Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.
Thoughts: It isn’t too often that I come across a YA novel that’s far more traditional fantasy than urban fantasy these days, so the fact that Seraphina was exactly this intrigued me. Even if this novel hadn’t turned out to have an interesting premise, good characterization, and skilled worldbuilding, I figured that just reading it would give me a nice break from standard speculative YA fare.
Much of the story was easy to see coming, and very little surprised me at its reveal. I’m not counting that against this novel, though, because it made for rather comfortable reading, and at the time I read it that’s exactly what I needed. But even had I found that a fault in the book, the strong characterization would have more than made up for it. Characters have a depth to them that makes them very realistic, flawed and with quirks and rarely are they merely the face that they present to the world. Sometimes very literally, as is seen in the inhabitants of Seraphina’s mental garden.
Running through he whole story is the theme of prejudice. Some of it was blatant and very out in the open, such as the human hatred for dragons, and other bits that dipped far more into grey area, like the hatred of the Quigutl, where there was open hostility and stereotyping and segregation, but some of the stereotyping was presented as justified. Though in fairness, there was more than a hint of suggestion that the quigutl were partly the way they were because of the situation they had been forced into, making the prejudice far less clear-cut than it first appears. As prejudice often is.
As for the ever-present romantic aspects in YA novels, I was pleasantly surprised by the relationship presented in Seraphina. The object of her affection wasn’t hard to spot (again, some things in this book were less than subtle), but their interactions were wonderful! Seraphina’s blunt and sarcastic attitude made for some difficult scenes, but that just added interest for me, and it was fun to see their relationship develop not because of undeniable attraction, but because they were actually getting to know each other. And unlike relationships in many YA novels, they were capable of thinking about things other than each other when more important things came up (like murders and dragons and mysteries). They complemented each other rather than subsuming, and it was a treat to see because all too often, the kind of powerful romance that authors try to convey falls flat with me. I would rather see complicated characters slowly develop affection than I would see two people who fall in passionate love at first sight and spend a novel doing little but thinking of how the other relates to whatever situation is at hand. Kudos, Rachel Hartman, for creating a relationship that I can really get behind!
Ultimately I have to say that I came away from this book quite happy with it, and excited to see how the story progresses in future installments. Hartman did some great world-building, and knows how to string a reader along with hints of the bigger picture without revealing too much, and even if nothing is a surprise, it’s still fun to follow along as the characters try to grasp the mystery of the events. Recommended for those who enjoy YA but who want a change from the standard fare that’s on the shelves right now, and for those who want a good way to hook their young teens on more traditional fantasy.
Note – The Kindle edition of this book is currently only $4.99 for Canadians, which is a good price for a good book.
(Book provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.)