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Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Rating: ★★★1/2
 
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.

This book is ten different kinds of awesome. This is the deepest, most layered fantasy I have read in a while. The world created here hardly feels fictional. Every corner has been filled out, every detail comes alive. I felt less like I was reading about Goreddi than I was actually walking around it with Seraphina as my guide. I now know which saints to invoke when you’re in mourning, which to invoke if you’re shocked (St. Daan in a pan!), which carry their heads on a platter, and which are heretics. It’s a world deeply entrenched in religion, prejudice, fear, tradition, and music.

Seraphina is a fantastic narrator. She’s brilliant, casually dropping words like calefactive like it’s no big deal. She’s musically gifted, very observant, and intensely lonely. But she has a reason to be lonely. Her head is filled with numbers, music, and… a mind-garden full of grotesques. Yes, you read that right. It was so original. Confusing at first, but once I got a hold on it… holy smokes. I loved the grotesques she must tend to every night before she goes to sleep. Loud Lad and Fruit Bats and the sublimely creepy Jannoula.

Until yesterday, I thought there was an overabundance of dragons in contemporary fantasy. But Hartman’s dragons are so unique that I just want more of them. In their true forms, Hartman’s dragons are just as you’d imagine- big, scaly, winged fire breathers. But in order to facilitate peace between them and the humans, they’ve learned to take the forms of people. What they haven’t learned is how to act like them.

Dragons are ruled by order. Emotions are dirty, nasty things that sully one’s logic. This is both very frustrating for humans and very amusing for me. I ADORE the dragons. They are like Vulcans but even more socially awkward. I found myself giggling at their inability to perceive sarcasm and their complete indifference to people’s feelings.

The human characters are just as vivid. Prince Lucian Skiggs made a worthy intellectual companion. Princess Glisselda, golden-haired second heir and Lucian’s fiancée, deftly avoids being a cliché by possessing heart and a steely determination.

Seraphina’s battle between her head and her heart, between her different halves, between her need to be ignored and her thirst to be loved, are the center of this book. She is uniquely disposed to ameliorate the deteriorating situation between the dragons and the humans. She’s sharp-eyed and unruffled one moment, full of emotion the next. Seraphina was a very real character.

The plot is dense with world-building, but still so enjoyable. So much happens. The ending is appropriately climactic, the cliff-hanger not so hang-y, which I always appreciate. Devastating things happen, but happy things, too. And the LANGUAGE. This is one gorgeously written book. I found  myself squirreling away a lot of Hartman’s descriptors because they were just so wonderful.

I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone. Even if you don’t like fantasy, give it a try. And if you do, it is a MUST READ.

11 comments:

  1. You're enthusiasm for this book just made me add it to my to read list. Thanks! :)

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    1. Yes! I love converting people. I feel so POWERFUL.

      In all honesty, I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. I totally agree with everything you mentioned here! The setting was so amazing and wasn't it so exciting to actually meet the grotesques?? There's going to be a sequel and it'll be awesome to see where Seraphina and Kiggs go. Seraphina manages to be extraordinary and ordinary at the same time and it makes her so relatable. She's definitely a favourite!

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    1. I loved meeting the grotesques. Love your description of Seraphina as both ordinary and extraordinary. It fits perfectly!

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  3. Great review! I've heard wonderful things about this book, but I haven't read it yet. It sounds really interesting and unique!

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    1. Thanks! It is certainly unique. It's not often you read a fantasy book whose world doesn't feel remotely like a rehash of anything else.

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  4. This is a book I have to read!

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  5. I've been dying to read this one for AGES, but the hold list is HUGE! I love it when a world comes alive like this - it sucks me into the story and never lets go. Now I'm even more excited to read it!

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  6. Your review will make it easier for me to sell this book to my students. I loved it, but couldn't quite articulate it in a way that would grab students (although I do have a few that will read it when I hold it up and say "dragons.") Thanks for this one!

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  7. I'm not a fantasy/ dragons nut, but I did end up loving this book! Totally agree with the review. I didn't think I would, but I liked this book, A LOT. a lot lot :P

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  8. I never was a fantasy fan, but there are some awesome books coming out in the genre - and Seraphina sounds so unique! I love how there's a bit of romance, and how there's music in it as well. All the dragon human intrigue sounds like it's a good political battleground as well:)

    Great review!:)

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