Review Detail

4.4 12
Young Adult Fiction 8269
A story of scales, both musical and other
(Updated: July 10, 2012)
Overall rating
Writing Style
Rachel Hartmann’s astounding debut novel, SERAPHINA, is an utter joy. Set in a refreshingly original world of dragons, music, princes and revolution, the book unfolds organically – and compellingly. Like the title character, the tale seems quiet, almost unassuming, at least at the beginning, but it quickly swells to full volume, until you find yourself immersed in a symphony of story too powerful and beautiful to let you do anything but read.

Seraphina means “the fiery [or] burning one,” a dangerously apt name for a half-dragon girl. Her secret is a terrible one, as the dragon race (which in this world can assume human form) are both loathed and feared by most humans, and tensions between the races are mounting fast.

Seraphina knows how crucial it is to keep her lineage secret, but she is a remarkably talented musician, which gift draws her to court, and to the notice of the royal family, including the insightful, intelligent – and dashing – Prince Lucian. Seraphina is an unusual heroine in that she is an often reluctant participant in her own story. She never sets out to “save the day” but just does the job she sees as hers to do. Ideally, she would truly prefer to quietly play and teach music without a spotlight, but she is too perceptive, and the hints of coming disaster are too strong to let her rest.

Seraphina believes herself to be utterly alone in the world, as humans and dragons alike find the prospect of a half-breed abhorrent. Indeed, her father only discovered that his wife, Seraphina’s mother, was a sarantraas (a human-shaped dragon) after she died in childbirth, her silver blood staining the sheets. Over time, as Seraphina taps into her mother’s memories buried within her own mind, she begins to understand the love that drove her dragon mother to stay with her father despite the taboo, and thus comes closer to accepting both halves of her nature.

This is rather more plot summary than is necessary for a review, but it seemed important to provide a quick taste of the beautiful complexity of SERAPHINA, its many interwoven threads of plot and theme. The writing is beautiful, the plotting and characterizations equally so. Indeed, the book is so well-crafted the craft itself vanishes entirely, leaving only the story without the distraction of the writer’s lingering presence, trying to draw attention to itself. That is the mark of a truly well-written book, I believe – that it doesn’t actually seem written at all, but as if it solidified from the ether.

The end is sufficiently satisfying, or at least satisfying enough so I didn’t have to stomp on the book or throw it out the window, but it is utterly clear there is more story to come. It had better come soon, because I long to spend more time in this world, and with Seraphina.
Good Points
Original, compelling story
Engaging heroine
Worthy love-interest
Complex plot
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