Forty years before this young adult fantasy opens, a truce ended a bloody conflict between human and dragon kingdoms. For the generation that has grown up in peace, dracomachia—the art of fighting dragons—has been forgotten and knights have been sent into exile. Despite old prejudices, lingering hatred between species, and the occasional street riot, nobody’s been burnt to a crisp in ages.
Well, a prince has been recently decapitated. In a suspiciously dragonish manner.
Seraphina Dombegh is assistant music master to the royal court, where the festivities marking the 40th anniversary of the truce place her in the thick of intrigue among the ruling family and visiting ambassadors. The celebrations must go on… even while Seraphina, with Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the Queen’s Guard, investigates signs that Goredd’s remaining heirs are also in danger. Unfortunately, Seraphina, having grown up with a heavy load of family secrets and parental disapproval, has learned to approach life through layers of disguise and deception, including a habit of lying that comes between her and the charming Kiggs… who’s engaged to someone else anyway.
Hartman’s contribution to this traditional fantasy setting is her entertaining take on dragon kind, highly intelligent but essentially other, gifted at higher math but with a Vulcan disdain for human emotions and the way that passions dictate human lives. “They’re nothing but feral file clerks,” complains one character, “they used to alphabetize the coins in their hoards.” Dragons can take human form, and the most entertaining characters are the ones who pass for human, but without really understanding what makes people tick. Dragons who become too human are policed by censors, and if they’re determined to be emotionally compromised, they may need to have their brains excised. The conflict between logic and art, left brain and right will be a familiar one for veterans of original Star Trek.
Seraphina has her own psychological complications: repeating visions of 17 figures, which she’s learned to control by a sort of lucid dreaming she calls “cognitive architecture.” As lives and the uneasy peace are threatened, the figures from her visions start to surface in real life, and her search for the remaining mystery characters is sure to drive a sequel.
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