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Of Dragons and Music and Dangerous Secrets

Seraphina Strikes a Most Positive Chord

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, ages 12 and up), by Rachel Hartman, winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, is reviewed by Grace Duryée.

Tensions are high in the kingdom of Goredd. The tenuous peace treaty between men and dragons threatens to snap just as Ardmagar Comonot, the leader of the dragon community, comes to Goredd to celebrate forty years of uninterrupted peace between dragon and mankind. The royal family struggles to keep the conflict at bay for just a little longer, while trouble bubbles up from beneath them anyway. Huge resistance groups form, riots break out, and worst of all, the brutal–and strangely draconian–murder of one of their own: the widely respected Prince Rufus leaves the family at a loss at the worst possible time. Amidst all of this excitement is Seraphina, the gifted music mistress of Goredd’s castle. Seraphina is tossed head first into this wild tangle of trouble, torn between what is right and what is safe, who she can trust and who she can love. 

Seraphina-cvr.jpgRachel Hartman, the creator of this world and of the heroic woman Seraphina, skillfully lures her audience into this intoxicating tale of dragons that can fold themselves into humans, musicians that fall in love with princes, and secrets so dangerous they scarcely can even be thought about.  Hartman has lovingly woven the details of the beautiful world she has created into the pages of this fantastically original novel, bringing her audience to truly care about the characters and their relationships with each other. 

Seraphina being a musician is incredibly appropriate in that the story itself plays out exactly like an epic ballad played on her flute. It’s swirling melodies and booming crescendos make Seraphina a song that resonates for quite some time in the hearts of fantasy fans.

Fans of the Eragon series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings – or anything dragon-related – will surely love this refreshing read. The intricate worlds of Goredd and Seraphina’s mind, along with the incredible lore, will surely leave all fantasy-loving young adult readers craving more of Hartman’s universe, and counting down the days to the release of the sequel to Seraphina, entitled Dracomachia, currently set for release in February of 2014. 

GraceToday’s guest reviewer, Grace Duryée, has been an avid reader since childhood, and values the experience reading provides for every person, particularly children and young adults. This is why Grace has recently taken an interest in children’s literature, and has attempted to combine it with her other long-time love: writing. Grace and her cousin Hilary have recently begun preparations for their very own children’s literature blog, and are both very excited to get it up and running! Grace is 20 years old, and in her spare time she plays too many video games and reads books about dragons. In her not-spare time, Grace is the manager of the teen and children’s department at a Barnes and Noble as well as a college student pursuing her degree in Economics and Business. 

Fridays Featuring Flintridge – Discovering Dragons

A Hoard of Dragon Gold: Mining Children’s Literature

for the Best Dragon Books

dlacey_1While shelving books one day recently in our children’s section at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, I heard a small voice behind me say, “Ummm…Hi! I was wondering…do you have more books like these?” A small boy beside me, about the height of my elbow, pointed at our row of The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris D’Lacey. “What did you like about them?” I asked encouragingly. “Well, I just like the dragons a lot. I just do,” he replied. He sort of defensively rushed his words at me, as though I was about to disagree with him. The little boy could not have known this beforehand, but I myself do like a good dragon-filled book. I made sure to tell him that I am totally “pro dragon.” We had a grand time picking out some more dragon themed books for him to read.  Just about a week later, a young girl told me that she was looking for a new book. “I have read a lot of dragon books. A lot of them,” she announced proudly.  These young dragon aficionados have made me realize just how many books I have read with dragons as characters.  There really are a lot of fantastic dragon themed books! So, I’ve made a list of my favorites and included some more recently published titles. The books I have chosen to list here are personal favorites, but please feel free to add to the list, comment upon it, or mentally high five me! I think this “dragon mania” is going to be a lot of fun!

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko ($6.95, Annick Press, Ages 3-5)

1261666953princess-134x140Here is the classic story by Munsch that I grew up with myself. Elizabeth is a princess who is set to marry Prince Ronald, all ready for her own happily-ever-after.  However, the wedding doesn’t go as planned as the momentum of an unexpected chain of events moves the story disastrously downhill! Elizabeth’s castle is smashed, her dress is “toasted” by fiery dragon breath, and her Prince is gone. All this chaos is thanks to a recent visit by a fire-breathing dragon. With true gumption, Elizabeth defies fashion by putting on a paper bag and venturing forth to rescue her prince from the clutches of the dragon! When she finds the dragon, she outwits him by engaging him in showing off his fine array of dragon stunts. The dragon complies and becomes completely worn out. Ready for the twist? After all that hard work, Prince Ronald doesn’t want her after all. “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess,” he tells her. Well, too bad for him – he missed out on one amazing girl!

I first read this book as a little girl at my best friend Laurie’s house. When I finished reading it, I asked Laurie, “Why do you like this book? They don’t live happily ever after!” My friend (she’s a lawyer now) was always very pragmatic, even as a young girl. “She’s a princess. He’s a bad guy.” she replied with sort of a shrug. I had to agree that was true and together we concurred that we wished Elizabeth good luck with her next love. We just knew there had to be a special prince out there awaiting such a well deserving princess!

