July 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers
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.
Oh my gosh, this book is amazing! I don't remember when I got so involved with a book. More than once, I neglected more important tasks (say the three papers that were due for midterms, the lesson I'm teaching tomorrow, the paper that's due tomorrow, the draft that's due tomorrow) because I just had to know what happened. Absolutely excellent.
I read Serephina by listening to the audio book (this is the only way I can keep reading for fun during the school year), and the reader was great. I get annoyed with some readers, particularly when their voice doesn't fit the main character (cough, cough, Cinder), but Mandy Williams fit the part wonderfully.
Hartman's take on dragons is original. Writing compelling characters who do not feel emotion is challenging, but Hartman nails it, as she does the dragons in human forms, struggling to understand and control their human emotions. The political and cultural situation was also well developed. Dragon culture, human culture, fighting forms, music, philosophy, saints, the Son's of St. Ogdo, court politics, discrimination against dragon-kind, the residual fear after forty years of peace. It's all there, interacting and conflicting. It's not as complexly interwoven as Sanderson's novels, but Hartman writes just as compelling novel with 300 fewer pages. Hartman doesn't info-dump her world on us. Essential information is given to us at just the right moment.
The book is full of little understatements or quips, for lack of a better term, that add humor. It's not witty in the style of Austen or Dickens, and I can't think of any modern authors with a style that compares. Read it for yourself and you'll see it. The closing paragraphs are a teensy, teensy bit corny, but I'm willing to forgive that as Seraphina was in an exulting mood.
The characters were awesome. Endearing Abdo and Lars. Frustratingly aloof Orma. Seemingly ditsy, but actually savvy Glisselda. Seraphina's growth doesn't feel contrived and even the minor characters are fleshed-out past their usual stock roles would be.
I enjoyed the romance in Seraphina more than I have in any other novel in a long time. Soooooo many YA novels do the Twilight-love-triangle thing now with the girl who just can't decide between two perfect boys, some variation of the nice-guy best-friend guy and the jerk-face bad boy (cough, cough Legend of Korra, Matched, Hunger Games, Clockwork Angel, nearly every synopsis I find on Goodreads these days, etc). Ugh. This is my biggest pet peeve and is often the deal breaker preventing me from even picking up the book. And even when a novel features a traditional one-on-one romance, it's often overdone, sappy, or just an unconvincing cover-up for a lack-luster, underdeveloped, poorly-executed plot. Seraphina's romance is a subplot but is integral to her character development and it is wonderful. It isn't forced, insta-lovey, sappy, or any other romance trip-up I can think of. It is just satisfying. We feel her slowly falling for Lucian, experience her pain at having to lie to him, and scream in frustration at every obstacle that gets in the way.
The climax is amazing. It is perfectly set up so that you can make guesses along the way, but don't see the real answers coming until they've arrived, but then it all makes perfect sense looking back. I of course had to listen to this scene right as my American Lit class was starting. Cruel torture! This is definitely one of my favorite reads from this year. I can't wait for the sequel (another plus: Seraphina works as a standalone as well as the start of a series).