Expected Publication Date: July 10, 2012
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.
Rachel Hartman's Seraphina is nothing short of exquisite. It is beautiful - breathtakingly so - and I find myself wanting to reread it again and again. This is how it starts:
I remember being born.
In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart's staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.
Then my world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.
I simply could not help myself; I fell in love with Seraphina's voice right there.
When I think about the idea of 'world-building' I often actually visualize little houses in my head - spaces that have been constructed piece by piece. There are houses that are done quickly, with little care, and they look sloppy at first glance. There are houses that look pretty good when taken as a whole, but upon closer inspection you see the slightly misaligned window trim, the irregular gaps between the wood-flooring, or the spots of cabinet paint on the edge of the wall. Then you have houses like what Rachel Hartman has built: they look nice up front. Then, you get a little closer and you start to see details. That isn't just a nice wooden mantel - it's hand-carved with intricate details. The walls aren't expertly painted with paint bought off the shelf - every color in the house has been custom tinted to compliment each other. You get the idea. Goredd doesn't feel 'built' at all - Hartman has made it so effortlessly stunning that it is impossible not to believe in it. All the little details of culture and tradition have received the same level of attention as her big ideas - everything from blasphemous interjections stemming from a complex and lush religious tradition to the details of variations in regional style and dialect. The characters, whether dragon, saar, quigutl, or human, were equally complex and vital.
My favorite thing about Seraphina, though, is the way Hartman interweaves science, logic, art and music. So often people who are scientific or logical are thought of or portrayed as being cold and passionless. In contrast, artists and musicians are thought to be moody and mercurial. But that isn't really the case at all. Anyone who has ever watched Feynman talk about, well, anything, can see his passion for science; and the methodical precision required to master the most passionate of musical masterpieces requires determined discipline. And Math. Math is at the core of everything. There is no music without math. There is no logic without math. The scientific method is defined by its ability to produce measurable results, and there is no measurement without math. They are all interconnected. The very idea of separate areas of study is just our human brain trying to analyze and compartmentalize reality. The real world, and the way our human mind approaches it, is much more complex than than that; and I think Hartman would agree. The book itself is a testament to this idea - it is lyrical even at its most analytical. At moments of highest emotion for Seraphina, she invokes mathematics and logic. For example:
I couldn't fill that space with Linn. That name meant nothing to me; it was a placeholder, like zero.
Hartman allows her characters to be passionately logical and coolly romantic, and that impresses me to no end.
I will admit that I found the romance a little lacking in spark or chemistry at times. However, I am not sure if that is because it was actually lacking, or because I was uncomfortable with it happening. ( I was thinking of Selda.) That is really the only complaint I can find, and (considering the romance is really low on the hierarchy of importance in the story) it isn't even a very big one. I can't imagine not rereading Seraphina time and again. I can't wait to give it to my daughter for the first time with a, "this is what complex, vital, talented, vibrant, brave, strong, intelligent heroines can be like!" And I will be recommending it to everyone who will listen to me (and probably those who won't as well.)
Some Quotes I loved:
Orma called me "it" as if I were a dog; I was drawn to his aloofness, the way cats gravitate toward people who'd rather avoid them.
Metaphor is awkward, but emotion, by its nature, leaves you no more scalable approach. I have not adequately mastered the art, but his comparisons always move me with their precision.
Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily.
Review also appears on Goodreads; a review copy was provided by the publisher.