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Asheley's post got me thinking about books that I've read that some of my trusted reviewer friends raved about, but I just didn't get. Usually when I don't like a book, I know why I felt that way: the characters were annoying or unredeemable, or the story featured a plot element that I just couldn't get behind (*cough* triangle *cough*). If those are the reasons for my dislike, I know that I won't enjoy the book any better the second time, so I don't bother going back to it. However, I have read a few books that I truly think I should have enjoyed more, and the fact that I didn't unsettles me. Those books make me feel like I have a black stain on my YA reading record.
|Neither does this one.|
Has this ever happened to you? You didn't connect with a book that you felt like you should have liked more? Does that ever make you wonder if you missed something, and because of that you feel like you can't let go of it? Or do you always move on, and just assume that it wasn't a book for you?
|I'm ready for spring.|
by Rachel Hartman
Read: August 21-23, 2012
Published: July 10, 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: Library book
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
Seraphina lives in a world filled with dragons that can change into human form (called saarantras). Despite the political peace between saarantras and regular humans, people are naturally distrustful of these creatures, who when in their true form, can fly, spit fire and bite your head off.
It doesn’t help that even dressed as humans, dragons stick out. They shun emotions, preferring to excise it out of themselves than feel love, guilt, fear or any type of affection. They live longer, can pass memories onto their children, and art and music (artistic talents) are foreign concepts to them. Basically, they're different and that makes them scary.
Seraphina is half dragon. Because relationships between humans and dragons are forbidden, she shouldn't exist. Seraphina has spent her life hiding this secret from everyone around her, and in order to do so, she's closed herself off to others. Not trusting herself to get close to anyone, she prefers loneliness to exposure and certain ridicule. Her joy and solace is in music, which is something that her dual nature has caused her to excel at. Music takes Seraphina to the royal palace as the assistant to the music master.
I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light illuminating me from behind.
Even living at the palace, Seraphina keeps to herself. But not everything is within her control. When something happens that forces her into the center of a growing conflict between dragons and humans, it becomes increasingly difficult for Seraphina to protect her secret.
Seraphina is a story about one girl learning to accept herself. It is painful at times, but the story and its message are beautifully written. Even so, I had trouble connecting with the book emotionally. Or maybe it's just that I had trouble reading Seraphina, unless she told the reader something directly. This is probably because Seraphina has been educated largely by her dragon uncle and comes across very draconian at times. As the story moves forward and she begins to open herself up a bit more to others, this lessens. But it still made it difficult for me to read the direction that the story was taking.
The world in which Seraphina lives is richly created, its detailed society and mythology encompassing both the human and dragons that fill it. The thoroughly developed landscape also includes names and terms, which made the world feel even more unique and alive. However, it took me a while to get beyond figuring out what all the words meant and begin to feel immersed in Hartman's story, which affected the flow and momentum of the book for me. (Take note of the glossary of terms in the back of the book, because I flipped to them constantly.) Seraphina also features a large and colorful cast of characters, some of whom really endeared themselves to me.
I did like that the plot was original and I was surprised by the twists and revelations that popped up during the story. Seraphina figured out everything before I did, which doesn't often happen in the books I read (it's also not surprising, considering how much smarter she is than me). Now that I am imbedded in Seraphina's world, I am actually excited for the next book. I felt like the end of was a great set up for what is to come.
Everything grew very clear and bright; the music burst forth in majesty; we stood still and the room turned around us; and there was [Him], right in the middle of all of it, laughing.
One of the elements of this story that I had a bit of trouble with was the romantic plot line. Although there is a friendship that develops between Seraphina and her love interest, I felt like there was little to no romantic build up or tension. Then all of a sudden they had a "moment" and she tells us that He loves her. But I wanted to better sense it for myself. My favorite type of love story is the kind that is slow and subtle. I love picking up on tiny hidden cues between the couple. But either they weren't here, or I totally missed them. Whatever the case it rattled me, and made it hard for me to become emotionally invested in this couple.
However, I did like that the way the love story played out was different than a lot of books. It is a reverse triangle of sorts and not an easy situation. He is promised to another Her, but I liked who he's promised to (and so does Seraphina), which was unexpected for me. I was happy with where this particular book ended in regards to the romance. It seemed right for all the characters (in fact, I'll echo Seraphina in saying that it made me like Him more).
I enjoyed Seraphina. I am in awe of the world this author has created, and the messages conveyed in the telling - about accepting oneself, about self-sacrifice and putting others' needs first, about how difficult it can be to uproot deep-seated prejudices, about how you're never as alone as you think you are. But I didn't connect with the story and its characters on as deep a level as I would have liked, especially Seraphina whom I had a really hard time reading (i.e. figuring out). I just couldn't anticipate her behavior, and that made her tough for me to understand.
This is one of those reviews that I rewrote several times, and I'm still struggling to express my feelings about the book. I think part of the problem is that I've read several beautiful, glowing reviews on this story. And I just did not feel exactly the same, and it's completely unsettled me (especially because clinically, I can see its appeal). I do plan to read the second book, however, and though I rarely re-read books. I may go back through this one, in hopes that I will understand Seraphina better the second time around.
Love Triangle Factor: Reverse. Feelings wise, mild. Situation wise, medium.
Cliffhanger Scale: Low
Cliffhanger Scale: Low