Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First of all, I first saw this book on Locus' 2012 Recommended Reading List, where I first heard of The Last Policeman, so that makes me think that list is a pretty good resource. (Then again, I also got the idea to read Angelmaker there, and I abandoned it a few pages in, so it's not a perfect list.)
Anyway, Seraphina is a the story of a sixteen-year-old court musician who is a half-dragon. Dragons can take human form, which leads to much suspicion, but almost nobody believes that half-dragons are possible, so Seraphina has to hide her true nature. The book takes place in the aftermath of the murder of a prince and on the eve of the 40th-anniversary celebrations of a peace treaty between humans and dragons.
It's a "young adult" book, but after much thought, I've decided that the idea of "young adult" as a classification is misguided. I understand that certain books like Have Space Suit—Will Travel are particularly attractive to a teenage reader, and that maybe you'll be able to relate better to Seraphina if you're a teenage girl (even more if you're half-dragon!). I don't think, however, that libraries or bookstores should have separate sections for "fantasy" and "young adult fantasy". I think separate sections for "this book has dragons in it" and "sorry, this book doesn't have any dragons" would make at least as much sense. I guess what I'm saying is go ahead and read this book if you're an adult, but you could recommend it to a teenager, too. If it matters, it's probably PG; then again, most teenagers would probably prefer the R-rated books.
I've seen reviews which mention that the idea of dragons taking human form is what makes the book so wonderful. I don't think the idea is new here. I'm sure I saw it in D&D 30 years ago, which means it was borrowed from some other place. The author does a great job, however, at addressing the implications of what it means to be one species in the body of another. The dragons are one part of a very richly-drawn setting that is the books strength.
The characters are also interesting. Seraphina's status as between two cultures will resonate with anyone who has struggled with feelings of not belonging -- which I believe will help the book's "young adult" plea. The plot is interesting, but not the reason this book deserves five stars.
I only regret not reading this book before the Hugo nominations closed.