We only need to tell you one thing about Rachel Hartman’s books and it should pretty much tell you whether you’d be interested in it.
Are you stampeding to the bookstore? Or are you overly cautious and need further persuading? Here, have a look at Kim’s rave review of Shadow Scale, the second book in the author’s Seraphina duology. Both she and K. have praised the world-building, characters, and romance in this series–as well as the spectacular craftsmanship of the writing.
Hartman’s words are exquisite. Her imagination is expansive. Her world is detailed and fascinating. She has created laws, and religion, and a history. She has built architecture, painted landscapes, and constructed streets and alleyways. She has peopled her world with characters of different shades — from rebels to teachers, musicians to politicians, royalty, knights, outcasts and lovers.
Kim also asked Rachel Hartman a series of questions about the series which will a. persuade you to read the books immediately or b. make existing fans hop a little bit in excitement, because there are wonderfully spoilery answers to romance questions as well as news about the author’s upcoming books. We also have a giveway for two books at the end, so stick around!
TMG: Seraphina is an endearing, sometimes prickly, always lovable, and dryly funny character. How did you conceive of her? Is she a lot like you? And do you have a special favorite (I confess to an inordinate fondness for Orma!)?
RH: She’s like me and not like me, which I guess is to be expected. We both love music and we share a sense of humour, but she’s much more cautious and, well, prickly than I am. I giggle more than prickle, and I always have. I think her personality comes out of her position in the world, however, and that if I had to be that cautious about revealing my secrets, I’d probably be stiffer and more reserved as well.
As for a favourite character, Orma is right up there. I suspect that’s why he appeals to so many readers, because I love him dearly and that affection comes through.
TMG: The first book is entirely located in Goredd, while this volume is largely in all of the surrounding countries. I loved getting out and exploring the larger world of this universe! How did you develop the world of Seraphina? Have the history and character of Samsam, Ninys, Porphyry, and the Tanamoot always been there or have you been building as you go?
RH: Goredd has been with me since I was eleven, but the others countries came much later. During my comic-book days, before I started writing prose novels, I developed a pretty good idea of Porphyry (which was loosely inspired by the Swahili coastal traders of East Africa and by the classical seafaring cultures of the Mediterranean, especially Greece), but it wasn’t really until this book that I had to sit down and work out what made Ninys and Samsam different from each other. I did a small amount of that in Seraphina, mostly giving them different outfits, but for Shadow Scale I really had to make it concrete. Luckily, I really enjoy that kind of work.
TMG: What was your favorite scene to write in Shadow Scale? Which was the most difficult?
RH: I think I had the most fun writing the quigutl scenes in this book. Those beasties kept surprising me. The most difficult part to write was the chapter detailing Seraphina’s history with Jannoula. I had to rewrite it many times, and I was revising it right up to the bitter end. It took a lot to get the tone and pacing of it exactly right.
TMG: Jannoula is one of the most horrifying villains I’ve encountered. I love that her terror is inspired not by violence or the usual villainous deeds, but by her ability to invade minds and take control of others. At the same time, it’s extra frightening because you have made her a character to legitimately sympathize. Why did you choose this particularly nuanced villain as Phina’s final foil?
RH: I’m so pleased people are finding her horrifying! Just inappropriately tickled by this fact. It took a long time to get her right. I always knew what I wanted her to be, but when it came to writing her, I kept pulling my punches, softening her inadvertently because she creeped me out. I needed her to be nuanced because I find pure evil, blunt-instrument villains kind of boring. To me, the scariest evil is an evil that you recognize as lurking in the depths of your own heart, something that makes you say, “I could have been like that, under other circumstances.” Jannoula wants many of the same things Seraphina wants, but she wants them for awful reasons, which leads Seraphina to question herself. So not only does Jannoula literally get into people’s heads, she gets into Seraphina’s figuratively as well by cultivating these kinds of doubts.
TMG: There is a distinct philosophical thread that runs through both books (I love that Seraphina and Kiggs bond through philosophical discussion). In Seraphina, she states “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.” What influenced you to take this tack with the story?
RH: I really enjoy philosophy, is probably the simplest answer. It is, to me, our interface for interacting with the world; we don’t see things as they are, but through interpretive lenses of our own devising. I’m also an experimentalist, through and through, and there’s nothing more interesting to me than watching characters (or groups, or whole societies) ride a philosophical train to the very end of the rails — or realize at some point that they have to jump off.
