SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (Rewind Rec)

Read this if you’re in the mood for: fantasy YA, awesome world building, badass heroine, music, feminism, political plots, character development, secondary characters

Summary: 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.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

Read this if you like:
FIRE by Kristin Cashore
Both of these phenomenal books have incredible world-building, an emotionally strong heroine who's struggling with her less-than-human side, and a political plotline.

GAME OF THRONES (the TV show, since I haven't read the books)
Though not on the epic scale of GoT, SERAPHINA has dragons, politics, and strong female characters in an alternate-medieval fantasy world.

The Rec: With SERAPHINA, I appreciated the deft world-building of the high fantasy and the plot in which Seraphina unintentionally becomes part of an investigation into a royal murder that could lead to a revolution. I enjoyed the shape-shifting dragons and their difficulties adjusting to human emotions. But Seraphina herself hooked me.

She's passionate but unsure of herself and her talents. She's an honest person who's been forced to lie all her life. She wants to do what's right in spite of the danger to herself. Seraphina has the potential to change her world, and she begins to learn that it's something to embrace, not fear.

And she's clever. I'm such a sucker for a clever heroine. Her narration can be quite witty, and I actually laughed out loud — and hard — for a good, long minute at one of her observations.

And the plot: First off, the stakes are high and very real. The complexities of the human-dragon truce and the inequality and prejudice in Goredd authentically represent how difficult it is to create (and maintain) peace and understanding between two drastically different cultures — especially when everyone isn't on board in the first place. It's a complicated situation with plenty of gray areas, and Hartman does a great job not only establishing it in the present but also lending weight to its past.

Bonus points: There's a budding romance with a very swoonworthy guy. (Seraphina and Lucian are presented as equals. EQUALS. And he respects her opinions and instincts. Like I said, worthy of the swoon!)

Caveat: As with many fantasies, it might take a chapter or two to get a handle on the world and the characters, but this book is well worth it! (And if you don't believe me, believe the 8 starred reviews, NYT Bestseller status, and 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel.)

You should read this because: This book has everything! Deft characterization, high-stakes plot, superb world-building ... and an equally excellent sequel! Check out our recommendation for SHADOW SCALE (and why it's more like a companion novel because it can pretty much stand alone).

Read this book!
SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (Random House, July 2012)

Recommendation by: Donna
View the original recommendation on our First Novels Club blog.