Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, Book #1)
by Rachel Hartman
Release Date: July 10th, 2012
2012 Random House Books for Young Readers
Hardcover Edition; 499 Pages
ISBN: 978-0375866579
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

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.

My Thoughts
Seraphina is one of those books I was reluctant to read the first time round simply because there was so much hype around it and I tended to avoid those books with a lot of hype. So when I was offered a chance to review the sequel, I took it as an opportunity to take a look at it again and I wasn't disappointed at all.  In fact, I enjoyed Seraphina quite a bit; the world-building was very believable and very well-developed, and the descriptions felt like they belonged as part of the story and not thrown in as explanations; no information overload / dumping in this novel and I really appreciate that.  I imagine it would have taken quite a few editions in order to do this and I have to give a lot of credit to the author for really paying attention to the little details that really make this book outstanding.

Seraphina is one of those characters whom it is difficult not to like; she is headstrong, stubborn, creative, determined, loyal, and full of secrets.  While these are strong character traits, they are also easily ones which get her into a lot of trouble as she has difficulty letting go of something once she has her 'hooks' into it, and follows her instincts with a tenacity that can be endearing, but is annoying to those around her, especially since they don't understand the secret she is trying to keep from everyone.  And the person she annoys the most is Prince Lucian Kiggs, the one man who can help her uncover what is happening at the castle. Because her secret is quite deplorable to many of those around her, it also causes trouble in her relationships as she has to lie on occasion, and this causes mistrust on both sides, leaving people unsure whom to trust, wondering from where, and more importantly, from whom, Seraphina gets her information.  I actually thought the delicate balancing of relationships in this novel was quite well done, with none of the dramatics you see in other novels, and I quite liked seeing relationship difficulties without all of that 'angst'; it was just about people learning to trust each other with some rather deep secrets.  I also liked the delicate development of emotions in Orma and am curious as to where that is going to go. He is, without doubt, my favourite character and delivered some beautiful one-liners (I will leave that for you to discover though). On the other side though, I love the cold nature of the dragons, how manipulative and calculating they are, and how completely indifferent they are to human emotions and human activities, playing on the misconception that humans actually have some control over them.  The conflict arises when they turn themselves into human in order to deal with humans and have to handle conflicting human emotions that come with the bodies; easily solved however, simply excise the human emotion from the brain once the task is done, including the memory if necessary.  I love these dragons!!  I have always avoided books where dragons tend to be 'humanized', or become cute and cuddly - none of those types of dragons for me.

I think the only issue I had was with the plot, and this wasn't a huge issue overall, just one I noticed more upon reflection once I finished the novel.  While it certainly was unpredictable at times, and there were definitely some clues that I missed, I did feel that it moved a bit slowly.  It is so easy to get caught up in the intricate detailing of the world-building and into the character-building that it was only upon reflection that I really noticed how few action scenes there really was in this novel.  And by action, I don't mean war scenes or anything like that, but this novel was definitely a build-up to the sequel.   I have a long history with fantasy novels, and I just felt that something was missing when it came to the plot. 

Seraphina is definitely for those who enjoy fantasy novels with dragons, for those who love intricate world-building and good development of characters, and who love dragons that are intelligent and manipulative.  What I really liked about this novel is that the characters used their brains whenever they acted, so I guess you could term this an 'intelligent' novel; I don't know how else to put it.  The histrionics and hysterics of some young adult fantasy isn't in this one and for that I am eternally grateful.  While a lot of the novel centered around the treaty that was created forty years ago, there was certainly a lot more going on politically and culturally than just the events of the treaty, and I liked a lot of the underlying themes of family, honour, trust, loyalty, and friendship that could be seen. The novel was very entertaining and I definitely recommend it to those who like dragons and fantasy.  I am looking forward to reviewing Shadow Scale in a couple of weeks.