Seraphina
by Rachel Hartman

December 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Hartman_Seraphina

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman | Random House Books for Young Readers | July 2012 | Hardcover $17.99

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.

One of my new favs! I checked it out from the library, but I think I’ll be buying a copy of my own as soon as I can.

Seraphina is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series by Rachel Hartman. The story is set forty years after the end of the war between humans and dragons in a kingdom where both species must attempt to share both space and knowledge. The peace is tenuous, though, and the particularly gruesome murder of a member of the royal family seems to indicate rising dragon aggression. Tensions between the species are mounting despite the best efforts of the leaders on both sides. Titular character Seraphina suddenly finds herself in the middle of it all when she is thrust into the spotlight as the court’s most talented young musician and confidant of the heirs to the throne, despite her attempts to avoid attention in order to guard the terrible secret of her true heritage.

This is a book that can easily be enjoyed by both teen and adult fans of fantasy fiction. It might also be a great story for parents to share with their younger kids, though the reading level is definitely most appropriate for middle to high schoolers. It has all of the expected elements of a classic fantasy tale: looming war, royal drama, a bit of magic, and, of course, dragons. However, the story itself is anything but expected. The reader will be delighted by little surprises throughout and will finish each chapter wondering what will happen next and trying to guess who did what.

The plot wraps up nicely at the end, though the reader is left wanting more – not in the way that one is left unsatisfied after eating a bag of chips, but in the way one hopes to return to a restaurant after enjoying an exquisitely perfect meal. Hartman’s fans will be happy to know that her next novel, tentatively titled Shadowscale, is expected in early 2014. Readers can also enjoy her short story, The Audition (a prequel to Seraphina), in ebook form for free at Scribd, an online library/publishing platform.

Winner of both the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Cybil for Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hartman’s first novel is highly recommended by professional critics and recreational readers alike. Seraphina is also included in this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list, which is put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) each year. The list is released on Celebrate Teen Literature Day in April and teens have all summer to read as many of the 28 nominated titles as they can. Teens can then vote for their favorites when nominations open in August. Winners will be announced during Teen Read Week in October. The list can be found online on YALSA’s website.


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A version of this review originally appeared in the Galveston Daily News in May 2013. My opinions do not reflect the views of my employer.

Publication information: Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

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