Seraphina is Rachel Hartman’s YA fantasy debut coming out in July. I saw this book all over the interwebs and it has lit up the book world like a lightning storm. I was very happy to receive an advanced copy from the fine folks at Random House and I’ve only now gotten to read it. Wow, where to start? This is going to be one hard review to write.
Seraphina Dombegh has come to work in the court of Goredd where the Prince Rufus has just been killed. Because the manner of his death feels rather Draconian, the kingdom suspects their dragon allies of doing the deed. The emotionless dragon allies, called Saarantras, have a peace treaty with the humans stretching the last forty years. The Saars transform into Human shape and move about the court in this manner. The fact that one of the Royalty has turned up dead has everyone in court on edge. Seraphina is the assistant to the court composer, Viridius. Her singular musical talent impresses everyone, but there is a reason behind her ability – Seraphina is half-Dragon and half-Human. Seraphina is blasphemy personified; she should not exist. That she does flies in the face of the treaty and of the oldest Human beliefs.
Seraphina gets drawn into the murder investigation. Assisting the Prince Lucian Kiggs she begins to sniff about the list of suspects, which are all dragons – including her beloved teacher (and Uncle) Orma. Seraphina has mixed feelings about everything, but she becomes even more confused when she starts to develop an attachment to the bastard Prince himself. And all the while Seraphina must hide who she is or she too could be considered a suspect.
Seraphina is one of those books that comes around rarely that firmly grips the imagination by the scruff of the throat and shakes it. Intensely. The way which Hartman has constructed her narrative world is sick. It’s like reading A Clockwork Orange in that you have no idea what the language means and then suddenly, amazingly, you are aware. It’s one of those books you have to completely give up your expectations and immerse yourself in it in order to enjoy it. I had a hard first day of the book, got to my usual 80 pages, and then debated if I was going to go on…then yesterday I read the rest of it, 370+ pages in one shot, and I began to understand why so many people are talking about this book.
The medieval world that Hartman sets the novel in reminds me of our own but is completely unique. Within the novel she has set up a series of Saints, dream world avatars, and a rich multi-culture. There are the Saars, but there are also the Quigs, which are a species of sub-dragon lizards. They mime our social/power structures to a tee. There is also a heavy theme throughout the book concerning bigotry and racism, and the fear of not trusting others. It was only when the book evolved into a witch hunt I finally knew I was absolutely in love…and by that point there was so many other things I was hooked on as well.
Seraphina herself is a great narrator – poised and subtle and full of doubt about herself. Her daily regimen of dealing with her draconian attributes will haunt the reader and make them empathize with her. It’s such a great way of handling self-doubt and a lack of confidence in a YA novel. As is her fierce protection instincts of all her new friends, which literally sneaks up on her. There’s so much to love about this character.
I can’t wait for a sequel. However, and I strongly advise this for you as well – plan a reread of this book when Shadow Scale comes out. There is such a rich tapestry to the world that you will need to revisit it layer by layer in between each book release. This is the book for the fans of George R.R. Martin, Megan Whalen Turner, Kristin Cashore, and Mercedes Lackey. If you folks want something new, well here you go. Try this one when it releases in July. You won’t be sorry.
…and I absolutely love the cover… *pets cover* *so shiny*
5 out of 5 stars.
* Seraphina releases July 10, 2012
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