Rachel Hartman,
(Random House, 2012)

It's been years since I liked a young-adult fantasy as much as I liked Seraphina. I used to read tons of it before it all started seeming kind of the same, and I figured I was finally outgrowing it. Not so. Seraphina is that rare fantasy with everything: terrific characters, wit, depth, intricate world building and -- of course -- dragons.

Not just any dragons, though. These are dragons that can take on human form, while failing to really comprehend human behavior. They're a bit like Vulcans with their discomfort with emotion and talk of being emotionally compromised. In the world in which Seraphina takes place, dragons and humans have achieved a strained peace. (Not surprising, given that dragons in their original form breathe fire and used to eat humans.) When a royal prince turns up with his head missing, tension in the land of Goredd builds to a breaking point.

Into this mix, enter our teenaged heroine, Seraphina. She harbors a secret that puts her right into the middle of the mess. The book takes place from her perspective, with some particularly fascinating scenes inside her own head, where she's managed to keep visions of a grotesque cast of characters -- a man with a pelican neck, a giant with bristly blond hair and several others -- out of her real life. But pretty soon, all of Seraphina's carefully built defenses start tumbling down and what she thought of as weaknesses turn out to be strengths.

I can't really think of anything negative to say about this book, which is almost unheard of for me. Seraphina's world is intricate, rich with courtly intrigue, culture and music, and deeply convincing. Seraphina and a few other major characters are flawed and highly likable -- no one fits into a stereotype, even the blond, diminutive Princess Glisselda. Although the book ends with an open door to a sequel (or two), it's a highly satisfying read that makes me want to read the sequel without feeling like I've been left hanging. If it hadn't been for pesky things like work and school and sleep, I would have stayed up all night, flipping pages feverishly until the end. (As it's almost 500 pages, I resisted the urge in favor of being able to function the next day.)

I've read and liked plenty of dragon books, but Seraphina is heads and tails above the rest.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

11 May 2013

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