By Rachel Hartman
Published by Corgi
ISBN 978 0 552 5600 1
In her bestselling debut novel, Rachel Hartman introduces an alternative medieval world with such expertise and confidence that even booklovers who don't usually take to fantasy fiction will be enthralled.
Forty years of peace have passed between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd, but neither community has learned to fully trust and appreciate the other. Dragons have long been able to take on human form, and this is how they live alongside real humans. By taking on human abilities, dragons have risen to the top of Goredd society.
Everything appears tranquil on the streets, but beneath the surface, tensions are bubbling away and threats are about to appear.
A prince has recently been murdered, and the circumstances of his death point to a dragon attack. The crime causes the underlying tensions between dragons and humans to escalate. The atmosphere of unease that Hartman builds up in the opening chapters of Seraphina will have any reader sitting on the edge of their seat.
Sixteen-year-old Seraphina, a talented musician, is assistant to the court composer at the royal palace. Her job brings her into close contact with important dragons and humans, but the last thing Seraphina wants is to be involved in court politics. For she is hiding a secret that could have her banished, or even killed, if discovered.
It won't take the astute reader long to work out what Seraphina is hiding from those around her, but this doesn't matter because Hartman has got readers so drawn in at this point that the interest just keeps growing. Seraphina finds herself caught up in the intrigue and danger at court, while fighting problems of her own. It is a dangerous time for both her and the kingdom she inhabits.
This complex, superbly written thriller establishes Hartman as an exciting new talent. There is a great deal to enjoy and appreciate in Seraphina - from the titular heroine and the mature way she narrates her story, to an original spin on dragons that intrigues and mystifies.
Hartman's prose is elegant and stylish - a welcome change from grungy and witless Young Adult storytelling. A cast of characters and a glossary at the end of the book are welcome additions.
Although it's long, and at times demanding, the only real weak point in this novel is the wishy-washy and unimaginative title. Forgive Hartman that and revel in the multi-layered story she so expertly tells.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com