I hate it when I have the impression that I am reading a different book from other readers whose opinion I value. Hate it. Unfortunately, it happened with this book. I've read some really glowing reviews but, alas, I can't just - partially - share the love.
Objectively, Seraphina meets all the requirements to become the next epic fantasy series: it has an original take on a fairly exploited theme - dragons -, an amazing world-building, a well formed, strong main character, a 5-star-worthy writing style.
But let's go in order:
The story is set in a world where two species exist: dragons and humans.
Dragons, powerful creatures, mathematical minds, able to take human form (saarantrai) to interact with people, reject all emotions as weakness, to the point of excising them from their brains.
Humans, constrained in their fragile bodies, fear dragons above all else and despise them, even in their human form, to the point of racial discrimination. These two species have been at war with one another for the longest of times, except for the past forty years when a rather unstable truce gave apparent peace to the world. Now it's the time to renew the peace.
So, dragons. And humans.
And then, there's Seraphina. She is the unthinkable, a half-dragon. It is imperative her identity remain a secret, but when the Prince of Goredd is found brutally murdered and all fingers point to the dragons, Seraphina becomes the unwilling protagonist of an investigation to unveil a plot that is threatening to jeopardize an already unstable peace and which will oblige her to face her most dreaded nightmare: the truth about herself.
Sounds awesome, doesn't it?
Dragons that can take human form, that speak their own language (Mootya), that are organized and regulated by an Ardmagar and a council of Censors. I found it fascinating. In fact, the world-building is extremely well developed and detailed. To be honest, I haven't read that many books about dragons, and I'd say this is probably on the same level as Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, as far a world-building goes.
Seraphina is an amazing character. Caught in the middle between two worlds, neither here nor there, she has been taught to despise a part of herself, to keep it secreted. She lives a lie and will never be accepted by either worlds. She is an abomination.
I loved her passion for music, her witty personality, her intelligence and self-deprecating sense of humor. I loved how she grows during the story, how she comes to term with her feelings, how lies do not belong to her but have only been inculcated in her, how she is fundamentally honest. Even the love story, which could have been a potential love triangle, comes out as believable, growing and sweet. Lucian is a bit too much the perfect guy for me, too good through and through, but still very likable. I found much more interesting a whole set of bizarre side characters: Madame Okra, Abdo, Viridius, Orma, Basind. They had me laughing most of the time and were truly what MADE this book for me.
Hartman's writing is what I'd define sophisticated and recherché. I had to look up a fair amount of words, my favorite probably being houppelande. There are no doubts about the quality of her writing and truly, there isn't much more to say about it.
But I have to defend my 3 stars.
I'll sum it up in one word: pacing.
Despite the fantastic world-building, the amazing characters and the luscious writing, I had such a hard time getting through this book, I considered abandoning it on more than one occasion. The quantity of information to take in in the first, say, 150 pages of the book is massive and not always explained in a way to make it crystal clear. Some things are just thrown there and then explained 50 pages later. There's a whole universe of saints to digest that... really, were they necessary? And there is barely any action up until - I marked it - page 168.To be honest: too slow for me, sometimes it really could not keep my attention.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around Seraphina's "garden" and her grotesques, I felt the need for a bit more physical descriptions - of the Quigutl, for example - and a MAP. I really, really wanted to see a map. How is this world? Where is the Tanamoot? How many other kingdoms are there and where are they in respect to Goredd?
So three stars. I enjoyed it because I was stubborn and kept reading and was finally rewarded in the second part but I'm not sure everybody would get through those first 100 and odd pages. Or maybe it's just me, other readers seem to adore it.
I'm looking forward to seeing the cover for it and I will surely pick up the sequel to this adventure with dragons, hoping that, with the infodump out of the way, I will find it a bit more fast-paced.