Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Listening Library
Narrated by Mandy Williams and Justine Eyre
Length: 13 hours 15 minutes


In this exciting hybrid genre of fantasy, science fiction and just a touch of steampunk, the compelling story of Seraphina Dombegh and her dragon compatriots takes its readers on a journey of  majestic heights of intrigue and secrecy. The town of Goredd is an ancient civilization where there is a definite distinction between human and dragon. Though the dragons in this tale are magnificent beings that can fold themselves into human form and hold high positions in government and science, most of the citizenry both fear and loathe them, though they do have some friends in high places. Goredd has held a peace treaty with dragonkind for 40 years, and in this seminal year, the treaty is to be rewritten and redeemed, much to the chagrin of those who distrust the dragons. In this expansive civilization lives a maid named Seraphina Dombegh, who is the daughter of one of the country’s highest government officials. Seraphina, whose mother died in childbirth, is virtually raised by a dragon in human form named Orma, whose didactical views of humans and their emotions makes for great amusement for the young girl. Seraphina is also the chief music teacher to the irascible princess of the castle, where she meets the bastard prince Lucien Kiggs. When a plot to destroy the negotiations between dragonkind and humankind is discovered, it is up to the unlikely band of royal successors, Seraphina, and Orma to figure out how to stop it before society crumbles into war and mayhem. But lurking behind all of this is a secret that threatens to change Seraphina’s world forever. Will the foursome be able to stop the destruction of the city in time, and will Lucien Kiggs ever notice an inconsequential maid like Seraphina? These questions and many more form the heart and soul of this beautiful and emotionally deft novel that blends fantasy and compassionate humanity in perfect harmony.

This audiobook was a departure for me. When I read Swapna’s mini review over at S. Krishna’s Reviews, I wondered how I would do with a fantasy tale, of which I do not read many. Now, my daughter loves dragons, and could tell you just about anything you wanted to know about the many different types and species and so forth, but I am, well... a dragon newbie. This book, narrated by Mandy Williams and Justine Eyre, was well worth the time I spent dithering over whether or not I was a dragon person. Mandy Williams does the majority of the narration, and her voice is young, but not untrained. She had a wonderfully lilting British accent and was very interesting to listen to, especially when she voiced the parts of Orma, whom she befitted with a puzzled and almost innocent voice. Justine Eyre was more of a bit player in the narration, with her parts being interspersed within the story as recollections from Seraphina’s mother. Both did an outstanding job and both were able to successfully carry this baroque and thrilling tale into a tale full of beguilement and suspense.

Seraphina is a young girl without pretensions, and the only thing that separates her from the many masses of maids at the castle is her outstanding voice. This voice is so elevated that she has been gifted with the tutelage of the princess, and the apprenticeship to the master of music of the castle. Unlike most of the population, Seraphina is not fearful and loathing of dragons. This has more to do with the love and care that has been lavished on her by the dragon disguised as a human named Orma than any other influence. Orma is not an expressive creature, but for reasons that Seraphina doesn’t yet understand, he is charged with her upbringing and does his best to instill her with the values and virtues that gain her the admiration of all. She is a bright girl, but is coming to understand that there are things about herself that she doesn’t understand and secrets that others are unwilling to share with her. There is another strange puzzlement about Seraphina: she has a mind that is filled with creatures that need her daily care and tending. These creatures, called her grotesques, are all strange and otherworldly, and seem to exist only in her mind. But if anyone should ever find out about them, it would spell danger for her.

For 40 years, the dragons and humans have lived in peace under the treaty of Goredd, but that peace is fragile and there are both humans and dragons who wish to destroy it. But in a year of vital importance, this treaty is to be celebrated and re-pledged. It is a tenuous time for the city and all its inhabitants when the unthinkable happens, and a dragon attacks a member of the royal family. Needless to say, the hunt is on for the attacker, and no dragon, even in human form, is safe. Buried to the hilt in secrets and intrigue, Seraphina and her royal friends, the princess and Lucien Kiggs, decide that they must find out the truth before the fragile bonds of both species is broken forever. I admit that I was totally ensnared in this story and found that the blend between the very specific politics of Goredd and the personal trials of the heroine kept me enthralled every step of the way. As more and more is revealed, the danger becomes potent and universal. Nothing is safe. Everyone is a suspect. Add to this the fact that Seraphina is discovering some unpleasant truths about herself, and the story becomes unstoppable.

