Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Book for Young Readers, ages 12 and up) is reviewed today by Jason Carpenter.
When George Lucas conceived of his Star Wars galaxy, he saw beyond the here and now of giving the people a rousing good yarn. He envisioned a mythology, a world logical and responsible only unto itself, with fantastical creatures that nonetheless felt of flesh and blood. And like Tolkien before him and Rowling after, the devil- or the grip of imagination- is in the details.
Rachel Hartman infuses her expansive new novel Seraphina- the saga of an uneasy alliance between mistrustful species (sound familiar?) and the young royal court’s musician who may end up being the key to ultimate harmony or lynchpin to inevitable war- with an eye for Joseph Campbell-like character and plot machinations and an adherence to a painstakingly created medieval alternaverse.
The oppositional species are, in this case, humans and dragons, and as Seraphina begins, a murder of a member of the royal court bearing the trademark savagery of a dragon attack threatens to derail the anniversary celebration of a historical, but tenuous, peace treaty between the two sides. In the midst of this pomp, Hartman also fully realizes the emergence of a young girl’s identity, the fiercely astute Seraphina, torturous as it may be to discover that her mother was a dragon. In a genre dominated by young empowered male principals, it’s a wonderfully acute choice.
Seraphina’s intended demographic, the young and young-at-heart, has proven they can handle the layered storylines, philosophical yearnings, and literal hundreds of major and minor characters that populate the modern fantasy epic. Indeed, Harry Potter’s enduring legacy may just be that it made digging intellectual sword and sorcery lit cool for a fresh generation of make-believers. This novel follows that template elegantly, and at over 450 pages with accompanying glossary, it’s weighty, as well. The payoff- and it’s not the metaphoric allusions to our own world’s penchant for xenophobia- is in the small quirks of some strongly drawn supporting characters, particularly the reluctantly compassionate dragon mentor Orma, who cares for Seraphina in a way that his dragon demeanor would be loathe to reveal.
Seraphina does rise to rousing good yarn status, but its greatest triumph is in depicting grotesqueries that are anything but and a world that often doesn’t feel that far, far away after all.