Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
Published July 2, 2012.
Published by Random House BYR.
Source: ARCycling (thanks, Jennifer!).
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.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
This was a beautiful novel. There was a lot to it that enchanted me. The world that Rachel Hartman created was intricate and mysterious, and came alive in front of me. The focus of this novel is very much on world building and character development, which means that the plot can be quite slow-moving and uneventful at times. While this could cause the occasional lag for me, it made me focus on the true beauties of the story: both characters and setting.
The world building is a fantastic part of the novel. There was so much to learn about both the kingdom of Goredd and the world as a whole, with some amazing history about the areas and the peoples (and dragons, of course). It was very interesting to hear about the treaties and workings of the past and how it sets the scene for the present day in the novel. In particular I loved reading the songs that were interspersed throughout the story, especially given Seraphina's gift for music. They helped contribute to the heart of the kingdom, as well as giving a life to its history and its people. Goredd came alive to me as a lovely kingdom with a charm that I have missed from settings lately. There are so many intricacies to life there, yet they all work together to showcase a diverse group of people living in an increasingly tense time. Unfortunately, tension brings out the troublemakers of which Goredd certainly has its fair share. In a time of true peace and prosperity, however, it sounds like it would be an incredible place to live.
Above all, though, the characters truly take centre stage in this work. Seraphina, first of all, is the one we as readers get to know the best, as she is the title character and narrator. I truly grew to love her. She struggles with so much inner conflict over many issues, including how much of herself she must hide and how often she must lie. All this struggling and hiding puts her on edge and saddens her, but never makes her give up. She remains, at her core, a resilient, strong young woman, which I loved about her. I also loved that she wasn't totally unique in what she was (read the book, you'll get what I mean. Don't want to spoil it!). A character who is completely unlike anyone else in their world can often come off as unrealistic, yet since she discovers that she is not alone, not only does she grow as a character but I also felt that I believed her and her world more.
There were many other characters that helped to build the story into the beautiful work that it is. Some of the ones I really enjoyed included Seraphina's teacher, Orma; and the prince and princess of Goredd, Lucian and Gisselda. I especially enjoyed these three characters because they were overall likeable and had some wonderful characteristics, but they also had their flaws. For example, Orma bothered me on occasion because, due to his nature, there is so much about his world that he cannot see, which also really got to Seraphina. Gisselda I was also annoyed by sometimes because she has a real lack of knowledge thanks to her improper teaching and upbringing. Since this wasn't her fault, though, I was able to forgive the annoyance she caused me. This was so important to me, because if you don't like the characters, it's hard to enjoy the story. I also really enjoyed reading about Seraphina's relationships with both Lucian and Gisselda, especially because one was very different from the other. They were both so well developed in their individual facets that they were very fun to follow.
All in all, although this was a slow moving novel in terms of plot, the charm of the setting and the heart and struggles of the characters helped me build a real connection to the story. I truly enjoyed it, especially as it picked up at the end.