Monday, July 9, 2012
Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The fortieth anniversary of an uneasy peace treaty between humans and dragons is approaching, and tensions are high as the kingdom of Goredd prepares for the arrival of the dragon leader. Even in their human shape, the dragons stand out in court, and the humans find it difficult to treat them with ease and respect.
In the midst of the racketed tensions, newly appointed court music master’s assistant Seraphina Dombegh struggles to main aloof in order to hide her terrible secret: she is half dragon, and if anyone found out. But it gets harder and harder for Seraphina to stay apathetic as she gets to know the royal family and discovers a shocking personal connection to a long-brewing plot to destroy the peace treaty.
High fantasy is my favorite genre, but it doesn’t mean that I’m an easy customer. It takes a lot for a fantasy to become a favorite of mine: in addition to nearly impeccable world-building, it also has to have empathic characters and enough action to satisfy the baser part of me. I had heard positive things about SERAPHINA before I was finally able to read it, but rave reviews often make me wary, worried that the book will never live up to the reviews’ promises. Happily, for me and the whole world, SERAPHINA is worthy of its high praise. Rachel Hartman writes with a sureness of hand and mind that sweeps readers into Seraphina’s complex and fascinating world.
In SERAPHINA, dragons and humans have made an uneasy peace treaty, but the social tensions are still apparent and painfully recognizable in its similarities to the prejudices that minority groups in our world still suffer. I love that “real” aspect of the book, and feel that the countless instances of anti-dragon sentiment in SERAPHINA are authentic as a result.
The social tensions aren’t the only thing that make SERAPHINA’s world-building so astounding. It’s clear that Rachel Hartman did research on her Medieval-inspired fantasy world, from the clothing to the instruments to the layout of court (physical and human). If an aspiring cable TV channel *cough HBO and Game of Thrones crew cough* were to consider adapting this story, they would have plenty to go off of.
Splendid world-building by itself isn’t enough to get me to love a fantasy, and that’s where SERAPHINA’s wonderful characters come in. Seraphina, Seraphina, you amazing protagonist. You’ve had such a rough life and it in no way is going to get easier after the events of this book, and yet you handle it with an aplomb that those twice your age cannot often claim as their own. Seraphina’s personality is the direct product of her difficult and isolated childhood, but it does not weigh her or the story down. The girl is resilient, ethical, intelligent, and determined…and she is not the only awesome character. Supporting characters are allowed a full range of thoughts and reactions, so that where we think we’ll find potentially stereotypical character roles—in the spoiled princess, or the love triangle—we instead find refreshment.
Debut authors like Rachel Hartman show me that literary talent is not in danger of being swamped by the mediocre hype-fueled masses. Hartman has the detail-oriented skills to be a fixture in the fantasy genre, and the understanding of human beings and society to make her mark in any other genre she’s interested in dabbling in. SERAPHINA was a heck of a debut, one that I sincerely hope marks the very beginning of a long and beautiful writing career.
Cover discussion: I swoon, I swoon. It's so unique and detailed and eye-catching and breathtaking and appropriate.
Random House / July 10, 2012 / Hardcover / 480pp. / $17.99
e-galley received for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank youuu.