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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Seraphina, Pyrite Redux

In November, Karyn found a lot to say about Seraphina. In addition to being like tasty, delicious soup (that made sense in Karyn’s post, really), Hartman’s debut novel improves on reread. After her third go around with the text, Karyn raved about the complicated mystery that pulls the reader along (first read’s joy); the impeccable, detailed world building that serves to better illuminate the characters (second read’s joy); the nuance in the writing that brings unexpected layers and levels to the characters (third read’s joy). With six starred reviews and more love in the comments, Karyn was clearly not alone.

There were a few minor flaws pointed out. Per the comments, a few people mentioned a couple of awkward moments in the writing, a weak dream world, and an unnecessary love interest.

It’s on our Pyrite* list, it’s a Morris finalist, and now we have a chance to re-discuss. What do you guys think?

*The Pyrite Printz, or Pyrite, is the Someday My Printz Will Come mock Printz deliberation, and should not in any way be confused with YALSA’s Michael L. Printz Award, often referred to here as the RealPrintz or Printz. Our predictions, conversations, and speculation about potential RealPrintz contenders and winners reflect only our own best guesses and are not affiliated with YALSA or the RealPrintz committee. You probably figured that out on your own, but we like to make it clear!

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Comments

  1. Karen Smith says:

    Oooh, this was one of my favorites! I could totally see it winning the Printz.

    And nobody, and I mean NOBODY, gets away with calling Kiggs an “unnecessary love interest”. He was entirely central to the story, and to swoon for.

  2. Joy Piedmont says:

    Oh goodie, I just finished this one last night.

    As Karyn writes in her original review, the world building here is just exquisite. Hartman incorporates the kind of detail and texture that make a world feel *found*, not created; It’s not just the descriptions of people and places, although those are good, but the nuances of court and politics that really ring true. And thank goodness for that because the whole plot kind of relies on buying into the authenticity of the treaty and the history of dragon-human relations.

    All of it makes sense, but the racism (or is it speciesism?) in the novel troubles me a bit. It starts out well enough. Humans fear dragons. Fear manifests as hate, distrust, contempt. Humans vilify dragons for the things that make them different, their cold logical minds, their rigidity, their blunt honesty. There’s even that moment when Lady Corongi (who is of course, the dragon Imlann in disguise) suggests that she “hears” things about taking a dragon to bed, reflecting how a dominant race will use sex as another thing that makes a minority race “Other”. There is also the KKK-like hate group the Sons of St. Ogdo who whip up fear and hate against dragons.

    All of these elements set one up to feel like humans are the dominant race, and that dragons are the oppressed minority. Even though it’s all thinly veiled metaphor, it works and its consistent. However, the dragons are not a typical misunderstood oppressed minority. Dragons see humans as emotional, stupid and weak. The rebel dragon group who defy the treaty want to make war with humans. So far, we’ve got two sides who hate and misunderstand each other. Dragons have made peace, but haven’t adjusted their attitudes all that much. The metaphor still works and I like that the two sides are pretty evenly matched. Both sides make mistakes, and that’s real life.

    But what doesn’t work for me—and yes, I’m working this out as I type—is that the qualities that end up being valued and useful for meaningful change are human: the desire for peace and empathy. I think (although I could be wrong) that cooperation and pragmatism motivated the dragons toward the original treaty, but it seems at the end of the novel that what will effect true peace between humans and dragons will be empathy. It’s a foreign emotion to dragonkind, one which the Ardmagar can only face in human form.

    One could argue that the Ardmagar and other dragons who want peace are following logic, but dragons take human form, and experience human feelings. Sometimes they rebel against these feelings, but they face them. (And the dragons we meet who want peace all seem touched by emotion). Where is the bending of humans to dragon ways? Do humans ever experience what it’s like to be in a dragon’s position? They never have to place themselves in the dragon’s skin to experience their perspective. Okay, so Glisselda and Kiggs accept Seraphina’s dragonish qualities by the end of the book, Kiggs even loves her for them, but they value most of all her bravery, which grows out of her passion (human), not her dispassion (dragon). She is a brilliant musician (dragon) but what makes her special is her emotional playing (human). It’s a subtle favoring, but it’s a depiction that troubles me in a book that is overwhelmingly about embracing one’s “otherness” and owning it.

