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.
You can read the prequel here.
Why hello, gorgeous. Oh, I hardly know where to start – this book gobsmacked me, with its assured storytelling, sheer originality, and lovely, lovely voice. Seraphina is a book that announces Rachel Hartman’s arrival like a clarion call, and it has virtually ensured I’m going to read everything she writes from here on out. So yes, this book is freaking awesome.
Without a doubt, Rachel Hartman has a voice all her own, but for the sake of comparison I’m going to say in style she falls somewhere between Robin McKinley and Kristin Cashore. And if that’s not enough to send you running for the bookstore, there’s also this – Tamora Pierce is a big fan. She said of the book, and I quote: “I love this book!” I mean, really, do you even need to finish reading this review?
Well, if you are still reading, let me start off with the world-building – and it is BRILLIANT. I’m a big reader of dragon stories, but this story was like nothing I’d read before (and trust me, I’ve read a LOT). Hartman has created a world of dragons that is brilliantly alien and yet totally relatabable, not to mention stunning in detail. From the emotional detachment of her dragons, with their utter confusion at humanity, to their draconian system of government (pun intended), with its puritanical desire to keep dragons from being corrupted by human form, to their strange, reviled reptilian cousins, homeless creatures who scavenge through refuse and are utterly grotesque, and yet still have a culture all their own – it was breathtaking. Then on the human side, we have the miasma of anti-dragon prejudice that permeates the royal court, a tense and fraught peace unraveling at the seams, and a secret society of zealots who act out on their hard line anti-dragon beliefs, all of which make for a mire of ignorance, fear, and distrust. The dividing lines – between the two sides, and across and through the sides themselves – were simply marvelous, and every thread wove seamlessly into the larger whole. It was utterly, utterly brilliant.
And caught smack dab in the middle of all this turmoil is Seraphina, our leading lady, who is very, very personally affected by it all. Serphaina has a terrible secret to keep – and no, I’m not going to spoil what that secret is, but don’t worry, it’s brought to light very early in the book – and keeping it has kept her in hiding her entire life, boxed in and terribly alone. But despite her life apart, despite her fear of discovery, Seraphina still can’t help but test her self imposed cage. Slowly and painfully, she starts to carve out a niche for herself, building the life she wants, step by risky step. Nothing comes easily, her fear of discovery dogs her every move, and yet still she perseveres – though at any moment it all could all be taken away – and I utterly loved it. I loved Seraphina’s situation, the tightrope she had to walk, wobbling every step of the way, and how hard she had to fight against herself. Watching her learn to believe that she does deserve more, that she’s even worthy of being loved, despite everything, and then seeing her finally dare to trust, oh, it was just utterly gorgeous, the kind of storytelling that froths with emotion. Hartman truly has created a fully realized world, not only in the externals, in terms of geography and culture, but also within, in the emotional nuances and complexities of her characters, and all in all it is just brilliant.
Now I’m not going to get into the plot, because I want you to discover it for yourself, but let me just say this – not only does this book have a fascinating fantasy realm, brimming with detail, and a leading lady with courage and determination, but it also has a story that will keep you on your toes. There’s a whisper of mystery to this book, not to mention plenty of sneaky and dangerous goings on, and it all builds to a rousing, satisfying finale. All in all, this is a complete, robust, satisfying meal of a story.
In the end, this is the kind of book that makes you feel like you’ve uncovered that most precious of finds – the book you were looking for, even though you didn’t know it at the time. This is the kind of book that will light up your enthusiasm, and make you eagerly reach for the next fantasy read. Now that’s what I call a good book.
Byrt Grade: A
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Dragon books are common enough, but this one is head and talons above the rest.
Seraphina is great. Spectacular, even, and I say that as someone who only reluctantly reads fantasy.
In this complex, intrigue-laden fantasy, which establishes Hartman as an exciting new talent, readers are introduced to a world in which dragons and humans coexist in an uneasy truce, with dragons taking human form, dwelling among their former enemies, and abiding by a strict set of protocols.