A Writer's Journey

August 1, 2016

Book Analysis: “Shadow Scales” by Rachel Hartman

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 1:00 am
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a long time since I did one of these, huh? But I think it’s time I start up again.

Once again, this is not a review. This is me looking at the author’s writing choices to determine if I agree with them or not. It’s a way to help me improve my own writing. So there will be spoilers.

shadow scale

Continue at your own risk.

First, a brief summary. Shadow Scales picks up where Seraphina left off. Glisselda is running a country under siege by dragons. Their only hope is to collect all the half-dragons in the Southlands in order to create an old weapon that can stop the dragons. Seraphina and Abdo heads off to do so, but they encounter a dangerous enemy—Jannoula, a half-dragon that once tried to take over Seraphina until she shut her out. Jannoula proves to be a tricky adversary and Seraphina wonders if she will ever be victorious.

I really loved Seraphina so I was excited to read the sequel. I wanted to see what became of her and Kiggs, of the war, of everyone. And I was not disappointed.

But by the time I finished, I was curious about one thing. Hartman had chosen to start the book by framing it as a story being handed down through the generations. And it was framed as a story about how Seraphina loved Kiggs. Yet the story is not a romance. And the romance that is there is very low-key. There are moments between Seraphina and Kiggs, but it does not propel the plot forward. She doesn’t make any life-altering decisions because of him. In fact, in the end, he still marries Glisselda and Seraphina is just happy to be their friend.

The twist with Selda, though, was a surprise but one I liked. I liked that she was in love with Phina as well. Maybe that’s why their weird arrangement will work out. Or at least I’d like to think it will. But back to the twist. It was a good one because it felt natural to the character. When I looked back, it made sense. Selda’s actions and feelings toward Phina made sense.

And that’s what a writer wants to do. What a writer should do, I should say. Twists shouldn’t just be for surprise/shock, leaving the reader confused. So well done to Ms. Hartman.

I just don’t get why it was framed as a romance.

There is another bit of romance I liked, one between Orma and Eskar. Well, as much of a romance that dragons can have in this world. Yet she grew fond of him and mated with him. It made Phina feel awkward and made me go “aww.” So there was some romance.

Let’s move onto the antagonist, Jannoula. Because I do have a lot to say about her—good and bad. I’ll start with the good:

Jannoula starts out as a good antagonist. In fact, Hartman makes the reader question if she is the antagonist. One feels sorry for her, wondering if she’s misunderstood. For a while, the reader may even hope for Phina to forgive and rescue her. But as more of the past between the two is revealed, it’s easy to see her as a manipulative person.

The reader then sees how manipulative and powerful she is. Here, though, develops my main problem with Jannoula: She’s too powerful. She doesn’t have a weakness and is able to manipulate people. And I don’t really like villains like this. They are set up to be undefeatable. And so I fear that there will be something nonsensical used to defeat them. That it will take me out of the story because it seems impossible or improbable.

How does Shadow Scale fare with this? It’s not…too…bad. I guess my main problem is that it’s anticlimactic. The solution seems plausible and is one I figured out ahead of it. Phina needed to unlock her own powers and fight back against Jannoula. She did so. I then thought the people would realize the truth of Jannoula and rebel themselves. Instead, a giant creature comes forth and just plucks Jannoula up, taking her back into the forest. It all seemed…like nothing. Like a big letdown.

I hope there’s another book because I want Ms. Hartman to explore Phina’s powers now that she’s released them. It will be interesting, I know.

Hmm, what next?

Let’s talk about Abdo. He has to be one of my favorite characters. Because his scales cover his tongue, he can’t talk but can communicate to Phina, other half dragons and his family using telepathy. Abdo is a cheeky young boy who is a great companion to Phina. He is more open than Phina, coming from a culture that respected dragons and half-dragons rather than fear them. So he hasn’t tried to hide anything.

He was also an absolute delight to read since he has no filter. After all, Phina is mostly the only one who can hear him so he doesn’t have to really worry about hurting someone’s feelings. He also can see things others can’t and pick up on more. People don’t mind talking around him, not caring about being discreet. He also believes in Phina as much as Selda and Kiggs do.

I almost want Abdo to have his own story now. No, scratch that. I do want him to have his own book.

So what have I learned? A bit, honestly. Especially with world building. Hartman started to build it in Seraphina. She expanded on it beautifully in Shadow Scales. It all felt natural and like a diverse world. So bravo to her. It is something to keep in mind, even if you’re not writing fantasy or sci fi. If a writer is writing a series, they must build on what came before. They can’t just throw new things in and keep changing the rules.

In the end, was it a good read? Yes. Did I learn from it? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes.

Summer Writing Challenge

Week 7 (July 11-July 17)

Words: 8,429

Under/over: 17,421

Week 8 (July 18-July 24)

Words: 9,480

Under/over: 20,220

Week 9 (July 25-July 31)

Words: 10,683

Under/over: 22,687

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