Seraphina – Rachel Hartman.
Published: July 2012
Sourced: Bought copy
I couldn’t do this book justice in a summary if I had three years to try, and certainly not without giving away a few juicy spoilers. Basic premise is this: in Goredd, humans and dragons co-exist – although rather unwillingly. With the forty-year anniversary of the peace treaty between the two races looming, it is a really, really bad time for a member of the royal family to be murdered. Especially when it looks like a dragon may be the killer. Enter Seraphina Dombegh, our plucky protagonist and an incredibly gifted musician, recently taking on a place as assistant to the royal court composer. Drawn into the murder investigation by the alarmingly perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs, the pair begin to uncover the truth behind a terrible plot to sabotage relations between humans and dragons. Only Seraphina has secrets of her own to keep hidden, secrets that threaten to emerge as she is goes deeper into this world of danger and politics.
Seraphina is one of the most interesting, well developed and perfectly executed fantasy reads I have had the pleasure of consuming in years. It ranks up there with Tamora Pierce and Kristen Cashore, for all the same reasons that I love these authors – political intrigue, fantastical creatures, strong, independent female main characters, and, of course, beautifully explored relationships.
In a world where dragons and humans live in a peaceful but tenuous co-existence, it could take only the smallest of sparks to bring the war back to life. Hartman illustrates the distrust and prejudice between humans and dragons with astonishing skill, especially for a debut author. Their world is perfectly built, with simmering tensions between the parties soaring to an epic conclusion. The timing in this novel is excellent, carrying the plot along at a steady pace and imparting knowledge without falling into the trap of the nefarious info-dump. The political element to this story is well-balanced with the human, and it makes for a fascinating and involving read.
Not to mention that the fantasy elements are – well, fantastic. Dragons walking around in human skin with their emotions on lockdown and rationality as religion? Genius! The most exquisitely fashioned relationship in this novel is that between the very human, very emotional Seraphina and her dragon mentor Orma. The conflict between reason and emotion is torturously played out. I felt for Orma, I felt for Seraphina, I felt for their astonishing world and I felt a very, very strong need to get my hands on the next book ASAP!
This is a great addition to the treasure trove of high-fantasy we’ve got going on in YA at the moment, and definitely my pick of the bunch.
Cover love: I am a huge fan of the US cover (below), but, alas, I live in Australia and instead have the edition pictured above.