AUTHOR: Rachel Hartman
PUBLISHER: Random House Books for Young Readers
LENGTH: 512 pages
SUMMARY: In her New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman introduces mathematical dragons in an alternative-medieval world to fantasy and science-fiction readers of all ages.Eragon-author Christopher Paolini calls them, “Some of the most interesting dragons I’ve read in fantasy.”
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.
REVIEW: For years, fantasy has been populated with dragons. Most classic fantasy has dragons performing the typical dragonish deeds: hoarding, torching villages, terrorizing local kingdoms; you know, the usual. Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina is a new twist on the old dragon tales. Seraphina is the title character in this reimagined feudal society of Gorredd where dragons can take on human form. While their Draconian brains function much more analytically than their human counterparts, they walk among humans without notice until closely examined in behavior and mannerisms.
Hartman chooses to have the kingdom of Gorredd locked with the Draconians in a treaty that neither side trusts completely. With their mathematical and analytical minds, the dragons have agreed to send members of their community to Gorredd to serve as teachers for the local pupils, ambassadors and advisors to the king. This is an interesting dynamic to create among traditionally opposed species. Hartman has placed the humans in need of the dragons skills while prejudice and distrust of the entire species is still quite prevalent. This dependency creates even more animosity between the races even while celebrating the brokered peace between them. It is an interesting look at how prejudice evolves, how tolerance can be mistaken for acceptance, and how communication is really the only way to promote understanding.
Seraphina is a spunky character who seems to be discovering her pluck along with the reader. She feels intrinsically that the relations between her people and the dragons should be better and is searching for a way to make that happen. She is terrified that someone will discover her secret but also somewhat subconsciously hoping that it will happen so she doesn’t have to hide anymore. Her musical talent makes this an even more real threat when one of her performances earns her a place at court. Her quick mind and tongue get her involved with Kiggs in the investigation of a member of the royal family’s death. Seraphina’s unique perspective on the Gorreddian/Draconian relations helps uncover a plot to undermine the peace. Her fear of discovery, need to do the right thing, and desire to tell the truth war with each other convincingly.
It seems a little too easy for everyone to accept when the truth does finally come out. With the distrust of each race so deeply sown in the other, it seems too convenient that most parties involved just seem to accept Seraphina’s secret. And while it was easy to see the relationship between Kiggs and Seraphina growing, romance fans will be content with the avowals between them at the end.
With incredible writing and an impressive world creation, Hartman stands poised to have birthed the next big YA fantasy series. There are so many questions left to answer: How will Orma fare? What about Lars and Abdo and the other grotesques? Will Seraphina’s relationship with her father continue to improve? I look forward to more of Hartman’s impeccable attention to detail and fantastic sense of fun with her own writing. (Don’t miss the appendices in the book!) The only caveat to add is one related to pacing. Here’s hoping that now that the world is built and readers are familiar with it, the next book(s) will move more quickly. I look forward to seeing where Seraphina’s mind and heart take her next.