Book Review: Seraphina / Author: Rachel Hartman/ Publisher: Doubleday Childrens / Release Date: July 19th
Unlike myself, the people of Goredd aren’t enamoured with dragons. Despite the war with the great beasts ending 40 years ago, the treaty remains tenuous; suspicion abounds although the two live alongside each other (dragons can take human form, you see), and when a member of the human royal family is murdered, it’s easy to suspect dragon-kind of the crime. Mixed up in all this intrigue is our heroine, Seraphina. She’s not an investigator, merely assistant to the court composer. Yet, she’s a young woman who hides a dark secret…
Of course she is – what’s a young adult fantasy novel going to be like with a normal narrator? – and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what makes Seraphina different from everyone else, unique amongst humans and dragons.
Yet, Rachel Hartman’s debut isn’t just about the insecurities of her protagonist. There’s a plot afoot that affects everyone in the world she’s created, one that is deftly woven throughout the novel. There are genuine surprises as the plot develops, and while I found some twists predictable, the younger readers the novel is aimed at will likely find them equally shocking as others.
Despite being aimed at young adults, there are highly mature aspects to the story. Seraphina, struggling with the terms of her existence, has created a ‘mind-garden’ where avatars of her personality roam, and must be ‘put to bed’ before she herself can sleep. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but to go any further would be to spoil the plot.
Seraphina is a quick-paced read, and while the story does pause at times for introspection, it never stalls or grinds to a halt. It’s populated with quirky and interesting characters, none of whom are there just to make up the numbers. My personal favourites, the old knights who used to battle dragons, aren’t in the book as long as I’d have liked, but they’re a fascinating insight into how dragons would have to be fought.
It’s a tale well told, the author’s writing hitting a real high whenever music is involved. Here, her prose verges on the poetic; beautiful, often haunting, descriptions abound. It’s no criticism, but it’s a pity the rest of the novel isn’t so well-written. The writing isn’t bad – far from it - but it’s clear to see that when the author is passionate about something like this, she puts her all into it, and it’s a shame not to see such skill used throughout.
That’s possibly an unfair statement, given that I’m twenty years past the target reader demographic. What is true, is that Seraphina is witty and charming enough to keep even an old cynic like me turning the pages. The inevitable romance never feels tiresome, nor does it interfere with the story; in fact, it helps to power the later stages.
In Seraphina, Rachel Hartman has created a likeable, gutsy heroine, one who isn’t flawless or afraid to make mistakes. No doubt is left that there will be a sequel, and the final stages of the novel set up the next instalment nicely. A good start to what should be an interesting series.