Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 10, 2012
Pages: 454 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: from the publisher via NetGalley

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.


Once the title went up on NetGalley, all I could read about for an estimated month was praise for Seraphina. Friends of mine who got to Seraphina before I did were singing its praises to the heavens before I read the novel and that got me curious. I was familiar with both the book and its author, but I hadn't put much thought into it before. What was it about this book that had them all so excited? After reading the novel myself and straining my eyes after an eye doctor appointment just so I could finish reading, I see what they're talking about (no puns intended).

Seraphina is a heroine I'm going to remember and be fond of for a very long time. Not that I don't love the other characters too! Kiggs, Glisselda, Orma, the Ardmagar Comonot,... All of them would be painted black of white in another novel, but here, they are more attractive shades of grey that benefit their characters and the novel as a whole. Seraphina's complexities as a young woman struggling with who/what she is and trying to do what is right when all that surrounds her is wrong made me with I could help her. Then I remembered I was reading.

Infodumps are a typical way of making a reader familiar with a fantasy world or the rules of an alternate universe, but Seraphina doesn't for this route. Readers are forced to pay attention and rely on themselves to pull together the image of a world full of dragons, humans, and the fragile peace the two races share. Every description expands the world so subtly that inattentive readers will easily get lost. I love that a book that expects its reader to be intelligent to bring everything together and not need to be coddled, but it was overwhelming at the beginning and the overall picture didn't come together until I was about halfway through the book.

It took me a long time to get fully invested in the book--I estimate I wasn't fully interested until after the halfway point--but once I was, making me put down my Kindle to do work was difficult. I even tried to keep reading while my eyes were dilated after the eye doctor's appointment and that didn't go well (in a word, PAIN), but I kept going and finished it like that: with my eyes like saucers that made all the words blurry.

I am absolutely spellbound by Seraphina and plan to stay around for the second book of the duology. I just have to know what happens to her and all of Goredd! It's going to be a while, but I will survive. Rereading the novel and discovering all the subtle facts of the novel I missed should help me pass the time.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan