Posts tagged ‘series’

Kingdom of Fantasy

Kingdom of FantasyTitle: The Kingdom of Fantasy
Author: Geronimo Stilton
ISBN: 9780545980258
Pages: 314 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2003. (English translation c2009.)

The Kingdom of Fantasy? I gulped. It sounded like a horrible scary place. Oh, how I missed my safe, cozy mouse hole. I took off my glasses so I could cry freely. Scribblehopper didn’t notice. But he did notice the music box in my backpack.
“Great jumping tadpoles!” he croaked. “That belongs to Blossom, Queen of the Fairies!”
In a flash, Scribblehopper had pulled the rose-colored scroll out of the music box. “This message is written in the Fantasian Alphabet,” he went on. Suddenly his eyes bulged out. “Leaping lizards!” he cried. “Queen Blossom is in terrible danger. She says that only you can help her!’I twirled my tail nervously. I wasn’t a hero. I was just an ordinary mouse. (29-30)

Geronimo Stilton has found a music box in his attic that transports him to the Kingdom of Fantasy, where a talking frog informs him he has been called to save the queen. He travels through lands populated by witches, mermaids, dragons, pixies, gnomes, giants, fairies, and trolls. Along the way he makes friends throughout the realms, but the true question he’s asking himself if he will ever make it back home.

This is my first Geronimo Stilton book, and I was hoping that it would interest me because it was longer than the typical paperback novels in the series. But it didn’t. I can only imagine that adults must have felt the same way about the Baby-Sitters Club series that I read when I was younger. The writing felt like a fourth grader wrote it, with no build-up of plot, characters, setting, or suspense. I really don’t know what to say, except that I really wasn’t impressed. That obviously doesn’t mean that I won’t keep recommending or purchasing them for the library since kids gobble them up like potato chips, but I do think there are better books out there.

The Runaway King

Runaway KingTitle: The Runaway King
Series: Ascendance Trilogy #2 (sequel to The False Prince)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545497695 (audiobook)
Pages: 331 pages
CD/Discs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 27 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Audiobooks, c2013.

Newly crowned King Jaron is convinced that the neighboring community of Avenia is set to attack and claim their land, but none of his advisers will listen to the mad king who just resumed the throne after his presumed death at the hands of pirates years ago. When a failed assassination attempt convinces his advisers to hand over a captured traitor in the hopes of placating the group, Jaron fears they will relieve him of his crown in order to send him into hiding. Instead, Jaron puts his own plan into play, which involves sneaking across the border and tracking down the pirates who are trying to complete the unfinished task and collect on the spoils of war. As Jaron’s past catches up with him, he wonders which of his assumed identities he will have to maintain in order to survive. Is he an orphan boy, a street thief, a prospective pirate, or the ruling sovereign of a kingdom in danger? His strength, stamina, and smarts are put to the test in a political game that everyone thinks he will fail.

Jaron is an arrogant, dishonest, insolent, manipulative, overconfident, sarcastic, self-righteous, and stubborn individual, and I can definitely see why his departed father’s advisers would not get along with him. Jaron has his own way of doing things and refuses to listen to anyone’s concerns unless he has no other option. On the other hand, he usually proves himself right by the end of the adventure. I’m not sure if it is maddeningly coincidental that things happen to go his way or just a way for author Jennifer Nielsen to prove his unflappability in the face of obstacles. Scaling a rock wall with a broken leg is not something I would attempt, but he faces it with a determination that you think would ultimately be detrimental to his cause, if not his body. His physical endurance and ability to read his opponent and maintain charades and mind games makes him appear superhuman. And yet, you can’t help rooting for him to succeed and yelling at him to don’t do something stupid that you predict is going to fail.

Jaron’s journey is filled with delays, and it’s a wonder he gets where he needs to be at all. While realistic to the vast distances he needs to cross and the dangers he faces, it does slow down the pace of the plot. In return, you have daring sword fights with his enemies that are over in a manner of minutes at most. A lot of political scheming and plotting is presented, and while I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would, some readers might want more of the fight and flee action that most fantasies have today. We’re privy to Jaron’s inner thoughts regarding his reasoning, but sometimes only as he tells another character his plans. The audiobook proved slightly problematic, as Jaron’s inner thoughts are sometimes indistinguishable from the dialogue. However, I thought Charlie McWade did an acceptable job distinguishing between the accents and tones of the older advisers, Jaron, the pirates, and his younger friends.

