Wednesday, February 6, 2013

YA FANTASY REVIEW: SERAPHINA


Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, YA Fantasy, 1st in series
Cover by Andrew Davidson
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 the 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.  Serphina 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.

This is the debut novel for Rachel Hartman and it is an amazing achievement. She breaks the rules handed out to first time writers writing YA.  Don’t go over 375 pages, yet she comes in close to 500 pages.  Must have hooks and cliffhangers at the beginning of chapters and at the end of chapters, Ms. Hartman wrote a humdinger of an opening, but from there she didn’t worry about pushing the concept and just wrote an intriguing story with beautiful prose. 
The opening hook: I remember being born.
That I have to say is an awesome opening line and I had to know more.  Who is this person that remember her birth? 
Another point I want to bring up is that this book is different from most YA novels out today.  It is more intellectual and thought provoking.  Doesn’t rely on the “Oh my god, he’s to die for,” thinking and swooning from the heroine over some guy who has a body of god complete with ripped abs.  Honestly, I can’t remember any Greek statues having such developed bodies.  Here’s another pet peeve I have with most YA’s, the constant dribble streaming out of the heroine’s head that you just want to drown her to shut her up.  Sure we’re in the main protagonist’s head but do we have to hear wah, wah, wah, all the time. Ms. Hartman avoided these thankfully.
The world building:
They say a story is in the details and Hartman has created a solid medieval world and made it her own.  I can practically hear the gowns swishing in the halls and wondering who is going to clean those hems.  It is a full and believable society complete with religion, clothing, customs, different races, culture filled with books and music and more.  Plus, she has created dragons that on the most part keep their emotions in check, sort of like Mr. Spock, from Star Trek.  Hartman’s dragons can change their shape from dragons to humans and they wear a little bell signifying what they are.  I must admit although it’s a great element for the story, I found it difficult to imagine a dragon tall as a building folding down into a small human body.  But, of course werewolves do it all the time, don’t they?
The characters:
The main character is Seraphina who discovers she is half dragon and half-human with a magical power she doesn’t understand.  She takes the initiative to solve the murder of a royal personage while keeping her a secret of being a half-breed.  She’s a spunky character who sometimes speaks her mind without thinking of the consequence of her forthrightness.  A character trait of wanting to find answers is beyond mere curiosity, she will go further than most people to get to the bottom of a problem even if it puts herself in jeopardy. But she is also vulnerable, but doesn’t let that hold her back.   Prince Lucian Kiggs is her partner in the murder investigation and Seraphina falls in love with him.  The Prince is a nice enough guy, perhaps even close to perfect.  So, he doesn’t have much growth in the story.
The secondary characters are wonderful.  Princess Glisselda and the other half-dragons characters color the world with their idiosyncrasies.
Pros and Cons:
Hartman’s writing and her voice are so different from what’s out there, except for Maggie Stiefvater.  It almost reminds me of a different time when the richness of language was prime.  It was a beautiful read, but at times, the pacing was very slow.  But, this is a kind of book you want to savor the words and not devour them.  
Fresh factor:
As I mentioned above the world building is luscious, full and different. And of course the inventive unfolding of the dragons and half-breeds is very different.  I think the second book in the series will be even more exciting. 
Overall:
I would give this book a four**** star rating.  I believe both the young and the old, male or female will enjoy this book, which says a lot about Hartman's writing.  This book delivers what fantasy is about taking you to different world complete with exciting characters struggling to keep their world from falling apart.  
Seraphina was a finalist for the Canadian 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award in the category of Children's Text. On January 28, 2013 it received the 2013 William C. Morris Award, awarded to best young adult book published in the US by a debut author. In the UK Seraphina has been placed on the longlist for the CILIP Carnegie Medal In Literature 2013, with the shortlist to be announced in March 2013. Seraphina is also short-listed for the 2012 Kitchies Golden Tentacle Award.
Seraphina is available at Amazon . Also there is a short prequel to this book, which I haven’t read.  I hope you give this book a read and enjoy the story as much as I did.

Till next time,

Elizabeth

 

 

12 comments:

Ella Gray said...

This one looks really cool! I cracked up at your comment about the heroine's constant dribbling inner dialogue; I see it in UF too and it drives me crazy, LOL.

It's not surprising that you prefer YA fantasy that's more intellectual since I think that's your writing style as well. Great review, Elizabeth!

EW Gibson said...

Ella,

Yeah, the TSTL heroines just the annoy the hell out of me. heheheh! And any heroine that waits for a man to take care of the problem needs to do it yourself. LOL! Oh, and the unreal kicking ass females are not my cup of tea either, unless their name is Buffy. :)

Marsha A. Moore said...

I've considered reading this one several times. I generally avoid YA because teenage dialog is too annoying for me. From your review, I'll have to give it a read! I'm curious how half-breeds come to be. If you can answer without spoilers, please let me know.

Kelly Hashway said...

Very nice, thorough, and honest review. I like that. I found you through YALitChat and I'm a new follower. Looking forward to stopping by again.

EW Gibson said...

Marsha,

Well, I can tell you that because dragons can fold themselves into a human body so they have all the same equipment. :) Inter breeding is against the law in the story, of course no one thinks it's possible. Ooops.

Elizabeth

EW Gibson said...

Kelly,

I'm glad you like the review and that you're from YALitChat. I followed you back on your blog, which btw looks great and I love your cover for "Touch of Death" very haunting and beautiful.

So glad you came by. :)
Elizabeth

Rosi said...

What a delicious cover! And I love the concept of the dragons who are shapeshifters. It sounds like a terrific read. Thanks for the review.

EW Gibson said...

Rosi,

You have a good eye because the cover is just that, delicious. It's so in keeping with the story and time period. I know you don't usually read fantasy, but you might enjoy this one. :)

Elizabeth

Lexa Cain said...

I agree with you about YA heroines being almost comically foolish and whose inner dialog are overly melodramatic. I've written 2 YA novels and I'm switching to NA or A because I can't face writing YA characters anymore.

You did a great job with the review, making insightful points. Now, I'd like to read this novel. :-)

EW Gibson said...

Lexa,

I hear you. I must admit I worry about YA heroines being real and yet inspiring in the story I'm writing. It's hard.

New adult sounds like a viable alternative. I followed you on your blog. Love the idea of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I saw there were over 300 writers listed. Mine included. hehehe!

Thanks for coming by.

Elizabeth

Catherine Stine said...

I've read about this book so many times! Love the cover too. I will have to give it a read.

EW Gibson said...

Catherine,

Oh, I do hope you like the book. I looked at your site, Idea City and admired the black and white drawings. I can see why you like the cover of Seraphina.

Thank you for dropping by.

Elizabeth

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