Author: Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Young Adult
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 451 (Hardcover)
Source: Personal Shelf
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.
After seeing that beautiful cover above, I knew I had to read this book. And while I very much enjoyed this one, I don't think it lived up to expectations after hearing some of the immense praise my friends have exhibited toward it..
I want to begin by saying that this was one of the deepest fantasy books I have come across in a while. Heck, it was one of the deepest books I have come across in general. There are layers upon layers of thoughts that make you question the truth, what is right and wrong, love, emotions, following your heart, hiding your true self, protecting others, and so much more. It tugged at your heartstrings and got you thinking--two things that I think are essential to a great book. You grow fond of the characters and immediately feel for them.
However, with that being said, I have to admit that I felt somewhat disconnected from Seraphina all the same. As our main character, she tells the story to us. We experience what she experiences, feel what she feels. She's overridden with emotion and unemotional all the same. See, she is half dragon. Her father is a lawyer and her mother was a dragon that betrayed her family and race. Nobody knows what she is out of shame. Dragons have trouble understanding human emotions, so naturally Seraphina does, but she is also human so she is naturally emotional. Conflicting, I know. We'll put it this way. If she was upset, she'd cry without a second thought, but she had to look in the mirror and practice smiling to make it seem real, just like most full dragons do. So, while I commend Hartman for being able to make us seem detached from a person who is supposed to be emotionally detached, I did not enjoy this.
In truth, I felt more attached to the side characters. Take Orma for example. He's a full dragon and irrationally emotional--so much so that the dragons want to remove all emotions from him through a special ritual. I liked him more than I liked Seraphina. Well, I should say I connected with him more than I did Seraphina. The side characters added an insane amount of depth to this book and, in my opinion, is what made it so amazing. Orma, Prince Lucian Kiggs, Lars, I loved them all. And while I greatly enjoyed Seraphina, I didn't love her as much. This is one of those instances where you can't put your finger on what exactly has turned you off, but you know there's something large blocking this wonderful book from being an amazing five star novel. I really know no other way to describe it besides saying that I didn't connect with Seraphina the way I should have, but somehow managed to do so with the side characters.
With all of that being said, this was an amazing debut and truly deserving of all the recognition and awards it has received. Hartman writes with such beautiful detail that everything came to life, the immense love of music and descriptions of sound made the melodies play out in my head. The dragons all seemed real. However, I have to say, that her amazing description made this a very serious story. Sometimes Seraphina spoke in ways that dictated she was wise beyond her years, which I agree with, but than she lies and does something irrational and I question how a girl can be so wise one moment and unwise the next.
With that being said, Lars was able to provide some comic relief that I greatly enjoyed because the atmosphere was so serious. Just picture this: a very tale and muscular man with a love of music that goes hard on the bagpipes. His preference for fighting? Breaking out the warpipes! And don't forget the lisp that would come with a German-ish accent. I find this picture incredibly hysterical.
I must also admit that the world-building in this one is immense. So much so that it's almost a little too much in the beginning. There were long sequences of detail and while it pulled me in, I can very easily see it turning many people off. However, the unique atmosphere of this novel led to some very unique circumstances, like the necessity of Seraphina to have a mind garden full of grotesques that she must keep in line. While that may sound odd, I think this idea and the connection it has throughout the story is among the most imaginative and unique aspects of a novel I have come across, possibly ever.
With all of that being said, I recommend this to people who love fantasy books and description. If you don't like beautiful description, this book will prove to be hard to get through. This novel will be perfect for those who like to think and question things, analyze shifting plots, and so on. While it is amazing, there's something holding it just short of stupendous. I'm hoping to connect more with Seraphina in book two since she is slowly learning to accept her life for what it is instead of keeping aspects of her past closed off to the rest of the world. An amazing debut, Hartman will certainly be an author whose name will never easily be forgotten.