Excellent YA fantasy, more mature than a lot of it's competition --that is to say, better writing, bit more challenging vocabulary, positive themes -- it is also an excellent read for adults. (I didn't realize it was classed as YA until I'd finished and decided to pass it on to my 14 yr old daughter.) Original twist on dragon trope allows for very nice thematic development about finding right balance between heart and mind. Nicely realized world building, excellent characterization, sympathetic heroine, wonderful sub theme about importance/role of music, and just excellent writing throughout. I couldn't put it down. The plot and the romance were a bit predictable, but then i've been an SF editor for 30 years, so it's pretty hard to surprise me. For a YA reader, these are themes and ideas they need to explore, and Hartman does a first rate job of helping them work through issues of identity, accepting who we are, and building on our strengths.
I liked this cover much better than the other, which seems more pitched to the teen romance market, but the book inside is the same, so doesn't really matter.
The novel was short listed for Governor General Award for children's literature, 2012.
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For the past forty years, the kingdom of Goredd has been at peace with the dragons -- but there are still people who want war and genocide.
And it turns out that the only thing in their way may be an illegitimate prince and an assistant music mistress. Rachel Hartman's shimmering debut novel "Seraphina" is a rare kind of fantasy novel -- equal parts politics, romance, mystery and draconic epic fantasy, as well as a wrenching coming-of-age for people who are a little big different.
Seraphina was only a child when she discovered that she was different from other children -- her mother was a dragon. This left her with two bands of silvery scales, and a tendency to have visions and strange dreams.
As she becomes the assistant music mistress of the royal choir, Goredd is thrown into an uproar -- the crown prince has been found decapitated, and dragons are suspected of murdering him. Even worse, the Ardmagar (a sort of dragon president) is due to visit Goredd, despite the violently anti-draconic Sons of St. Ogdo.
But the crown prince's murder may only be the beginning, as Seraphina soon discovers the threads of a conspiracy against the Queen and Ardmagar. But have humans concocted this, or dragons? To discover the truth, she must team up with a secret band of other half-breeds, and the clever prince Lucian Kiggs -- without betraying her true nature.
"Seraphina" is the sort of fantasy book that we need more of -- a shimmering, textured tale set in an exquisite fantasy world. Hartman clearly put a great deal of love and thought into this story, and she thinks up countless little details to give her world the richness of plausibility -- things like scale ointment and the quigs (a sort of subspecies of dragons).Read more ›
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When two species unite, there is always someone willing to cause a stir.
Dragons and humans have lived together for several years. The curiosity strung once dragons realized how artistic we are. In order to maintain the peace, dragons are forbidden to eat meat -- best way to avoid nibbling on villagers -- and humans are forbidden to kill dragons while they are in their human form. But when one dragon dies, the truce might go along with him.
Rachel Hartman chose a brave and intrepid girl named Seraphina, to lead the story. Not only is she a talented musician, but her connection with dragons placed her right in the middle of the fiasco. Joining this mysterious crime investigation is Prince Lucian Kiggs, whom Seraphina can't help but fall in love with. Unfortunately for her, he is engaged.
Although the story maintains a stable slow paced action, where lots of towns were name dropped for no particular reason, Hartman manages nonetheless to provide an interesting take on dragons.
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Seraphina is a breathtakingly beautiful fantasy book. It simply sweeps you away into its own little world, and is a prime example of good fantasy. It's enchanting, reads like a dream, and leaves you pondering its story and characters after finishing it.
I would say, however, to be cautious with what you expect with this one. It may not appeal to every reader right away, and takes some growing into. But it's well worth it for the experience, as it slowly grows on you and steals your heart.
Reasons to Read:
1.A clever, intelligent heroine:
One of my favourite things about Seraphina is that it features a heroine who's defining character traits include her cleverness and intelligence. There's so much more to her than just that, but it's clearly an integral part of her personality. And it completely shines through in everything she does - she's a little bit quirky, but totally brilliant. I love that we get to see a character like her, who is a bit socially awkward at times, but still fantastic in her own way. And the same thing goes for the love interest - we don't get constant descriptions of his eyes or body or overall good looks.
2.A mysterious plot, full of unexpected twists:
I really thought I had figured the mystery out. I thought I had solved it not even halfway through the book and was less than enthused that the characters hadn't figured it out like I had yet. So imagine my surprise when I was wrong - totally, completely wrong. There are so many layers to the plot, it doesn't seem possible to guess it all in retrospect. And I was so caught off guard. But I LOVE it when I'm wrong and the book surprises me.
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Wonderfully different dragon fantasy.July 3 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
One of the things which instantly caught my attention in the descriptions of this novel was the ability of the dragons to change their shapes to mimic the human body. That concept just absolutely opened up an entire realm of possibilities for this author. As it turned out, the saarantras (dragons in human form)are still not able to feel human emotion, but at least they can interact with humans without scaring them to death. That was simply one of the new world concepts this author invented to make a fascinating novel. The broad concepts of mathematics and music are also key to this new world along with bigotry and diplomatic negotiations. But I'm getting carried away and rushing too far along. The book description states that it is intended for ages 12 and up and it is perfectly appropriate for someone as young as 12. There is nothing of a sexual nature in the novel. I do think that the story was a little slow to engage my interest because the world building is so prominent in the first third of the novel, but don't give up on it. You will miss a real treat if you do.
