Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
You may have read some rave reviews of this high fantasy novel lately, and all of them were right. This is a wonderfully refreshing return to what fantasy should be, with a fully realized and well-constructed world and dynamite characters.
In Goredd, a tense peace exists between humans and dragons, the latter of whom can transform into human form. Seraphina, the new assistant to the royal music coordinator/conductor/composer, has the most dangerous secret she can have in this world: she is half dragon. Passing as fully human, she must hide what she is, something that is so unthinkable that humans and dragons alike cannot conceive that something like her can exist.
Right at the beginning of the novel, we discover a member of the royal family has been killed in a particularly draconian way. Because of her insight into dragonkind, taught to her by her tutor and relative Orma, she finds herself deep in the intrigue and conspiracy that follows the murder, all while trying to stave off visions and keeping the characters in these visions from driving her insane.
Set in a medieval fantasy world, Seraphina reminds me of the classic fantasy from days of old. It's not only incredibly well written, it seems to be very well researched as well. Hartman did her homework when it comes to instruments, tools, and other aspects of medieval life that she worked into Goredd and the countries surrounding it. I also found her construction of the religion of Goredd fascinating, though I'm not entirely sure I understand it—basically they worship a large number of saints and believe in Heaven, but no one deity. I'm hoping we learn more about it in the next book.
It's clear that dragonkind and humankind pitted up against each other is metaphorical for race relations in our world, and it works very well. Having to hide her parentage affects Seraphina in distressing ways, but it is inspiring and heartening to see how she handles it and uses it for herself and for her people. Again, I'm interested to see where Hartman takes this in the next installment.
Coupled with the carefully built world, we have a thrilling plot, mystery, and a bit of romance. Seraphina and Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the royal guard who is also a prince of the kingdom, investigate the murder of Kiggs's uncle, leading to some very dangerous situations. Seraphina also discovers things about her mother, dragon intrigue, and what she truly is a part of bit by bit through her visions and unexpected meetings at the palace. All through the book I wanted to find out who did what and what would happen next. I still want to know, since it's quite clear there will be a sequel, though the ending here is satisfying and no intense cliffhanger.
One note: There is a glossary and list of characters at the very end, which is nice to have. After reading through them, a few things were a bit clearer to me about the world.
Disclosure: I got this book from the library.