Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Lynn:  I love fantasy but we read a LOT of them each year and the sad truth is that some tend to blur as the sheer mass of them float around in my brain.  So you’ll understand that when I come across something different I get REALLY excited!  And I am really excited by Seraphina (Random 2012)!  Here’s a book that employs a lot of tropes like dragons, a girl with a secret, a forbidden love and a kingdom in crises and still manages to be highly original, smartly written and completely absorbing.

Seraphina Dombegh has a life-threatening secret.  She is the daughter of a human and a dragon  – a concept reviled by both cultures.  To protect both her life and that of her father, Seraphina must hide the silvery scales that circle her arm and her waist at all cost.  But her job as assistant to the court composer and her own remarkable musical talent are bringing her to the notice of the court and a friendship with the princess as well.  Hartman’s remarkable setting is a medieval world with a difference – dragons exist and they are brilliant, long-lived and capable of taking human form.  They are both fascinated and bewildered by the emotions of human kind and a treaty exists between the two kingdoms, forged by the two current rulers.  But the treaty is under pressure and the peace is tenuous despite plans for a royal celebration between the two lands.

When the heir, Prince Rupert, is found murdered in dragon-fashion (his head is bitten off) tensions increase and Seraphina is drawn into the investigation being conducted by Prince Lucius, an attractive and entirely too observant young man.  Seraphina quickly finds herself torn between conflicting forces:  the need to protect herself, her family and her friends, and the need to protect the critical peace between the two lands and her own growing sense of her own abilities.  Part political thriller, part mystery, part romance, part coming-of-age, this is a richly realized and fascinating tale.  One of the many strengths of the book is the well-crafted characters, including a wide cast of secondary characters, human and dragon, that feel intensely real.  These characters are completely OF the world Hartman created too, shaped by its elements and forces with such authenticity, adding weight and substance to the world-building.  I think it is this duet that fascinated me most – the interweaving and interdependence of the world building and the characters living within it.  Hartman crafts her world with exquisite skill, understanding just how much detail to provide.  The result is a place that leaps vividly into the reader’s mind while never slowing the pace.  There are a lot of issues touched on here, especially the theme of self-acceptance but all are handled smoothly as an integral part of the story.  Hartman also achieves a satisfying conclusion while still setting the stage for more to come.

I’m writing this post many months after first reading the book and it is telling how much of the story has stayed sharp and fresh in my mind.  I’m yearning to nestle in and read it again too.  Quite a statement for someone buried in books and deadlines!  Make sure you recommend this one to all your dragon-mad teens!

 

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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