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Series: Seraphina #1
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.
Going into Seraphina, I almost expected disappointment because, far too often, a book that has won over the hearts of my preferred book blogger opinions and the general Goodreads population fails spectacularly for me. (Case in point: Possess. That one still makes my eye twitch with ire and puzzlement.) And, for the first few chapters, in fact, up until about the halfway mark, I was already prepping myself to be yet another black sheep in a herd of innumerable white-fleeced positive reviews.
But I present Exhibit A:
(Image taken from Goodreads “Reading Progress Graph” which can demonstrate my point far better than I can hope to explain… yet, here I go.)
Clearly, when I began, I was not all that interested. In fact, the further into Seraphina that I delved, the more alienated I felt by the strangeness of it all, from a distracting series of flashbacks sprinkled throughout a middling-moving story of a girl with scales (to a point where I was confused about what scenes/events went where, chronologically), and which all but culminated with Seraphina tending a freaking mind garden. That one actually kinda put me off the book for much longer than my confusion, my indifference and my semi-reluctance to give in to my damning impatience.
And yet something kept me reading after all. The most nurturing salve that kept this process of trudging through the narrative turned out to be the point at which Seraphina realized her mind garden “grotesques,” as she calls them, were actually others like her and not just weird sideshow shit. After that, it was smooth sailing as I settled into the mystery and the world.
No longer feeling adrift at sea, hurled there by the stiff language and strange propulsions into random flashbacks I couldn’t place here or there for their quick succession, I found the reading experience pleasant but not gripping.
No, that didn’t happen until this book Under the Never Sky‘d me.
To explain this effect, I reference Exhibit A again.
On the 7th of June, 5 days after I began reading Seraphina, I stumbled across this passage:
And that is when I know that I will kiss him, and the very thought of it fills me with… well, it’s as if I have just solved Skivver’s predictive equations or, even better, as if I have intuited the One Equation, seen the numbers behind the moon and stars, behind mountains and history, art and death and yearning, as if my comprehension is large enough that it can encompass universes, from the beginning to the end of time.
It simply called to me. From then on, it was all she wrote.
I didn’t put the book down after that. I had thought I wasn’t invested in the book, the characters, the narrative, but I had been taken by the neck (haha) and guided to the light of understanding and envelopment.
Chapter after chapter, I lay awake in bed, letting the daylight out the window fade until I had to read by the light of the TV, following Seraphina as she blossomed into a wonderful young woman for whom I couldn’t keep my heart from soaring when she discovered a friendship with Princess Glisselda and Prince Kiggs, a kinship with Orma and Lars, and also for whom I couldn’t stop my throat my clenching when her fears and distresses translated into physical pain for me.
Seriously. I know it sounds corny, but when I’m invested, I’m fuckin’ invested. Several times I had to shut the book just to give myself a chance to breathe again. THIS IS REAL, PEOPLE. I WAS HURT.
And in that time, I never once questioned how so unassuming a girl as Seraphina could’ve effortlessly ensconced herself inside the wonder and mystery and even danger of the higher royalty’s responsibilities because it all felt so natural and so seamless, her involvement dovetailing perfectly with purpose and predication.
As with Under the Never Sky, I began Seraphina skeptical and ended up with an unprecedented connection to a whole universe that, before I read this book, I could never dream of accessing. (Seraphina gets more stars because I didn’t dislike the first half the way I did Under the Never Sky. I merely felt detached from it.)
I can go on and on all day and all night about the unexpected beauty of this book, even though it may not first be apparent to the cynical such as myself, but I think I’ve said enough. I’m so glad to have come across this book and, honestly, my heart broke so many times reading this book that even if author Hartman set out to destroy all our hopes with the sequel, I wouldn’t even have enough heart to crush anymore. As warming a job as she did with mending the wounds wrought across my stupid feelings at the conclusion of this book, the fact still stands that I’ve nevertheless had to catch my breath lying in bed.
I mean, really. I don’t care about things in real life half as much as I felt for Seraphina. What the hell?
This is a book that restores my faith in young adult literature.