[Review] Seraphina by Rachel Hartman + Free Prequel!
Published: 10 July, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Summary: “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 adore the fantasy fiction, whether it be written for children, young adults or adults, but it is hard to come across a fantasy book that breathes fresh air into this very worn genre. We’ve had vampires, werewolves, wizards, elves, hobbits, unicorns and even dragons, but we haven’t had dragons like the ones we are introduced to in Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. I was fortunate enough to read this book via Netgalley a few months ago and it is quite simply fantastic! Not to spoil anything but as soon as you read the opening lines you will want to keep reading. So Seraphina is an intelligent and musically talented woman who lives in the fantastical medieval land of Goredd, which is celebrating 40-year anniversary of its peace treaty with the nation of dragons. She has a dangerous secret, one which is treated and maintained almost like a mental illness, something I dwelled upon a lot even after I discovered this interesting part of her character.
The hard thing about fantasy books is that you really have to learn a lot about the world, while simultaneously following the plot development of the hero/ine. Books like Harry Potter simplify matters by starting with a character needing to learn about the world at the same pace as the reader. For example Harry learns he is a wizard, and through his eyes we become acquainted with Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world. But then there are books like Seraphina in which the character is already established in this fantasy world and we have to pick up clues about the world through snatches of the story. This is much harder for the reader and requires a skilled author to balance description and plot developement. Rachel Hartman wins for one of the best Young Adult authors this year. While I found it a bit difficult to fully grasp what was going on at the beginning of the story it didn’t take long to catch up on the history and events and get on board with Seraphina’s personal journey of self-discovery.
The beauty of this story lays with the readers slow discovery of who and what Seraphina is, so I won’t spoil it for those of you who have not read it, but what makes Seraphina such a captivating character is predominantly the vivid landscape of her mind. I thought to myself as I read Hartman’s descriptions of Seraphina’s mind gardening – what strange creatures are lurking in my own personal mind garden? Do I have ugly little beasts that need to be controlled? Are we all a little wild inside?
What else is there to love about this book? DRAGONS! But maybe not the kind of dragons you are expecting… These dragons are intelligent, and can transform into human form (but then need to be trained into civility like a baby does in becoming a mature adult). I found the whole idea very interesting. We’ve had dragons in many fantasy novels. Game of Thrones anyone? But not quite like this. If humans can turn into animals like the animagi of the Harry Potter world then why can’t animals turn into humans? It’s an interesting idea that is explored with the kind of political and racial upheaval that you would expect in a world where two different species are trying to co-exist.
All in all, Seraphina was a very well written, imaginative and interesting story that will be enjoyable to any reader that has a passion for fantasy.
Seraphina is the first of a trilogy, with the next book expected to be published in 2013. In the meantime Rachel Hartman has released a FREE prequel that you can enjoy right here!