Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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.

Pages: 480 (Kindle Edition)
Author: Rachel Hartman
Add It: Goodreads
Series: Untitled? (#1)
Publisher: Random House

“I remember being born, in fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe. Then my world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.” [ARC]

Rachel Hartman has come into the fantasy genre with a beautiful debut, a book filled with lovely paragraphs such as the one above, and intricate but enjoyable world building. She takes a different approach to dragons; the dragons shift into human form but mostly remain emotionally detached and incredibly intellectual. This idea pays off and creates a very interesting dynamic between humans and dragons that I really enjoyed reading about.

One of the most heartwarming relationships between dragon and someone with human emotions in the novel is between Seraphina and Orma. I really loved watching how they navigated their bond to each other, as Orma struggled with acting more like a human companion, and Seraphina attempted to learn how to accept loving someone who didn’t know how to love her back in ways she could understand. A struggle for Seraphina was to learn to accept that she loved and was bonded to someone who could not legally show affection for her without the threat of having his memories erased.

“What if our mothers were not the fools we had taken them for? What was love really worth? A hundred thousand wars?” [ARC]

Seraphina’s own personal journey was an emotional one. I think most of us can relate to having a part of ourselves that we are afraid for people to see. She reminded me of one of my favorite literary characters, Fire, and her occasional hatred for the monster that she was. There is also a moment that touches on self-harm that I thought was nice to include, especially since this is being marketed as a YA novel, and I know it is a subject that a lot of teens deal with.
That being said, I’m not really sure why this is being marketed as YA. The only part of the novel that strikes me as YA at all is the romance, and that’s not a very large part of the book. I’m not sure how much the politics will appeal to most younger readers, or how many of them will take the time to deal with a slew of made up words, and the more advanced language used throughout the novel. I would hate to see adult readers who don’t typically read YA but are fantasy fans miss out on the story because of how it is marketed or the smaller YA elements.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my absolute favorite part of this novel: Seraphina’s garden of grotesques inside of her mind and the role they end up playing in the story. They gave the book something extra and completely original that I loved. I can’t wait to meet more of the characters from the garden. Another favorite of mine in this story was Hartman’s descriptions of Seraphina’s music. You can tell that Hartman is a lover and player of music herself because the descriptions are incredibly intimate and lovely.

Definitely a book worth checking out if you’re a lover of fantasy.

An Egalley was provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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