Nothing strikes dread in a reviewer’s heart like a dragon on a book cover. Can the author infuse this tired trope with fresh blood, or is it doomed to flame out in blatant cliche? Happily, Rachel Hartman, with her richly imagined reptile and human characters, proves more than equal to the task. In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, an uneasy truce exists between people and highly intelligent dragons that can assume human shape. When hostilities heat up, Seraphina, 16, a gifted music teacher, finds herself swept into political intrigue. As allegiances shift, it becomes more difficult to sort friend from foe, including her emotionally detached uncle; her enigmatic father; and her giddy music student, the teenaged Princess Glisselda. Seraphina’s mind, too, seems to conspire against her, when grotesques from her childhood visions begin to appear at court. While dealing with past secrets and present dangers, Seraphina discovers an unexpected ally in Glisselda’s fiance, a young man haunted by his heritage. Full of grace and gravitas, Seraphina’s first-person voice is a welcome change from today’s snark-infested YA novels. Readers loath to turn the last page of this lush, intricately plotted fantasy will rejoice in the knowledge of next summer’s as-yet-untitled sequel.

Mary Quattlebaum


By Rachel Hartman

Random House. $17.99. Age 12 and up

”Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman. (Random House Books for Young Readers)