The dragon conspiracy

Seraphina  - Rachel Hartman

A solid YA fantasy, this book has everything: a girl with a mystery, dragons who could fold themselves into human forms, a forbidden love, a charismatic prince, a political intrigue, and of course, music. The only thing this novel lacks is humans able to unfold into dragons. Maybe it is too much for one story?

The protagonist Seraphina is a talented musician, working at the palace as an assistant to the court composer. She harbors a deadly secret about her heritage, and although she tries to keep to herself, she lies and prevaricates constantly. Her unruly tongue often lands her in trouble too.

This time, she is thrust unwillingly into the middle of a complex plot, the plot involving a peace treaty between humans and dragons. The treaty’s anniversary is approaching, and the tension is high in both camps. Not everyone wants the treaty renewed. Some hot heads long for war and are ready to kill to achieve their goals.

Seraphina comes across as a gifted and spirited teenager, with all the baggage inherent in her age: angst, self-hatred, self-doubts, and a deep craving to belong, to find someone who would understand. Unfortunately, her self-hatred is so well defined it transmits itself to the readers, who wonder: maybe they should hate her too?

I wanted to like Seraphina; she is a good person and a multifaceted personality, but her self-hatred dominated everything she did in the story and interfered with my struggling goodwill. In the end, I decided to sympathize with her anyway, but my sympathy is shallow. I don’t approve of many of her choices and I don’t really care about her. Unfortunately, that’s the worst a reader can say about a book.

The pacing of the narrative is highly uneven. The first third of the book drags like a snail. I almost abandoned it but I persevered, and the tale rewarded me after about 100 pages by picking up its speed. After that, it was a gallop to the end. I couldn’t stop until I finished the last page. I read all night, so obviously, this book has many redeeming qualities.

The story is absorbing and well-constructed, the world-building fascinating, and the dragons are original. I also liked many secondary characters: they are all different and deep, leaping off the pages, both humans and dragons, but my attitude towards the protagonist colored my perception of the entire novel.

Nevertheless, I found the writer’s voice beautiful, very expressive. Here is a description of a street the heroine walks:

 

…the upper stories cantilevered over the street, as if the houses were leaning together to gossip. A woman on one side might have borrowed a lump of butter from her neighbor on the other without leaving home. The looming buildings squeezed the sky down to a rapidly darkening ribbon.

 

Don’t you just see the scene in your mind?

Another quote is the heroine’s contemplations of art and lying:

 

If one believes there is truth in art—and I do—then it’s troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying. Maybe lying is itself a kind of art.

 

Overall – not a bad novel, although not a perfect one either. Did I enjoy reading it? – Yes. Would I ever re-read it? – No. Would I recommend it to the other readers of fantasy? – Yes.