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Seraphina    by Rachel Hartman order for
by Rachel Hartman
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Doubleday Canada, 2014 (2012)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina takes readers through the coming of age of a young woman of mixed race, in a society where unions between humans and dragons are viewed with total horror, those who cohabitate torn to pieces by mobs. Seraphina Dombegh's father, though distant and unloving, has protected her, kept her close, and drummed into her the need to keep secret the fact that her mother was a dragon.

Though peace has been kept between humans and saar (dragons) in the kingdom of Goredd for four decades, mistrust and even hatred is common. Dragons often mingle in the populace in human shape, though treaty dictates that they wear bells to identify themselves. A gifted musician since early childhood, Seraphina has balked at her father's desire to keep her at home, where she was tutored by her uncle Orma, a dragon scholar. He taught her about dragonkind as well as music.

As the story opens, Prince Rufus has been murdered, decapitated in a manner that suggests a dragon's kill. As the new assistant to aging court composer Viridius, Seraphina is unexpectedly thrust into the limelight, forced to play the funeral Invocation when her chosen soloist is unable to perform. She also teaches young Princess Glisselda the harpsichord, and has attracted the interest of bastard Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen's Guard and affianced to Glisselda.

Seraphina has scales around her waist and on her arm that she hides. She begins to uncover memories her mother left for her. She also has visions - of seventeen different people in far-off places. These visions were debilitating until Orma taught her techniques of meditation and cognitive architecture to control them. Over time, and after misunderstandings, Seraphina and Prince Lucian team up to investigate the murder of Prince Rufus - and further plots against the crown that unfold.

And, over time, Seraphina meets many of those in her visions and learns that they also have unusual talents. As this book ends, Seraphina's nature has been revealed. She accepts who she is and has found a place to stand, along with friends and allies to stand alongside her. Seraphina is an outstanding debut for Rachel Hartman and I very much hope she will give us more of Phina's world - and soon.

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