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Jennifer Plecas ($14.99, Dutton, Ages 4-7)

9780525463269LIt’s every knight’s job to slay the dragon when the dragon is found. We all know this to be true. Yet, what if a knight found three wide-eyed little dragons instead? What happens then? As the story begins, the Good Knight hears a loud roar and boldly ventures forth to save the day. However, instead of finding a dragon to fight he finds three little dragons that can’t sleep. It is at this point in the story that we enter into the all too familiar “getting ready for bed” scenarios that we all know so well! The Good Knight has to deal with a litany of little dragon demands – stories, songs, and glasses of water! Young readers and parents alike are certain to find much to identify with here. Of course, we also have the privilege of meeting one very good knight who can tuck a young dragon into bed just right. Good Night, Good Knight is a wonderful read aloud for just before bedtime. This is also available as an excellent Level 2 reader.

Dealing With Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book One by Patricia Wrede ($6.99, Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10 and up)

150739Princess Cimorene is not your usual fairy tale princess. She wants to learn Latin, fencing, and how to cook. Are these qualities that her parents approve of? Certainly not! They are desirous of a daughter who follows pursuits they would deem to be more feminine. Her parents begin to plan her marriage to a prince who is just not quite as intelligent as Cimorene. In fact, he’s pretty much not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, if you catch my drift. Being whip-crack smart herself, Princess Cimorene takes the good advice of a nearby frog and decides to become the dragon Kazul’s princess. The princess refuses all efforts to rescue her from this life as a dragon’s “girl Friday.” I especially envied Princess Cimorene’s new responsibilities of organizing dragon treasure hoards, and categorizing their scrolls. Imagine what you could learn! Wrede’s humorous, well crafted book had me in smiles and giggles the entire time I was reading it.

The character of the dragon Kazul is just as sassy as Cimorene herself. You will meet a widely divergent cast of characters that includes interfering wizards and unusual friends. Princess Cimorene and Kazul the dragon find that together they must thwart an evil plan! This book is the perfect junior fiction pick for the dragon fan in your life provided that the reader likes a good dash of humor along side their fantasy reading. Fans of the book will be excited to learn that this is the first in a series of four books in “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 10-13)

9780545316484_xlgBen is a lonely orphan who happens to meet Firedrake who is a silver dragon needing  help to escape to his ancestral home known as “The Rim of Heaven”. This is where dragons can live in freedom, safely away from humans. In this story Ben, Firedrake, a brownie named Sorrel embark on a journey to go to “The Rim of Heaven” so that Firedrake may live a better life. However, a powerful and evil villain named Nettlebrand, the “Golden One” is on their trail. Many countries are crossed as these three heroes meet magical beings and make extraordinary friends as they race to the Rim of Heaven. The question is, can they get there in time before their mysterious foe catches up with them?

Ms. Funke, the author of the famous Inkheart trilogy, does not disappoint her younger readers! She provides an amazing world, and an exciting race to a finish line that will keep readers enthralled until the very end. The author herself provides the most wonderful illustrations for the book. As an aside, in an act of sheer geekery, I bought the book for my own children’s literature collection (in its first printing) because there was a pop-up map in the middle of the book! I’m just such a sucker for a good map and it came in very handy as it showed the journey of our heroes from the very beginning to the very end of their exciting but occasionally perilous journey.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George ($7.99, Bloomsbury, Ages 10-14)

9781599902753Creel’s aunt and uncle have fallen upon hard times. In a moment of what Creel’s aunt deems sheer brilliance, she decides to provoke a local dragon into taking Creel hostage. Now, of course a noble and wealthy young lord will come to do battle with the dragon to rescue the fair maiden. According to her aunt he will then marry Creel, and all the family’s economic problems will be solved. The trouble is that the local dragon, Theoradus, is not interested in the slightest in taking Creel prisoner. In fact, he is much more interested in his hobby of shoe collecting. Creel herself is much more interested in escaping rather than being rescued. She wishes to journey to the city known as the King’s Seat to attain her dream of becoming well known as an embroiderer and having her own embroidery shop.  This was a skill with powerful implications that had been taught to her by her late mother.

What ensues is a pact between dragon and maiden. Creel is really in need of some new shoes to begin her journey. Theoradus will give her any pair of shoes she wants if she will ensure that the young lord will never come to bother the dragon. The sheer range of shoes that Creel gets to choose from is incredible. The collection has shoes with emeralds on them, children’s shoes, sensible shoes, and one very fine pair of blue slippers that fit Creel perfectly. Yet, there is some mysterious power about these shoes. Creel and her new slippers must make their way in the world as she journeys towards the big city. Yet, can she discover the true magic behind the dragon’s slippers?

