Can one girl unite two worlds?
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 the 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.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the page.
~Print copy, 451 pages (from the library)
Published: 2012 by Random House
I agree with a statement in that last paragraph, up there in the summary: the rich, complex world bit.
Hartman's world is fully thought out, fully alive. Religion, politics, terminology, technology -- all was perfect-clear to me. The dragons, when they become human, are saarantrai; their lesser cousins, who can't fly and can't turn into a human, are quigutl. Everything has a name, a place.
The premise itself, of course, is interesting. I wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. A dragon-human treaty? Dragons that turn to humans, to become scholars? And tension when a royal member of the family is suspected to have been murdered by a dragon? Of course I picked it up.
The writing was decent. It was pretty lyrical, actually, the type of writing you expect from a fantasy novel: not Tolkien, not Lewis, not Rowling, but a mix of all of the above. And I don't meant that it sounded like a knockoff; rather, it sounded like a classic.
I could have done without the romance, though. That summary made me think Kiggs was some old, grizzled man from the dragon wars. Really, he's the same age as Seraphina... and he's betrothed to his cousin, the second heir, Glissenda... and of course, romance has to blossom.
I say this too often, perhaps, but I am not a fan of romance. The romance played a decent part of this novel -- I don't want to say a large part of it, but a good amount-- and I felt it didn't really belong there. I'm kinda picky that way. Let me explain.
For example: in the Hunger Games (the first book, anyhow) the romance was necessary. It blended in, it was integrated, and it was necessary: if Katniss didn't at least pretend to love Peeta, in a convincable manner, she might have to kill the boy who had once saved her life. In Seraphina, however, it seemed like a side note: something extra to add in. It didn't feel like that at all. Just sort of, oh look here's two teenagers -- they should fall in love.
Seraphina also cried a decent bit in this novel. I couldn't fathom why. It wasn't that she was weak, it was just that... she cried a good amount of tears. I could understand some tears, especially in your typical patriarchal-world-where-women-are-nothing. But Seraphina didn't seem like that much of a crybaby. She seemed like a deep character: her love of music that led her to a palace, the true hatred she feels for herself for what she is (read the book to understand that), the awkwardness around family and strangers because she cannot feel like she truly belings.
The other characters were pretty cool, though. I loved the secrets, and how it tore apart her friendships with others; Kiggs was an alright character, and I liked Glissenda. And Orma, her uncle and teacher.
But really, overall, the good outwieghs the cons doublefold. A little bit held me back, but I did really like this novel -- its world, the premise, the characters. A definite 4 stars.