouse of my own, and yet I found myself shocked and hurt and grieving, no less than if I were a kid. I had a lot of processing to do, and in the course of all that a question kept coming to me: what if you married someone with a terrible secret, and you didn’t learn what it was until your spouse was dead? That’s Claude Dombegh’s dilemma in a nutshell when Seraphina’s mother dies in childbirth; he’s got all these questions that can never be answered. Early drafts focused more intently on Seraphina’s relationship with her father; that’s still in the book, but is much more in the background now.

MP: Seraphina is rich with details of the history of Goredd and its relation with the neighboring dragons including complex political matters and a whole draconian language (not to mention unique dragon sensibilities). With so many details to explain and expand Seraphina’s world, where did you start? What was it like creating all of the corresponding languages and histories for the backdrop of this story?

RH: Goredd has been with me since the seventh grade, in fact. My English teacher asked us to write a narrative poem, and I – always the overachiever on creative writing assignments – came up with this long, silly poem called “The First Adventure of Sir Amy.” Sir Amy was a little girl knight who saved the king from an evil witch. Her country was called Goredd because that rhymed with Fred, the name of her horse. There was also a dragon who played cello (which rhymed with jello), which was the origin of dragons in Goredd.

All through high school, I set various stories in Goredd. When I was in my twenties I wrote and illustrated a minicomic called “Amy Unbounded” about Amy from the poem, now only a knight in her imagination. That solidified the world for me, and is a wonderful visual reference to have.

Making up histories is fun and easy; they’re just stories, after all (I almost majored in history in college, until I realized I was really only interested in it as narrative). I cheat egregiously at languages, though. I’m not Tolkien; I’m not writing up whole lexicons. I just want languages to evoke a particular flavour. If they’re doing that, I’m satisfied.

MP: The dragons in Seraphina are quite unique with their ability to take on human form. What inspired your interpretation of dragons in this story? Do you have a favorite detail about your dragons?

RH: This dates back to my comic book days. I had always intended there to be dragons in Goredd; they were there in the poem, so it was a given for me. However, when it came time to draw dragons in the comic, I discovered that dragons are difficult to draw. I could have practiced and gotten better,  of course, but I just wasn’t that interested. Instead, I hit upon a brilliant idea: what if dragons could take human form? Then I could draw humans! So what began as laziness (if I’m being honest) turned out to be an enormous wellspring of ideas. Because if dragons could take human form, the implications of that were rather staggering. Anyone could be a dragon. How were the Goreddis (and the dragons) going to cope? They would surely need some rules.

Readers often marvel at how alien my dragons are, but I don’t quite agree with that. They’re very familiar to me, even if they’re looking at the world from an unaccustomed angle. I love how they let me ask obvious but not-quite-answerable questions. For example: what are emotions for? That’s not a question most people usually bother asking; feeling comes as naturally as breathing and that’s just how it is. I know from raising a child, however, that emotions are not something we’re born knowing what to do with. We have to be taught not to hit when we’re angry, socialized into appropriate behaviours. What if you were only just experiencing emotions for the first time as an adult? My emotions sometimes bowl me over, and I have forty years of practice dealing with them. How are dragons going to respond, process, interpret their inner lives? How do they stay true to themselves under such unaccustomed pressures? What does that tell us more emotional types about the nature of our own emotions? What part of me is dragon, when I look underneath the emotional detritus? I could ask questions all day; I love this stuff.

MP: Seraphina’s musical talents and her love of music are continuing threads throughout the story. Did you always know music would be such a big part of Seraphina’s character? Is her love of music inspired by your own experiences?

RH: I played cello from fourth grade through college. I found performing, especially with a good orchestra, to be one of the most transcendent experiences of my early life. It’s something I’ve always wanted to convey in writing, what it’s like to be in music in exactly that way. Where does it begin and where does it end? My mind to your ears. No other art is as visceral and immediate, and it’s such a challenge to write about! But then, I really like a challenge.

MP: One of my favorite things about Seraphina is the strong ensemble cast with so many well-developed and entertaining characters. Did you have any character that was a favorite to write about? Was any character harder to write?

RH: It’s hard to say if any were difficult. Over nine years, I rewrote the entire book three times with an entirely new plot. The characters were the same people, but run through different mazes. The result is that I got to know them all very, very well. I don’t really remember if I struggled with any of them; by the last go-round, I felt like a director who’s been privileged to work with the same actors for many years. I knew everybody’s capabilities.

I don’t like to pick favourites, but Orma is a constant delight to write. He comes to me very naturally; we’re a lot alike, as counterintuitive as that may sound.

[MP: Orma is a constant delight to read as well!]

