by Rachel Hartman
Published: July 10th, 2012
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
I think this cover is perfect. It would definitely catch my eye in a bookshop and make me want it right there and then. I love illustrations on covers and pretty fonts, and this delivers. I don't even want to mention the UK version because it is a disaster. A MESS.
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.
'' I remember being born. In fact, I remember a time before that. "
This book was enthralling and exciting and one of the most original and unique books I have ever read. At least...for the first half. The second half lost its way a little for me. Still brilliant though.
Highs: The world building, the court setting, and most of all, Seraphina herself and her dragon brethren!Lows: I didn't like the romance. Just putting it out there. The ending also annoyed me and I felt it dragged towards the end and lost the sparkle it had at the beginning. It still shimmered though.
I really want to find an opening into Rachel Hartman's mind and just crawl in and make a home among the dragons and the cobblestones I know I would find there. 'Seraphina' is one of the most creative and imaginative books I have ever read and I just...I don't...I WANT RACHEL HARTMAN'S BRAIN SO I CAN THINK LIKE THAT!
There is this concept in 'Seraphina'. Basically, in this book dragons can fold themselves up to take human form and pass as humans. Yet, dragons think in a very different way to humans. They are completely emotionless, they are so logical that they can count and solve complex mathematical problems in a split second, and they have no concept of humour or sarcasm. So, when they take human form they are slightly overcome by the amount of emotion their human body feels. Therefore, they need to get back 'in ard' which, basically, means get their minds back in order. It is a form of compartmentalising and keeping thoughts and emotions in different boxes. The character, Seraphina, who is both dragon and human, does this in a very interesting way. She has a garden of different characters, many grotesque in some way, who each have their own area, and she can get to the gardeb through a sort of meditation, and tend to it when she feels it is becoming unbalanced. I loved this idea so much and loved reading about the inhabitants of her mind garden. It sounds strange, but it is brilliantly written and makes me wish I had my own garden inside my head that I could go and tend to whenever I felt stressed or upset. Not to mention the unbelievably sinister presence of Jannoula who has had to be banished to a cottage because she started infiltrating other parts of Seraphina's brain...Jannoula terrifed me.
All of the characters, either in Seraphina's head or outside it, are very well realised. Seraphina herself is a great heroine and in a strange way reminded me of Jane Eyre! I guess it's because she is a mere music mistress in the castle yet she dares to make eyes at the mighty Prince. She is also small and plain (at least in my head she is) and brave and determined. I have to say though, Kiggs is no Mr Rochester. I know a lot of people love the romance in this book but I wasn't feeling it. It cheesed me out at times and it definitely wasn't the aspect that made me want to keep reading. For me, it wasn't a 'Ooo will they, won't they' it was a 'I KNOW THEY WILL SO PLEASE GET IT OVER WITH.' Or maybe I am just a grumpy, cold hearted bastard.
I actually much prefer the relationship Seraphina has with Orma, her uncle. Orma is a dragon who takes human form, and he is the Snape of the book; he is rather cold and brisk and no-nonsense but you know that bubbling away under there is a heart of gold. Is it just me, or is an emotionally stunted, awkward character someone you just want to snuggle the life out of? I mean, I know it would freak the hell out of him, but I would just love to spoon Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. Orma is a bit of a Sheldon, but one who is just beginning to defrost.
I also love the heroes. They really reminded me of the 'Silver Horde' from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series who are a group of ageing barbarians who used to be heroes but have gotten old and creaky.They still try and go out on quests but they have zimmer frames and bad backs and dentures made out of troll's teeth. But they are still badass. The heroes in Seraphina have been banished decades before and now live in a cave, doing...I'm not sure what. Trying to keep their ageing bodies supple and ready for action. I am hoping there will be more of them in the next book in the series.
The writing in this book is so pretty. I mean, it's not achingly pretty and beautiful but there are some really lovely word useages and turns of phrase that made me stop and re-read. I love the way that whenever the characters mention somebody who has died they say, 'Rest he on Heaven's hearthstone'. THAT IS SO AWESOME. So much better than 'Rest in Peace'. And I loved how the Prince and Seraphina were interested in philosophy and, damn, can Rachel Hartman philosophise. My personal favourite, 'The world inside myself is vaster and richer than this paltry plane, peopled with mere galaxies and gods.' And I love the dragon's sense of smell which is so acute that they can 'smell how sharp a knife is.' Love that idea!
Despite the glowing praise I have for many aspects of this book, it wasn't perfect and certain things did niggle me a bit. Firstly, I did feel that this book started on an absolute high where I was like, 'Ahhh this book is magical and beautiful and I am in love with it', and kind of deteriorated to an, 'Ahh this book is kinda magical and kinda beautiful sometimes but I think I might love it as a friend.' When I started, it glittered and by the end it was more of a dull sheen. I don't know exactly what changed, but I did start to find it more of a chore to read and the romance irritated me. Also, although the main characters want peace in the kingdom between dragons and humans, I did feel that the treaty was really unfair to the dragons, who are treated as disgusting abominations and excluded from society. I thought that was wrong, and if I was a dragon I would want to fight too!
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to...pretty much everybody! I am not a huge fantasy reader and I still adored it and want to re-read it. I loved the setting 'in court', and the bowing and courtseying and performing strange dances that involve gripping gloved hands. However, it does feel dangerous and sinister too. Downton Abbey it ain't. Oh, and any book that makes good use of the word 'strumpet' is OK by me.
P.S- Did you see the trailer? Pretty good for a book trailer.
This Book has Inspired me to Read: More fantasy. I will be reading 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss soon because...I should. I just should.
"The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now."
'And that was when I know that I will kiss him, and the very thought of it fills me with...well, it's as if I have just solved Skivver's predictive equations or, even better, as if I have intuited the One Equation, seen the numbers behind the moon and stars, behind mountains and history, art and death and yearning, as if my comprehension is large enough that it can encompass universes, from the beginning to the end of time.'
Three Words to Describe this Book: Intricate, Unique, Beautiful.
But Don't Take My Word For It:
- Blog Reviews of 'Seraphina':
Bunbury in the Stacks says:
'Rachel Hartman has a way of phrasing things with a very subtle humor that makes you feel as if you’re sharing an inside joke, and quite frankly I found this book so utterly refreshing in a trickle (which is soon to be a flood) of mediocre young adult fantasy, I cannot wait to see more.'
The Book Smugglers say:
'Suffice it to say, there are many, many beautiful things about this novel. I loved Seraphina from cover to cover, and I dearly hope that fantasy lovers everywhere take heed and read this remarkable, wonderful debut.'