Published December 23rd 2014 by Ember (first published July 10th 2012)
Format read: Finished copy via Publisher
It's not surprising that Rachel Hartman's debut has gained worldwide recognition, and continues to globally attract readers of all ages.
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.
Seraphina is definitely one of those books. Author Rachel Hartman introduces us to Seraphina, a talented young court musician who lives in the kingdom of Goredd. It's a realm where dragons and humans have co-existed side-by-side for forty years, but under a tenuous truce that has always been on the verge of collapse.
The potential collapse of the truce becomes an even stronger possiblity, when the mysterious murder of a member of the royal family pits dragons against humans, and puts Seraphina squarely in the middle. It's now up to Seraphina to help calm tensions and assist the investigation, while all the while trying to keep one of her darkest secrets hidden.
Hartman's debut novel is a spellbinding one for many reasons, beginning with her intricately-conceived world where dragons have the ability to transform into human form. While the mythos of the region and the interconnected players of Goredd may seem overwhelming at first, it's obvious - as Steph points out in her review - that once you read further, Rachel Hartman has put a considerable amount of thought into how everything and everyone interconnects within her world.
As the heroine of the novel, Seraphina is the perfect mix of stubborn, feisty and brave. She's spent her life battling loneliness, determined to keep her biggest secret safe. However, there's that deeper, human part of her that wants to connect to someone, and it's a beautiful, touching journey that Hartman crafts, as we see how Serphani begins forming complicated, challenging attachments to others including those like the dragon Orma. Hartman also asks some timely questions on trust and friendships, which do much to move the book forward.
Outside of Seraphina's direct journey, Hartman shows a complex world ruled by intrigue and politics between human and dragon relations. Hartman carefully separates her dragons from dragons of yore, by showing how these dragons aren't majestic beings who hold the wisdom of the universe, but rather a species that are curious about their human counterparts, and just as solid and down-to-earth as could be expected. One can almost see an underlying theme of how getting to know your enemy is to love them, and it's a nice parallel to some real-world geopolitical affairs.
Story aside, it must also be noted that Hartman is a gorgeous writer, full stop. She imbues her work with rich prose that flows smoothly, along with the details and the touches that will make this novel an unforgettable one. All in all, readers will likely have a hard time believing that this is Hartman's debut novel - I know I certainly did!
While high fantasy generally isn't my genre, Seraphina is a great reminder of both the talent that exists amongst today's authors, and how it's sometimes just good to read outside of your niche. This book had me riveted from beginning to end, and I can't wait to share it with the other readers in my life.
I highly recommend this book for all readers, especially for fantasy fans. I also recommend Seraphina for parents and educators who are looking for books for reluctant readers. Serphania's wit and strength, along with Hartman's beautiful prose, will get any reluctant reader reading.
About the author:
As a child, RACHEL HARTMAN played cello, lip-synched Mozart operas with her sisters, and fostered the deep love of music that inspired much of Seraphina. Rachel earned a degree in comparative literature but eschewed graduate school in favor of bookselling and drawing comics. Born in Kentucky, she has lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She now lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada. To learn more, please visit SeraphinaBooks.com or RachelHartmanBooks.com.