I read books of all sorts, but mostly kids' lit and young adult literature and speculative fiction for all ages—usually from a feminist perspective.
I've adopted a personalized version of the CHOICE reviews approach to recommendations/star ratings:
***** = Essential, a.k.a. truly love, absolute must-read, buy it now
**** = Highly Recommended, a.k.a. this is a really good book; I would buy it as a gift
*** = Recommended, a.k.a. pretty good; worth reading
** = Optional, a.k.a. meh
* = Not Recommended; a.k.a. this is not a good book
What is there to like?
▪ Seraphina is a likeable heroine: brave, independent-minded, and compassionate--but not so much so that she seems false.
▪ In so many stories with a female protagonist and a romantic rival, the "competition" is petty, unkind, easily dismissed. But Glisselda holds her own as smart, strong, and willing to learn, and is a genuine friend to Seraphina. I have my suspicions about how this will be resolved without serious harm to either side, but I think it's wonderful for women and girls to have a fair and humanizing portrayal of this kind of female relationship, rather than pitting the two against each other.
▪ The society Hartman has created, including prejudices, political dynamics between Goredd and Tanamoot, and social castes have satisfying depth and subtlety. Answers aren't easy, but this layering makes them seem worth pursuing.
▪ Likewise, the humans' and dragons' difficulty in understanding each other, simultaneous with their reciprocal fascination, is not only believable and "true" in the context of the story, but is the kind of exploration of the attractive and repellent power of differences and commonalities that makes literature--and YA lit in particular--important.
▪ Seraphina and her love interest seem well-matched; he makes a worthy object of her affection as shown through his actions and character, but neither is he a two-dimensional Prince Charming character.
▪ People of different races and orientations are included.
What's not to like?
▪ The book uses the "psychic gifts" trope, which I find to be rather tiresome/clichéd, and which I personally tend to read as a crutch that authors use to manufacture situations and relationships that would otherwise be unbelievable--or just take longer.
▪ Seraphina is brave, but it doesn't seem believable that so many people would automatically put their faith in her as a leader, given her personality (see above criticism of "psychic gifts").
▪ People talk about "princess fatigue"--isn't it time to rethink the prince-as-love-interest as well? Kiggs is admirable, but still...
▪ Goredd's religious system is central to its culture, but seems rather thinly developed. This is perhaps intended to create some suspense for the next book(s), but it does feel either insufficient or deliberately obfuscated at times. (On the other hand, perhaps it only seems so in comparison to the detailed facets of the culture that Hartman has created.)
Fly By Night, Frances Hardinge
Graceling, Kristin Cashore
What made me pick it up?
Lovely cover design and a rave review from a youth services librarian friend.
Overall Recommendation: Highly Recommended