Obviously a set-up for the third novel, with the upcoming conflict revealed in the final chapter of the book, I feel like this suffered the sequel syndrome and didn’t live up to my expectations of the first one. Some readers might remember that I was on the committee that chose The False Prince, the first book in the series, for a Cybils award when it was published in 2012. Knowing who Jaron really is cut down on the tension and intrigue, and the ending, while leaving enough unfinished business for a third book, came about a bit too cleanly. I’m sure Jaron would think privately that it was anything but easy, although he would never voice his frustrations or admit to his limitations aloud. That’s just not his style. It’s a trip of endurance, and many readers might question what they would do in that same situation, never fully understanding Jaron’s motivations or his innate ability to overcome adversity.

SPF 40

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My second featured book will be last year’s SPF 40 by Sharon Emerson and Renee Kurilla.

SPF 40
Title: SPF 40
Series: Zebrafish
Author: Sharon Emerson
Illustrator: Renee Kurilla
with help from Didi Hatcher and the team at Fablevision
ISBN: 978141697085
Pages: 117 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2013.

I didn’t realize initially that this was a sequel, but it is a continuation of a story. The other slightly confusing part is who wrote this. I originally thought that picture book author Peter Reynolds, since the cover proclaims “Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision present” but then the title page specifies the true author and illustrator, which I have always thought was a little unfair to authors when they don’t get cover recognition.

Regardless of who is responsible for putting together this story, it’s a sweet simple story with a lot of players. Gummy bear loving Plinko and fuscia haired Tanya (who’s in remission from leukemia) are off to be camp counselors, where they make friends with a diabetic named Scott and a red-haired Coley, who strikes me as overly enthusiastic about everything. Walt and Jay are teeming up not only to drive the library’s book mobile around, but also distribute Jay’s comic book. Purple haired Vita is the only one left behind, and while her first year in Southside High was huge, her first summer is turning out to be a bust. What will she do to occupy her time, instead of sitting in front of the television?

You might have noticed that I stressed hair color with a lot of the characters. That doesn’t just emphasize the colorful and varied cast, but it also signifies that you’d better be paying attention to names, because they are mentioned very infrequently and I found myself relying on their faces instead of their names to distinguish everyone. Maybe if I had read the first book first I wouldn’t have been so clueless with names. The hair color isn’t the only thing that is colorful, with all the pictures are bright and bold and eyecatching.

The book covers a lot of ground not only with characters, but also with topics. While they seem young, they are obviously also older then they first appear. Walt and Jay drive the library bookmobile, Vita has a dog friend Pepper who’s owner takes him to be read to hospital children, turtle hatching, and medical research involving glow in the dark fish and wireless insulin distribution. While I wish some of these topics were covered a little more, the limited exposure definitely keeps the story lines moving, making it a fast read.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. [...]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

The Lost Heir

Lost HeirTitle: The Lost Heir
Series: Wings of Fire #2 (Sequel to The Dragonet Prophecy)
Author: Tui T. Sutherland
Illustrators: Dragon illustrations by Joy Ang, Map and border design by Mike Schley
ISBN: 978054534919
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2012.

“Why did you do that?”
“Oh you’re welcome,” Tsunami said. “Just saving your life, as usual.”
“By attacking random dragons?” Glory cried. “In another moment they would have been gone! And what are you doing?” She jabbed Clay in the side with one of her wings.
“Uh,” Clay mumbled. “Fixing him.” He kept thumping the SkyWing’s chest.
“What?” Glory yelped. “You can’t let him live!” She tried to grab one of Clay’s forearms, but Tsunami shoved her away.
“We don’t have to kill him,” Tsunami said. “We’ll tie him up and leave him here.”
“Great,” Glory said. “How about a trail of cow parts, too? And a map of where we’re going? Or perhaps we could set this part of the forest on fire, just to make sure everyone knows how to find us. Would you like me to spell out ‘DRAGONETS WUZ HERE’ in giant rocks?”
“Fine!” Tsunami said. “Here he is. You kill him.” (16)

Tsunami has always imagined her homecoming like a fairy tale, and once she discovers that she actually is a SeaWing princess, she is even more determined to meet her family and see her kingdom. Maybe her own kind would appreciate her more than the dragonets, who seem to be questioning her leadership skills after the recent events and fighting with the Skywings. Upon arriving home though, Tsunami realizes that home is not a safe place, as the heirs to the throne continue to be killed by an unknown assassin. When her own life is threatened and she faces growing distrust towards her mother’s advisors and allies, Tsunami begins to wonder if maybe she is better off with her fellow dragonets of prophecy, but will she figure out who to trust in time to save her friends and family.

