Seraphina is written by Rachel Hartman. It was published in 2012 by Random House. It is Hartman’s first novel. A sequel, Shadow Scale, is due out in 2015. Hartman’s website can be found here.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“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 the 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.”
“I have reached a decision,” the princess announced. “I shall perform at the Treaty Eve concert, that galliard and pavano. Not Viridius’s suite: the one by Tertius.”
I had been placing music upon the stand; I paused, book in hand, weighing my next words. “The arpeggios in the Tertius were a challenge to you, if you recall—”
“Do you imply my skill is insufficient?” Glisselda lifted her chin dangerously.
“No. I merely remind you that you called Tertius a ‘poxy cankered toad’ and threw the music across the room.” Here both girls burst out laughing. I added, as gingerly as one stepping onto an unstable bridge, “If you practice and take my advice about the fingerings, you ought to be able to work it up sufficiently well.” Sufficiently well not to embarrass yourself, I might’ve added, but it seemed imprudent to do so.
“I want to show Viridius that Tertius played badly is better than his piddling tunes played well,” she said, wagging a finger. “Can I attain that level of petty vindictiveness?”
“Undoubtedly,” I said, and then wondered whether I should have replied so quickly. Both girls were laughing again, however, so I took it that I was safe.
Sir James straightened up and raised his grizzled chin. “I could tell General Gann from General Gonn, in my prime.”
“All in the midst of general mayhem,” chirped Maurizio into his mug.
Sir James flashed him the fish-eye. “Those were terrible times. We had to know who was who, so we’d have some inkling what they’d do. Dragons don’t work well together; they prefer an attack of opportunity, like the Zibou crocodile, and they’ve a devilish fast eye for an opening. If you know who you’re dealing with, you know what he’s likely to do, and you can lure him in with a false opportunity—not every time, but then, it only has to work once.”
“Did you recognize the one that approached your camp?” asked Kiggs, looking around. “And what did it do? Stick its head in the cave entrance?”
Recommended Age Range: 16+
What I Liked:
(May contain mild spoilers)
Can I just say, this is one of the most fabulously unique fantasies I’ve read in a while. Hartman’s take on dragons is something I’ve never seen before, and the setting and world itself was easy to immerse oneself in. I loved the way that music and dance were incorporated. It reminded me a great deal of some sort of medieval Italy, and yet it was different enough that it really captured that sense of wonderment and difference that I love seeing in fantasy novels. Hartman’s world is fully fleshed-out, with an intriguing history and lots of opportunities to show off all the different cultures she established just for this world. And the dragons, like I said, were so unique that it gives a completely different perception of them. Dragons who can transform into humans? Dragons who are coldly rational, who are confused by human emotion? I’ve never seen that before, in any fantasy I’ve read (but I’ve hardly read them all). It was so refreshing to see something new (to me, at least).
It’s not that hard to guess about Seraphina, but then, it’s revealed so early that it’s not supposed to be a Big Reveal. I honestly thought that Lucian would be a half-dragon, too, since that would be the obvious thing (love interests always seem to have some shared background in common that helps the protagonist overcome her angst/fear/whatever, i.e., If I Tell) , but luckily and happily, Hartman shies away from that. And the mystery is very good; I was honestly surprised by who the perpetrator was revealed to be. Hartman handled the red herrings, the deception, and the reveal quite well. In fact, she handles it so well that the culprit isn’t even considered to be the culprit until it is revealed, although Hartman throws in the required foreshadowing beforehand, so it doesn’t come completely out of left field. This is where re-readings would probably be good, to catch all those clues.
I loved Lucian and Seraphina. It was the obvious romance, but it was handled very well. The ending is more bittersweet than happy, but the fact that it is bittersweet means that Hartman handled their romance realistically. Also, thank goodness Glisselda isn’t a snotty, bratty princess. It’s the fact that she isn’t that makes Seraphina and Lucian’s feelings for each other even harder to deal with. Lucian was also one of those characters that I automatically love, just because he’s so different than other YA heroes/love interests that I strongly dislike. Lucian’s personality and character is just one that I prefer/like in romances. Is he a little perfect? Maybe. But I still like him.
Also, since I recently saw Frozen, Seraphina actually reminds me quite a bit of Elsa, without the magical powers.
What I Didn’t Like:
The beginning of the book was not what I was expecting. At all. It took me a little bit to get into the world and into the story, especially since Hartman throws all these strange things at you before getting into the “meat and potatoes” of the plot. When Seraphina starts going on and on about her mind-garden, I was like, “Uh…what?” Luckily, right after that strange thing, it really picks up, and everything makes sense. Or…not really, but once you get a feel for the world, it stops being so strange.
I always have trouble liking “just accept who you are” plots. There are just so many problems inherent in that philosophy…
Seraphina is an amazingly unique fantasy with a portrayal of dragons that is so distinctive and different that it just makes the book that much more interesting. Seraphina is a wonderful protagonist, and her romance with Lucian is developed beautifully, although it is bittersweet. The writing and the plot are top-notch and the conflict is developed—and delivered— nicely. Here is proof that it is possible to make unique fantasies that don’t borrow from the same old clichés and formulas (not that those are bad, but they can be if used incorrectly).
You can buy this book here: Seraphina
Coming Up Next: Fyre by Angie Sage