Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A World Apart

You know you are completely immersed in a world conceived by an author when, pausing in your reading, you look out the window over the kitchen sink, spot a large black bird silhouetted against the lacy trees as night falls and for two beats of your heart, it's not a raven but a dragon.  You have been visited by the magic of storytelling; pictures in your mind, like a movie, created by the author's vision have completely consumed you.  This is the power of Seraphina (Random House) written by Rachel Hartman, a fantasy that soars on the wings of words.

The anniversary of the treaty, between humans and dragons, reached forty years ago is fast approaching; a treaty with strict rules for all, a treaty with dragons reluctantly assuming human form.  Commemorating the event will be the arrival of Ardmagar Comonot, the ruler of the dragon world.  There are those on both sides desiring the treaty's downfall; perhaps offering an explanation for the sudden murder of Prince Rufus, son of the ruling Queen Lavonda.

Tensions in the capitol city of Goredd, Lavondaville, are running high among the people, fearing a rogue dragon.  Prince Rufus was killed in the style of dragons, decapitation.  None is feeling the strain quite like Seraphina, newly appointed assistant to the court composer, Viridius.

Harboring a secret which could mean not only the death of her beloved father, a lawyer and advisor to the Queen, but also of herself, Phina walks down a precarious path.  Troubled by visions and personalities in her mind, Phina seeks solace in her music and in the tutelage of her mentor, a dragon named Orma.  At her birth, Phina lost her mother, a dragon of uncommon musical talent and beauty.  This marriage between dragon and human, strictly forbidden by all, makes Phina a being which should not exist.

Having both human and dragon traits is a blessing and a curse; being able to sense what others cannot but having been taught to not draw attention to herself.  With her exquisite musical abilities brought to light at Prince Rufus's funeral and her intelligence, wry wit and skills as a tutor to Princess Glisselda gaining notice, Phina becomes a major player in the court intrigue, the murder investigation and in the preservation of peace.  Added tension comes in the form of Prince Lucian Kiggs, Captain of the Queen's Guard for whom Seraphina, against all common sense, develops an attraction.

Hartman's use of language paints vivid pictures of this alternate reality with detail, dialogue and dimension.  We walk among the rooms of the castle, along the city streets and throughout the countryside.  We step inside characters' personalities experiencing their lives as if they are our own.
Here is a single passage illustrating her writing.

"Maybe it didn't expect the knights to risk imprisonment by reporting to the Queen.  Or maybe it assumed the Queen would never believe their story---which also happened, didn't it?  I hesitated, because it felt like giving away something personal, but finally added:  "Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs.  A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through easily."
He wasn't listening, however; he stared at a second object of intense rookish interest on the floor of the hollow. "What's that?"
"A dead cow?" I said, wincing. ...
...The rooks swirled and dove in unison, screaming, then scattered into the trees.  Kiggs, his arms wrapped protectively around his head, had nearly reached the bottom.
My horse shifted uneasily.  Kiggs's horse pulled at the reins and whickered.  The rooks had all but disappeared, leaving the coppice and hollow eerily silent.  I didn't like this one bit. ...

That Rachel Hartman has a love of music is evident in this writing not just for the vivid descriptions of melody and lyrics but in her art as a writer.  This book reads like a well-written symphony scripted from the heart illuminating a rich tapestry of place, people, and dragons that resonates well after the final page is turned.  Seraphina is a stunning, beautiful, wondrous tale filled with unforgettable characters, flawed but filled with strength for their individual purposes, a world you will not want to leave, life-affirming questions and answers and a heart-stopping plot. 

A link to Rachel Harman's website is attached to her name.  At that site are several other links to interviews but the most recent I am embedding here for you to enjoy.  You will probably want to add a personal copy of Seraphina to your bookshelves (I did.) to be read again at least once before the sequel arrives.

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