In Hartman’s splendid prose debut, humans and dragons—who can take human form but not human feeling—have lived in uneasy peace for 40 years.
The dragons could destroy the humans, but they are too fascinated by them. As musician Seraphina describes it, attempting to educate the princess, humans are like cockroaches to dragons, but interesting. As the anniversary of the treaty approaches, things fall apart: The crown prince has been murdered, anti-dragon sentiment is rising, and in the midst of it all, an awkward, gifted, observant girl unexpectedly becomes central to everything. Hartman has remixed her not-so-uncommon story and pseudo-Renaissance setting into something unexpected, in large part through Seraphina’s voice. By turns pedantic, lonely, scared, drily funny and fierce, Seraphina brings readers into her world and imparts details from the vast (a religion of saints, one of whom is heretical) to the minute (her music, in beautifully rendered detail). The wealth of detail never overwhelms, relayed as it is amid Seraphina’s personal journey; half-human and half-dragon, she is anathema to all and lives in fear. But her growing friendship with the princess and the princess’ betrothed, plus her unusual understanding of both humans and dragons, all lead to a poignant and powerful acceptance of herself.
Dragon books are common enough, but this one is head and talons above the rest. (cast of characters, glossary) (Fantasy. 12 & up)