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.
Another Young Adult fantasy that has been talked up by plenty of folk, and has been garnering nominations and awards all over the place. I couldn’t resist giving it a go and found myself sucked into a world that I am desperate to spend more time in.
1) One of the things I loved most about Seraphina was the pacing. Hartman was not concerned about slowly unveiling her tale, showing us the world of Seraphina and how it is all interlinked. We found out history and culture, all at the most luxuriously slow pace. This isn’t to say that the tension was not ratcheted sky high when it needed to be, but I really appreciated the fact that it didn’t all happen at breakneck speed, which is often the case with YA novels.
2) I loved the exploration of prejudice and acceptance through the use of dragons and half-dragons. It is a great way to introduce these themes to a younger reader, and allow them to use the ideas as discussion points. It never comes across as preachy.
3) Hartman has written a terrific protagonist in the form of Seraphina. She is complicated and flawed and nuanced and just *very* real. She loves and hates, and has messy relationships with those around her, from her father to the dragon Orma. She is spectacularly written.
4) I enjoyed the fact that we had here a novel that was not merely high fantasy, but was also a mystery, an adventure romp and a romance. You get a lot of bang for your buck – a wonderful amount of story – within the pages of Seraphina. Again, this makes it somewhat unusual in the YA arena, since some of the premises for books are possibly enough to sustain a short story. Seraphina is rich and deep.
5) The dragons are a wonderful construct. They aren’t just beautiful flying creatures. Instead, they are deeply logical and scientific beasts that believe emotions will muddy the waters of progress. They see humans as being like cockroaches – but very interesting cockroaches that bear examination. This was a classy portrayal of a creature that could have come across as a little tired and cliche-ridden. Rather, they felt very fresh.
6) Occasionally – and only very occasionally – the events were portrayed in a slightly rocky fashion, because of going into Seraphina’s ‘mind garden’ (which so reminded me of Sherlock Holme’s mind palace!) and experiencing flashbacks to previous events. It was never so bad that it prevented enjoyment of the book but now and then I had to work harder to get to grips with what was happening.
7) The secondary characters were as well-fleshed and lovingly written as the main character, which I just loved to see. Sometimes you can have a main character who is so well done that everyone else fades around them, but this wasn’t the case here.
8) There was a richness to the prose that made it a real joy to keep turning the pages.
9) I enjoyed the way that art and music and culture were a large part of Seraphina. It’s good to see a world as fully-formed as this, but it also serves as a way of expressing the personalities involved. Seraphina’s love of music – especially since she’s forbidden to play – introduces in an exemplary fashion some of what makes her tick.
10) One of the best YA novels of recent times, I think that Seraphina will be up there with the classics such as Elidor, C S Lewis and Philip Pullman. An exceptional read.
Despite a slightly uneven delivery at times, this really does deserve a flawless 10/10.