Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So much went right here that the niggles stood out - it'll be interesting to see if this does get the awards many people think it will.
What niggles? Take Seraphina: she's half-human, half-dragon (an abomination in her world) and has been raised to stay in the background and not draw attention to herself. We're told how quiet she is, how friendless (except for her uncle, who is a dragon), etc.. It just doesn't then follow that she very quickly becomes besties with Glisselda, the Second Heir, and cozy with Lucien, not to mention eating regularly with the musicians she works with. Literally overnight she's in with the highest ranking people in the city, including interacting regularly with Ambassadors and others in power.
Then there's the pacing. Sloooooow at the start, then action, then back to slow. This works far better in a suspense novel, when you might want the reader to pause a few moments, but not here.
Finally, I wanted more about her "garden". We're told that there are about 18 'grotesques' there, but we only really hear about a few. I get why we only meet three, but I didn't remember hearing about 18 - maybe 5-6 more at most. Clearly the others are coming in subsequent books, but at this point the device of the garden doesn't make sense. In some ways, this could have been two different books: one set in Goredd, one set in the garden.
Still, the world is an interesting one. The idea of dragons who can shape-shift into human form, experiencing all the emotions humans feel and then losing all that (even without excision) when they're in their real form is (to me) new. With luck, the sequels will explore different areas of the world, more like Kristen Cashore's books than true sequels.