This story concerns the central character of a young woman, Seraphina Dombegh, who has spent her entire 16 years of life hiding a secret. Now circumstances are beginning to change and Phina is having a harder time dealing with all the new happenings in her life which make the secrecy more urgent and yet harder to maintain. She has recently been hired as the music assistant to the court composer and her first difficult job will be to play a flute solo at the Invocation for the funeral of Prince Rufus. Feeling is running high because it would appear that the forty year peace accord between humans and dragons has been violated. Prince Rufus's dead body was found but his head was not, surely a clue pointing to a dragon as his murderer. Admagar Comonot, the leader of the part of the world where the dragons live, will be coming to Goredd in a week to celebrate the anniversary of the peace treaty but there are those who see the death of Prince Rufus as a chance for war, not continuing peace.
The characters in this novel are wonderfully developed by this author as is the world they live in. It is a very deep and complex world so the first portion of the novel is focused on acquainting the reader with how the humans, with all their feelings and emotions, can co-exist with dragons, who think completely with logic. So logical in fact is their thought process that it is based on mathematical equations. I found these two extremely differing concepts fascinating as I watched two races try to deal with every problem from a diplomatic standpoint knowing all the time that they had completely different starting points. This novel also has a very perceptive concept of bigotry running through it. Even though the peace treaty has been enforced successfully for almost forty years these two groups have never actually gotten to know each other. They think they understand each other, but when given the slightest opportunity their ignorance comes bursting to the surface and the leaders understand that they have simply been avoiding problems, not solving them.
This is a very different type of dragon fantasy. It is not based on fighting and killing and flaming each other out of existence - even though there is a small portion of that in the book. This fantasy deals much more with the emotional aspects and attempts at diplomacy that lead to learning about each other. It lets the reader see how easy it is for an enemy to be hiding right in our midst and we never even suspect because they look and sound just like we do. How perceptive this author is. And I also love the little examples of wit she places within the novel. Just reading the information in the Glossary and the Cast of Characters shows her willingness to take a lighthearted approach to her own work. Even though I haven't seen anything definite I simply cannot believe there will not be a sequel to this novel. The ending of the book tugged at my heartstrings and I really want to know if everything will come right for Seraphina. She has carried her secret for a long time, but it is obvious that she has the strength to keep on going. Besides, I need to find out how Orma fares in his exile. And what about Lars and Abdo? No, there are simply too many friends I want to keep reading about so there has to be a second book in the works.
166 of 197 people found the following review helpful
The black sheepJuly 14 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful and fascinating!Aug. 15 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I loved Seraphina! I was totally blown away by this phenomenal YA fantasy, full of fresh ideas, clever plot developments, and fascinating dragons. This beautifully written novel is sure to impress readers, with relatable characters, savvy storyline and magnificent world-building.
Rachel Heartman's dragon world is simply gorgeous. I loved that she developed such an interesting and complex society, complete with political and social aspects. Dragons in this story mingle with the human kind; they take on a human form and live among their former enemies. They are not violent, fire-breathing, blood-thirsty creatures - they're very intelligent, rational, cold-minded, and diplomatic. They don't roam the skies in search of an easy pray, and they don't randomly attack innocent people - they're far more civilized for that. Hartman's dragons attend the court as ambassadors and give lectures at universities. They are scholars, scientists, and tutors. And yet humans don't trust them. The peaceful co-existence between humans and dragons is ensured by the peace treaty, but like with any treaty, there are those who support it and those who'd like to destroy it. The already unstable truce threatens to fall apart when a body of Prince Rufus is found, and the fact that it's missing head seems to be pointing to a dragon as his murderer.
Our sixteen-year-old heroine, Seraphina Dombegh, lives with her father, and works as the assistant of the royal music master. Her mother died while giving birth to her, and though Seraphina has no memories of her, she inherited her incredible musical talent. Though extraordinarily talented, she can't display her musical skills publicly, as she can't afford to draw attention to herself. Why? Because of the dark secret she's hiding. A secret that, if discovered, could put both her and her father in great danger.
I really loved reading about Seraphina, her world (outer as well as inner), her interactions with Orma and Prince Lucian, and all her adventures. It was heartbreaking to see her struggle to accept who she was, adapt to her difficult situation, and learn to live with the consequences of her origin. Most of all, though, it was moving and inspiring. Seraphina's life was never an easy one. Her father wasn't excessively affectionate towards her; and she had to watch her every step in order to keep both of them safe. She was so full of passion, so curious of life and the world around her, and yet she was never allowed to fully explore her potential. To me, she was like a bird in a cage who never got to spread its wings and fly freely. That didn't stop her from dreaming and trying, though, and I loved how persistent, hard-working and brave she was. A truly wonderful heroine, indeed.
