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Seraphina Hardcover – July 10, 2012
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Amazon Best Teen Book of the Month, July 2012: In Seraphina, dragons and humans maintain an uneasy peace and for a woman who is both there is nowhere to turn for acceptance--not even within herself. Seraphina has spent her young life concealing the truth of her parentage and authentic nature, a task that proves ever more difficult when she is thrust into the spotlight of the royal court. Author Rachel Hartman’s dragons take human form but shun the messiness of human emotion by remaining “in ard” (a highly rational state of mind), while their counterparts cling to a dangerous assumption of species superiority. As the anniversary of the treaty between the two sides approaches, court intrigue reaches a fever pitch and hard-won truths, betrayals, and intricacies of the heart are laid bare. Seraphina is a beautifully complex fantasy that delves into the most basic of desires—to be loved, to belong, and to find peace in self-acceptance. --Seira Wilson
Guest Review by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is a best-selling author of fantasy books for teenagers. Her books, known for their teenaged girl warriors and wizards, have received critical acclaim and a strong fanbase. Her newest book, Mastiff, is the third book in The Legend of Beka Cooper series.
In Seraphina's world, coldly intellectual dragons can take on the shapes--and feelings--of human beings. Sometimes this results in a surprise. Seraphina's father married a beautiful musician, and discovered too late that she was a dragon. She died, leaving him with a daughter who confuses him and his new wife and children.
Now the half-dragon Seraphina is the assistant to the cranky royal music master. She is in charge of Princess Glisselda's music lessons; she books performers for the 40-year celebration of the peace treaty between dragons and humans, and she rehearses the rowdy court musicians. She has to hide the scales on her arm and around her waist, and she can never let anyone find out that Orma, her music teacher, is actually a dragon.
When she plays the solo for the funeral of the realm's murdered prince, Seraphina is suddenly raised into entirely new, visible levels of peril. People she always avoided are noticing her. She has to attend social functions, where she is caught up in court politics, between those who support the treaty and those who want to destroy it. She runs afoul of conspirators who want to start the war again--one of them may be her own grandfather. She even discovers that Prince Lucian, who is betrothed to Princess Glisselda, is not only very sharp-eyed but also very agreeable to be around. He appreciates her insights on intrigue at court and in the city and uses her as an unofficial investigator into the ongoing unrest.
The plot thickens. A new religious order plots riots and revolution. Exiled knights return to report an unregulated dragon flying near where the old prince was murdered. The dragons are trying to send Orma for corrective surgery--they think he's gotten too human and they want to cut those parts out of his brain. Seraphina fears that if she tells the prince and the princess what she is, they'll hate her forever, but their work to preserve the treaty celebrations is bringing them closer together. And all of them are terrified that the dragons will decide that humans are not worth the trouble, and will destroy them at last.
I loved this book even more the second time I read it than I did the first. The characters are interesting and engaging, and I love the new look at dragons. For all that she's half-dragon, Seraphina is a very believable human being, caught between different loyalties and just trying to keep everyone she loves alive. But don't take my word for it--read it yourself!
From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-For nearly 40 years, the treaty between the humans of Goredd and the dragons of dragonkind has held strong. Humans must not enter dragonkind territory and dragons, upon entering human lands, must take their human shape, or saarantrai. In Goredd, Seraphina's human father, a high offical, needs her to stay anonymous. The dark secret that she must hide is that her mother was a dragon. Because of her musical talents, Seraphina becomes Goredd's music assistant, helping prepare for the anniversary celebration. Layers of clothing disguise the scales on her arms and stomach, but unlike dragons, her blood runs red, not silver. Also, to keep from having fainting spells in which she relives her deceased mother's experiences, Seraphina must clear her head each night. She calls the figures in her vision grotesques, and each night, she must ensure all is calm in her mind-garden. When the decapitated body of Prince Rufus is found just days before the anniversary festivities, many humans are quick to accuse a dragon of breaking the pact. Seraphina's grotesques begin acting strangely, and the whole court is investigating the murder. When the celebrations are in full swing, all hell breaks loose as the rogue dragon that killed the prince enters Goredd in his dragon form and attempts to take control. Seraphina must risk revealing her true identity (and that of her fellow hybrids) in an attempt to save the kingdom. Hartman creates a rich story layered with intriguing characters and descriptive settings. Seraphina is a complex and fully developed protagonist. Although long, this unique novel (left open for a sequel) will surely appeal to fans of Christopher Paolini's "Eragon" books (Knopf) and wherever readers enjoy fantasies.-Lauren Newman, Northern Burlington County Regional Middle School, East Columbus, NJα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Top customer reviews
It's certainly a well-edited book. I spotted five errors: two sentences joined by a comma-splice; an excess closing quotation mark partway through a speech; the use of the word "palpated" in place of "palpitated"; a missing comma before a term of address; and a missing apostrophe in the phrase "goat's beard". If you follow my reviews, you'll know that it's usual for me to find a number of errors in double figures even in books that have been professionally edited, so this is a mark of an author who makes few errors, an editor who catches many, or some combination.
