All is not well in the Kingdom of Goredd. There has been four decades of peace since the treaty between dragon and human-kind was signed, but in the week before the 40th anniversary celebration a prince of the realm has been discovered dead, decapitated, the implication being a dragon was responsible. And the people of Goredd, many of whom remember well the war between humans and dragons, are on edge as they await the arrival of the dragon emissary to celebrate the signing of the treaty. This is the world in which our protagonist Seraphina, a sixteen year old musical protege and new assistant to the royal court composer, finds herself. It is a difficult position for her to be in considering the fact that she is half dragon. This is the secret she has to guard ever more carefully as the distrust of dragons grows throughout the kingdom.
In her debut novel, Rachel Hartman has re-imagined the world of dragons in a wonderfully new and unexpected way. The dragons in this world are highly intelligent, logical and mathematically inclined beings. They also have the ability to change form, to fold themselves in and appear human, though admittedly some of them are better at it than others. According to the peace treaty, all dragons must take human form when in the human world, as in the Kingdom of Goredd. In this way humans and dragons have attempted to share knowledge and experience with each other. However, there is an unintended consequence of their human transformation. Dragons rarely feel emotion, and when they do they have the ability to compartmentalize it and lock it away. But while they are in human form this becomes exponentially more difficult. Emotion, among dragon-kind, is considered a mental defect and any dragon found guilty of feeling is subject to excision of that part of their brain. The idea of a dragon and human falling in love, much less producing offspring, is something neither humans nor dragons can admit as a possibility. Despite decades of peace, bigotry runs rampant on both sides. And yet Seraphina exists. And her Uncle Orma, a dragon and her mother’s brother, protects her, while denying the growing attachment he has for his gifted niece. As the investigation into the prince’s death deepens, Seraphina finds herself becoming intertwined with members of the royal family while discovering new abilities within herself. And eventually she has to make a choice between what is right and good and what she thinks is in her own self-interest.
Seraphina is, officially, a Young Adult Fantasy novel. But it’s also a great coming of age tale that has something for young adults and adult adults alike. It’s prose is fresh and flows easily and the story is captivating. The ending may be a bit on the maudlin side and slightly predictable but it’s no less satisfying for that. Admittedly, it’s what I wanted to happen with just enough bitterness to keep me from feeling too much guilty pleasure. There’s intrigue, romance, comedy, action, mystery and a strong female protagonist that is highly relatable as she struggles to come to terms with who and what she is. And Hartman effectively explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, bigotry and tolerance to great affect. I was never bored. I never felt that the characters were too vague or too similar. The dragon concept was unique and the world she created was rich and detailed. I would recommend this book to nearly all of my fantasy loving friends and their literary inclined offspring, of which there are many.
I give this 4.5 nerdskulls! Go to your local bookseller and purchase ASAP!