The author, Ms. George, combines a winsome heroine, and even more winsome dragons in her tale of fine needlework, dreams worth attaining, dragons, and a bit of romance to keep things interesting. Do you dream of reading about dragons that collect shoes, stain glass windows, and one fussy dragon that caringly and fanatically adopts dogs? Look no further! Middle grade readers who are fans of Gail Carson Levine’s books such as Ella Enchanted will find a real treasure of a book when they read about Creel and her adventures. Creel’s adventures continue in the two sequels to this book.

The Last Dragonslayer, The Chronicles of Kazam, Book One by Jasper Fforde ($16.99, Harcourt, Ages 12 and up)

9780547738475Our heroine, Jennifer Strange, is a foundling attempting to run an employment agency inherited from her mentor, The Great Zambini.  This employment agency functions to find job placement for an occasionally unemployed group of wizards.  The trouble is The Great Zambini has disappeared leaving Jennifer to run the company of Kazam on her own. In an alternate world where Jennifer lives in the “UnUnited Kingdom”, British author, Jasper Fforde, populates his first young adult novel with quirky wizards, a Quarkbeast (don’t worry, he’s a tame pet with razor sharp teeth who is Jennifer’s loyal companion), and a dragon of course!  This is a world where the affects of the lack of magic have reached the level of a true energy crisis. For example, one of the wizards, once a great sorcerer, now must use his magical abilities to pilot his flying carpet as a pizza delivery service. Low on magic, this is tragically all the energy he has left.  A prediction of the last dragonslayer killing the world’s last dragon has everyone at Kazam wondering if perhaps the death of this dragon could mean the end of magic altogether.

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer embarks on a humorous yet adventurous quest to sort out these predictions, and to find out the truth about the last dragonslayer.  She must negotiate the plans of a greedy prince, equally greedy companies, while she is also trying to train a new assistant to help with wizard unemployment! There is never a dull moment at the company of Kazam.

I admire the author for his ability to create an intriguing alternate world that combines today with “some place out there.” This is a place where dragons can remember a home where they used to live under a violet sky with two moons.  Meanwhile in the same story, Jennifer can find her pet Quarkbeast at her local Starbucks! This tongue-in-cheek novel is sure to please Lemony Snicket fans or anyone looking for a truly original fantasy novel for middle grade to young adult readers. A twelve-year-old with a good vocabulary would enjoy this just as much as the young adult audience it was intended for. A second book in this series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is to be released in the United States later this year.

My cousin and fellow voracious reader, Grace Duryée, has penned a fantastic review of the young adult novel, Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman which also features dragon characters. Please check it out next week on the blog! I think you will be very glad you did. I wish your children loads of brilliant dragon adventures. Remember to add to my list to your own hoard of dragon book recommendations! Happy reading, dragon fans!

HilaryTaberPlease visit the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

A New Golden Age of Epic Fantasy Fiction Shines On

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Book for Young Readers, ages 12 and up) is reviewed today by Jason Carpenter.

When George Lucas conceived of his Star Wars galaxy, he saw beyond the here and now of giving the people a rousing good yarn. He envisioned a mythology, a world logical and responsible only unto itself, with fantastical creatures that nonetheless felt of flesh and blood.  And like Tolkien before him and Rowling after, the devil- or the grip of imagination- is in the details. 

Rachel Hartman infuses her expansive new novel Seraphina– the saga of an uneasy alliance between mistrustful species (sound familiar?) and the young royal court’s musician who may end up being the key to ultimate harmony or lynchpin to inevitable war- with an eye for Joseph Campbell-like character and plot machinations and an adherence to a painstakingly created medieval alternaverse.

The oppositional species are, in this case, humans and dragons, and as Seraphina begins, a murder of a member of the royal court bearing the trademark savagery of a dragon attack threatens to derail the anniversary celebration of a historical, but tenuous, peace treaty between the two sides. In the midst of this pomp, Hartman also fully realizes the emergence of a young girl’s identity, the fiercely astute Seraphina, torturous as it may be to discover that her mother was a dragon. In a genre dominated by young empowered male principals, it’s  a wonderfully acute choice.

Seraphinas intended demographic, the young and young-at-heart, has proven they can handle the layered storylines, philosophical yearnings, and literal hundreds of major and minor characters that populate the modern fantasy epic. Indeed, Harry Potter’s enduring legacy may just be that it made digging intellectual sword and sorcery lit cool for a fresh generation of make-believers. This novel follows that template elegantly, and at over 450 pages with accompanying glossary, it’s weighty, as well.  The payoff- and it’s not the metaphoric allusions to our own world’s penchant for xenophobia- is in the small quirks of some strongly drawn supporting characters, particularly the reluctantly compassionate dragon mentor Orma, who cares for Seraphina in a way that his dragon demeanor would be loathe to reveal.

Seraphina does rise to rousing good yarn status, but its greatest triumph is in depicting grotesqueries that are anything but and a world that often doesn’t feel that far, far away after all.

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