5 out of 5 StarsIn a world where humanity’s peace with dragons is still new, one of the royal prince’s of Goredd is found with his head missing – the sign of a dragon kill. Seraphina, the assistant to the court composer, is swept up in political intrigue and investigations with the dangerously shrewd Prince Lucian Kiggs. However, this murder may prove closer to Seraphina than she knows – a truth that might reveal her true identity.This book kept popping up on ‘Best of 2012’ lists on the book blogs I read, so I decided to give it a shot. And I am eternally grateful to all those blogs. Seraphina comes damn near close to perfection – especially impressive considering this Hartman’s debut. Seraphina reminds me of all the amazing things I love about Tamora Pierce – complicated world and politics, interesting and unique characters, complex relationships, and many great female characters. However, Hartman has a voice all her own that is simply beautiful.If you are interested in this book, I’d recommend going into it blind. I can’t review this book without giving away some minor spoilers, so you have been warned. Every character is fantastic and none fall into YA stereotypes (and if you think they will, they don’t). When I started worrying the book would fall into such-and-such YA trope trap, Hartman would circumvent it and end up doing something unique and different. Like all great stories, even the “bad” guys have their moments of sympathy and shading, and the good guys aren’t always perfect or heroic. I love how honest the characters are. All are pretty self-aware and don’t lie to themselves or others for too long. Many authors use self-denial to create tension, but Hartman manages to create tension without resorting to such tricks. Hartman has an understanding of human psychology – not just her own, but others as well. So often writers force characters to do things that are out of character, but Hartman always stays within the character’s personality. Seraphina feels so natural and mature. Her bravery and conviction never feel forced, but something that comes from her sense of honor and compassion for others. She’s a badass without ever having to resort to violence. She’s smart and can save the day with her brain, not her fists. Her relationship with her uncle, Orma, is so wonderful. Rarely are positive parental relationships portrayed in YA (especially if the parent or parental figure is alive or around), but Seraphina and her uncle are very close and care for each other in their own way. Orma plays a huge role in the story and has as much to hide as Seraphina.Kiggs is unlike any other YA hero I’ve read. He’s intelligent and perceptive, but also vulnerable. His relationship and the development of his love for Seraphina is so beautiful and heartbreaking – a real meeting of the minds. Phina and Kiggs are impressed with each other’s intellect before they fall in love. And they fall in love slowly. You really feel Phina’s and Kigg’s love for one another. I also like how Seraphina takes initiative in the relationship. Glisselda is an awesome character. She appears at first to be the silly, flighty rival for Lucian, but she ends up being an amazing friend and a great ruler. She grew up sheltered and spoiled, but she’s smart and willing to listen and grow. I like how it’s a girl-guy-girl love triangle, and it’s messy, like real life love triangles tend to be.You can tell so much thought went into every aspect of this. Hartman also smartly based things off of countries in our actual world, so it’s a bit easier to follow along and she doesn’t have to explain everything. Seraphina’s world is still heavily populated by male mentors and friends, but she does have important relationships with Glisselda, Dame Okra, and her dead mother.I had a few issues. I thought a few chapters in the beginning could be rearranged. There was an annoying tendency to keep information from the readers for a skosh too long, even when that information was incredibly obvious. Luckily, Hartman did not drag it out though the whole book. Also, a couple plot events were questionable. There were some disturbing instances where Seraphina welcomed unsolicited attention from men that bothered me. Finally, I was pretty much able to guess what most of the twists were, but like any great book, it’s not the twists themselves, but how the reader arrives that’s important.There is a character glossary and term glossary in the back of the book. The term glossary was helpful, the character glossary maybe not so much, but it’s a cute and witty read after you finish the book.I can’t recommend this book enough. It is books like these that make me wonder why I ever thought I had enough talent to write in the first place. It’s beautiful and complex and wonderful and everything that is great about YA fantasy. Or YA in general. Or fantasy in general. Or just books in general. Seraphina is a gem and an absolute must read.GO READ NOW!