Renee Reviews: Rachel Hartman's - "Seraphina"

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides, having spent her young life concealing the truth of her parentage and authentic nature. This task proves ever more difficult when she is thrust into the spotlight of the royal court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, and struggles to protect her own secret, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Even prior to its release, I had been hearing nothing but positive declarations regarding Rachel Hartman’s debut Seraphina, particularly from readers of young adult high fantasy. These very affirmative murmurings really stood apart from the reviews that tend to follow many other dragon novels in the YA market; Seraphina wasn’t merely hyped  -it was genuinely praised, and that made me curious.

Rachel Hartman has crafted a very detailed and vast universe for which to set her coming-of-age draconic tale – so detailed in fact that the novel comes equipped with a list of the cast of characters as well as a glossary of terms contained in its final pages. For myself, I can say that the glossary of terms most certainly proved necessary!!! Not one to provide large passages of information from the outset, Hartman instead wastes no time in immersing the reader in the city of Gorred and its citizens, complete with all of their idiosyncratic mannerisms and unique language. Ultimately, this helped to establish a very credible sense of place and time, however it was on occasion somewhat overwhelming for a first-time visitor to this world.

The characters that inhabit the pages of Seraphina are perhaps its most memorable and engaging element. Seraphina herself proves to be a worthy heroine, at once plucky and independent, while never giving the impression that there isn’t room to learn, grow and make valuable mistakes in her journey towards self-acceptance. Her romance with Prince Lucian Kiggs is honestly one of the best developed and well-paced I have encountered in young adult fiction for a very, very long time. And while there is a long list of excellent supporting characters, both nice and not-so-nice, my favourite without a doubt was Orma, Seraphina’s uncle, who struggles as a dragon in human form, overcome at times by emotions and completely unable to make sense of them. Any time I saw Orma’s name upon the page, my heart soared!

Some readers have questioned whether Hartman’s world-building overshadowed the plot of the novel, however I found the gradual pacing and building of suspense to be quite effective, ultimately preferring a focus on character over a focus on merely constructing event after event. The ‘action’ of the narrative might prove too slight for some fantasy fans, but I felt it was all the more potent for its sparseness, and remarkably for the first in a series, the conclusion held no cliff-hanger or overt lead-in to the second instalment.

Seraphina may not convert me into an instant fan of dragon literature within YA, but it has certainly helped to regenerate my faith in YA authors to create worthwhile characters, intriguing universes, and intelligent love stories and character relationships.

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

Random House Australia

ISBN – 0375866566

467 pages

July 10th 2012

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