Seraphina is exquisitely written. Everything from the setting of the story to its many interesting characters is exceptionally fleshed-out. Rachel Hartman writes with style, grace, and great care for details, making it easy for the reader to connect with the characters and fully appreciate all the intricacies of the storyline. Her descriptions are vivid, flavourful and rich. The meticulous plotting instantly captivates and the mesmerizing writing style weaves a magical spell. It's simply impossible not to fell in love with this book; this world; this achingly gorgeous tale.
While it's not a book that you'll be able to breeze through in one sitting (at least not for me, it isn't), it's most certainly one that you'll be coming back to every day until you finish it. And you shouldn't rush through it; you should take your time and slowly savour the story to ensure no details or important information escape your attention. There's a lot going on on the pages of Seraphina, and it's all-too easy to miss something that might prove essential to understanding the world, the characters, and the intrigue. Besides, why would you want to rush through something as beautiful and imaginative as this fabulous fantasy novel? It's such a treat, and not only for fans of the genre, but for anyone who loves a solid plot line, breath-taking adventure, and magical worlds filled with fantastic creatures. Oh, and let's not forget about the musical aspect of the story! It definitely added a nice sophisticated touch to it.
To be honest, I don't think there's a single thing I didn't enjoy about this book. It's a gorgeous and compelling piece of literature and I definitely recommend checking it out. It's true that it took me a while (nearly one-third of the book) to really get into the story, but when I did, I didn't want to stop reading. I am absolutely in love with Rachel Hartman's writing style and can't wait to see what else she has in store for us!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Awesome-a review from Bookworm1858July 15 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I didn't know much about this book other than that it featured dragons which was reason enough for me to read it. As popular as dragons are, I still have not read much fiction with them. I had also seen several positive reviews of the book, albeit with some cautions about a slow beginning.
So recently I picked the book up and was soon consumed by the world created and especially the characters. I just loved them all so much and I really want to underscore that as I don't always have such a powerful positive reaction to characters. Of course there is main character Seraphina, half-human, half-dragon, who reminded me very strongly of Alanna from Tamora Pierce's series, perhaps because of the deception both must perform to maintain their place at court. Seraphina is not even supposed to exist, living in a country where humans and dragons maintain an uneasy peace. She must keep her dragon parts tightly under wraps even as the two world collide and she possesses a unique mindset to maintain that peace. Because of her covert way of life, Seraphina often lies, trying to maintain the masquerade; although this usually bothers me in a character, I completely understood her reasons and strongly sympathized with her.
After Seraphina, we have her uncle Orma, a dragon secretly masquerading as a human. He has served as her teacher and mentor and serves as our prime insight into the mind of dragons. They're kind of like Vulcans, with an emphasis on logic and pursuit of knowledge while despising human emotions like love, and Orma seriously reminded me of Spock in his careful way of speaking as well as his confusion over the human world. The other major character I have to mention is Prince Lucian Kiggs, who I pictured as Richard Armitage in North and South-sawoon, captain of the Queen's Guard and betrothed to the princess-heir but whose mind is dangerously perceptive to Seraphina's secrets and lies. I realize that of the three characters I mention, I also compared them to others, which I find to be a good thing. They're not exact copies; they just elicit positive comparisons to characters I already love in one way or another.
As for pacing, I can see some people finding parts slow, especially those who generally don't like fantasy. I did struggle with some of the names and new words, being unsure of pronunciation. But I am also comfortable with a slow pace so I can't really comment on that section. I can say that I thought information was doled out at a pretty appropriate pace and I don't have any complaints. It was maybe a bit on the long side but since fantasy has a lot to establish, I am understanding of that.
You may notice that I didn't share much about the plot. That was intentional as I don't want to accidentally reveal any of the many twists and turns. There are so many more great characters I didn't mention as I don't want spoilers and just a lot packed into this book. I am very excited for the next book.
Overall: Pretty dang perfect fantasy!
Cover: Not my favorite-I tend to like bold, bright covers that catch the eye. This seems more muted although I'd have to see it in person to really judge properly.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Flat out fantastic. A book for book lovers.Aug. 23 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
It's quite a shame that we've been conditioned by the environment to expect everything we experience to compel us from the outset.
I do know that not every book will have the same appeal to every person, and that's okay. But so many of the negative reviews for this (or less than fully positive) complain about the novel's slow start.
It does indeed start slow. By embarking upon the first page you have been dropped into a wholly unfamiliar world where a whole lot of stuff is about to happen. And happen it does, from page 83 (according to my Kindle) onward you feel the momentum build into a crazy train of story that you won't want to leave. But up until page 83 you are getting your bearings. Bearings that have to balance you through some admittedly _different_ stuff. But that's okay. Because that's what Hartman needs to do to make the story meaningful. I'm not going to complain about those 83 pages of groundwork because they paid off spectacularly well.
My only complaint at all is that this is being marketed as a YA book. I know that's what is hot right now. I know that "YA" is the magic word for selling copies of anything. But is this YA? I consider it a fantasy novel with a young female protagonist. I hesitated to read it at first because I'm tired of YA, tired of all the Hunger Games wannabes clogging the shelves. This is not a "wannabe" of anything. It is its own magnificent work, original and real.