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Monday, January 23, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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.

I'm not a huge fantasy person. I love some fantasy books -- HP, Lord of the Rings, etc -- but I have a tendency to revert more towards contemporary fiction. But if I'm interested in a fantasy I will definitely read it. I foundSeraphina on Netgalley and snatched it up. 

In the kingdom of Goredd, humans and dragons are at odds with one another. Peace exists in the kingdom but hostilities remain. Dragons are able to live in the kingdom and work. Seraphina has reasons to distrust them all. She joins the court, since she is an unusually gifted musician, as a member of the royal family is killed -- in a fashion that suspects dragons. She partners up with Prince Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the Queen's Guard. They fight to find the answer as Seraphina struggles with the truth behind her unusual gift. 

First I would like to commend Rachel Hartman. Fantasy is a hard genre to write, and she successfully pulled off a fascinating story. Also, amazing concept: dragons and humans? YES. She is definitely an author to look forward in the future. 

One of the things I found most interesting about the novel was its swift changing of cliches. Seraphina has a magical gift of music. This concept is used in plenty of fantasy novels: characters have all kinds of musical gifts and powers. Seraphina's gifts easily could have become predictable. Lucian Kiggs is the captain of the Queen's Guard. I've seen that in high fantasy as well -- an instance that comes to mind quickly is Trevanion from Finnikin of the Rock . But she deftly changed the cliches into fascinating characters, and people you genuinely care about. I cared about Seraphina and her plight, about the dragons and the humans and Kiggs and the amazing secondary characters. 

The plot is the one thing where I quibbled and removed a star. The book takes a while to get into if you don't read or enjoy a lot of high fantasy. It takes a bit of time to get used to the story, to understand the characters and the situation of both the dragons and people of Goredd. But after a while you get engrossed into the world of the characters and want to spend time there. The amount of time it takes for you to get into the story differs from reader to reader, of course, and for one reader they may get into the story almost instantly while others take much longer. I personally removed a star because of the fact it took me about six or seven chapters to get engrossed into the story. 

Tangent aside, the plot is riveting and fascinating. Come on, dragons=amazing. I certainly haven't seen many dragon/people books in YA recently. I wanted to know more on every single page. I know this statement is vague but I didn't want to spoil anything in such a twisty, exciting plot. 

Another crucial aspect of fantasy is world building. I, as a reader, have to understand and know the world. I need details. What do the buildings look like? How do people act? What are their religions, hobbies, etc? A friend of mine wrote this fantastic post on world building: World building is something people mention and comment often on fantasy reviews, and one of the most common complaints I've found in my perusal of Goodreads and other reading-related sites is that the world building was too thin or not enough in a certain novel or story. Hartman did not skimp on the world building in her story. She told us Goredd's history, its religion, its people, their stories, their world in a book. Authors sometimes wait to develop world building or write too much world building in info dumps. Hartman did neither: she told us the story of her world and its past, present, and future while also leaving questions behind for the planned sequel (release date: sometime in 2013). 

I really enjoyed Seraphina and most of my qualms were more about the fact that I don't often read fantasy. If you enjoy and read fantasy you will definitly enjoy this book. Hartman is a strong author to be watching in the future and when 2013 rolls around I will pick up a copy of the sequel. If you're interested in reading the book now you can request a copy on Netgalley. A great fantasy read. 

Four stars. 

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