Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

20 Aug

Book cover for Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina, book 1

Genre: Fantasy YA, Dragons

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Release date: July 10, 2012

Amazon | Goodreads

Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, YA/MG Fantasy Challenge

Source: NetGalley/Bought it

Summary: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

DRAGONS, YO! Guys I feel like I was incredibly late to dragon love, but I have been making a concerted effort to pick up steam. I remember first hearing about Rachel Hartman‘s debut, SERAPHINA, a few months ago, when I was in the heat of my “MUST READ MOAR DRAGONS NOW!” push. It just sounded so super: dragons and humans living together under a crumbling peace, mistrust, prejudice, lies. I loved that the dragons were able to take human form, and I was intrigued by the murder aspect. I LOVE a good old-fashioned mystery in a fantasy. Thankfully, SERAPHINA delivered on its promises of awesome, and I can’t wait to read book number 2. CAN’T WAIT.

One of the many bright spots in SERPAHINA is Seraphina herself. Right off the bat, we understand that she’s had, at best, an unusual upbringing and, at worst, an incredibly difficult upbringing, under a shroud of secrets, lies, and disappointment. See, humans and dragons still hate each other. There are all of the hallmarks of suppression, fear-mongering, and bigotry in this post-war society. The secret that she and her father keep from the world is that Seraphina’s mother was a dragon. Most people–and dragons, for that matter–don’t believe that human/dragon procreation is possible, and it goes without saying that no one would be pleased to know that it is. In this climate of thinly veiled hate, Seraphina must keep her heritage a secret for her own safety, and as a result, she’s smart and observant, but not very lively or popular. People noticing her for any reason, good or bad, is not in her best interest. Her past and the way she hides it even in her changing daily life, and the way she starts to think of NOT hiding it anymore is pretty awesome.

One of the reasons Seraphina begins to question keeping her own secrets about her mother and herself comes in the person of Lucian Kiggs. SERAPHINA wouldn’t be the super book it is without the slow budding relationship between Kiggs and Seraphina. Things are a little tricky with them, though, and I’m not even referring to the drama of Seraphina’s issues. I’m talking about the fact that Kiggs–the bastard son of one of the current Queen’s daughters (or something. He IS illegitimate, though)–is engaged to Seraphina’s music pupil and friend, the princess. Whoops! But reading about the way Kiggs and Seraphina team up to investigate the murder of the prince is something that I always love in books. A relationship that is based on respect and trust, even though it occasionally felt a teensy bit forced to me. I’m still pulling for them, and liked them both very, VERY much.

But let’s be serious, friends. SERAPHINA is as much about the dragons as it is about the character drama, and Rachel Hartman really created a vivid, complex world. The dragons in particular are fascinating. They have their own political hierarchy and their own rules. I loved the way their senses were described: that they can hear grass rustling for miles around even as they are flying, and smell the sharpness of a knife. I loved their emotional coldness and the way that they had no understanding of feelings. Seeing a few of the dragons try to deal with HAVING feelings was great and awkward and heart-warming, especially Seraphina’s uncle Orma. Their relationship was pretty sweet.

I’d have to say that the only part that occasionally bothered me was this odd little habit that Seraphina has. Well, it’s more than a habit and more like a necessary practice. I can’t get into it too much, except to say that it got a little bizarre sometimes, even though by the end of SERAPHINA it definitely was important and looks to remain important going forward.

Friends, I was really impressed with Rachel Hartman‘s debut. SERAPHINA is a great story in an even more intriguing world, and the mythology of the dragons here is clever and interesting. The relationships are tricky and complicated, and there’s some twisty politics as well. I really did enjoy reading about the charged environment in Goredd in SERAPHINA because it made the whole tone of the book more dramatic, and the ending set up some great stuff to come.

Favorite quote

“We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”

4 Responses to “Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman”

  1. April Books & Wine August 20, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    OH! I know the odd habit you mention. Yeah, that totally weirded me out too and I was like what is this and it took me out of the story. BUT the parts where it’s not that are super awesome and omg omg KIGGS. DIESSSSS. AND the music! And the dragons!

    I’m an incomprehensible ball of love for this book.

  2. Alexa Loves Books (@alexalovesbooks) August 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    EEEEEEK! A dragon book! I love dragon books. And I really, really, really need to read this one…

    • Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley) August 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      Oh my gracious. See, this is one of those cases where I totally MEAN WELL when I ban myself from NetGalley but then it completely backfires on my ass. Because DRAGONS, I love them. Great review. I’m totally curious about the habit you mention!

  3. Lisa August 21, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    I have such a hard time believing this is her debut work. I mean REALLY. It’s incredible!


    The more I reflect on it, the more I adore it.

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