Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Release date: 10 July 2012
Publisher: Random House, 467 pgs
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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.
A quick preliminary scan of Seraphina revealed words like quigutl and pygegyria and houppelande, words just intimidating enough to make me want to put off my reading and seek something lighter. And I did put it off. It admittedly took me a few tries to really get into this book, but once I plowed through the first few chapters, Seraphina's story unfolded as naturally and effortlessly as a saar taking flight.
Of course, no book is without its imperfections. For me, Seraphina is a book of contradictions. Take the writing. It's beautiful and surprisingly introspective, and has an addictive quality to it that made me stop to re-read and savor the words. Yet this also made the plot feel a tad slow, and left scenes which were supposed to be suspenseful and action-packed feeling a bit flat.
I felt the same about the world-building. So much detail is given regarding Goredd and dragon (saar) culture, all of which I found fascinating and, quite frankly, impressive. Everything from saar history and politics to daily scale maintenance is touched upon. And it all made sense. The world Hartman has created is the perfect blend of reality and fantasy; drawing on so many cultures and time periods that I couldn't pin it on just one time or place. They meshed together to create a world totally unique and just the slightest bit off-kilter (in the best way).
Yet for all the amazing world-building, some of the important plotlines suffered from under-development. Seraphina's confusion and self-loathing as a half-breed is a huge part of the book. She connects mentally with others like her, all of whom exhibit supernatural gifts, through her mental 'garden'. Why half-breeds have these gifts, when there's no mention of dragons or humans possessing them, is barely touched upon, which was strange but easily forgiven given the sequel.
I realize I've focused on the negative in this review, but at this stage I'm really just nitpicking. Seraphina was a unique, refreshing, well-written read. If you're a fantasy lover, you owe it to yourself to experience the amazing world of dragons and humans and quigutl. I would add, though, that a part of me isn't sure whether I really liked this book in the sense that I was entertained or fell in love with the characters. A part of me feels that most of my good impression has more to do with being impressed or objectively appreciative of its artistic merit. I think a lack of true connection with the book prevents me from giving it a final star, but a re-reading might change that.
Pick this one up! The gorgeous cover alone should tempt you.
All in Ard,
The Headless Owl