|No cover art for this book yet! Boo!|
“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.”
As soon as I read the part that mentioned dragons taking on human form, I was sold on this book. I’ve come across this idea in a only few fantasies but it’s one of my so-called ‘bullet-proof kinks’ – that is, an idea I love so much that even if nothing else about the book interested or excited me, I’d still read it from beginning to end. I just want my dragon-in-human-skin fix (and yes, one day I will write a book with dragons in, it’s on the list).
How lucky for me, then, that it turns out Rachel Hartman has a profoundly meaningful grasp of high fantasy language, description and dialogue, which made this book an absolute joy to read on prose level! That her characterisation is deft and beautifully subtle! And her main character – the eponymous Seraphina – was a fascinating, complex and unique creation who captured my heart with her resourcefulness and bravery!
Dear Readers, I read this book in one sitting, and I loved it.
First, however, a confession: at first the writing style did not quite gel for me. And I’m not sure why. It might be that after a chapter my brain snapped into the right mode and I was able to appreciate what the writer was doing and relax into the flow of things. Or it might be that the first chapter is a bit stiff (as first chapters often can be) and after that the writer herself relaxed, along with her prose. In either case, I recommend you persevere. By chapter two I was completely hooked.
The slow burn love story between the heroine and...er...well, a certain endearingly honourable and inquisitive male member of the cast was really well done, show-casing instant attraction (which is not the same as Insta!Love, no matter what certain Goodreads reviewers seem to think) followed by a brilliant build up of meshing interests, ideals and understanding. It was pitched perfectly and I believed in it. I wasn’t driven to roll my eyes, mutter ‘Oh, come ON!’ or to wish that the plot would just ‘MOVE, damn it!’ instead of wasting time on pointless repetitions of how hot the love interest was. Instead I was always eager to return to this part of the story, and the assured way that the writer handled the bittersweet nature of the relationship without going all emo was extremely enjoyable.
Going back to that bullet proof kink thing? I actually don’t think I read anything else in the description before I pressed the request button on NetGalley. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to find, on opening the eGalley, that Seraphina was so devoted to music. I’d have liked that characteristic regardless, but Ms Hartman’s descriptions of music and the way making it feels to a musician, the way that understanding it transforms people’s hearts, scored a direct hit. The passages relating to music were completely inspiring - in a book that was filled with magic, the music was one of the most magical things of all. THAT is an achievement.
Ms Hartman also managed to do something else which makes the writerly geek in me grin happily, which is to take an inhuman race, in this case the dragons, and showcase them as exactly that – inhuman, a discrete and alien species – without a) making them seem like big scaly humans despite their long lives and differently wired brains or b) falling into that smug assumption that if dragons are really different then of course human ways must be better. I loved the logical, analytical dragons, from their incessant wind-vector calculations and their contempt for human small-talk and rituals, to their reluctant fascination with human art and, on occasion, their helpless addiction to human sensation.
Seraphina is a cracking read, filled with three-dimensional people living in a three-dimensional world. It’s full of delightful surprises – humour, beautiful descriptions, unique ways of looking at the world – but it has a deep, rich undercurrent of genuinely moving reflections on family, and humanity, and choices, and lies and truth.
Although it’s the first in a series, and the characters have definitely not completed their journey by the end of this book, the initial challenge faced by Seraphina has been well resolved and you’re left feeling, if not satisfied (Hell no, I want the next one yesterday) at least comforted that Goredd and its people are ready for the trials ahead, as long as they have Seraphina and Kiggs and Glisselda looking out for them.
Seraphina comes out in May next year, highly recommended by yours truly.