Saturday 8 December 2012

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Prize win

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.

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 final page.

Seraphina is an intelligent fantasy story set in a world with shifter dragons where the relations between the people and the dragons has steadily deteriorated into mistrust and dislike. The dragons can take on human form and are organised and civilised, sending ambassadors to live among the people of Goredd, and uphold a treaty of peace between the two species.

The author has done a beautiful job of creating this fantastical world. I loved the descriptions of the town and it's people, showing us a wide scope of classes and peoples, the rumours (some true, some untrue) about the dragons, and the whole mythology and history of the world the book is set in. The city feels very vibrant and alive.

It is so easy to love this world because it seems so real. The characters are real, jealous, flawed people, and Seraphina herself is such a wonderfully sweet and lovable character. She tries to keep a low profile, but her musical ability makes her stand out. She has to work to maintain a distance from her colleagues on the City Orchestra, and lives a secret hidden life in private. Lucky no-one suspects her because she is something that shouldn't be possible- a half dragon.

Seraphina is also such a great character because she seems to have inherited the best aspects of both species. Whereas the Saarantrai (the dragons in their human form) are very cold, and overly fascinated with mathematics and logic, Seraphina is a very warm person, and very loving and able to share a joke. But she also has the strength and the power of the dragons. She is very sweet but also brave and determined to do what is right, and to help bring about a peace.

When a member of the royal family is murdered and a dragon is suspected, relations between the dragons and the townsfolk worsens and the dragons are attacked in the streets. The fragile treaty looks set to collapse. Seraphina tries to mend fences and explain away the negative rumours about the dragons and their motivations. She is in the awkward position of having a foot in both worlds, but unable to give anything away.

I loved her friendships with all the characters, and seeing how Seraphina grows closer to the royal family, but I especially love her growing friendship with the troubled bastard Prince Lucian, and it's really her conversations with the prince, both their stories and an understanding of each other, that gives this book such warmth and brilliance, as they work together to solve the mystery of the murders.

There is magic, romance, plotting and mystery, a war between peoples and even a trace of humour. This was just a great book- a gorgeous sweeping fantasy that is very unique, with real characters and emotion at it's heart- I was swept away and I loved it.

(But because it was such a new and detailed fantasy read thank goodness there was a glossary in the back! A map would've been useful as well.)

Alternative cover:

Cover in the US and other parts of the world.

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