Note: There are no spoilers for this book (so the review is low on content and high on gushing).
This is a book that at first glance may not appear to be an obvious choice to highlight for Women’s History Month. But Seraphina, the heroine, is a wonderful role model. Although she thinks she is repulsive, this doesn’t stop her from bravely sticking her neck out for what she thinks is right and just, in spite of considerable peril. And in fact, even if she were the abomination she thinks she is, her inner beauty would, and does, negate it in (almost) everyone’s eyes.
But I don’t want to focus just on Seraphina, as central as she and her integrity are to the plot. The other star of this story is love, and how it can overcome the most formidable barriers, and yet, be mastered for the greater good.
Seraphina Dombegh, 16, narrates the story, which begins as the (human) citizens of Goredd prepare for the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of peace between Goreddi and Dragonkind. Seraphina is the new assistant to Viridius, the court composer; music tutor to the royal heir, Princess Glisselda; and a marvelous musician in her own right. But she is distracted from her duties by the murder of Glisselda’s uncle, Prince Rufus, rumored to have been decapitated by a rogue dragon. Coming right before the visit of the great dragon general Ardmagar Comonot, this could only bode ill for the peace.
Seraphina has a secret, however, that enables her to help Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucian, find out who the murderer really is. But whether they can stop the killer from ruining the fragile peace between the two species is another question.
Discussion: Oh what a beautiful and riveting book this is. Although the world-building involving the dragons is stellar and downright spell-binding, I tended to see the divide between dragonkind and humankind as metaphorical. The prejudice, misinformation, fear, rumor-mongering, and acts of intimidation and terrorism were reminiscent of – well, humankind all by itself!
But even with all the political and sociological upheaval, it is still love that makes this world go round. And I don’t mean only romantic love, and not just romantic love confined to heterosexual relationships, but perhaps more importantly, familial love. Seraphina’s bond with her uncle is a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
As for the dragons? They are, as it happens, opposed to emotions, finding them dangerous and antithetical to reason. But even some of those dragons might as well admit it: they’re addicted to love.
And there are moments when Seraphina, too, feels what she thought she never could, given what she thinks is her repulsiveness:
He did not know the truth of me, yet he had perceived something true about me that no one else had every noticed. And in spite of that – or perhaps because of it – he believed me good, believed me worth taking seriously, and his belief, for one vertiginous moment, made me want to be better than I was.”
Oh, the heartache when Seraphina tries to harm herself! And oh, the joy when she is able to have a moment full of stars and music: “one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven.”
Evaluation: The accolades keep piling up for this book:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA William C. Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Winner of the Cybil Award for Teen Fantasy and Science Fiction
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)
ALA-YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Books
…the list goes on!
I’m so happy to see this book get so much recognition, and so happy that the recognition pointed me to this book! Both Seraphina’s interior and exterior worlds are so richly imagined, and so remarkably creative, that I can’t compliment the author enough. The characters are uniformly complex: by turns heart-warming, amusing, heart-breaking, fragile, stronger than they know, full of hurt, but full of hope. I highly recommend this book, and should add that I delayed reading the last twenty pages, because I didn’t want it to be over! Then I discovered that a sequel will be out later this year and was able to proceed to the end….
Published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, 2012
Note: At the end of the book there is an informative and entertaining Character List and a very helpful glossary … both of which I wish I knew about in the beginning!
For more reviews of books for children and teens, go to Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection, posted on Saturdays. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, leave a comment as well as a link on her site.