I can count on one hand the number of fantasy books I've enjoyed, but after reading Kat Kennedy's glowing review of Seraphina, I was intrigued by the promise of smart heroines, dragons, and jazz hands. Really, who can turn down jazz hands? With that in mind, I eagerly started this book. Then I got to mentions of saarantrai, houppelande, and quigutl.Remember, amateur fantasy reader here. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm scared off by double letters and words that start with Q.Another thing that's kept me away from fantasy: the world building. I get that it's a necessary evil part of the genre, but... a pain in the ass to read -- especially since I am not a skimmer and I re-read things I don't understand. Quigutl? Yeah, I had to go back for that, only to find out that it wouldn't be explained til 50 pages later. The story is a lot to take in at first because you're hit with the worlds of Goredd (human) and Tanamoot (dragon), and the half-human/half-dragon world of Seraphina. Seraphina's world is as fascinating as it is confusing because it exists in her mind, created by memories left by her deceased mother. It's populated by odd characters that Seraphina names Fruit Bat, Pelican Man, etc.I gave myself 100 pages to decide whether to keep reading this book or not. I'm so glad I stuck with it.Rachel Hartman takes what could easily be cliche characters and plot and makes them compelling and intelligent. She doesn't dumb it down for her readers or make it easy for her characters. Princess Glisselda, the fiancee of Prince Lucian, is also one of the most likable characters in the book. Prince Lucian is an actual knight in shining armor, but Seraphina is more often than not coming to his rescue. That brings us to Seraphina, a brilliant musician who struggles with the legacy her mother left her. I'd be pissed about metallic silver scales too.But who has time to dwell on scales when Lucian and Glisselda's uncle has been killed and all clues (namely, the lack of a head along with the body) point to a dragon as the culprit. This murder just before the anniversary of the peace treaty between humans and dragons could tip the balance towards war. There's discontent on all sides -- humans who aren't happy living with dragons, dragons who feel they've given up too much to humans, knights who fought during the wars and were banished following the peace treaty. Assassinations are plotted and identities are revealed as the nation of Goredd plans to welcome the leader of dragonkind.And this is just the beginning (I hope!) of a series. I don't mean to keep using the word "intelligent" but Rachel Hartman writes characters that actually use their brains. Deductive reasoning! It happens! Seraphina reminded me a lot of The Thief in that as good as it was, I know the sequel is going to be even better. Nevertheless, this book stands very capably on its own. It is as much political thriller as it is fantasy, which I love. I also loved the discussions of parentage and the legacies, both beneficial and detrimental, that parents leave their kids. I can't believe this was a debut novel! It was so assured and entertaining. I definitely look forward to reading more of Rachel Hartman's work.Noelle and I review this book on Young Adult Anonymous.