Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 480 (hardcover)
Series: Seraphina #1
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 has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered. While a sinister plot to destroy the peace is uncovered, Seraphina struggles to protect the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance will make a magical, indelible impression on its readers.
Why I Read It: I've been really excited for the release of this book. I was first attracted to the pretty cover when I saw an ARC on one of Misty's video posts at The Book Rat, and then the early reviews started trickling in and they were almost all very positive. We got copies of the book in early at the book store I work at, so I picked up a copy pronto and put it at the top of my reading queue.
Rachel Hartman is really exploding on the YA scene with this new fantasy debut, and I can totally see why. This book is GOOD.
Hartman takes classic elements of fantasy fiction and molds them like clay in her hands, making them completely her own. To be fair, I'm not incredibly well-read in fantasy. I love reading fantasy, but my reading tastes are pretty wide, so I don't read it as often as other avid readers of the genre, so maybe saying Hartman uses classic elements is unfounded, but seriously -- who hasn't read a fantasy involving dragons? I don't think dragons with the ability to transform into humans is new either. But it doesn't matter, because Hartman really knocks it out of the park. The world-building surrounding the politics, whether they involve dragon vs. human, dragon vs. dragon, or human vs. human, are all fleshed out, rendering this a very vivid and well-realized world.
Characters are equally well-developed. I loved the balance that Hartman was able to strike with the titular Seraphina; being half-dragon, she has that cold calculating side, and that can be seen in her lying (which she needs to do if she wants to keep her bloodline a secret) and her overall prickly manner. But don't let that prickly comment make you think she's an unlikable character -- this is far from the case! Because Seraphina is also half-human, so she has the feelings that dragon-kind shuns and deems useless. She feels lonely, she yearns for friendship and love, and she does reach out for it before being reined in by her need for self-preservation. Her relationships with other characters were equally heart-warming and heart-breaking, because she can't open up to them as much as she wants to. Her relationship with her uncle Orma especially pulled at my heart-strings.
The secondary characters are also fleshed out and given distinct personality. I loved Kiggs and he was more than a worthy love interest. He's funny, easy-going, and dedicated to doing the right thing. His cousin and fiancee, the princess Glisselda ended up being more than met the eye; she initially comes off as a bit of an air-head who can't keep her mouth shut, but her loyalty and kindness to Seraphina won me over completely. She's so sweet and nice, and always willing to help Seraphina. I loved watching their friendship evolve over the course of the book. I also loved that Seraphina never viewed her as a rival for Kiggs' affection, nor ever holds their engagement against her.
The plot itself is really fun too. It's mostly a mystery actually, and it played out really well. I had no idea who the "culprit" was, and while not a whole lot of clues as to who they might be are dropped throughout the story, the outcome was still surprising and satisfying.
One of the only things that threw me off at first was the whole idea of Seraphina's "garden" and how she has to keep tabs on her self-conscious. To be fair, I was reading this while at my cottage and while you would THINK that's an ideal place to read, it ended up being really distracting -- I was usually outside and talking with people and doing other stuff in between, so I think I just missed something when that little bit was being explained. Even if it wasn't, it was easy enough to just accept and roll with, so this isn't really a complaint per se, it just felt like a stumbling block initially when I was reading.
Other than that though, this read was smooth sailing and I really liked it! This is obviously the first book in a series and I'm so excited to see what Hartman comes up with next and what she has in store for Seraphina.
Final Verdict: I really enjoyed this fantasy debut. It has some of the best world-building I've seen in a fantasy in awhile (no, it's not nearly as sprawling as, say, A Song of Ice and Fire, but it's fantastic regardless!), and the politics surrounding the dragons and the humans was really well developed on all fronts. The murder mystery plot-line was really fun and I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of it. Where this book truly shines though is the characters: Seraphina is a fantastic lead, and the supporting characters -- especially Kiggs and Glisselda -- were awesome. I loved them all and I can't wait to revisit them in future installments in this promising series.
Cover Commentary: I love love love this cover, but I do have one complaint. You can't really see it in the picture, but there are red/burgundy smudges in the middle. When I initially picked up my book to start reading, I saw them and started freaking out because I thought I thought I either a) smudged something on my book, or b) my book had a printing defect of some kind. But nope! They all look like that.