Out of the many topics and catchphrases that exist in the world of fiction, I must confess that the word “dragons” does very little to excite me. Actually, I tend to run in the opposite direction. Why do I do this? Absolutely no reason at all. I might blame Christopher Paolini, but I’m not sure he deserves that much credit. The truth is that I’ve never actually read a dragon novel that I disliked. Seraphina, then, is yet another case where I liked a dragon book against my inner self’s vehement protests of “No, I really don’t like dragon books!”
(I obviously need to have a talk with my inner self.)
Aside from the dragon bit, Seraphina is one of my favorite kind of fantasy novels—the kind where fantasy elements can be directly correlated to modern events and situations. I found that Rachel Hartman’s portrayal of the persecution of dragons (wearing special badges on clothing, living in a walled ghetto with a strict curfew) was extremely similar to the Nazi persecution of Jews and other groups. Perhaps that didn’t strike any other readers, but that connection was glaring to me, and when you take it in that light, this book takes on an entirely new significance.
The novel’s story is one of political intrigue and mystery. The titular protagonist, Seraphina, is an extremely talented musician who just so happens to be half-dragon. Being what she is, her entire existence is built on lies. This is all complicated when someone (probably a dragon) kills the Queen’s son just in time for a dragon delegation to arrive from the north. The resulting tangle of messy relationships, scandal, and racial tension is well-crafted and concludes on an excellent note, one that makes me eager for the continuation of Seraphina’s story.
Seraphina, overall, is an extremely intelligent novel, especially in terms of world-building. The set-up for the conflict between the human and dragon races makes sense, feels authentic, and, as I said, can be paralleled to situations in the “real world”. I, personally, really liked the idea of dragons being cold, methodical creatures who, due to their rejection of emotion, were unable to relate to their human counterparts. It makes sense, and Hartman executed their mentality and its consequences very well.
One big aspect of this book is Seraphina’s “mental garden”, which is basically a construct of her imagination that she uses to organize her thoughts and memories. I thought it was interesting, but not fully explained, and due to the lack of explanation, it seemed far-fetched. It takes intense concentration and lots of time meditating to be able to do this sort of mental architecture, but Hartman, I felt, breezed over it very quickly in a matter of paragraphs. I’m not quite sure that I bought it. However, I fully expect the wackiness going on inside Seraphina’s head to play a much bigger role in future installments—it would have to, what with the way things ended up in the final chapter. I look forward to that, as the concept is definitely intriguing.
Rachel Hartman, additionally, has a true talent with words. Her prose is expressive, with a depth and quality to it that is worth readers’ attention. I must confess that I was never fully hooked by the text, for whatever reason, but that doesn’t in any way change my estimation of Hartman’s talent. Because this author has talent, without a doubt.
The romance is worth commenting on also, though it’s a very minor presence in the book. Like most YA novels, Seraphina has a love triangle. I know, I know: you’re groaning, but there’s more. Seraphina isn’t torn between two love interests; rather, another character is faced with two love interests, and Seraphina is one of them. And all three legs of the love triangle are really good friends (for the time being). You have no idea how refreshing I found that to be. It’s so nice to get a different angle on the love triangle dilemma.
I had a couple of qualms concerning the book, but they were minor. First, the motivations and development for secondary characters, particularly the Princess Glisselda, didn’t quite make sense to me, though I could see the author’s intent. Second, the presence of the glossary allowed the author skip explaining some terms/vocabulary peculiar to her fantasy world, therefore forcing me to flip back to the glossary. I really don’t like to do that, since it ruins the momentum of the story for me.
But, while I’m talking about the glossary: it’s truly a thing of beauty. If you read Seraphina but skip the glossary, you are missing out on some of the most hilariously snarky material in existence. I’ve never seen an author poke fun at her own world-building in the way Rachel Hartman did, but it was wonderful.
At the end of it all, Seraphina won me over. My apathy toward dragon fiction is not at an end, but I was able to enjoy and appreciate this book. I did have reservations in some respects, and in other areas I was a bit confused. Mostly, however, I really liked this book.