    Perhaps this was my emotional knee-jerk first impression, because being “other” in society is my baggage. Please though, punch holes in my theory because so much in this book is great.

    • Joy Piedmont says:

      I’ve been thinking about this all day (again, I just finished the book last night so I have an excuse) and I want to clarify that the depiction of the dragon-human relations and slight favoring of human qualities that I note above are troubling not only because of a perceived bias, but because it seems like an inconsistency and/or misfire in the execution of the book’s theme of embracing your personal “otherness”. Whew, got that off my chest.

    • Mark Flowers says:

      Joy,
      I’m really intrigued by this reading, and I think I will have to do a lot more thinking about it, but I think at least part of the solution (if there is one) is the fact that the dragons are not, in fact an oppressed minority. I agree that that is the potential metaphor early on, and perhaps the quigs (sp?) could be seen that way. But as soon as we start to see the power the dragons hold over humans (especially with Seraphina’s ant metaphor) I think we have to rework those thoughts.

      Still, I see your point about the solutions being to adopt human traits. The problem, of course, is that the humans (both fictional and in real life) already have dragon traits of logic and reason. If Hartman had tried to polarize them more, it might have worked better. For example, the dragons are essentially Vulcans, right? So, the great thing about Star Trek was that Kirk really was always “thinking with his gut” and Spock was always “thinking with his head” (plus Bones was the “heart”, but we can leave that aside for now). So the solutions revolved around getting Kirk to act more rationally and Spock to act more emotionally. In SERAPHINA, there isn’t really a great main character equivalent to Kirk. Sure, the Sons of St. Ogdo don’t act rationally, but they’re bad guys. Kiggs, and Glisselda both do a good job of using both head and gut, so it is really just left to the dragons to use their guts.

      So that’s all to say that I think I agree with you that there’s a problem, but I wouldn’t locate it with the idea of “minorities” or “otherness” so much as with a (possibly) failed polarization. What do you think?

      • Joy Piedmont says:

        As Karyn can attest, as soon as the words, “star trek” enter the conversation I have to have a geek out moment (Star Trek! Love! Ah!).

        Okay, that’s done now. Seraphina: I like your point about humans already possessing the main dragon traits of logic and reason. Toward the end of the book we see dragons using a little of their gut and heart, especially Orma fighting Imlann but holding back to protect Abdo. So I guess my point of contention–and it’s a small one–is that once the metaphor we think we see is turned on its head, there is nothing left to take its place. There are fragments of the old metaphor that don’t fit with a new paradigm of “two equal sides who misunderstand each other”.

        And this is all my way of working out that yes, as you say, Hartman sets up a metaphor only to challenge our conventional thoughts, but doesn’t turn it into a successful polarity.

  3. Karyn Silverman says:

    I am so torn between this one and CNV for the Pyrite. Joy has raised some interesting points, but I still think this is an incredibly accomplished piece of writing, and about as close to flawless as a book gets. But then there’s CNV, with it’s daring, dashing convoluted plot and bold sweeping themes and this is so much quieter. I love them both, I’m just having a hard time deciding which of them I think is better, given how very different they are.

    I will concede that the kiss really bothered me the first time, but not the second, so while I still think a bolder move might have been not to go there at all, it’s not like we have a happy ending, and one kiss is barely a romance. Also, Kiggs is a great foil and another other, with his bastard status and foreign father — given the themes about identity and belonging and otherness, he’s critical, in fact, as an othered character who is fully human.

    • Joy Piedmont says:

      For the record, I loved the kiss, I loved Kiggs and I think the romance was essential to understanding Seraphina. She has grown up thinking love is impossible and dangerous for her, but she falls anyway, because that’s what happens right? She doesn’t think she deserves love, so her feeling worthy of love is such a huge part of her accepting and embracing her identity. The ending… meh, I didn’t love so much. But I’m not sure how else that storyline could have resolved gracefully with the rest of the book.

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