TMG: This book is packed with diversity; we have POC characters, a trans character, and queer representation as well, yet it never feels artificial or forced (more books should be like this!). I think it’s probably safe to say it was important to you to make this book diverse; why? And how did you strike such an organic balance?
RH: I’m glad you found it organic and balanced; I’m a bit too close to have much perspective on that. Diversity is very important to me, and I honestly don’t see how one could populate an imaginary world without it. My plant-pathologist father taught me long ago that monocropping (the agricultural practice of growing only one variety of plant) makes your whole farm more vulnerable to insects or disease; ecosystems are more robust and flexible when they are diverse. The same goes for cultures and societies and beliefs. We need everybody, and this is an idea (a philosophy, if you will) that is tested and stretched throughout the book. What about people who offend us? People who hurt us? Is there a limit to what kinds of difference can be tolerated? And – most interesting to me – is difference real or an illusion? I don’t answer all these questions, but I buzz around them like a bee.
TMG: I am absolutely fascinated by the “love triangle” in this series. It’s less of a triangle between Seraphina, Kiggs, and Glisselda as it is a triangle between Seraphina, Kiggs, and Duty/Obligation. It’s a rather unique (and welcome) take on an often tired trope. Why did you decide to take this angle/conflict with the romantic element of the story?
RH: Would you believe, I’d never considered it in quite those terms! He really does have quite the romance going on with Duty, you’re right. I was trying to create a romance that moved me, personally. I am embarrassingly picky about romance, and I suspect it’s because I overthink everything. So here I’ve made this pair who overthink everything, too. Usually in romance, the thinky-thinker has to learn to relax and stop thinking so much, but I don’t like that answer either. Thinking isn’t a liability in love. For some of us, thinking is the turn-on.
TMG: This next question and answer is a big spoiler, so click on this only after you’ve read the book. WE MEAN IT. View Spoiler » Following up on the last question the reveal about Glisselda’s love for Phina was masterfully done. After Selda kisses Seraphina, she thinks, “I understood something about myself as well, even if I didn’t have the will to examine it just then.” Is this a hint that Phina perhaps reciprocated those feelings somewhat? And if so, did that change the dynamic of the relationship between Seraphina, Kiggs, and Glisselda? Was it eventually not so much a triangle as a mutual partnership?
RH: I think Phina definitely felt some inkling of possibility that simply hadn’t occurred to her before. Will it lead to anything between her and Glisselda? I honestly don’t know. I wanted to hint at the range of possibilities, and to underscore that the future is never set in stone. The relationship between the three of them is going to evolve and change over time — that’s what relationships do. It really kind of galls me when there’s a marriage and then, huzzah, it’s happily-ever-after time for everyone. “Happily ever after” implies that things are settled and can’t change, and that doesn’t sound like a very happy ending to me. « Hide Spoiler
TMG: What’s next for you book-wise? I heard a rumor that we’ll have more books set in the same world as Seraphina. Is it true? Will we see a little more of Seraphina, Kiggs, and Glisselda in the future? I’m just not ready to let go of them yet!
RH: Yes indeed! I’ve got another duology in the works, and the main character this time is one of Seraphina’s half-sisters. You’ll see a little more of Seraphina, Kiggs, and Glisselda — heck, you might see just about anybody. If they’re alive, they might show up, and if they don’t show up in these next two books, don’t imagine they’ve missed their chance. I have ideas for Abdo, Lars, Brisi, you name it. I’m not the world’s fastest writer, but I’ll get there eventually, I promise.
Thanks to our wonderful friends at Random House, we have two copies of Rachel Hartman’s newest book to give away. All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re excited about reading this book. And yes, BECAUSE DRAGONS is the obvious answer, but c’mon, play with us!
Open to US/Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. See entry form for complete details. Good luck!
Shadow Scale and Seraphina are both available online and in stores now. Advance copies were provided by the publisher for review and this giveaway.
I loved Rachel’s answers to these questions, and it’s made me determined to finish the first book asap! I’m in the middle of it now and am quite excited about seeing Seraphina grow into her own identity, as well as to see the non-traditional way the romance unfolds. I’ll post reviews to GoodReads as I finish both books, though it might take a bit with the craziness that my life has become offline.
Are you a fan of this series, or are you excited to start it?