by Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Published on July 10, 2012 by Random House Books
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
When I heard about Seraphina, I knew I had to read it. Fantasy? Definitely a must. Dragons? Why don’t I own this yet…? Original? Sign me up! While I didn’t buy it thanks to the lovely library, I did finally read it and was a tad disappointed. Seraphina fits the bill for all things epic fantasy, and it’s even original which is hard to come by these days. The pacing, however, just couldn’t keep my attention and I consistently set the book down or fell asleep reading (something I rarely do). I’ll leave you to read the rave reviews on Goodreads as they all make good points about the novel, but it just wasn’t there for me.
Hartman is a master creator. Her world in Seraphina is beyond the realm of normal fantasy novels, with the intricacies of a real world. We are tossed into a whole new place that is both captivating and mysterious as information meets our eyes with no idea as to how it connects to the story. I would consider the world-building of Seraphina to be its strongest element but also its downfall. Hartman goes so in-depth with the world and gives information that isn’t immediately relevant that the pace of the story takes a long time to pick up. I was definitely one of those people who struggled to get through the bulk of the novel, ready to put it down more often than not. If you like action and fast-paced stories, Seraphina isn’t for you. This is a beautifully written, thought-provoking novel that, while considered YA, could fit with adult books. The language was elevated (and also made up at times) and elegant, and if you like that you’ll be in for a real treat. But, as I said, if you like your fantasy to be packed with action and adventure, you’ll probably struggle to get through this book.
Like the world, Hartman did have a few likeable characters. They aren’t ones that I’ll be committing to memory as some of my literary favorites but I didn’t feel the need to strangle any of them. My favorite had to be Seraphina’s uncle, Orma. He was void of emotion and sometimes a little literal, but also added comedic relief to the story. I found him to be quite entertaining just on his own. I even liked Seraphina. She was conflicted and it showed through Hartman’s wonderful use of the written word. I didn’t like her voice, however, which read as passive and had nothing to keep me hooked. Nor did I like her with Lucian. Mr. Kiggs happened to be engaged to the princess and Seraphina’s friend Glisselda, and his little romance with Seraphina put me off from the story. First off, they were going behind the back of his future wife and her friend, and second, it just seemed rushed (unlike the rest of the story). Not quite insta-love but a little close for my taste.
As a whole, Hartman sure knows how to create a story. The world was gorgeous and so well thought-out in its originality that I’ll definitely check out more of her work. Yet the writing couldn’t make up for the bit of romance or pacing of the novel. I finished Seraphina but it was a struggle and not something I look for in a book. While I may check out Hartman’s future works, I don’t think I’ll be returning to this particular series. This red-hooded girl needs more action in her epic fantasies! If you like more thoughtful fantasies with less of a focus on that quest across the kingdom, you’ll enjoy Seraphina. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t all there for me.