MP: Much of this novel focuses on solving a murder and unraveling a conspiracy at court as Seraphina investigates. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

RH: I confess that plot is probably the part of writing that comes least naturally to me. I’m so wrapped up in setting, characters, and what-if questions that I just don’t have a lot of room left in my tiny brain. Here’s where a good editor is invaluable. For this final iteration of the book, I started out by sending my editor plot outlines. He sent them back with every plot hole and logic fail pointed out in excrutiating detail. I answered his questions and fixed things until he found the outline sufficiently airtight. Then I wrote the book and there were still holes and infodumps and red herrings that were way too red. We tossed the book back and forth many times, smoothing all that stuff out. I am so, so grateful for his eagle eye.

With the sequel, he approved my plot outline right away, so I believe I may have learned something from all that earlier process. The old dog has room for a few new tricks after all.

MP: Seraphina is the first book in a series. Do you have a set arc for Seraphina’s story or know how many books will be in the series?

RH: The second book will wrap up Seraphina’s story, I believe. After that I hope to write more books set in the same world, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

RH: I am just awful about spoilers. I say things that I think aren’t spoilers, but then my husband informs me they are. Of course, he’s got deductive skills like Sherlock Holmes, so maybe I needn’t worry too much in general. I think it’s safe to say there will be more Abdo, and that we’ll be meeting a lot of new characters. That’s been fun, and challenging. I was used to having the same cast over and over, so it has taken some time and effort to get to know everyone. I think it’s been worth it, though.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

RH: Love writing, because sometimes the work will have to be its own reward. Also, don’t panic if it takes a long time. The world likes to tell us we’re washed-up if we’re not brilliant before we’re thirty. That’s nonsense. There’s lots of time.

Thanks again to Rachel Hartman for a great interview! You can also read my review of Seraphina here on the blog and visit Rachel Hartman’s website for more info about her and her books.

12 for 2012

It was incredibly hard to pick just twelve books for this list. (Even limiting myself to just 2012 publications was difficult as I read so many wonderful books this year.) My original list included 19 titles–all of which I did really enjoy. But, there can be only twelve (until 2013 anyway!) so, without further ado here are . . .

My Twelve Most Favorite books from 2012 (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken: In addition to being one of my favorite books from 2012, this was also one of my most anticipated. I’m so excited that it’s finally out so everyone can start talking about it with me!
  2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: 1920s mystery/thriller with supernatural elements and romance set in New York City? There was never a chance of this one being less than a favorite for me.
  3. The Selection by Kiera Cass: One of the most surprising books I read this year. I went into it expecting something silly and unsatisfying. I got a nuanced and unlikely blend of The Bachelor TV show and The Hunger Games. I still can’t pinpoint the details but everything about this one just makes me very happy when I think about it.
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: Another very anticipated title. Cath Crowley can do no wrong in my view. Filled with references to modern art, musings on love, multiple viewpoints, poetry and such beautiful writing. If I could bottle how I felt after finishing this book, I’d be rich.
  5. Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst: I love Sarah Beth Durst and was so happy to hear about this one. A fantasy with gods and goddesses, storytellers, tricksters, magic and a mysterious journey! And a book that manages to turn the original story upside down without ruining everything and a love rhombus? Trust me, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. (And bonus points for the diverse cast!)
  6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: As a reader I grew up on high fantasies. With a complex world filled with subtle language and politics (and dragons) all its own, this one fits right in with the fantasies of my childhood. The writing is beautiful and the story is exciting but I think my favorite part was Seraphina’s journey throughout the story as she learned: “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”
  7. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Regular readers will know of my love affair with Robin’s series for younger readers: Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist. So when I heard she was writing a YA series I was all over it even when the series premise did not sound like my usual fare. (Assasin nuns? In Brittany? In 1485?) I was so wrong to worry. With wild machinations, a protagonist who questions authority and nods to familiar mythology by another name, this one had everything I want in a book.
  8. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: This book (along with #12) are probably the books of BEA 2012. Aside from being much anticipated, this one completely blew me away. A post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion with sci-fi elements is bound to be cool. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found it was also simply stunning.
  9. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: A gothic tale that flips gender roles, riffs on imaginary friends, and features a plucky girl reporter? And it’s by Sarah Rees Brennan? Enough said.
  10. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: I went into this one knowing nothing about the book itself or its author beyond the basics. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found a book about parallel universes, alternate history, and family all wrapped up in a wish by the author to write a novel similar to Pride and Prejudice with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and art as continued motifs. Be still my heart.
  11. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s not The Scorpio Races but very little is. In a lot of ways this is a quiet start to a series but I’m so in for the rest of the quartet and learning more about Blue and Gansey. So. In.
  12. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: There are few authors I love as much as Gabrielle Zevin (and not just because she recognizes me at signings sometimes!) and few series that excite me as much as her Birthright books. There is, in fact, so much I like about this series that it’s hard to distill my thoughts on this second installment for my list except to say I love the backdrop almost as much as I appreciate that the series features a romance without being about a romance.

