Dragons ROCK. For those of you who think, seriously, enough with the dragons, read this book and change your mind. Rachel Hartman has created a wonderful, mystical alternative-medieval world populated by rational, mathematical, fire-breathing beasts who share an uneasy peace with their human counterparts.

Four decades have passed since the treaty between the species, but the mistrust between them continues. Old prejudice dies hard. When the ruler of the dragons comes to the capitol to commemorate the treaty, factions on both sides plot to sabotage the fragile accord.

Hartman has written fascinating dragons.  With the ability to fold themselves into human shape, or saarantrai, they attend court as ambassadors, and act as teachers and scholars at the universities in the Kingdom of Goredd.  They are logical beings who suppress their violent tendencies and do complex mathematical equations in their heads. On the other side of the coin, they do not understand emotion of any kind, and have no tolerance for human frailties.

Seraphina, according to all beliefs, should not exist. She is the offspring of forbidden love between a man and a dragon, so her identity is her baggage, a secret she must guard for her life.  Contrary to her need to hide, she is the musical mistress of the castle, and lives in plain sight of all who would harm her. She is both distrustful and caring, shy and bold at turns. She makes music magical.

Princess Glisselda and her cousin and fiance Lucian, while at once royalty and a class above, become friends and confidants to Seraphina. Glisselda, heir to the throne of Goredd, initially annoyed me – I thought she was set up to be bubbly and charming and ineffectual. Incorrect.  She is strong and intelligent and a queen in waiting. Prince Lucian starts out a weaker character, in my eyes, but believable and strong by the end.

All characters and villains are equally fantastic and believable.  Orma, Claude, Immlann, Fruit Bat, Lars, Viridius, Apsig – the author takes the time to imbue each character with a distinct personality.

Hartman has created a very complex society; philosophy, love, art, religion, music and dance, what it means to be human and dragon, acceptance, class structure, are all meticulously developed.

Neither the dragons or the humans are the villains or heroes – this is not a classic story of good vs evil.  In equal numbers, both species want peace yet distrust the other.  Both see abominations in the half breeds and treat them as such.

Seraphina is an excellent introduction into epic fantasy, with an unpredictable plot. I was turning back pages and even chapters, trying to figure how I missed clues that were so obvious, in hindsight…  I first picked up the novel thinking it was stand-alone story, but soon discovered there are two more in the series.  I can’t wait to read them!

It is good for all ages, but the language is challenging for younger readers. This is the novel you read to your 9-11 year olds.  And while the novel is written from a female point of view, any boy interested in medieval fantasy and dragons would find this world intriguing.

Seraphina is published by Doubleday Canada.


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