Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (Random House, July 2012, YA) has been getting nothing but the best reviews among the bloggers I read regularly (at least I assume so--I haven't actually read the reviews (cause of not wanting spoilers), but words like "loved" and "enjoyed" are easy to spot without reading).
So my expectations were high as I entered this alternate-European city, where humans and dragons lived side by side in an uneasy truce, and a girl named Seraphina made music.
Here is how I reacted:
First hundred pages: I am not sure I am liking it all that much. Seraphina is glum. Things are not cheerful. There is no brightness. There seems to be lots of exposition. I am not sure what this story is actually about. However: music = good, lots of interestings saints = good, interesting dragons = very good.
Next fifty (or so pages): fascinating, but am still uncertain. Seraphina still unhappy. Not sure I like her. Unhappy feelings all around. Am anxious. But curious.
Remainder of book: Wow, this is great! Happy (though complex) male main character! Seraphina not so unhappy! She has friends! Interesting world building, political machinations, and mystery--but what's really important is that there is now good reason to hope that Seraphina won't be sad and lonely forever.
Clearly I was Weak Minded and In Need of Comfort Reading last week (some weeks I am stronger, and curl up happily with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or some such). But still, the point remains valid. Seraphina (the book) is not giddy, light fun. Seraphina the girl isn't either; she's described as prickly. And this came across to me too, as well as to the other characters--she's hard to like at first, very much preoccupied with her own self, very reluctant to show warmth. But both book (as the perspective of the story become broader, and new characters were introduced) and girl (as she became a more active player in her own life, kind of surprising herself in the process) grew on me, until by the end I was just racing along happily, caught up in just the sort of lovely fiction-rush that I was hoping for.
One last bit of quibble-- the ease which which one major issue became a non-issue was a bit of a cop out. I was expecting more intelligently written complexity from Hartman here...and didn't get it.
Here's a fascinating interview about Seraphina's path to publication at a daydreamer's thoughts, where I saw this alternate cover (edited to add, thanks to commenter Laviania--it's the UK cover)...I think the black and white one is much truer to the feel of the book, and to Seraphina's own character, and much more distinctive! Although I do like the nuance of Seraphina's face becoming the second dragon eye.
And (again edited to add) there's definitly a sequel coming--from Rachel Hartman's blog yesterday "I have a few nearly-empty weeks to work on my sequel revisions." Which is very encouraging, revisions being so much closer to done than writing!