Fans of the first book in the series will find much of the same. Now that we’ve been introduced and readers are getting to know the dragons individually, it’s marginally easier to tell them apart. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t find myself flipping back and forth between the guide, the prophecy, and the part I was actually reading to keep the alliances straight. It was just being reintroduced instead of being revealed for the first time. It’s like getting introduced to a friend’s family at an event. The first time you meet the whole crowd, your head is spinning, but by the second or third time you start making connections–about who’s a cousin and an aunt or a grandparent or siblings–and saying to yourself “I remember that.” Hopefully, by the end of the series the characters will become more familiar to readers in that same way.

I enjoy how the author is featuring each dragon in their own book. We get to focus on more insular events instead of trying to grasp a nationwide war. I have a feeling each dragon is going to get their own book, and I’m especially interested to see how each dragon’s opinions differ from each other as we come to distinguish them from one another. There’s no denying that Tsunami is bossy, and discovering she’s royalty only augments her feelings of entitlement. But she’s also conflicted, especially when it comes to her own behavior and actions and how she is seen by others. She rationalizes her feelings in order to try to gain and keep her relationships, but her people pleasing, especially when it comes to her mother, just leaves her feeling out of sorts. It’s a story about not just who you can trust but whether or not you can trust yourself.

The mystery is intriguing and Sutherland sends up several red herrings before revealing the cause of the dragonet deaths. We also get little glimpses of what is going on with the resistance, and hints of a “back up plan” if the dragonets don’t succeed. What exactly Tsunami and her group are supposed to do, readers are still as clueless as the dragons. I’ll be continuing the series to see what happens and how events develop.

A Big Guy Took My Ball!

A Big Guy Took My BallTitle: A Big Guy Took My Ball!
Series: Elephant and Piggie
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
ISBN: 9781423174912
Pages: 57 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2013.

Full disclosure here: I LOVE Elephant and Piggie. Willems writes them on the kids’ level, whether it’s naming the characters the species they are, the humor, or the spot-on facial expressions that convey everything that the characters are feeling without the use of a single word. Even the language, simplified and repetitive, but not dumbed-down, is just right for reading aloud by either adults or children. If you aren’t familiar with the Elephant and Piggie series, what is wrong with you and where have you been for the last years?

In the newest installment, Piggie discovers a big ball, which is promptly taken by a big guy. Sharing his story with Elephant upsets his friend. Indignant to think that his friend Piggie is getting picked on while still recognizing that he is a “big guy” too, Elephant heads out to confront this “big guy” and retrieve the ball. He returns to Piggie unsuccessful, telling Piggie “You did not say how big he was.” (30) But when all three finally come together, they all learn a lesson in perspective, sharing, and friendship. While the ending is syrupy sweet and could have been handled a little less obviously, it’s still a great story. And if you’re wondering “Where is the pigeon?” who appears in Willem’s books, don’t forget to check out the back jacket artwork!

2 The Point Tuesdays The Menagerie

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

MenagerieTitle: The Menagerie
Series: Menagerie #1
Authors: Tui T. and Kari Sutherland
ISBN: 9780060780647
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, and imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2013.
Published: March 12, 2013.

“What the . . . ,” Logan muttered. “Guys, who ate all your food?” And then put the lid back on?
“SQUUUUUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOORP!”
Logan froze. That was a noise he had definitely never heard before. And it had come from somewhere in his room.
He turned around slowly, his heart pounding.
That’s when he saw the tail stretched out along his carpet, sticking out from the trailing edge of his comforter. A long, golden, furry lion’s tail.
There was a monster under his bed. (17-18)

Logan has just moved from Chicago to a small town in Wyoming with his dad, following the only clue in his mother’s sudden disappearance. Logan literally runs into Zoe and Blue, the weirdest girl and most popular boy in school, who claim to be searching for a lost dog. Discovering it’s not a dog they’re searching for but a griffin, Logan returns the cub to Zoe’s home and enters a world of mythical creatures. Everything’s in danger of exposure if the three teens can’t track down the rest of the missing griffins. Was it an accident, or is someone attempting to sabotage the Menagerie and shut it down? A light fantasy mixed with realism, sisters Tui and Kari Sutherland have created a fast read. Readers will enjoy this first book in an obvious series, which sets up a satisfying ending while still leaving enough unanswered questions for the upcoming sequels.

