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." -taken from Goodreads
Seraphina is a musical high fantasy that abandons the classic epic quest with a racially charged mystery. Odd humor, melodies, and the Goreddi Court threaded together, and created a wondrous welcome back into high fantasy for me. Good characters, an interesting setting, and fantastic writing make this a book I look forward to rereading one day.
Will it ever become normal to write summaries at the beginning? Because as of right now, it feels really artificial, and needlessly avant-garde. Just look! It has me using a fashion term in a book review! I’m the guy who wears sweat pants, a clean shirt, and Sorel boots as formal wear. I need to get back to the ranting, a field I am comfortable in.
World building in Seraphina was hit and miss. For example, the racial tensions between humans and dragons were beautifully crafted, with the issue being far less black and white than in other books. The alien nature of the dragons, from their emotionless, analytical stance to their silver blood, allowed me to understand the reluctance of humans to embrace dragonkind. On the flipside, the religion of Goredd wasn’t well explained, leaving me wanting more information, even though it was a major player in the plot. Most of the world building was excellent, but world building builds on top of itself, meaning a single cracked pillar threatens to bring the whole building down. Luckily, Seraphina doesn’t fall apart, just suffers some chipped paint.
The vagueness of the religion also pulled me out of the experience. The unnamed religion, as far as I can tell, has a resemblance to Christianity, with talks of Saints and Heaven. Being deprived of details, I unconsciously filled in the blanks with what I know of Christianity. Thing is, this is a far off land, completely removed from our world. Why would they have a religion from here? Maybe this is my doing, but nonetheless, I should not be jolted out of a story like that. Religion wasn’t the sole element detracting from my immersion either. At one point, a character says “smarty breeches” used like our “smarty pants.” Several times, little things like this just pulled me out of the book, made me stop and stumble. Albeit, some were quite funny, as much of the book was, but immersion didn’t need to be sacrificed for humor.
Wow, I went on about that way too long! Apparently I really had to make up for the use of “avant-garde.” Seraphina’s only failings were these small things though, so now I can spout praise!
Just a few days ago I had a guest post on The Intrepid Book Moth about my hate for genres, and my want to see them bleed into each other. Seraphina has given me hope that this will happen. Standard high fantasy: relatively normal person (or so we think at the beginning) learns of some evil or is burdened with some task, and then must go on an epic quest to save the kingdom! In Seraphina this format isn’t completely scrapped, but rather bent into a political mystery, with racial tension and personal secrets. This twist is enough to make Seraphina a breath of fresh air.
Furthering the freshness was the strong focus on music and general culture. Seraphina is a master musician, able to make men weep. Going to music halls rather than battlefields was a wondrous change of ambience, combat was replaced by lying, suits of armor scrapped in favor of robes and something called a houppelande. Seraphina is my first taste of cultured fantasy, and I hope that isn’t due to there being few of them, because I quite enjoyed this viewpoint.
Inseparable from culture are the characters who give it life. When the cast is full of politicians, you know that no one is to be trusted. Who has an agenda? Stories where you are unsure about the characters immediately invite more interesting characters. Some stories seem to bet on this, not taking the time to actually make the characters worth reading. Thank god Seraphina’s characters are interesting in and of themselves. From Seraphina herself, the half-dragon musician whose very existence is an abomination; to Prince Lucian Kiggs, the bastard child embarrassment; or Orma, dragon scholar and Seraphina’s uncle and teacher, Hartman creates unique characters. In my opinion, some of the most interesting characters (who I can’t specify without spoilers) get the least “screen time” but I can only hope this is alleviated in the sequel.
Apparently life’s lesson for today is, having the summary at the beginning ruins everything. I’m not going to just copy and paste it down here, and I’m not going to repeat myself either. Ending without a closing paragraph isn’t proper. So, we shall continue last week’s solution: you will scroll up and read the summary as if it were down here, then compliment me on the excellency of my problem solving abilities.