Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: July 2012
Genre: young adult, fantasy
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.
Seraphina, a remarkable musician and uniquely perceptive human, joins the Goredd court as Music Mistress, assistant to the royal court composer. Her arrival coincides with the death of Prince Rufus, an honorable man who aimed to maintain peace between the dragons and Goreddis. With the help of her teacher Orma, a dragon in human form, and her friends Prince Lucian Kiggs and Princess Glisselda, Seraphina helps to uncover the mystery behind Prince Rufus’s murder while keeping her own dragon secrets under wraps. The fate of the kingdom and its uneasy relations with dragons falls on her shoulders.
Seraphina is a wonderfully fantastic conglomeration of medieval lifestyle, Restoration-esque religious zeal, steampunk machinery, Enlightenment philosophy, beautifully lush musical diction, and high fantasy atmosphere. Phew. It may seem daunting and overwhelming, this 450-page first installment, but the second the reader steps into Seraphina’s inquisitive and perceptive mind, one becomes part of that world. The language, the scenery, the lifestyle — it all becomes incredibly familiar, as if one has lived this sort of life before. This novel was refreshing. Young adult high fantasy, written well, is very rare. Hartman wrote the book seeming to understand that young adult readers can be intelligent too, can desire the full range of emotional complexity, can understand rich diction, and can hear the music described in the book in their heads. Oh, it was wonderful!
Though there are no dragons in the real world, Seraphina’s struggles as half dragon are immensely relatable. This is a coming-of-age piece, a true painting of self-discovery and self-acceptance. We journey through her neat separation of living the life of an ordinary human, and jumping over to her teacher Orma’s instructions on how to maintain “ard” (a calming, logical, meditative state dragons accomplish) so that her dragon side is under control. As the story progresses, these two parts of her life merge, and she must come to an understanding with who she is in order to move forward.
The saints, slang, and cast of characters are introduced and given a brief description quite early in the book and rarely explained again. A massive thanks to Hartman for providing a glossary at the back of the book, containing the index of characters, the saints and what they are for, and the human and dragon slang in Goredd. Halfway through the book I stopped referring to this helpful section because it was no longer necessary to understand the story. Hartman truly immerses the reader into the world.