Review: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina, by Rachel HartmanFrom the book jacket: ““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.”

As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start reading it all over again (that doesn’t happen often for me). There are many, many reasons why I love this book, but here are a few that stick out for me.

1. Seraphina herself is a compelling character. The dangers of her life are wrapped intimately with her sense of self (or lack of it) and the secrets she keeps, which is in direct challenge to her passion for music. She cannot let loose her music without drawing attention and risking revelation and danger. So she is trapped on a tightrope of life with nothing to do but ford ahead and maintain balance. But music is just about everything to her, and it’s this passion that launches her into the series of adventures she finds herself on throughout the book.

2. The culture of humans and dragons is delightfully complex, as it should be in any world where a treaty between two previously warring societies are now at a fitful peace. Every character in this book, no matter how small has their own unique spin on the situation. There are humans and dragons alike who hate the treaty, humans and dragons alike who admire the treaty, and even more humans and dragons alike who are indifferent or entirely confused on the matter. Even if two human characters might together agree that dragons are terrible, awful, horrid things, it’s clear that the motivation for their hatred comes from different sources.

Hartman takes the world further by showing how there are many societies of humans, who have previously warred, and are now also in alliance as well, because the of the human-dragon treaty. But again, even if two people are of the same culture, it doesn’t mean they agree on things. It all make the world delightfully rich and real, and gives the side characters some meat.

3. This is the most compelling portrayal of dragon culture I’ve ever read. Really. One of the things that’s great is that science and mathematics and complex machinery are dragon innovations. I love that the mythical creatures are the rational ones, but that their science and math are considered otherworldly mysticism. There’s a little more uniformity of thinking for dragon kind (or, perhaps, there is illusion of uniform thinking), but this isn’t because of a lack of divergent points of views, but because emotion is considered insanity among their kind, and any dragon who shows too much of it gets the equivalent of a lobotomy.

4. The romance is lovely and moving, all the more so because it grows out of a foundation of friendship. The man she falls for is very much a man — not because of some deep mysterious brooding and dangerous side (as seems to be so popular in many romances), but because he is so human, so flawed, while maintaining a strength built on truth and respect. This truth and friendship that grows between them unravels so naturally into love. They hit bumps in the road, times when they are angry or almost hate each other, but they come through it with forgiveness and new strength. This is what love should look like, because not once does either one expects the other to be anything other than what they are, they don’t want to change the person they love. Instead they except the whole of them, and love them for their “flaws” all the more, and I think that’s beautiful.

These things combined with a beautiful writing style that manages to both be poetic and perfectly capture Seraphina’s voice are just some of the reasons as to why this book has made it to my all-time favorites list.

As a side note, the audio book version I listened to was lovely. There are several moments where the reader had to sing the lyrics of songs, and it made the book all the more wonderful.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]