Sunday, July 8, 2012
Despite all the faeries, werewolves and mythical creatures roaming around the current slew of YA novels, I often feel like actual fantasy has gone missing. Thank goodness for Seraphina! It has everything I needed -- a believable well-built fantasy world, court politics, cute boys and strong heroines.
This is the type of book where you can tell that a lot of effort was put into world-building. This world has it's own division of classes--humans, dragons, scholar dragons, and quigutl, that is rich and adds depth to the novel. It has books, philosophers and belief systems. But it doesn't info-dump about the world. As a reader you can tell there's more below the surface, the philosophies are mentioned briefly, quoted, but never over-explained. They are just there, background behind the story that Hartman is weaving.
Seraphina is set in a world where dragons and humans are living in a reluctant peace. Humans are skeptical of dragon's trustworthiness, believing them soulless murders. Even though the knights have been banished, dragons have not forgotten when they were hunted. The whole peace hinges on nobody breaking the rules When a prince is killed in a suspiciously dragon-like manner, Seraphina along with the bastard prince Lucian Kiggs, try to unravel the mystery before anyone else dies.
The characters are all well developed. Seraphina is a likable and realistic main character, trapped by the lies she must tell and learning to accept herself whatever that might be. Lucian is dogged by his birth, but curious and intelligent. Glisselda, at first glance is the fluffy pretty princess, but she is intelligent and wise beyond her years. Nearly every character is nuanced.
Yes there's a romance, but the romance is NOT the story. I feel like pointing all the paranormal authors towards this book. It's well done, with all the heart fluttering and giggles that make love believable, but it's not the central plotline. Without the romance there is still a novel. The romance just adds additional layers to a story that's already there.
This is Tamora Pierce-esque fantasy. It's got the drama of court politics, the romance of first love and an overaching story with a mystery to solve. The women are smart and strong. Seraphina is not the exception, but Glisselda and the Queen are both admirable women. Strength is not measured in brute force. Seraphina's intelligence, along with her bravery are what make her a heroine. She never wields a sword or slays a beast, but that doesn't make her anything less. Glisselda is a firecracker princess, pretty in her fashions and silk, but strong when necessary. The Queen single-handedly ended the war between mankind and dragons. They are all exceptional heroines.
This book has great characters, great world-building and a compelling story. It gives me hope that YA high fantasy can survive the influx of paranormals and urban fantasy novels.