At first I was unsure about this dragon book, but by the end of the prologue I was completely enthralled and weeping with the beauty of Rachel Hartman’s words. Seraphina is a slow build; an intricate tapestry, punctuated with music, emotion, intellect, and magic. It continually took my breath away.
Seraphina has got to be one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a fantasy novel, and I very much enjoyed getting to know her. It felt like a privilege, being allowed to see the world through her eyes, and experience people the way she does. Each interaction with another being was delicate and meaningful. The romance in Seraphina’s story is such a gentle, sweet, slow development that it not only felt real, but it felt so right.
Aside from Seraphina, each other character held my interest in a different, yet similarly real way. This story was so well-crafted, the world so thoroughly developed, that even though there were many words that were unfamiliar, they felt familiar in context (and there’s a glossary!). I absolutely loved Seraphina and have not one compliant. Please, if you like fantasy, and you have the chance, read this book.
I’m quite glad I got the chance to be an Ambuzzador for Seraphina since I otherwise wouldn’t have read this amazing book. I’ve been burned by fantasy a few times before and had decided that I just didn’t like the genre. Seraphina definitely has me rethinking that, though.
The language confused me a bit at times, but it wasn’t confusing in a way that hindered my enjoyment. Plus, Hartman was kind enough to provide a glossary! I was afraid there’d be tons of made-up words and confusing imaginary creatures, but that wasn’t the case. There are a few creatures and words that need explaining, but Hartman does just that. She didn’t leave me hanging in the dark wondering what in the world I was reading about.
I love the subtlety of Seraphina. It’s possible that most of that is due to the historical setting in which it’s set, but no matter the reason I loved it. The humor is never blatant and mystery is one that slowly seeps into the story. I actually found myself laughing out loud at times!
The characters are all fantastic as well. I really felt for Seraphina. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hate your own body not because you’re “too fat” or “too skinny” but because you have scales! When she took a knife to her scales I could feel her pain deep in my bones but I completely understood her determination and likely would’ve done the same to myself. Not only did she find the look of herself ugly, but she was an abomination to both societies. And yet, she was a strong, determined woman with a loving and compassionate side. In short, I adored her.
Then there’s Kiggs. He’s so prickly at times, but I could see the determination and reasoning for his action so I respected him as a character.
And then there’s Glisselda. I really thought I’d hate her when I first started reading but she turned out to be a completely wonderful character!
The story itself is both quiet and dramatic. The action and intrigue is never thrust right in your face, but I also found myself to never be particularly bored.
The Nutshell: If you think you don’t like fantasy, you might want to give Seraphina a try. I was a self-proclaimed fantasy hater until I read this. The characters are wonderful; the story is intricate, beautiful and fantastic; and the fantasy elements are actually easy to understand and wrap you head around.
Seraphina is a half-dragon. Now, you are probably wondering, how the hell do humans have children with dragons and not know about it (because her father didn't until she was actually born). Well, that's because dragons can change shape. They can appear human.
And yes, before you ask, Seraphina does have scales, and no, she does not breathe fire. She is a very interesting protagonist, and I loved to see her world through her eyes.
The language of the book was a little confusing, but not in a way that hindered my enjoyment or understanding of what was happening.
Seraphina is a half breed dragon/human. She has scales on her arms and around her torso, and so always wears long clothes so no one will know. She has a "garden" that she has to tend a lot, where she keeps strange creatures and she has to calm them down every so often.
But after seeing someone who looks exactly like one of the people in her garden, she wonders if it is all in her head, or if the people in her garden exist in real life. Then she discovers more secrets and finds out that she, in all her dragon/humanness, is not alone.
This is a very VERY good fantasy book that everyone should try whether they like fantasy or not (if you don't like fantasy, you might be rethinking that after reading this book).
- Interesting plot line
- Well-developed characters
- Good protagonist
- And pretty much everything else
Previously published on my blog: http://fictionfervor.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/review-seraphina-by-rachel-hartman/
WARNING: Linda is about to sing the praises of this debut novel. If you’d prefer not to be overwhelmed with a deluge of her gushing, please skip to the last paragraph.
I love dragons. I love medieval settings. And I love high fantasy. And those things I loved? Well, they were all in Seraphina. So, clearly, I loved it.
