I have to admit that Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was quite an enjoyable read. There are dragons, there is murder, there is intrigue and there are secrets. And our protagonist, Seraphina, finds herself in the middle of it all while trying her hardest to not be noticed. Why does she not want to be noticed? Because Seraphina has a dangerous secret that makes her feel an outsider within her world, a secret that could bring her world crumbling down.
Seraphina is an intriguing character. She is a wonderfully talented musician and has a strong and forthright personality. She lives in a society where humans have been living in peace with dragons, for forty years. The dragons live amongst them and maintain a human form. But a story of easily maintained peace would likely be a boring story, wouldn’t it? So when a much loved member of the royal family is found dead, with the cause of death looking suspiciously like dragon, the four decades of peace become threatened and our story unfolds.
To be honest, I am not always a fan of YA, but because of this, I am actually quite happy when I read one that works for me (I hate to say I NEVER like something, so evidence to the contrary is always welcome. I don’t want to become closed to any category or genre). This was absolutely an exception. Hartman’s writing is wonderful. Her world is interesting and Seraphina’s character was just fun to read. Figuring out her secret and her motivations as well as puzzling out how and why she is different was enjoyable.
Especially for the YA crowd, I think there are some great themes within here as well. The parallels between the dragon/human relations and any segment of society that experiences prejudice are great. I guess really, it’s just an us versus them type of story that can be related to any us versus them issues (race, gender, sexual orientation, geographic locations, geeky subcultures, etc). It all comes down to tolerance, acceptance and understanding basic rights and feelings.
It is also the story of an outsider finding her place. Everyone can feel isolated, different, misunderstood. I know this is not uncommon in books, particularly YA books, but I also think sometimes it is handled better than others, and in this case, it is done quite well and is a good option for the YA crowds.
I think another reason why I enjoyed this more than other YA books is that the vocabulary and style was not overly simplified. It does have some characteristics common to YA books, but I also never felt like the book was for small children or compromised any details in an effort to make it easy for younger readers. Just because a book is YA does not mean that it has to restrict its vocabulary to a fourth grade level, and it is nice to see a book that is good for younger readers, but yet is not approaching them as simpletons. And I don’t really mean that as an insult to the YA category. I am sure there are many other great examples of books that don’t do this, but I have seen ones that do, and enjoyed this one for not.
So, to any fan of YA books, I would strongly recommend this book, and to those of you that are a bit leery of them, you may just find yourself enjoying this one as I did if you give it a chance.