Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Attraction in Seraphina

According to a PublishersWeekly article, author of the Morris Award-winning debut, Seraphina, Rachel Hartman admits she’s a slow writer.  Hartman says, “It’s a feature, not a defect.”  And thank goodness for that feature.  One of the delicious results is the intense attraction between protagonist, Seraphina, and Prince Lucian.  The attraction was, and a year later still is, so palpable, I took a close look at Chapter Two where Lucian makes his appearance on the bridge, Chapter Seven a formal court scene, and Chapter Eleven a second intimate conversation scene, to see how Hartman achieved the magnetism between the two.  The result: seven ways Hartman developed the pull between these two.

First, Seraphina and Lucian seem to recognize each other immediately.  In Seraphina’s first glimpse of Lucian, she recognizes the emotions on his face, “sorrow replaced by a spectacular annoyance.”  She is able to discern what is a mask of calm on him, while with ease he answers her unasked question.

Hartman also intersperses bits of Lucian’s reputation.  He is a shrewd and dogged investigator who works all the time.  He is not as outgoing or as handsome as his late uncle, which somehow makes us like the bastard prince very much.  Though he has no beard, to Seraphina’s dismay, “the intelligence of his gaze more than made up for that.”  Having a secret to hide, she also sees Lucian is “too sharp for her comfort”.  For his part, though Lucian has only seen Seraphina across the court, he knows her name, and he has concluded she must be “astonishing”.

Seraphina is acutely aware of other’s reactions to Lucian.  She observes they part like waves for him, and she sees his soldiers respond swiftly to his signals.  These observations create feelings of attraction in the reader because we are looking through Seraphina’s eyes, because she notices so much about Lucian, and because we admire the respect Lucian commands.

When Lucian approaches on the bridge, Seraphina’s first instinct is to tug Orma’s sleeve and say, “Let’s go.”  Somehow her desire to flee makes us keenly aware of the pull she feels in the opposite direction.  This hunch is fulfilled when, toward the end of Chapter Two, Seraphina permits herself, “one small pang for the inevitability of his disdain”.  Like a perfectly set gemstone, this one permission reveals the strength of her true feelings.

Seraphina notices choice details about Lucian.  She notices his unconscious tics like the rapid tapping of his left boot during at uncomfortable conversation at court or the way he rubs a hand down his face while trying to deescalate a situation on the bridge.  She also notices the poeticism of the man’s grander gestures from a distance: “The last rays of the setting sun turned his mourning clothes almost golden.  He commandeered a horse from one of his sergeants, leaped up with balletic grace, and directed the corps back into formation.”  Sigh.

Lucian assumes a great deal of intimacy with Seraphina.  He leans in to talk to her.  He compliments her.  He creates the sense of a close, private, and special conversation with her.  In small comments like, “Here we go,” though he exhibits frustration his “we” signals his sense they are in this together.  He flashes Seraphina a “grateful glance” when she interjects a blessing on his mother into his argument with Eskar.  After the argument as Seraphina troubleshoots her headache, Lucian speaks to her, “his voice so close and sudden” that she startled.

Perhaps most alluring of all to the intelligent Seraphina and her readers, Lucian is always presented with a mix of emotions.  He is shocked and stricken.  He displays spectacular annoyance but draws his brows in concern.  He expresses both pity and disgust.  His snapping is followed up with a more gentle tone.  He wears a calm mask, but also we see his clenched teeth, his windblown hair, and his mad ferocity peer out.  He even smiles grimly.

What is perhaps most amazing is not that Hartman coaxes out all this attraction, but that she weaves it all intricately throughout an action packed chapter with other, larger purposes.  As a reader, even a year later, I still swoon when I think of the attraction between Seraphina and Lucian.  Considering only three scenes, one in which they’ve just met, one formal occasion which does not allow them much contact, and a second more intimate conversation, I am tangled up in them.  Overall, their intimacy seems to come from their recognition of each other despite the societal roles, and secrets, that must keep them apart.  So their attraction is bound in tension.  The contrast between the two conversation scenes and the more public court scene only serves to heighten that tension.  So, thank you, Rachel Hartman!  May your sequel revisions unfold un-rushed.  May you allow yourself all the time you need to work these beautiful subtleties into the seams of your story!

No comments:

Post a Comment