There is a slight romantic element to this tale, but it’s not overdone and barely even creeps out of the woodwork. After all, the two players are not free to to entangle, so to speak. With Seraphina’s mind garden creeping out of control and the appearance of a menacing presence that was thought to be slain years ago, it seems unlikely that peace will be able to be held together. But in the stirrings of her heart, Seraphina has the information she now needs to prove a powerful force, and it will cost her everything to unleash it. So entranced was I with this book that I carried my iPod around everywhere, sneaking listens whenever I could. I must warn you though, this book is part of a series, and I do expect to listen to the next installment with the same ravenousness that I did this one.

You might think that this one is not for you because it’s fantasy, or science fiction, or because it has dragons in it, but trust me, this book transcends genres and is a heart pumping delight. It wasn’t over the top or silly, and it wasn’t dark and malevolent. It was the story of a strange girl finding her way in an even stranger society, and it knocked my socks off. If you’re looking for something that is different and that takes energy and action to a new level, check this one out. The audio is fabulous, but I bet it would fare just as well in print. An eclectic mix of the new and bold. Highly recommended.

17 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I just finished the book and I loved it so much that it totally ruined for me the next book I read! because it is a very hard act to follow!

Brooke said...

So glad to hear you enjoyed Seraphina. I recently purchased it and I love dragons so this one might skip directly to the front of the reading pack!

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I've seen this one around at the bookstore, but I didn't know what it was about. I'm glad you enjoyed it, despite being a genre you don't normally read. I'll keep this one in mind.

Amy Meyer said...

I feel like your last paragraph was directed at me! I enjoyed your review because this book is such a departure from my usual reads. But I was also convinced the book itself wasn't for me for that reason. And then you caught me with your understanding of how I feel. I also admit, I thought twice about this book when you mentioned carrying your ipod everywhere with you while listening to it.

I'm going to investigate this book more and try to make a decision (not my strongest trait!).
Wonderful review, Heather. And I guess your daughter enjoys the parts of Harry Potter that include the wonderful dragons?

Harvee Lau said...

The writer must be an excellent storyteller to get you so involved in spite of the YA, fantasy, scifi label. I sometimes get carried away with good storytelling too, no matter the genre.

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this audiobook, too, and am so glad you thought it was worth the trip out of your comfort zone. See? Fantasy is fantastic! :-)

Trisha said...

I am definitely sold, especially since I'm quite the fan of fantasy, scifi and dragons. :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jill has been going on and on about this book. Totally not my style, but if you all say so then it is worth a shot.

Suko said...

I would be a dragon newbie as well! Seraphina sounds very unique and exciting. I like that it "transcends genres", and that you call it a "heart pumping delight". Wow!

Vasilly said...

You made this audiobook sound so good! I think I'll give it a try on audio.

Darlene said...

Oh this definitely sounds like something I'd love to listen to. My audio book is almost as long as my book list now. Lol.

Athira said...

I like the sound of this book. I don't think I will try it on audio but I will probably check out the book.

jennysbooks said...

I'm glad you liked it! I am very very curious what the sequel will be like. I loved it that Hartman didn't play up the romance angle so much, and I extra loved it that the princess -- I can't remember her name, but she seems like she's going to be a Mean Girl at first -- I loved it that the princess turned out to be a nice person and a strong ally for Seraphina. I was a bit surprised at how much of a treat that was for me, to have two women characters who are so different and yet are friends.

Elizabeth said...

This sounds completely up my alley - thank you! I am definitely going to look for it.

Beth F said...

This is now on my list! I love dragons. I wonder how I missed this books.

Marie said...

this sounds awesome! I love the mix of genres and wide appeal that you talk about. I'm putting this on my wish list right now!

Buried In Print said...

A dragon newby? Heheh. Good to know that the book can appeal to you, too! (I haven't read it yet, but do intend to, though I'm hardly a dragon expert myself.) For the dragon-lover in your family, I would recommend Graeme Base's The Discovery of Dragons, gorgeously illustrated and stuffed with lore.

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