You can also find my list on Pinterest if you want to see all of the lovely covers.

Honorable Mentions (the books that didn’t make my main list but have kept me thinking all year):

  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: This might be the last book I finish in 2012. I put off reading it for a long time because I didn’t know what to expect and I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I wanted. But it was everything I wanted. Dimensional and beautiful and so much more than a retelling.
  • Frost by Marianna Baer: This one was a lot of fun and I’m still very sorry it didn’t go all the way in last year’s Cybils. Alas. While it doesn’t quite stand up to a really close reading it is a lot of fun with spooky twists around every corner.
  • The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: I hardly know where to start with this one. This book completely snuck up on me but with steampunk elements and a Victorian setting it’s not surprising that it became an instant favorite.
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda: Every time I think about giving away my copy I look at the writing and realize I can’t. I loved this one and because of it’s Les Mis references I’ve been thinking about it a lot with all of the Les Miserables movie trailers turning up on TV.
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood: Such a fun read! I’m so excited for the sequel and love seeing Jessica on Twitter. Definitely a deceptive cover for a book with a lot of depth. And feminism! And alternate history!
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: Eulberg is always aces in my book. Taking this one off my main list was an agonizing decision which is why it needed an honorable mention. In terms of personal moments this was also a big one since I got to interview Elizabeth Eulberg, one of my favorite authors (and imaginary BFF *cough*) about this title–and hopefully it won’t be the last time!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This one was a fun fast read but it really got me thinking. I feel like with lists like this there is always a bias favoring books read later in the year because, well, it’s easier to remember recent reads. That said this is one of the most effervescent books I’ve read (not just in 2012). It also easily has one of my favorite covers of 2012.

Buzzworthy Titles (the ones everyone else is talking about):

  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: After having problems with the earlier books in the series, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (and Giddon–though that is probably much less surprising).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I still haven’t read it! I know, I know. But every time I try to pick it up I remember at least one character is probably doomed and I just cant do it. Soon.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Honestly I read this so long ago I forgot it was a 2012 title! I enjoyed it and I love the attention it’s getting but I’m honestly a bit surprised it had enough staying power to maintain this level of attention from its pub date to the end of the year. Then again, it’s a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs and aliens–why wouldn’t people still be talking about it?!

Seraphina: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Seraphina Dombegh has been surrounded by lies for most of her life. Everything from her patron saint to her own parentage has been altered and hidden beneath layers of half-truths and deceptions. With a new position at court and her musical gifts gaining more notice than is strictly wise, Seraphina’s time for hiding may well be over.

Seraphina’s home, the kingdom of Goredd has had peace with the neighboring dragons for four decades. They walk among the Goreddi in their human forms, they share knowledge. But that does not mean they are equals. Tensions are always higher when the treaty’s anniversary is near. This year, with a prince murdered under suspiciously dragon-like circumstances, relations are particularly strained.

Without meaning too, Seraphina soon captures the attention of the court with her musical talents. Worse, she captures the attentions of Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen’s Guard, as well as an adept investigator. Working with Kiggs to unravel the secrets surrounding the murder and a conspiracy that could shake the foundation of their entire kingdom, Seraphina fears that her own secrets might be as easily discovered. As she works to find the truth, she will have to decide if she can survive having her own secrets brought to light in Seraphina (2012) by Rachel Hartman.

Seraphina is Hartman’s first novel. Seraphina’s story continues in the sequel Shadow Scale.

There is also a prequel called The Audition available to read on Scribd at this link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/97577759/Seraphina-Prequel-WEB

As far as fantasies go, Seraphina really hits all the marks from a complete glossary and cast of characters at the back of the book to an immersive setting replete with inter-kingdom tensions and political machinations. While there are dragons who can take on human forms, the fantasy in this story is more of an underpinning for Hartman’s masterfully written world.

Seraphina is a sweeping story that draws readers through Seraphina’s life and straight into a court full of intrigue and plotting. Readers who like their fantasies with a bit less magic and more surprises will find a lot to enjoy here. Some, including this reviewer, might be very surprised by this novel’s dynamic and unpredictable conclusion.

Though its length (a bit more than 450 pages, hardcover)–and the initial denseness of the text as Hartman introduces new characters as well as an entire kingdom and its history–can be off-putting, readers will be satisfied by the evocative prose, dramatic story, and especially Seraphina’s journey as she tries finds her own place both in her family and her country.

With characters that can make you laugh even as they break your heart* and a narrator who is as witty as she is unique, Seraphina is a clever introduction into a truly original fantasy world that promises even greater things in future installments.

*I’m looking at you, Orma.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with Rachel Hartman!