While I had that little side challenge going with a newly-published book every month, I needed to save something special for this category. Something that I knew I'd love. Something like the sequel to Rachel Hartman's incredible debut Seraphina.
Seraphina ended satisfactorily, but with plenty of room to expand, to take the story further, to press the boundaries of Hartman's lovely worldbuilding and character development. That's exactly what Shadow Scale did.
Seraphina and Co. travel a lot in Shadow Scale. It's not a boring story, though; Hartman knows how to use judiciously the "so we rode for a month and ended up dirty and hungry in an inn somewhere" trick of all fantasy writers everywhere. But she also sprinkles the travels with their own significances, something that keeps the book rolling at a quick but never hurried pace.
The mythology deepens beautifully in Shadow Scale, shedding light on dragons but also even more on the half-dragons that Seraphina knows exists with her. I absolutely love the half-dragons, by the way, and how they work. No half-dragon is the same, and some are humanoid while some are... well. I suggest reading. But they're all their own persons, and the journey to meet them was so much fun! Hartman manages to characterize these minor half-dragons, significant points in this particular story but rarely given so much space, briefly and potently so that you remember them all in between interacting with them again.
Speaking of deepening mythology - the religious system of Seraphina's world expands, too. Did it expand. Hartman gives hints about what's going on, but it takes you the whole book to really get the whole picture. And the whole picture is amazing. I won't spoil a thing, because the way it's written is just really, really cool.
As I admitted in a previous review, I'm a character person, but the worldbuilding that went into Seraphina/Shadow Scale is mind-boggling. It might not be as detailed as some - stand down, LOTR fans, I know you're slavering at the jaws now - but Hartman gives the reader a spectacular feeling of realism that you just can't shake. Everything is consistent and lifelike, and all the senses are engaged. Taste? Smell? Sight? Feeling? Sound? All of them! Her style is amazing and I'm always a little bit jealous when I think about it.
While the ending was a bit rushed - a little more explanation and set-up would have been nice - I'm glad to say that Seraphina had a great conclusion in Shadow Scale. Rachel Hartman is a genuine talent and I can't wait to see what she does next.