Seraphina

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Unique and well-written
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3.0
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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.
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