A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{May 24, 2013}   Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphinaPlot: Seraphina’s country has been at peace with the dragons for a long time but the tensions between humans and dragons persist. When a member of the royal family is murdered, suspicion falls on a dragon and the treaty seems in danger of failing. This is of particular concern to Seraphina who has a dangerous secret: she is the forbidden offspring of a human and a dragon. She teams up with the captain of the guard, a prince with a controversial parentage of his own, in order to find the murderer, save the royal family and the draconian envoy and preserve the peace.

This is a near perfect debut novel. The writing is elegant, the characters multifaceted and interesting, the world building is meticulous and the plot – mixing fantasy, politics and mystery – is enthralling. I honestly have nothing but praise for this novel.

Hartman’s dragons are fascinating: powerful, intelligent creatures who worship mathematics and can take on human form. There is also a certain Vulcan aspect to them in their strict control of emotions, and in their occasional failure to control them. They are, hilariously and accurately, referred to as “feral file clerks”. And they live in a complex world with realistic religions, divergent political factions, philosophies, literature, music and history. Hartman’s fantasy world is immersive and fully realized. It feels like a real place, one that I didn’t want to leave.

The human – and half human – characters are as interesting as the dragons. Seraphina and Prince Lucius carry the story. Seraphina is a musical genius, forced to be withdrawn, cold and a bit loose with the truth because of her secret. She is fascinating and likable. Lucian meanwhile is honest to a fault, just, erudite and with an insatiable curiosity. Their romance is subtle, touching and based on mutual respect. It is also tragic both because of Seraphina’s secret and the prince’s engagement. Princess Glisselda could have been vapid and selfish, like many fictional princesses before her. Instead she is, admittedly, slightly frivolous and prejudiced but also intelligent, friendly, and imbued with a great deal of authority for her age. I honestly could spend all day describing the various characters – from Seraphina’s music master Viridius to the clumsy young dragon Basind – because they were all, even minor thugs and guards, memorable in some way with motivations and history all their own. That is amazing to me.

The various threads of the plot – the mystery of the murdered prince, Seraphina’s exploration of her heritage, the preparations for the dragon general’s visit and the plot to sabotage the treaty with the dragon – are each interesting in their own right and weave together to create a complex and fascinating whole.

Seraphina comes to a satisfying conclusion and can stand on it’s own but I was thrilled to learn that there will be a sequel. Shadowscale is due out in February 2014 and concerns Seraphina’s search for other half-breeds like herself. I cannot wait. I predict that Hartman will be a huge name in YA.

2013 (#28)


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