Sunday, February 8, 2009

Review – “Seraph of Sorrow” by MaryJanice Davidson & Anthony Alongi

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Like most young women, Jennifer Scales is slowly coming into her own. But for her, this means reconciling two sides of herself. She's half weredragon—and able to shift into that form at will But she's also half beaststalker—the deadly nemesis of all dragonkind. So she's an odd girl out on both sides of her family.
But now the seemingly endless mutual hatred may finally be overcome. There is hope that diplomacy—not fire and sword—might enable the longtime enemies to coexist. But in both camps, suspicion runs rampant and bad blood boils. Now to secure the peace, Jennifer will be called upon to learn the most ancient skills of dragonkind—if she lives long enough to finish the lessons...
The Seraph of Sorrow is the fourth book in the Jennifer Scales series of Young Adult urban fantasies. Although I have read most of MaryJanice Davidson’s solo works, I had not read any of this series written with her husband Anthony Alongi. Where her Queen Betsy books are light and funny, this Jennifer Scales book is at the opposite end of the spectrum – dark and complex. Surprisingly so.

This is a challenging read - with multiple POVs, flashbacks and timelines that span decades. It is however rewarding, as each character and flashback contributes a piece of a broad canvas that is cleverly assembled across the course of the novel resulting in a clearly framed picture at the conclusion.

Taking place in small towns in Minnesota, the story centres on three races that have existed in conflict for decades (and historically for centuries). Weredragons (dragon shapeshifters) and Beastalkers (dragon hunters and monster slayers) are entrenched enemies. The third group are the werachnids that are in opposition to both. Seraph of Sorrow contains weighty themes of intolerance, prejudice, hatred and vengeance. A few lone voices cry out for peace and diplomacy, trying to end the vicious murdering cycle of Hatfields and McCoy style retribution but with little impact and success. Jennifer and her family are among the voices of reason and clearly Jennifer has a special destiny.

This fourth novel seems to consolidate and unify story arcs and events from all of the previous novels, enriching the back-story and world-building. A two-page Preface at the beginning enlightens the reader as to the essential things from earlier books that you need to know in order to enjoy the novel. It sufficed. Seraph of Sorrow provides an in-depth and alternate retelling of key events from the perspective of the other main characters, revealing previously unknown reasons, motivations and connections. Jennifer herself is not the main focus of each of these retellings but all threads lead back to Jennifer.

Seraph of Sorrow is divided into six sections with each character recounting their origins, family connections and contributions that bring us to the present and perhaps more importantly delves into their loves, losses and dreams. It begins with the story of Jonathon Scales, Jennifer’s father and weredragon and continues with Glorianna Seabright, Mayor and legendary head of the beastalkers; Skip Wilson, werachnid and one-time boyfriend of Jennifer; Winona Brandfire, elder of the dragonkind; Henry Blacktooth, beastalker and husband to Wendy, closest friend of Liz, wife to Jonathon and mother of Jennifer’s closest friend. It concludes with a whirlwind of short perspectives from ‘Everybody Else’.

There is an impressive array of characters in Seraph of Sorrow, all of them passionate, some fanatical and others despicable. All are well drawn enough that the reader will experience more then a few significantly emotional moments in the many tragedies and losses that occur. Seraph of Sorrow concludes with a lot of surprises, creating a situation that may result in either a final conflict or a final peaceful solution for all. I thoroughly enjoyed this dramatic tale and believe that it would be especially appreciated by readers of the previous books. One of the most sophisticated YA novels I have read in some time. Recommended for YA and adult readers.



Penguin Group (USA)
Published: January 2009
ISBN #: 9780441016662
Format: Paperback
Pages: 435
Age Range: Young Adult

Read an excerpt from the Prologue and Chapter 5.

Jennifer Scales Series:

  1. Jennifer Scales and The Ancient Furnace (2005)
  2. Jennifer Scales and The Messenger of Light (2006)
  3. The Silver Moon Elm (2007)
  4. Seraph of Sorrow (2009)


1 comment:

  1. Absolutely one of my favorite series, and one of the most overlooked! Love the complexity of the characters. The format for this book was quite different than the first three, but a very solid series!

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