Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
I did a very short review of this book in my Sunday Review, but I wanted to go into a little bit more detail even though the book won't be out for another six months (July 10, 2012), which means the sequel will take even longer, much to my despair.
I got my review copy from Netgalley.com, after pretty much begging for one. I think I annoyed whoever was in charge of review copies enough to send me one, and I am forever grateful to that person.
Those of my readers who once read Amy Unbounded, back in the days before Hartman moved on to prose, will definitely recognize the setting of this book. It does, in fact, take place in Goreed, and there are a few characters who appeared in Amy Unbounded who show up in this book. Also, if you've read Belondweg Blossoming, you will have a very good understanding of some of the political issues that show up in this book. In fact, if you haven't read Belondweg Blossoming, get yourself a copy before they vanish entirely and read it. Then you'll be ready to enjoy Seraphina all the more.
If you have no desire to read a graphic novel, even one as excellent as Belondweg Blossoming, you may still enjoy Seraphina. The book is about a young woman, a strong female lead is always good, with a dreadful secret. She acts and feels and responds like a real person, which is always important. The secret is suitably dreadful, the lengths she goes to in order to hide it are believable, and the results of those events are also nicely portrayed.
Being a fictional universe with many years of history, Goreed is well developed as a world. The saints come across as being things that real people would deal with in a real world, the religion is fleshed out enough to get the motivations behind people's actions. The hierarchy, the music, the whole city of Lavondaville... it all works. You can't help but get the feeling there is more out there in this world than you are reading about, and that is a very good thing.
And then there are the dragons.
I won't go into any great detail about them, but Amy Unbounded fans already know what I am thinking about as far as dragons go. The divide between humans and dragons is much more apparent here than in Amy Unbounded, but perhaps you need to read it to get what I'm saying. Hartman makes that divide both real and painful to watch, and that's where a great deal of the strength of the book comes from.
In my earlier review I compared this book to the Chalion series by Bujold. Seraphina does not delve as deep philosophically, but there are some powerful questions being asked within it's pages about identity and loyalty that will make a reader think. Bujold is one of my favorite authors of all time. I suspect Hartman will be on that list sooner rather than later. Heck, Amy Unbounded alone has her close to the top, Seraphina is better than Amy in many ways (though I will forever miss that wonderful artwork).
If you enjoy young adult fiction, particularly fantasy that isn't too fantastically crazy, this might be a book for you. If you enjoy gentle romance, this might be a book for you. If you liked Amy Unbounded, you absolutely MUST pre-order this book today. Heck, I've read it and I'm going to pre-order it as soon as I have money. Indeed, I'm going to get the hardcover, and read Belondweg Blossoming while I'm waiting for it.