Seraphina Rachel Hartman
464 pages, Hardcover
Series: Seraphina #1
Scheduled Release Date: July 10, 2012**I received an ARC copy for my kindle through NetGalley.**
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
This is one of those books that I could have read in one day if I didn't have other obligations that I have to tend to (such as work, the Librarian, and friends). Each time I had to deal with one of those things, I begrudgingly put this book down. The biggest strength of this book is Hartman's world building, and if you've read any of my previous posts, you'd know that this will either make or break a story for me.
The underlying premise isn't particularly groundbreaking, yet it speaks to the insidious ways bigotry and prejudice can undermine society. Essentially, Seraphina secretly exists as a half-dragon in the midst of a tenuous peace between dragons and humans. Dragons are able to coexist with humans by transforming into their saraantras form, which makes them generally passable as humans except for the bells they are required to wear on their clothes (and behavioral oddities for newer saraantras). Humans and dragons alike do little to veil their disgust and contempt for the other species, so consorting with--and, most definitely, falling in love and procreating with--each other would be considered a horrific act. But Seraphina must exist among humans and saraantras in Goredd as a product of this horrific union.
Seraphina spends her childhood keeping her secret as taught by her father and her dragon uncle, Orma. When she finally breaks out on her own and joins the musician team at court, she draws the attention of the royal family by playing her flute at the funeral of the recently murdered prince. From there, the story unfolds in two major prongs: we get to see how Seraphina is different and how she struggles to maintain her secret and we see Seraphina become more involved in solving the mystery of the prince's death and the subsequent threat on the royal family and the Comonot (the dragon's leader).
This is unlike many other YA fantasies in that it is a slow build. There isn't a race to the finish line, so readers looking for a fast-paced read may be tripped up or bored. But patient readers are rewarded. The twist wasn't particularly surprising. There was one clue in particuar that was so bold-faced, I was kind of like...really? But by that point, it really didn't matter, I was smitten.
My absolute favorite idea to come from this story is Seraphina's garden of grotesques. I won't give it all away, but basically dragons are able to partition their minds and Orma teaches Seraphina to do this as a way of controlling debilitating, epileptic visions. In order to do this, Seraphina puts the recurring grotesques (all with appropriate nicknames such as Loud Lad who plays pipes and Miss Fusspots--which is kind of self-explanatory) in different spaces in a garden in her mind that she must tend to in order to stay "healthy" and control the onset of these visions.
The language in the book is beautiful as well. Hartman's writing can't be argued with (quote is from the ARC and subject to change for final publication--but hopefully not!):
"There are melodies that speak as eloquently as words, that flow logically and inevitably from a single, pure emotion. The Invocation is of this kind, as if its composer had sought to distill the purest essence of mourning, to say, Here is what it is to lose someone."
There is also some subtle humor that had me laughing out loud (again, quote is subject to change):
"Orma moved a pile of books off a stool for me but seated himself directly on another stack. This habit of his never ceased to amuse me. Dragons no longer hoarded gold; Comonot's reforms had outlawed it. For Orma and his generation, knowledge was treasure. As dragons through the ages had done, he gathered it, and then he sat on it."
I highly recommend this book to readers of YA fantasy.