Published: 2nd July 2012 by Random House AU
Format: Paperback, 369 pages
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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 grips you from the prologue, figuratively hooks its claws in and doesn’t let go. This dazzling debut has everything I love about the Fantasy genre; it features heartwarming characters, is set in a vivid new world (with dragons!) and deals with conflicts that I could immediately relate to. While the issues it tackles are meaty, the book never feels preachy. Individually, the philosophical, political and romantic aspects of the story are enjoyable, but when combined together with the masterful writing style of Rachel Hartman, they result in a balance and brilliantly executed novel.
Seraphina, a gifted musician with anti-social tendencies, is one of the most wonderful characters I have had the pleasure to read about this year. Sharp, witty and insurmountably stubborn, she is forced to investigate a plot to break the peace between dragons and humans while protecting a dangerous secret that could tear her world apart. I loved her from the very first line – she is a compelling narrator, amusing, sarcastic and wistful all at once, and easy to empathise with. Although she is wary and mistrustful in the beginning, it is great to see Seraphina develop and begin to make friends throughout the novel.
Seraphina’s world tethers on the brink of war between humans and dragons, who have never gotten along despite having a signed a peace treaty forty years ago. There are palatable differences between the human and dragon cultures and each race has its own religion and customs. While the cultural gap between them is large, matters are exacerbated by the turbulent history between the races. As a natural consequence, relations between them are coloured by disdain and fear. The divided society that marks this world is well executed and I found it to be enjoyable to read about.
I’ve read a fair few YA debuts this year, and few have impressed me as much as Seraphina. I think everyone should read this book – it would be perfect as an entry-level fantasy but will be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences. I will be (im)patiently awaiting the sequel, but a short prequel novella, called The Audition, will help!