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.
Posted by Steph Su at 9:00 AM
Labels: fantasy, rachel hartman, review, YA
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I am so excited about reading this as I love fantasy and I am glad to hear it lived up to your expectations. As Zoe Marriott, Rae Carson, and Juliet Marillier are among my favorite fantasy authors, I have a feeling I will love Seraphina too. Fantastic review!ReplyDelete
I really loved this book too-it took me completely by surprise because I wasn't expecting to love it. But I did and I highly recommend it!ReplyDelete
I just watched the book trailer for Seraphina this morning and seeing that Christopher Paolini blurbed it makes me even more excited!ReplyDelete
I'm glad to see this one lived up to all the hype for you.
You make this sound so good. I love high fantasy. I'll be looking out to see if Seraphina makes it to the UK.ReplyDelete
Becky, I'm pretty sure it's coming out in the UK next week! http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13104964-seraphinaDelete
I want to read this SO BADLY. SO. BADLY.ReplyDelete
I only hoped to love it, but I fell head over heels. It's everything your review says it is! I loved how often my expectations were exceeded in this book, and I can't wait to buy a copy when it's out tomorrow!ReplyDelete
Love your review I'm seeing lots of praise about this today on the blogs :) question: do you know who the cover artist is? It should say it on copyright page somewhere if you could have a peek and let me know I'd be very very grateful! Thanks!ReplyDelete
Hey Amy, here is Rachel's tweet regarding the cover artist:Delete
Rachel Hartman @amyunbounded
@stephxsu Thanks! The artist is named Andrew Davidson. It's a real wood-block print!
How cool is that??!
This is most definitely on my to-read list. I've heard many great things about it. :)ReplyDelete
I wish I had loved this one more than I had. I thought that many aspects were so creative and cool! But, for some reason it dragged in spots for me and just didn't hold my attention as much as I wanted. Alas, that is how it goes sometimes.ReplyDelete
Emily, I completely understand. SERAPHINA wasn't absolutely perfect for me but its flaws (among which was, admittedly, the slow pace at some points) and mine got along fine. Glad you are honest about your feelings and that you were still able to enjoy reading it at least a little! :)Delete
Oooh, I've not heard much about this one, but you make it sound so good. Might have to go see if it sell available on Netgalley, and request it. :)ReplyDelete
I'd be very interested in seeing if this is your type of book. Not sure if Random House is accepting any more NetGalley requests, but it should be available in many parts of the English-speaking world over the course of this month. I recommend you picking a copy up! :)Delete
It's a book about DRAGONS! I need to read this one, especially since it sounds like an incredible fantasy read. Did I mention dragons? ;)ReplyDelete
I know what you mean! :DDelete
I'm just about to start this one, so I'm so glad to hear that you liked it! AND that you compared Hartman to Juliet Marillier. YES!!! Lol. Hopefully, I'll like it as much as you did!ReplyDelete
It's on its way to my home and your review makes me very, very excited for this!ReplyDelete
*jumps up and down in joy for you*Delete
I am swooning right along with you over that cover! Gorgeous.ReplyDelete
So excited to finish this book, knowing that you loved it! I've been craving well-written epic fantasy lately.ReplyDelete
I'm going to be reading this soon so I'm really glad it lived up to it's expectations!ReplyDelete
High fantasy is also my favorite genre. I agree with you that the genre, while important, is not enough by itself to make me read a book -- there also needs to be some substance, good world-building, and strong characterizations. Lovely review and you've just confirmed to me that I really do need to read this book asap!ReplyDelete
Hollers!! I agree with everything.ReplyDelete
Especially the cover. Because wow it's great.
+The world was amazing in EVERY single aspect!!1 8) it reminded me of Janet Lee Carey too.
Hartman really is an amazing writer.