Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina has averted one human-dragon crisis but there are more on the horizon as a draconian coup has upset the balance of power and the people of Goredd are struggling to master the almost forgotten art of dragon fighting. Behind the scenes Seraphina is struggling with having revealed her half-dragon nature and realizing that she is only one of many scattered across the globe. And it seems like the half-dragon abilities are one of the few, truly effective defenses against the dragons so now Seraphina is on a quest to gather as many of her companions as she can, all the while one of them is stirring from a long slumber and is hungry for Seraphina's power and control.
I re-read Seraphina earlier in the year so I think I can honestly say that no, Shadow Scale isn't quite as special as Seraphina, but Seraphina was the rare book that had soaring heights, just like the music it describes. I still find it hard to articulate precisely why Seraphina worked so well but I think the reason it's a bit stronger is because it was so much about Seraphina's personal struggles and a very complete story for it. Shadow Scale goes farther afield and is more of a traditional plot struggle with a larger cast so no one gets quite the same amount of attention and focus (plus it invokes a bit of a shounen "oh no, you found people and now they have been turned against you, you must find even more!" plot line).
Don't think that I disliked this book even remotely however, it's still great and it even takes a twist I was expecting and makes it even more integral to the story. Plus, since Seraphina is going on what's virtually a grand tour of the world (which again means that no one place gets the same amount of attention and detail that Goredd got in the first book) we get more non-white characters and more queer characters and for everyone of them those details are only a part of their identity which is grand. Normally a more plot-focused story like this one would be more up my alley than an internal, character-focused story but I think that the nature of this plot (where Seraphina is constantly reacting, no event comes about just because of her own initiative) just made me a little lukewarm on it.
But again, I liked a lot of the little details in this book! I liked a lot of the new characters and Hartman came up with answers to questions I didn't even know I had, particularly about how other dragons live among humans and what happens when these two different societies start to merge (their lifespans alone are almost incompatible). Ultimately the dragons are my favorite part of these two books, Hartman puts real thought and care into the human kingdoms but ultimately it's another fantasy story heavily inspired by medieval Europe that only looks aboard after the familiar is established as far as people are concerned. Her dragons do also draw upon older tropes and ideas but they're only inspired by them, I certainly can't recall any other stories with utterly logical, scientist dragons who aspire to have no emotion at all. In fact, there were a few moments where I wondered if the story was about to take a weird science-fiction bent (thankfully it did not) since these dragons feel so different, and yet not out of place, from the rest of this dark ages world.
I am curious to see what Hartman writes next but I'm also curious if she'll write again, there was a substantial wait in-between these books after all. But for the moment I can at least recommend this duet (which is honestly as long as a trilogy) about music, dragons, and the unaccepted fighting society for their place.