I’m very late to the game on this one – it caught my eye years ago but I kept classifying it as a “I’ll get around to it later, maybe once there are sequels” novel and it ended up very far down on the backburner. I’m not really sure why it ended up as a “I’ll get around to it” novel since dragons are right in my wheel house but there are just too many books to choose from!
The novel takes place in the fictional Goredd. The setting has a vaguely medieval feel though the gender attitudes are much more progressive with a queen as ruler, and Seraphina as the assistant to the music master. Dragons are real, and they are powerful. After years of war, the dragons and humans of Goredd developed a peace treaty 35 years ago, and though the dragons are the more powerful species, they seem to have given up much – of course, this is only when they are in human owned territory so the dragons must have felt concessions would be fair. Dragons can take on human forms and live among humans though they must wear bells to identify themselves as dragons when in this shape (scholars have an exemption to allow them more easily blend in and study). As presented, dragons are very logical, straight forward, and unemotional. When dragons do start feeling emotions (always a danger for those around humans), they are deemed suspicious and compromised. Despite the messiness of humans, many are very much interested in humans, knowledge and the arts, thus leading to several dragons choosing to live among humans even though they can only take their true dragon forms once every five years in accordance with the treaty.
The humans have extreme prejudices against the dragons – they both hate them and fear them but the peace has been long enough that some groups have forgotten about the evils of war, and want the human rulers to banish and destroy dragons. The human society is also very devout and religious, hence the reminder of medieval society for me, and in some ways, the ways the humans of Goredd reacted to the dragons felt very much like medieval societies’ views of Jews. Dragons are restricted to their own parts of town, used as scape goats, forced to wear identifying marks while some choose to hide their true identities at severe risks. The big difference being that, in this case, the humans may treat the dragons as a persecuted minority and look down on them as lesser but if war were to ever break out again, they would quickly be reminded of the power of dragons.
Both species have an utter contempt for the idea of the two species intermixing and creating offspring, to the point that the history books and religious texts tell people they must be killed without ever providing examples of children being born of such unions. Seraphina is hiding secrets of her own, and her guiding direction in life has been to not attract attention. She also has an extreme love of music and exceptional musical talent, so when she plays at a murdered prince’s funeral, she is noticed. Already involved in court life as the assistant to the music master, she becomes drawn into political intrigues as tensions rise. The commander of the dragons is due for a diplomatic visit, the queen’s son has died suspiciously, and various elements are calling for a tougher approach to dragons. Caught in the middle, Seraphina ends up working with the attractive bastard prince and royal fiancé Lucian Kiggs to preserve the peace and prevent any nefarious plots.
While I really liked this novel, it did not quite make it into the love category for me, and I am not sure why. Hartman takes a creative premise and does a good job of adding detail and world building. She balances well between explaining and letting the reader pick things up as they go rather than spoon feeding all the information, and I liked the historical parallels that could be drawn. I also appreciated that the ending was bittersweet and did not end with everything wrapped up. Naturally, it is a series so there have to be loose ends, but she doesn’t even go as far as creating a “happy for now” ending, instead providing something melancholy, uncertain but hopeful. While I appreciated all the musical detail, I wonder if that was the part that could have made the difference between love and like. I tried taking music lessons as a child, but it never held my interest, so I think if I had that personal love and connection to creating music, it could have elevated this to a five star read for me.