Thursday, July 5, 2012

ARC Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Author: Rachel Hartman
Publication: Random House Books for Young Readers (July 10, 2012)

Description: 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.

My Thoughts: This was a lovely, richly detailed, medieval fantasy. In this world, dragons and humans fought a war. The fortieth anniversary of the peace treaty is coming up but tensions haven't abated much. Many of the humans loathe and distrust the dragons. And there is a faction among the dragons who hate the dragon ruler who forged the peace treaty and feel that they could have won the war.

Into all this tension comes Seraphina Dombegh. Seraphina is a gifted musician who is the assistant to the court musician. Seraphina is also half-dragon, half-human. This makes her an object of loathing to both humans and dragons. Her very existence is a secret that has to be kept from everyone. Her mother died when she was born and she has been raised by her father who is a human lawyer famous for defending the peace treaty.

As preparations begin in the human court for celebration of the peace treaty and a visit from the leader of the dragons, tragedy strikes. Someone has killed Prince Rupert in a way that a dragon would. Seraphina becomes part of the investigation along with Prince Lucian Kiggs who is a bastard member of the Royal family and who is engaged to the Second Heir to the throne Princess Glisselda. 

In this tale, dragons can (and must) take on a human form when interacting with humans. This is called saarantras. Seraphina has been taught music and about the dragon world by her uncle Orma who has been living in human form. The fact that they are related is a deep, dark secret from humans and dragons alike. In fact, Prince Lucian thinks that they are lovers. 

There is fascinating world building in this story with a variety of customs and rivalries. The world is very realistic because of all this rich detail. But beyond exquisite world-building, this is the story of a young woman who has to learn to accept herself. Seraphina begins as someone who hates her dragon side. She sees herself as a monster. She feels condemned to loneliness for all her life. Gradually throughout the story this changes. The change comes partially from the friendship she develops with Princess Glisselda and partially from the love she feels for Prince Lucian.

The characters, even the secondary ones, are well developed with strengths and weaknesses. I think I fell a little into love with Prince Lucian too. I recommend this story highly for fantasy lovers and for lovers of romance. This is Rachel Hartman's debut novel. I can't wait to read more books by her.

Favorite Quote:
Superstitious fakery or not, the psalter's message was clear: The truth may not be told. Here is an acceptable lie. Not that St. Capiti - may she keep me in her heart - made a poor substitute saint. She was shockingly apropos, in fact. St. Capiti carried her own head on a plate like a roast goose; it glared out from the page, daring me to judge her. She represented the life of the mind, utterly divorced from the sordid goings-on of the body.
Check out this great interview and visit Liz's site for more content:

Entertainment Weekly has also posted a video blurb for the book here that I thought was well done. Ms. Hartman has also written a short story prequel called The Audition which you can find here.

I received this eARC from Random House via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. You can buy a copy here. I have already added this one to my next high school media center order.

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