First, I want to explain why I didn’t give it five stars. (If you’re viewing this review on a website other than my blog, there’s a good chance that I rated it five stars there. Because this book was a 4.85–yes, that specific–and I had to rate it up, of course.) The first few pages of Seraphina were, admittedly, slow. I had trouble finding it within myself to keep on trudging through Seraphina’s daily life. A large part of this fourth of the book was spent on setting up the world that Seraphina lived in, and it was getting quite wearisome.
But when I hit somewhere along the 100-page mark, I couldn’t put this book down. The first hundred pages had taken me a few days to read (I was busy, I had other writing to do, I had other books to read, blah blah blah), but the next four hundred? I read it in two sittings, only stopping in between to sleep. (My mother had chided me for staying up until two in the morning to read a book on my computer.)
I adore the characters in this book. If you’ve read my reviews before, you probably know by now that I hate Mary Sues. Guess what? There wasn’t a single Mary Sue in this book. I rejoiced. And I fell in love with everyone in this book–the humans, the dragons, and the half-dragons. Ah, yes. The half-dragons. Because Seraphina is a half-dragon. Or, if I was thinking from the perspective of a dragon, a half-human.
Seraphina + boy whose name I will not name because I don’t want to spoil anything for you = cute, adorable, worthy of squealing. Since I’ve developed such an eye for things like this, I knew immediately upon meeting the guy that he was the love interest. Heck, I knew it before that. Because I’m that good. But getting back on topic: Seraphina and boy together equal one of the cutest couples I’ve read in a while. I wish they’d hold hands.
And now I have to talk about Rachel Hartman’s world. This world is INCREDIBLE. I’m not kidding. Six kingdoms with wicked cool names: Goredd, Samsam, Ninys, Porphyry, Ziziba, and Tanamoot. Two sub-species of dragons: saarantras (who can maintain a human form) and quigutl (who meddle with metal — that pun was completely unintended, by the way). Medieval setting–yes, that means palaces. Cathedrals. Handsome princes and clever princesses. And all that royal court intrigue. *rubs hands together*
After reading that, tell me that you don’t want to read this book.
Oh yes, and music! I love music.
I’m sorry, this review has started to sound incoherent even to me. I’m just in too much awe. I have author-worship of Rachel Hartman now because she has created such a fascinating world (she created it when she was in seventh grade, wow).
The only coherent paragraph in this review: Hartman’s debut was absolutely thrilling. It had all the qualities that I value: an intriguing mystery (as the murder of a prince would undoubtedly generate a mystery), mythological creatures (dragons, no less), a medieval tone (and with it, the court and the gossip), strong characters (so much that they could be considered stubborn), and an adorable romance (worthy of squealing over, I promise). I could only find fault with the first few pages, but Hartman has undoubtedly delivered a promising debut. I will eagerly await for her sequel, which is currently dubbed Dracomachia.
When I first opened Seraphina, I was excited about the dragons but nervous whether it would be one of those cheesy type of dragon books. When I started reading, I was drawn into this magical world of Goredd, where humans and dragons live together 'peacefully'.
I love the idea of the dragons being able to turn into a human form, it was something I've never encountered before. I was kinda sad that we didn't get to see the dragons in there real form that much, but I guess that was okay in the long run, as they appeared more in the end.
I didn't really like the idea of Seraphina's mental garden and the connections she made through it. Seraphina's mental garden kinda creeped me out, it was a garden of people, not plants. You can't treat people like plants, not matter what they look like. I also thought how when she meet people that were in her garden in real life, that she treated them in a funny way. And when she meet the little boy, she acted like she knew him her whole life and knew everything she needed to know, and call on favours whenever she wants.
All in all, this book is pretty amazing. I love the majority of the book and I reckon that everyone else who reads it will love it as much as I do. It is brilliant!
-I love this new idea of dragons, truly amazing.
-All the characters were amazing
-The plot was so thought out, brilliant!
Getting through this book took me a while, only because of the life stuff. I could have read this in one intense sitting, although I would definitely have sobbed had that been the case. I was definitely fighting off tears while I was riding on MARTA. Anyway, I totally adored this book and I am so thrilled that I was chosen to be an Ambuzzador for something I truly appreciate so much. Even better, I have a copy to give away to one of you, so that I can share the magic with others, which I really love to do.
