Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a complex and compelling fantasy about a world where dragons are intelligent, calculating beings that can take the form of humans. Seraphina is half dragon half human, which is such a terrible abomination that she must keep it secret. So she lies about what she really is, while pursuing her talent in music by being a musician in the court of Queen Lavonda. But soon she gets involved in trying to stop a plot to ruin the peace treaty between humans and dragons, and everything changes--her thoughts about herself, her family, and love.
Seraphina is a strong heroine who underestimates herself sometimes, and gives great presence to her fears. That makes her even more great when she overcomes them to finally accept who she is and that she can have things that she never thought possible-- like love, or living in the absence of some of those fears. (The latter is what makes the ending scene so powerful . . . when it all comes full circle.)
I found the first part (maybe first 50 pages or so) a little slower to get through than the rest of the book. Maybe that's because this wasn't my particular brand of fantasy . . . sometimes I feel a little nerdy and weird when reading all the "mind garden" stuff . . . but that changed when I found out what they really are (trying not to give anything away here!!). I also thought that occasionally the names and terms for things got to be a bit much-- things could have been a little simpler or she didn't have to invent new names for things that already exist. I feel like that might challenge some readers or maybe muddle them up a bit--but it did some good for the world building and won't be a bother to most readers.
And . . . wonderful dragons! The morphing-into-humans things was great, and really the whole concept of dragons as intelligent, emotion-less, calculating creatures was excellent. Dragon characters in this book did not disappoint! Secondary characters like Orma, Glisselda, Dame Okra and Lars were also stunningly well done- not too one sided but very interesting at the same time. Plus, I'm SO happy to say, it didn't end with too much of an annoying cliffhanger. Yes, there were some major threads left hanging, but there was enough closure that I wasn't bugged by the promise of the next book.