In many ways I like to think of myself as not the typical guy worried about being seen as strong and tough and all those "manly" things--I have the "girliest" job in a female-dominated profession, after all, and tend to champion sensitivity and intellectualism. When it comes to reading and book preferences, however, I do generally find myself liking "boy" books better than "girl" books. Even in some of the action-oriented, smart fantasy/sci-fi titles I've really liked--Graceling and The Hunger Games, for instance--I've been annoyed at the narrative lull late in the story while the mushy love aspect develops; don't even get me started on the glut of paranormal romances lately clogging up what used to be my favorite genre. So if you had described Seraphina to me before I read it as a fantasy involving a paranormal race about a teen girl trying to find her place in the queen's court, where most of the plot is concerned with palace intrigue and social positioning and relationship drama, and the girl is a musician who just wants to play pretty music, oh, and the girl (surprise, surprise) falls in love with the prince along the way, well, I would have said this is probably a fine book for some but it's not for me.
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I would have been dead wrong.
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Seraphina pulled me in right away and engaged me to the end. It's not the kind of breathless action-suspense where you keep reading because you have to know what happens next, then forget about it as soon as you're past it; the action is more social and intellectual, but there was very real danger the entire way and it was all the more satisfying for its weight and depth. This book had real characters and strong issues. Complexity. Believability. And best of all? The love story felt organic and natural to the characters and not just like an idealized wish fulfillment fantasy to make readers go gooey; and it never required a pause in the action of the larger story's development, either.
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Most importantly, this is a truly original (in my experience, at least) fantasy realm with a unique take on dragons and nuanced world-building. All the characters, from protagonist to minor, had complicated motivations and concerns informed by this strange world with its race issues and political dynamics. Seraphina, by accident of birth, finds herself squarely in the bull's-eye of those issues and dynamics and, no matter how much she just wants to have a quiet, ordinary life, cannot escape the intrigue. The pending conflict that is about to explode.
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The forty-year-old peace treaty between dragons and the southern human countries has always been tenuous at best, largely held together by force of will of its authors, the Queen of Goredd and Comonot, the dragon Ardmagar. Many on both sides have not forgotten their old wounds and hatreds and would secretly love to see the peace fail; some, even not so secretly. The dragons can assume human shape and some few live among the humans as ambassadors and integrators, but the human form and mannerisms, senses and emotions, are so foreign to the animalistic dragons ("Let this signify my submission to your tutelage, since I doubt you would agree to bite the back of my neck.") that they can't really pass as human and always stand out. Plus, there are the largely ignored quigutl, a dirty, smelly subspecies of dragon that lives in the slums of both societies, hated by all and antagonizing the ill-will that exists. No one trusts anyone and everyone suspects imminent betrayal. The Ardmagar is coming to the Queen's palace to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the treaty, and Seraphina--the new assistant to the irascible court composer--is right in the center of the preparations for the celebration.
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A highly satisfying read.

JCLChrisK's rating:
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