As often happens after the holidays at the end of the year, I’ve gotten behind on reviews. I want to mention the books I’ve read, but I also want to get caught up since I’m trying to set some reading/review schedules for myself and that’s hard to do when I’m so far behind. So… I’m going to attempt some mini-reviews! I’m not necessarily going to review everything currently in my to-review stack this way, but I am going to review the newer books I’ve seen reviewed (often many times before) in fewer words than normal. Instead of writing my own plot description, I am just going to show the book blurb, followed by my thoughts on the book.
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.
Rachel Hartman’s debut novel, a young adult fantasy, seems to have been lauded all over the book blogosphere since its release last summer. Now that I’ve read it myself, I understand the praise it has garnered. This is an incredible first novel with some beautiful writing, an intriguing setting, a wonderful heroine, and a complex world. I am now joining the ranks of those who highly recommend this book!
I loved the complexity of the world Rachel Hartman created with its numerous saints and the melding of human and dragon societies after the treaty. In particular, I admired how she didn’t simplify the peace between humans and dragons. Sure, there was a treaty, but that didn’t mean humans and dragons just started living in harmony because their respective leaders decided they should. (And I am desperately wishing for a prequel telling the story of the young queen who negotiated peace with a dragon. Now that had to have taken some courage!) Even forty years later, humans and dragons still have their prejudices concerning each other that permeates their societies, which rings completely true since changes that big take time. Dragons look down on humans for their emotions, and humans believe dragons to be soulless creatures, thinking poorly of their lack of artistic talent. Yet the more I read, the more apparent it is that it’s not as simple as “dragons are this way,” and I loved that it dealt with regulation and expectations reinforcing beliefs.
Seraphina herself is a wonderful character facing some rather large obstacles. She carries a secret about herself that would have dire consequences were it revealed. Due to fear of her secret being discovered, Seraphina’s father would prefer she remain in safe isolation, but Seraphina has other plans for herself. Her great musical talent leads her to court, where she becomes the assistant to the composer. I loved that Seraphina didn’t let herself live in fear and followed her dreams, even when she was discouraged from doing so. She possesses a courageous spirit, determination, wit, and a kind heart—but her possession of these excellent qualities is not overwhelming, nor is she flawless. Seraphina has enough insecurities and humanity to be sympathetic while remaining an admirable character. Though the titular character is my favorite, I also appreciated that many of the other characters were more complicated than they initially appeared (such as Glisselda, who was much smarter than the simple spoiled princess I thought her to be in the beginning).
In addition to having a strong world and characters, the novel is compulsively readable, difficult to put down, and well-written. I think Seraphina has one of the better prologues I’ve read (I usually find prologues bland and pointless). It’s only 5 pages long, but it captured my attention with the very first line: “I remember being born.” In those few pages, it shows a little of Seraphina’s early life while introducing the religious part of the world and her relationships with her father and Orma.
The main downside to the book is that it could be somewhat predictable. For instance, there was a revelation about one particular aspect Seraphina had wondered about for a long time that wasn’t difficult to figure out (and I felt like maybe Seraphina or Orma should have at least considered that possibility sooner). There were also a few parts I found slow toward the beginning, but for the most part, I found it pretty easy to devour its pages.
Seraphina is a stunning debut novel, and I’m looking forward to the sequel, likely be released in spring 2014.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.
Read “The Audition” (a short prequel to Seraphina)
Other Reviews of Seraphina: