By: Rachel Hartman
Review by: Sarah
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Rating: ★★★★ / Definitely worth checking out and putting on your shelf. If you're into that sort of thing.
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.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
Well first of all I must admit I went into this book a little biased because -here's a fun factoid about me- I absolutely with all of my soul love the !@#$ out of dragons. I love dragons, I love looking at drawings of dragons, I love watching any movie or show with dragons in it (I get emotional when they are slayed), I love reading about dragons, If there's a dragon on an article of clothing I will buy it, I. Love. Dragons.
So of course when I read the synopsis for this book my reaction was a little something like this
A fantastical post-war world where dragons can take human form? And the main character is a girl? AND SHE MIGHT BE PART DRAGON? It was all I could do not to throw up from excitement.
So, the story follows 16 year old (I think I'm getting the age right? Sorry busy thinking about dragons....) Seraphina, who is the child of a human man and dragon woman.
You: Um gross hold up what
Me: no no she was in human form okay
You: oh okay
You: hold up what
Yes, in this world dragons are able to shift into human form to live among humans as part of a peace treaty that was signed between humans and dragons (or saar, as they are often referred to) forty years before the book's opening. Dragons are fascinated by humans, though they are not able to fully comprehend things like emotion and sarcasm and why things like art and music are important. Oh dragons, that is just so you.
Now, human-dragon hybrids are thought to be stuff of legends to most people in this world, but even hypothetically speaking they are thought to be abominations from both sides. So, Seraphina must keep everyone in her life at an arm's length lest they get too close to her and discover her secret. (PS- Most of the humans are still kinda P.O'd that dragons are allowed to live among them in "peace". They are not ready to be bffs, to put it lightly. Cue: hella social commentary)
Seraphina's mother died giving birth to her, as I assume is the case with all dragon women who bore hybrid children (yes turns out Seraphina's not the only one! ho Ho HO! Drama!), but she is able to pass along memories to Seraphina before she dies. (Dragons are able to pass along memories to their children, fyi) These memories begin to unlock in Seraphina's impossibly vast mind as the story unfolds, convenientally laid out in italics.
Anyway, back to the plot. Seraphina is a talented musician who plays for the royal family and when a member dies suddenly and everyone's like "DRAGONS DEF DID THIS THEY ARE TREATY BREAKERS IF U THINK WE SHOULD KILL DRAGONS RAISE UR HAND!!!!" her whole plan of trying to remain unnoticed goes to shit when she gets caught in the middle of helping the royal family solve this mystery and help her "teacher", Orma, track down a particular douchey dragon who may be in the mood to ruin lives.
Now, this brings me to what I enjoyed most about this entire book: the relationship between Seraphina and Orma. This may make me seem a little heartless, but 90% of the time family or family-esque relationship arcs in books just don't really do it for me. I'm just like yeah blah blah blah we all love our families ok NEXT. But their relationship was so heartbreakingly beautiful I pretty much full on sobbed anytime they had a scene together, especially toward the end of the book. It was done SO WELL. I stan for Seraphina and Orma. 4 EVER.
You know who I don't stan for? Seraphina and Lucian. Oops, there goes my unpopular opinion. I liked Lucian from the beginning, it was obvious they had a connection and I enjoyed watching their friendship blossom. However, when she started to obsess over him I was just like NOW GIRL. PLS. PLS GIRL. GIRL. GURL. GURRRRRRL. I don't know, I was just so caught up in the immaculate world that was unfolding before my eyes and the main plot alone was enough to keep my interest I wasn't really looking for a love story. But I wasn't super irritated or anything. I just knew it was going to end in heartbreak for poor Phina, Lucian is a prince and also engaged. :SPOILER IN WHITE FONT: And when she finally confesses herself to him he just is kind of like :|. Like, I'm glad he didn't fall to his knees and swear his undying love or anything, that would have been awkward and unneccessary, and I know he's all torn because he has his princely duties and shit, including the fact that he is engaged. BUT. I guess I just wanted him to be a little more enthusiatic? Maybe it was just the way I read it but I wasn't very charmed. Plus, I may or may not have been secretly holding out for Lucian to profess his love to Seraphina, only for her to flippantly reply that she is too fierce for him. :END SPOILER: That being said, I do like them together and I'm interested to see how this tangled web is going to play out! And afterall, "strong female plots" don't HAVE to be completely devoid of romance. With this book I decree, you can be a strong woman and still desire/want/need companionship and love and acceptance! Humanity! Deal with it!
All in all this book was fantastic. I loved Seraphina's journey as a character, I loved the writing, I loved the world-building, I loved all the "I just learned a valuable lesson about tolerance" moments, I love dragons, and ugh just read it.