Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina (2012). Random House. 467 Pages. $10.99
From the Author’s Website
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.
I remember being born.
In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.
So, I read Seraphina because I saw that Tamora Pierce had said good things about it. Now, I don’t always agree with the books she loves, but probably 99% of the time I do. So I read the excerpt on Amazon, and before I knew it, I was spending $10 I didn’t really have on a book that I have to admit, I just spent the last four hours reading.
It was amazing.
I often lament about world-building, or flat characters, or stupid cliches. What exists here is a wonderfully filled out cast of characters, in a fully realized world. Everything anyone does has a reason, even if it is not immediately apparent, and overall it is brilliant. I absolutely loved this book, and was hard-pressed to put it down for anything. (Seriously, four hours.)
It is also suspenseful, and heart-wrenching, and gut-twisting. There are functional and dysfunctional relationships, and they all blend together in a story about the prelude to what may very well become a major civil war. And our main character, Seraphina, is in a unique position to understand the entirety of the situation before her. But she is also in a very tenuous position because of her secret heritage.
She is like a bastard. Worse than a bastard because she should not exist. But she does, and she uses all the gifts she’s been given to save her country.
But she is willing to sacrifice everything for that. Seraphina risks herself time and again to protect people who, if they knew her secret, would probably reject her. Why? Because it is her duty.
I say again and again that I love strong female characters. I love girls who kick ass, and stick to their principles, and who discover good things about themselves. I love reading about characters who come from dysfunctional pasts who manage to make something of themselves and triumph over their upbringing. And while Seraphina doesn’t embody all of that, she certainly does have her own burdens, and she definitely discovers herself. She learns that she is stronger, and more courageous than she had ever dared to imagine, and though she does a lot of things she does not enjoy to protect herself and her family, the fact is, she does these things for the right reasons, and it makes her a wholly sympathetic character.
Now, to talk about some things that might be a bit spoiler-ish. As per usual, I’ve whited out the bits that I consider “spoilers” because I don’t want to ruin the story for you. Highlight between the brackets to see the text.
[There is a love story here. And it's handled so deftly, so sneakily that at first you're not entirely sure it's going that direction. And then it's there, and Seraphina is in love, and while she doesn't just set it aside, because that is a near impossibility, she does manage to continue functioning like a human being, and it does not absorb her, and I think that makes it one of the most wonderful love stories I've ever read in a young adult novel. Seriously.
I think it is incredible and wonderful that Seraphina's love is both sneaky-- it grows from friendship-- and realistic. She falls in love, but is still herself through it all, and that is something that so many authors seem to lose sight of or mangle.
And then at the end, their last scene together. Oh my goodness. That was heart-wrenching. I cannot stand the wait, to see how they grow together, and how they grow separately.]
Alright, it’s probably safe to look now. In case you haven’t somehow figured it out, I loved this book. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman gets a very, very solid 5/5 in my book. I would strongly suggest that if you like Young Adult Fantasy novels, you read it as soon as you can. (Seriously, buy it now!)
Edited to add:
The hazard of writing posts in the middle of the night is that you sometimes miss things. Like, I genuinely meant to talk about the cover. Because it’s gorgeous, and for once it actually fits the book. OK, I shouldn’t say “for once” but it is so very often that covers are completely inappropriate to the contents that it’s a pleasant surprise when it fits. I loved the cover as well. The dragon flying over the town gives you an idea of what the book is about, without really telling you the plot (I hate when there are spoilers on the cover.) And it’s, beautiful. I love it.
The sequel; Dracomachia (working title) is expected in 2013. I can hardly wait.