In addition, the language is often beautiful, going beyond efficient prose to something more literary. There's even one of my personal favourite things, a made-up phrase that is clearly a cliche in the setting, though it isn't one in our world: "Don't pay Pau-Henoa until he gets you to the other side," which in context means "don't count your chickens before they're hatched" or "don't jinx it".
The voice of the first-person protagonist, wry, even sarcastic, is wonderfully done. She's a pragmatic person who doesn't take herself too seriously; when she falls off her bed while ill and wakes up on the floor, the first thing she notices is that she needs to clean under the bed more often. She's decisive, practical and courageous, and I never felt that other people's admiration for her was forced by the author (as is far too often the case). She merited admiration.
She has a secret, the kind of thing that you have to conceal from everyone lest they despise you, and the author does a fine job of putting us in the head of someone in that situation: the constant vigilance, the threat of exposure, the self-doubt shading to self-hatred, the lack of trust in others. "I couldn't tell her that lying wasn't so much something I did as something I was," she says. The story isn't just an adventure, it's a story with meaning beyond itself, a story about the human condition as well as about these particular people.
That brings me, indirectly, to what I thought was weakest in the book, which very nearly lost it the fifth star. Even though the plot involved plenty of conflict and threat and taking action to avert bad consequences (sometimes unsuccessfully), I felt it lacked a sense of urgency somehow. I can't put my finger on exactly why. Clearly, a book can't simultaneously have literary depth and be a fast-paced thriller (at least, I've never seen this done, and I can't imagine how it would be), but the pacing, or the emotional tone, or something seemed a bit languid to me, despite the high stakes (personal and political). Maybe the wry, pragmatic tone of the narration works against the urgency that a more self-dramatising narrator would convey.
The worldbuilding is interesting. Even though a lot of elements clearly come from Renaissance Europe, they're given sufficient twists that it's not just cultural copypasta; it's "inspired by" rather than "based on". There are hints that the dragons have a high level of technology, beyond what the humans are equipped to understand. (I didn't mention the dragons? There are dragons. They're magnificent, even when taking human shape, and they struggle with the relative value of rationality and emotion.)
The ending, while a resolution, isn't a neat, everything-tied-up resolution. It has dimensions and layers and possibilities and built-in conflict for the next book - which I will definitely be looking for.
"We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful," says Seraphina, near the end. That's the book in a sentence. Read it, and find out why.
I bought this book for my 9 year old daughter for her to read during our 5 hour flight.
With all the excellent reviews and with the movie coming out later this year I knew I couldn't go wrong.
Well she loved the book. During the flight she would even read sections of the book out loud to her sister.
She gives me updates on Serephina on her adventures and struggles. She is excited to read the next book and I'm very happy to see her engrossed in this well written story.
Seraphina seems to inherit both the logic and the sentiment from her parents. She’s very practical, but she does feel love and affection for her father and for her dragon-uncle (her mom died giving birth to her). Seraphina is an amazing character, in fact she’s probably one of my most favorite female leading ladies ever. She doesn’t let herself be clouded by emotion, even if she feels it, she does what is best. She doesn’t let the guy who she feels attraction to, either distract her, or confuse her. So she doesn’t blush or act like an idiot every time he’s in the room.
The supporting characters are all wonderful, the love interest is quite deserving of being loved, her friends are all lovable, and her uncle is just badass and no matter how much he tries not to, he loves Seraphina with all his dragon heart.
The one issue with this book is the very slow pacing that absolutely drags sometimes, but otherwise the story is engaging.
It was the language of the book that made me love it. The prose is brilliant and moving, the metaphors are beautiful and quite often made me either smile or tear up. Just read: “I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence,and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven. I believed, then, that I would have risen bodily into the sky but for the anchor of his hand in my hair and his round soft perfect mouth.” (Seraphina) There were other beautiful quotes like this as well. The entire book is just beautifully written. It spoiled my eyes and tickled my brain.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read beautiful prose or a great novel about dragons.