I have to start by talking about the dragons, because, ummm, dragons are freaking cool. Seraphina is pretty much what I was dreaming the book Firelight would be...only better. This one, too, has dragon shifters, but these are so much better thought out and so much more serious than Sophie Jordan's. This isn't about dragons just because paranormal's in; Seraphina focuses more on social tensions, bigotry, and prejudice.
The dragons here remind me most of Vulcans. They live their lives based on logic and find emotions to be in bad taste. However, one of the most fascinating aspects is how shifting to human form can affect their brains, breeding improper emotions like love and hatred. There was also a scary aspect, since any dragon found guilty of undue emotion was likely to get his/her dragon brain wiped of all memories, so that the human taint could be removed.
As may be obvious, there is a lot of tension between humans and dragons (whether in human form or not), despite the treaty that has created a tentative alliance between the two species. These tensions are seriously close to erupting after the murder (possibly by a dragon) of one of the countries princes. An anti-dragon group , the Sons of Ogdo, is constantly gaining in adherents. Meanwhile, the dragons obviously view humans with some amount of contempt, both for their emotions and their brief lifespans.
In this world, humans and dragons (while in human form...there is no bestiality up in here) are forbidden from forming romantic attachments and, most especially, from procreating. Well, as with rules, this one has been broken. Seraphina discovers in her youth that she is half-dragon. Her father did not know, in fact, that his wife was a dragon until she died in childbirth, her silver blood spilling from her body. Seraphina has red blood, but she also has scales along her stomach, back and arms. She leaves her life trying to avoid notice, a lonely life with only her tutor and uncle, Orma, for a friend.
Despite her need for anonymity, she cannot keep quiet when she begins to suspect she knows the answers to some of the mystery surrounding the prince's death. She finds herself having to choose between her country's best interests and her own, between loneliness and love. Seraphina is an amazingly strong, wonderful heroine. I loved her for her faults as well as her skills and cleverness; she lies constantly, even when the truth might be better, and she has serious trust issues. She is, however, braver than just about anyone.
Seraphina was DAMN close to being a perfect five star read for me. The only aspect that I continually found jarring, even though Hartman did explain it and it did work, was Seraphina's mental garden. This won't really make sense if you haven't read the book, but you'll get it when you do. I personify things, including my brain, picturing it filled with disordered shelves covered in dust, often locked with now wayward keys. That's probably a little weird, or even a lot. Seraphina's relationship with her mind, though, makes mine pale in comparison. It was just a bit too weird for me, and the descriptions perhaps ran a bit long. It was the only part of the book that dragged at all for me.
This book seems to me like Firelight (for the dragon shifters) + Cinder (girl who has to hide what she is, affecting her relationships) + a whole lot more awesomeness that is all Rachel Hartman's. The writing and the world building are both completely exceptional. I am already salivating for the sequel and the title hasn't even been released yet. I declare myself to be, based on just this novel, a firm Hartman fan.
Background: In the kingdom of Goredd, humans and dragons live together, however they are not necessarily the best of friends. For 40 years, they have lived together under a treaty of no war between the races.In this tale Seraphina Dombegh is unique; she has a secret which places her in both worlds, only she cannot let on to anyone, especially her employer in the castle. Through the story Seraphina comes to learn about herself and her past, as well as her mother’s past; all while trying to solve the mystery of who is out to murder the Dragon general and destroy the treaty and peace.
Review: This was a great read. Dragons and a mystery, really could anyone go wrong? I felt that the beginning of this story moved a little slowly but the redeeming factor was that the environments are wonderful to picture. Hartman paints a beautiful picture with her writing, the characters and towns are drawn up for you in a wonderful manner. Every detail is explained and there is even a list of characters for the lost in the back of the book (there were quite a few). Also, our heroine, Seraphina is a captivating character and I loved her every step of the way. I think that Hartman did a wonderful job combining mystery and fantasy with this tale, and that Seraphina is a very strong woman that others in literature should look up to.