Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Spotlight: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Salutations, Beardies!

My name is Hannah. I am so psyched to be here (insert ridiculous girly energy here). I'm from Michigan, study English at an accredited institution, and love chocolate and fantasy, with a special weakness for retold fairytales. Fantasy is my escape from daily life, my bread and butter for the mind, with a side of jam every so often if the book be extraordinary. I hope that I can articulate some of my current favorite and up-and-coming favorite books for you and that you find my recommendations decent.

I am one of those ridiculous readers that may decide to read a book because of its cover. I plead guilty. Arrest me, Literature Police, and lock me in a book prison where the books have no covers. However, in my defense (if I even get a trial in the first place, as my offense is grave indeed), I advocate that art and literature go hand in hand down a beautiful path into a thick wood of joy and have picnics together. I like book cover art. The cover art for Seraphina is a beautiful ink rendition of an Italian-esque town, which features a flying dragon; it’s framed in scarlet with gold lettering. I had to have it. Therefore, I bought it. And I was not disappointed, in either the cover or the story. Of course, now that it has won the Morris Award for 2013, there is a different version of the cover in purple, green and silver. I'm just glad that I got the original with which I fell in love.




The Premise:
Peace between dragons and humans has been shaky for over forty years. Where politics and laws rule both species and the element of unease keeps humans on their toes because dragons can transform into humans. Dragons become court ambassadors and the human queen is strict in keeping the peace between the two peoples. However, tensions run high as the treaty's anniversary approaches and the leader of the dragons will visit the queen.

Not to mention the murder.

Seraphina, a gifted musician working for the royal court, has reason (something unheard of and illegal) to be edgy around both sides. As a girl who keeps to herself and prefers to be unnoticed, she gets caught up with an investigation into the murder of the crown prince, whose death was the result of draconian violence. The investigation brings her close to the perceptive and intriguing Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen's Guard and fiancé to the heir. As the investigation goes deeper, they uncover a conspiracy that will threaten the peace treaty.

Gems for Writers:
World-building. Right from the start, the reader is launched into Hartman's world of medieval humans and dragons. These dragons are different from others that I have read about. They are mathematical and logical in thinking. They do not have emotions and are forbidden to have them when they transform into humans, which are then called saarantras. That premise sets up a chunk of the plot: dragons in human form have to deal with emotions, specifically love and compassion. The fact that there are serious sanctions and consequences (such as loss of memories, status, research, etc.) against emotions for the dragons adds to the world. Dragons join the human race mostly for research or as ambassadors. They all have to wear bells and generally have an air of disdain towards humans. Humans respond to that with hatred and unease. There are certain groups, like the Sons of St. Ogdo that seem to be out to get transformed dragons. The people of the world Hartman has created center around religion and certain saints, mostly the saint of their birth. These saints and groups become political and add further depth to the world. It was easy to understand through Seraphina's eyes, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost within the kingdom of Goredd.

Characterization. Seraphina is an interesting character. She is stuck between worlds and social status, needing to discover herself. She has to deal with mental grotesques, somewhat deformed people that she can see within her mind that she must keep under control every day. This is a gift from her mother’s memories. However, it can also be a curse. Seraphina creates a garden to keep them organized, for if she goes a day without "cultivating" her garden, she will suffer from painful visions of her mother's past. These render her vulnerable to blacking out. Readers and Seraphina learn much about the world and characters that Hartman has created through Serapina's visions. Seraphina is a strong female character. She doesn't take flak from her coworkers, she puts responsibility before her love interest, and she investigates almost heedless of danger. She knows how to take care of herself and isn't sappy. Yes, she does have feelings—and her character has a right to them—but at the end of the day she's going to get the job done.

Mystery Over Romance. It's not that there isn't any romance in the story. Trust me, it's there. However, it is not the main focus of the story and that's refreshing. The mystery of the murder, the conspiracy, and Seraphina's need to keep her own secrets drive the plot. It is fast paced and centered around royal politics and dragon cunning. There are twists and turns as to who murdered the prince and then it gets personal (more so than it already is, him being the prince and all). From interrogating knights to facing down fire-breathing dragons with vendettas, there is enough action and mystery to keep readers page turning until they finish it in a night.  I know I did!

Rating:

Conclusion:
Seraphina blends mystery, dragons, and politics smoothly with a dash of romance. It is the first in a series, but thankfully will not leave you upset with a cliffhanger. It ends solidly with a graceful lead into what to expect from the second book (for which I'm extremely excited and patiently waiting). It has won the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, an award that celebrates new authors and voices in literature. Its fast-paced action and Seraphina's internal battles, not to mention her outward battles, make for a fantastic read.


Scribe Away and Read a Book Today, Beardies!



***Seraphina (2012) by Rachel Hartman, is copyright Random House Books for Young Readers. It is available in stores, online (see above), and at your local public library.
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