Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 1, 2012
Finished: November 6, 2012

From the inside cover:

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 the court as ambassadors and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the peace 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 almost overlooked this title thinking it was just another dragon book, thankfully I listened to the praise it received from early reviewers over the summer and picked it up. Seraphina is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive novels I have ever read. There are few books that make such an impression on me that they end up on my list of "things I'd save in case my house caught on fire", and Seraphina is one of those.

Right from the beginning of the novel, the author creates an extensive fantasy realm with an impressive amount of detail: politics, religious systems, customs, a glossary, and more. I have to give the author a lot of applause here, proper world-building in a high fantasy novel is not easy and not all authors can pull it off, but Hartman shines in this area.

The plot is engaging and intelligent without any annoying lags, I'm so glad to see a novel that incorporates political intrigue, social unrest, and peacekeeping in a way that draws young readers in and doesn't dumb anything down. All the characters are amazingly well-rounded, and Seraphina herself is independent and intelligent, with just enough vulnerability to make her 'real'; she is one of those ideal female role models I seek out in YA novels for my students. I also loved Orma, just because he's awesome.

I can't say much more for fear of getting into 'spoiler' territory, but trust me on this one, Seraphina left me awe-struck and in need of a sequel so I could revisit this world again, this book is a keeper and will not disappoint.

Beautifully written with extensive vocabulary, characters that you don't want to punch at random intervals, a strong female role model, exquisite world-building, and a good plot to boot...need I say more?

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the old-fashioned ink drawing look with the dragon at the top, and the maroon and gold accent colours are perfect. Now if only the publishers don't ruin this by reissuing it with a close up of a girl on the cover.

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