In the medievalesque kingdom of Goredd, tensions between humans and dragons are on the rise after a prince is killed in a particularly draconian fashion – by decapitation. Fear and old hatreds threaten the 40th anniversary celebration of the treaty that brought peace between humans and dragons.
Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh, the assistant to the court composer, could hold the key to solving the murder and defusing tensions between the two cultures, but for a reason she must keep secret: Seraphina is herself half dragon, bearing bands of scales around her waist and down her forearm that she must never let anyone see.
Dragons in Rachel Hartman's Seraphina are unlike any imagined before. They are able to take on human form to interact with human society, where they serve as ambassadors and scholars. They are highly rational creatures, who neither understand nor tolerate human emotions in their own kind. Especially foreign – and reviled – is the human emotion of love.
Seraphina knows far more about dragons than the humans who surround her. Her father is an expert on the treaty, and she is tutored by a dragon, yet Seraphina finds that she can understand dragon language without ever having studied it. Seraphina's dual nature gives her insight into both worlds that could act as a bridge for understanding and acceptance – if she wasn't abhorrent to humans and dragonkind alike.
But Seraphina's struggle is internal as well, and her journey to understand and accept herself, to find her place in the world, are at the center of Hartman's beautifully rendered novel.
This is Hartman's first novel, which makes it all the more amazing that the world of Goredd, and the characters who populate it, are so rich and complex. There's Seraphina's mentor, Orma, who reveals glimpses of undragonlike, and quickly suppressed, feelings of affection for Seraphina. Viridius, the court composer who surprises all by hiring Seraphina, and we wonder why. There's Prince Lucian Kiggs, the bastard son of a princess and Captain of the Queen's Guard, who seems to understand Seraphina in a way that makes her wonder if her secret might be safe with him. And then there is Seraphina herself, who is passionate, musically gifted, and haunted by visions that just might help her understand her parentage and herself.
Goredd is filled with political intrigue, religion, music, mystery, foreign cultures, philosophy and the complexities of love.
It is easy to get lost completely in such a thoroughly imagined world, especially when the writing is as good as Hartman's. And Seraphina's struggle to understand herself, to accept herself enough to bring her true self out of hiding, will resonate with so many readers. We are fortunate that a sequel is planned for 2013. One book about Seraphina simply isn't enough.
We asked Hartman about how she created Seraphina, the writers that inspire her, and what she would tell a teen who wants to be a writer.
SC: The world of Goredd and the characters in Seraphina are so richly imagined. How long was this book – and the land of Goredd – in the making?
Hartman: An extremely long time. It actually first occurred to me when I was in 7th grade. We had to write a narrative poem for English class. I wrote "The First Adventure of Sir Amy." The kingdom was called Goredd because her horse was Fred. In my twenties, I wrote a comic called "Amy Unbounded." She was a little farm girl in Goredd. So, when I started writing Seraphina, I already had this whole world made up with the dragons that could take human form.
SC: Seraphina does have some most unusual dragons. How did you come up with these dragons that could take human form?
Hartman: The very first idea that dragons could take human form was from my comic book days. It turns out dragons are hard to draw. They kept coming out like scaly kangaroos with fangs. It suddenly occurred to me, what if they could take human form? Then I could draw humans. It was sort of accidently clever. It opened up all of these storylines and these questions.
SC: Being a "half-breed" Seraphina doesn't fit into either the human or the dragon world. Was that your starting point for the story?
Hartman: It turned into that over time. Certainly, one of the focuses of young adult fiction is that time of life when you're trying to figure out where you fit in, and if you fit in, and should you fit in.
SC: Music plays a large role in the novel. Are you a musician?
Hartman: I was, yeah. From about grade 4 all the way through college I played cello. Apparently, I came from a musical family; I didn't realize that until I was older. Not every family plays music for fun or sings motets in the car.
SC: Do you have favorite fantasy authors? Or, in other words, who inspires you as a writer?
Hartman: It's probably Terry Pratchett. His Tiffany Aching series for young adults is just wonderful. I wish they had existed when I was a young girl. I feel like his books and mine are preoccupied with some of the same issues and questions.
SC: I'm sure there are a lot of tweens and teens out there who aspire to write fiction. Do you have any advice for them?
Hartman: Yeah, I do actually. To be patient, because it can be a really long, slow process. Also, be, well, persistent is one way of saying it, but stubborn is probably better. If you're easily discouraged, then it's going to be hard. I guess my other advice would be really, really love what you do because there's a degree to which writing has to be it's own reward, because all the other rewards are not guaranteed.
SC: What's next? There's at least one more book about Seraphina, right?
Hartman: I'm working on the sequel. I'm under contract for one more book. I think that will wrap up Seraphina's story pretty well.