The land of Goredd has experienced forty years of uneasy peace between humans and dragons thanks to a much-contested treaty. In spite of the efforts to improve inter-species relations by the powers that be, much tension still exists. Seraphina Dombegh, the assistant music mistress at the Goreddi court, finds herself thrust in the middle of the action when a prince of the realm is found murdered, presumably by a dragon. In the process, a secret that Seraphina holds close to her heart is in danger of being revealed.
Interview with Rachel Hartman:
And here it is, a young adult novel that, in my opinion, is fully worthy of the elusive five-star review. This book is incredibly well-written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It's now one of my favorites! I find it most challenging to write reviews for books that are this good, because I just want to say "I LOVE EVERYTHING. GO READ THIS NOW." But of course, no book is perfect, and a good review should be more detailed than that. So here goes my best shot!
Hartman has created a fascinating world, one where dragons can more easily interact with humans by assuming a human form, known as a saarantrai. This does nothing to endear dragons to humans, however; if anything, one could even argue that it only makes things worse, as humans can claim that dragons are out to trick them. It doesn't help that dragons have no sense of social etiquette and, while incredibly intelligent, are also incredibly awkward. The world resembles medieval Europe, but with the obvious difference being that dragons exist. There appear to be no other major differences: the various breeds of dragons appear to be the only mythological creatures that exist in Hartman's world and there seems to be no magic (unless one counts music, which many in our own world would agree is a form of magic in itself).
Hartman fills her world with fascinating characters. Seraphina's passion is music, a skill that she's learned from her uncle Orma. She befriends two members of the royal family, Glisselda and Lucian, known affectionately by his surname, Kiggs. Glisselda is an absolute sweetheart, who wants nothing more than for everyone she loves to get along, while Kiggs strictly follows his moral compass. Seraphina's relationship with the two is challenged by her secret, which causes her to feel compelled to lie in order to protect it.
The plot is exquisitely constructed. Hartman evades the tendency of some authors to info-dump and manages to reveal her world to the reader in bits and pieces. The result is wonderful: by the end of the book, the reader feels sufficiently familiar with Goredd, but hasn't experienced the frustrating feeling of being overwhelmed or bored by information overload. Hartman weaves a story that's full of plot twists and unexpected revelations, ensnaring the reader's attention so wholly that it can't be freed until the story has ended.
I loved this book so much that I personally can't think of a single thing to complain about or that needs to be improved. Thankfully, there were a few people in class who weren't as thrilled with the book as I was - although no one outright disliked it - so I can offer their criticism as a potential warning to readers, even though I disagree with their assessments. I think the biggest criticism that was mentioned was that some people didn't find it believable that the dragons weren't more aggressive towards humans or that they weren't more eager to flaunt their dragon forms. I think that the person's comment was something along the lines of "If I was a dragon, I'd just react to a human's aggression by transforming into dragon form and kicking their butts" (paraphrasing, of course - I can't remember the person's exact words). I can understand why some people would react that way, but in my opinion, Hartman addressed that issue sufficiently. The mere existence of the peace treaty shows that the humans are, or at the very least, were at some point, relatively equal in strength and skill to the dragons. Therefore, if peace is the goal, it's in the dragons' best interests to refrain from being more aggressive towards humans. Any dragons who abide by the treaty and reside in Goredd are faced with discrimination and intolerance from humans, and, again, if they are to obey the peace treaty that is enforced not only by the humans but also by the dragons' government as well, they must abide by its terms. Again, in my opinion, I think that this topic was sufficiently explained by Hartman, but I suppose some people might disagree with me.
I can't wait for the sequel to be released, which won't be until either June 2014 or March 2015 (goodreads lists both dates and Hartman has no clues on her website so I am just stumped and crossing my fingers for 2014 because I NEED to read it!!!). This book is wonderful and I highly, highly recommend that you rush out to your nearest bookshelf and pick it up!
Well, anyone, really - as stated above, I adored this book and I find it difficult to fathom why anyone would not. But I suppose that specifically, I would recommend this to people who love fantasy and/or young adult literature. I think this book is a great representative of both genres, and, as I've said, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.