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.
How is it that I keep getting the most awesome YA fantasy this year? Everything is so dark and lovely, with assassins and Darklings and, now, dragons. I love the backstory of Goredd and how the peace between the dragons came about. As with Alina in Shadow and Bone, this is a focused tale on Seraphina’s coming of age. She has to hide herself, make no friends, suffer her father’s indifference, until one day she no longer can. She begins meeting others like her, and others with the capacity for acceptance, like Kiggs. She begins figuring out the legacy left to her by her mother, and is extremely close to her dragon tutor, Orma (who is an awesome character for his dry wit and sarcasm). Whenever I start a new fantasy novel, I really enjoy learning about the country and their customs, because, while most fantasy tends to be medieval, every place is new.
This book isn’t as dark as Grave Mercy or Shadow and Bone, but we still see Seraphina in both physical and emotional pain for a lot of the novel. She’s been isolated and unloved by her father for her whole life, and she finds out secrets about her mother that rock her world so extremely that she raves in bed for days. She’s had to hold her emotions in check for most of her life, so when she’s confronted with something like attraction or desire, she doesn’t know how to deal with it. I prefer her emotional suppression to most YA heroines who are just dumb about picking up on others’ emotions. One thing that worried me, however, was the seemingly looming love triangle between Seraphina, Kiggs, and Princess Glisselda, Kiggs’ cousin and fiancee. Luckily, this book is pretty light on the romance.
I love how aware of her actions Seraphina is throughout this novel. When she’s lying, when she’s pushing down her emotions, when she’s avoiding a topic, she knows what she’s doing. She isn’t baffled or confused all the time, she does what she has to do to keep her secret, and her Prince, safe. She’s very mature. I also like the depth of the sadness that goes along with the Seraphina/Kiggs love story. They are both very tied to duty and what’s right. Seraphina’s inner monologue continues to be sprinkled with humor, though, and that’s part of what makes this book so great. It has near-perfect balance. I’m going to go ahead and say that this is my favorite novel of the second half of 2012. It’s everything I’ve ever asked of YA fantasy.