Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Dragons, music, and bastards are what you are getting here. 

In this medieval fantasy, humans and dragons co-exist through an uneasy truce, with dragons being required to take human form when interacting with humans.  Neither party is happy with this arrangement, and conspirators on both sides plot to overthrow the truce and the rulers enforcing it.  Seraphina is an unusual girl caught in the middle. She is a mix-blood with a unique heritage and secrets to hide.  All she wants is to share her musical talent, and she has that opportunity as the court composer’s assistant, which places her where the action is. Her uniqueness and background makes her an ideal and sympathetic go-between for the different races.

This world, its dragons, and its humans are well-developed.  The dragons are their own people, intelligent, different, and as flawed as humans, more than mere fire-breathing monsters.  The dynamics between groups and between characters shine, in the tension between the races and their prejudices, even within the different groups and in how differently they perceive things. 

“Crisis first, love later” (448). Hartman’s care in development extends to the characters and their relationships with each other.  There is a budding love triangle, which follows the growing trend of teen fiction romance, yet it is tempered by the larger crisis and the characters’ sense of duty and their respect for each other. 

Bastards and deviants--those who do not fit in-- play a significant part in the action, yet it is not about making a simplistic political statement.  Rather, their experiences as rejects of sorts put them in a position to see and understand what is happening around them, and it is their decency and loyalty that drives them to help their peoples. Hartman handles the charged topics of race, prejudice, and tolerance with thoughtfulness and eloquence, without sacrificing either story or characters. 

Look for Seraphina in the VBPL Catalog.  Its sequel is Shadow Scale. For more teen fantasy with dragons, try Antonia Michaelis’ Dragons of Darkness (see review) and Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons

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