Seraphina

SeraphinaTitle: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Narrator: Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
ISBN: 9780307968920 (audiobook), 9780375866562 (hardcover)
Pages: 465 pages
CDs/Discs: 11 CDs, 13.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Random House Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: July 10, 2012

“We find your security inadequate, Captain Kiggs. This is the third attack in three weeks, and the second where a saar was injured.”
“An attack you set up shouldn’t count. You know this is atypical. People are on edge. General Comonot arrives in ten days–“
“Precisely why you need to do a better job,” she said coolly.
“–and Prince Rufus was just murdered in a suspiciously draconian manner.”
“There’s no evidence that a dragon did it,” she said.
“His head is missing!” The prince gestured vehemently toward his own head, his clenched teeth and windblown hair lending a mad ferocity to the pose.
Eskar raised an eyebrow. “No human could have accomplished such a thing?” (25-26)

Forty years after a treaty was drafted and agreed upon, relationships between the dragon and human populations are strained at best. When the human Prince Rufus is murdered in a draconian manner, all eyes turn to the dragons. Dragons, who can assume the physical appearance of humans in order to interact with them, are being taunted, attacked, and held under suspicion. With the treaty anniversary approaching and official dignitaries from both sides meeting, Seraphina is kept busy as the newly hired music assistant. But her close, long-time friendship with a dragon puts her in a unique position to understand their analytical, emotionally detached way of thinking, and Seraphina quickly finds herself aiding Captain/Prince Kiggs in his investigation. They’d better act fast though, as the dragons and humans are meeting soon, and there may be a murderer in their midst with plans for more mayhem.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? I’ve tried really hard to avoid all the praise that has been heaped on this debut novel, but it’s almost unavoidable. Even the cover is stamped with praise from such big names as Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, and Alison Goodman. I truly fell in love with this book, and the audio was excellent from start to finish. Yes, the dragons might be the stereotypical unemotional beings, but Hartman does manage to add depth to the dragon characters’ rationality, even though feelings are treated like the plague for their kind. If I remember correctly, I compared the story to someone as if Star Trek Vulcans could fly and were plopped down in Renaissance court, something of a Spock meets Shakespeare.

The language is beautiful, the setting has depth and breath and, since Seraphina is a music teacher, sights and sounds come alive. Hartman has created a world with social and cultural background, from a full pantheon of diety-like saints and court etiquette to navigating political turmoil and espionage. Mandy Williams does an excellent job with her voices and has the inflection spot on, in turn emphasizing the emotion of the humans and the reserved nature of the dragons. I really appreciated the choice to have Justine Eyre contribute (I won’t say in what way) because it clearly separated those two narrators and indicated the shift to readers. I have to feel sympathetic towards Kiggs because you know by the end of the book he has some of this figured out and he’s just trying really hard to ignore the obvious inconsistencies of Seraphina’s personality. What a personality Seraphina has though, it’s no wonder she makes friends so easily. She’s very likable in her naive sort of way, which aids her in convincingly lying when necessary to aid her in treading that fine line between navigating and mediating for the two distinct worlds. She’s got a quick mind that is showcased throughout the book, something we don’t really see in strong female protagonists very often who are usually too busy trying to save their own skin or getting involved in some sort of love triangle. Seraphina does both at some point throughout the story, but it’s not the whiz-bang action but more a thinker novel. If you’ve seen the newest version of True Grit, I view her as very comparable to Mattie Ross (the little girl) in regards to her wits, intuition, and tenacity.

There were two things that I do have to complain about though. At the very end with the scene between Kiggs and Seraphina, I kind of wish that had gone differently, just because they have an amazing friendship that is built over their mutual collaboration and admiration for each other. Seraphina’s humanity and her struggle to find her place in the world really ring true, with the author exploring some topics that some teenage girls are faced with in terms of self-acceptance. The other thing that fell flat for me was Seraphina’s “mental imaginings” (what would you call them without giving them away) until you figured out what they actually were. Then they just struck me as massively convenient. As in “REALLY? You just did that because you’d backed yourself into a corner and needed somewhere to go with this, so you added this stuff to make it work.” I think the story would have been much more interesting and Seraphina much more relatable if she didn’t have this mental block hanging over her head and she didn’t have all these clues to fall back on. Isn’t one distinguishing aspect of her enough, now she’s a freak of nature? I hope this makes sense to people who have read the book.

Both of those things played a very small role in the book, and while I think they’ll later have a larger impact on my appreciation of the series, it should by no means detract from anyone’s enjoyment of this book. I’d heard good things about this book, but the real reason I finally made an effort to snag a copy was that it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, YALSA’s award for a work of young adult fiction by a debut author. YALSA’s blog The Hub has issued a challenge to readers everywhere to finish the finalists before the award is announced next week. Go check out the Hub’s interview with Rachel Hartman that they just recently posted, along with information about the challenge itself. It’s also a Cybils finalist for the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category. At least take a look at this book before the sequel, titled Drachomachia, is released this fall.

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