Tag Archives: Rachel Hartman

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

Shadow Scale

I know, I know. I said that Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina was a standalone, and better for it. I was so wrong. Here is the sequel, Shadow Scale, and it is at least as marvellous, if not better. Whereas the reader won’t have that delicious sense of surprise that they ought to have got from Seraphina, here you have the satisfaction of finding out why we met certain characters in the first book.

Rachel Hartman, Shadow Scale

I mentioned some imaginary people. Hah. Now that Glisselda is Queen and she is betrothed to Prince Lucian, they ask Seraphina to help against the looming war with, well, I think some, but not all the other countries. It’s not as simple as dragons versus humans. Seraphina is half dragon and half human, and so are quite a few others. Those ‘imaginary’ characters, for instance.

It is believed that the ityasaari, as the half and halfs are called, have special skills, and need to be gathered in one place, so that they can do what is necessary to save the country of Goredd. Seraphina is sent out to the rest of the world to find them and bring them back.

Not all ityasaari want to be collected or to help, and there is a Judas figure, who uses all her skills to thwart Seraphina and the royal couple. If you forget that the dragons are dragons, and the ityasaari are ityasaari, you find instead the same kind of differences we have here on Earth, in our world. There is prejudice and there is coexistence, and none of the ityasaari is the same as another.

As is often the case, it was a bit hard to get back into the swing of things; remembering who’s who, and all that. Shadow Scale comes with the best ever quick summary of what has happened that I have seen in a novel. (Thank you!)

Very, very exciting, and there are some beautiful friendships, as well as more romance, and not exactly as you would have expected, either.

Seraphina

Seraphina is a story that provides you with romance and crime from an old-fashioned vein which I almost thought we’d never see again. It is also a fantasy featuring dragons, which isn’t the first thing you expect from a romantic mystery. Rachel Hartman writes so well, and with such humour, that I began rejoicing by the third page.

Rachel Hartman, Seraphina

Set in a fantasy past, 16-year-old Seraphina lives with the royal family as the music mistress in a country where humans have had to learn to co-exist with dragons, who can take on a kind of pretend human form, but who are very different from the humans. One of the Princes has just been murdered, and people fear it was done by a dragon.

Because Seraphina has special talents, and has more knowledge of dragons than most, she ends up searching for the murderer along with Prince Lucian and his betrothed, Princess Glisselda. Seraphina’s lifelong mentor Orma provides her with support, as do some imaginary creatures Seraphina needs to deal with on a daily basis.

Needless to say, Seraphina has a dreadful secret, which must remain a secret. And she falls in love. It’s a classic love story, and it’s not until you encounter one, that you realise they are as rare as gold dust these days.

Very satisfying. I believe this is a standalone book. There could conceivably be more, although personally I’d like to leave things here.

(When the paperback arrived, I looked at the cover, read the blurb and skimmed a few pages, and decided it wasn’t for me in more ways than one, and quickly dispatched it to ‘the other room,’ from which it was rescued the next day after some chatter on fb persuaded me to do The Second Look thing. Very glad I did. And I’m a little surprised to have heard nothing about the hardback last summer. Or anything at all.*)

* It is, of course, on the Carnegie longlist…