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.
You know that feeling when a book blows your mind? Where you're completely wrapped up in it from almost the first few words and you have issues putting it down until you're done? Where everything is so vibrant and rich you're not reading your experiencing the story? The hubby commented once when we had 5 hour flight and I was about to start the last Harry Potter that I wouldn't be on the plane, I would be at Hogwarts so the 5 hour trip wouldn't bother me at all. Its like that. Anyhoots, Seraphina was that kind of read for me, and the amazing thing is (outside of that already amazing and rare accomplishment), this was a debut author guys. Yah, I know right? Impressive.
I'm not sure where to start, honestly I loved it all so much! I suppose for starters I'll talk about the world she's built. It's phenomenal in its subtleties, and impressive in it's scope. Hartman hasn't just created a fantasy world with Dragons, she's developed cultures and prejudices, a whole world of whirling politics, segregation, intolerance and persecution. The world is almost secondary to the society she's lushly filled it with. And it's fascinating.
Undersecretary Eskar looked down her aquiline nose as if checking human features off a list. Two arms: check. Two legs: unconfirmed due to long houppelande. Two eyes, bovine brown: check. Hair the colour of strong tea, escaping its plait: check. Breasts: not obviously. Tall, but within normal parameters. Furious or embarrassed redness upon cheeks: check.Which leads me to my next love about this story. The characters, my god what great characters! Complex and layered, everyone of them had a surprising depth and were lovingly rendered. No wishy washy fill in roles were played, no half baked side characters thrown in to move along the plot, everyone had a place and a history and everyone of them were absolutely absorbing. At no point did the story wander off somewhere or with someone who wasn't incredibly interesting, no scene bored me, no conversation felt like the push compelling the story back into the interesting bits. And funny! Did I mention how funny it was? Seraphina's dry humour and her practical approach to even the craziest situation was so witty and refreshing, she was like no other heroine I can think of. No super fighting/killing skills, no mad weaponry, she's just smart and no-nonsense.
"Hmph," she said. "It's ot nearly as hideous as I always pictured it."
Orma, bless his shriveled dragon heart, corrected her. "She."
"Is it not infertile as a mule?"
My face grew so hot I half expected my hair to catch fire.
"She," said Orma firmly, as if he himself had not made the same mistake the first time. "All humans take a gender pronoun, irrespective of reproductive fitness."
"We take offence otherwise," I said through a brittle smile.
Eskar lost interest abruptly, releasing me from her gaze.
There was something very compelling about how intelligent the story was. No cop out love story (though of course there is a love story, it just doesn't own the narrative), no wild fight scenes, Seraphina is a clever political mystery. The vocabulary matches the high caliber of the story telling and I even had to look up a word or two, which is a nice change of pace. Hartman does not talk down to her audience which is so refreshing, so although it was complete fantasy I felt like somehow I was learning something. Hopefully it was a higher level of vocabulary. Honest to god, I read so much, but I could use a bump in my vocab.
I fell in love with this story plain and simple. I loved the drama, the intrigue, I was torn by the prejudice and touched by how Seraphina and Orma struggled with their differences and yet loved each other all the same. The love interest, Kiggs was charming and was one of the first love interests I've ever read who wasn't some gorgeous god of a man, Seraphina falls in love with his wit and personality and the reader does too. I was paging through the book for this review and spent an hour re-reading passages sorely tempted to read it all over again.
Simply put, you have to read this impressive debut. Needless to say I can't wait to see how this series spreads its wings going forward.
If you want a taste of what a wonderful treat you're in for, check out Hartmans short story prequel The Audition. It's also totally delightful.
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House, July 10, 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Seraphina on Amazon