Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I can no longer make any claims toward being a young adult and, in fact, have a depressingly strong claim on middle age, I often have a conflicted relationship with Young Adult novels.  I still remember with great fondness all the fantasy YA-ish novels I read in my formative years and am always interested in trying to recapture the feeling those books (The Narnia Chronicles, The Hobbit, The Belgariad etc...) gave me.  The pure storytelling and adventure they offered.  However being.. ahem...more middle-aged then not, I find I also need the book to have characters and relationships with some depth and reality to them and storytelling that doesn't make my brain die a little.  It's rare for me to find such a book but Seraphina definitely fits the bill!

Seraphina lives in a world reminiscent of renaissance Europe but humans share this world with an intriguing species of dragon which, can exist in their true dragony form, but can also fold themselves into human form. A 40 year truce between the two species has kept things relatively peaceful but conflict bubbles just under the surface.  Most humans and dragons have never learned to like each other and in many cases tolerance is razor thin.  Some reviews have indicated that this state of affairs was unbelievable, that 40 years should have been enough time for feelings between these two groups to simmer down but I compare it with the country I live in (U.S.) where varying degrees of racism, even to the point of hatred, are still common 50 years after the Civil Rights movement.  I felt like the larger conflict of the book was very similar to the issues of racism and I had no problem believing that humans, at least, could be this paranoid, hateful and ignorant.

Seraphina is a young and very talented musician who has some pretty enormous secrets which have kept her isolated her whole life and made her a practiced deceiver. She knows that isolation is the safest place for her but like all of us she yearns to have a place in the world, to be understood and accepted. In what is perhaps  a subconscious pursuit of finding that place, Seraphina accepts a position as assistant to the Court Composer of Goredd. Against her better judgment, this position along with her intelligence and curiosity begin to involve her in court mysteries and intrigues.

I’ve kept the above synopsis purposefully vague because I think discovering this book for yourself is a pleasure not to be missed. The world Seraphina lives in is complex and imaginative and it sucked me right in. Seraphina herself is the guide and she is a fantastic protagonist – funny and clever, self-loathing but proud as well. She is a fully formed and very real person who gets waspish when she’s tired and stressed but generally is extremely compassionate and kind. All the characters in the book are suitably well drawn even if we don’t get to know them as well as Seraphina.

It is the type of book that has everything – drama, comedy, adventure, mystery, romance – and all balanced remarkably well.  It's very witty throughout which ensures that it doesn't take itself too seriously but the drama gives it a heft and depth which allowed me to become more emotionally involved.  Seraphina's romance is accomplished perfectly; slow and steady and based on a developing acquaintance and real compatibility. I also love that Seraphina's rival for her love-interest's affections is a pretty amazing character as well and not some caricatured witch who the reader can dismiss as unworthy. 

To sum up: This filled my little 14 year old heart with gladness while giving my 40 year old brain some great stuff to chew on.  It's a lovely imaginative book that I didn't want to end. I do worry about where it will go in future installments as some of the plot elements that made this such an absorbing read have been resolved but I will definitely be waiting to snatch up the sequel when it is released.

 The narrator for the audio book, Mandy Williams, was really excellent.

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