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 the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life. In her exquisite debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
Yet, I still haven’t learned to give up hope. I relentlessly crave books with rave reviews and then wonder what all the hullabaloo was about.
Hence, the case with Seraphina. I don’t know if it was just the fact that it was loaded with dragons or if the headstrong female presence is what drove everyone to this book. Maybe it was the beautiful, descriptive writing. Maybe it was Prince Kiggs. Maybe it was the awesome world building. Maybe it was Phina’s mind palace full of “grotesques”.
Whatever it was, I apparently only got half of it. It took a lifetime (half the book) to finally get interesting and pick up pace. I did enjoy the fantasy element and was impressed by the world building. But people turning into dragons wasn’t something new to me. (The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe. I read it before Seraphina and it blew me away!)
But once it got interesting, I was captivated. And now I need to read the second one pronto.
I loved Orma. LOVED HIM! And the females in this book. Holy crap, this was a powerful action book with strong women! And of course, the adorable Lucian Kiggs.
Great characters. Awesome high fantasy. Slow buildup to an excellent finish. And Dragons. A shload of dragons.
Awesome high fantasy.
Seraphina is easily one of my favorite characters. She is intelligent, talented, brave, vulnerable, and loyal. She struggles with her own self worth and undergoes remarkable growth. The secondary characters are also not to be missed. Hartman has not allowed for one dimensional characters here. Between the members of Seraphina's garden, the dignitaries at court and the dragons in human form, there was always someone intriguing to watch and someone else to wonder about.
Hartman creates a world that is wonderfully strange yet oddly familiar. Though the people and dragons of Goredd negotiated a peace treaty nearly 40 years ago, there is still a great deal of animosity and racism on both sides. The hatred and anger between these peoples was palpable and created some of the most tense scenes in the novel.
The writing in Seraphina flows beautifully and leaves the reader anxiously awaiting the next installement in this phenomenol new series.
“Seraphina” follows a girl by the same name who lives in a world populated by humans and dragons. The catch with these dragons is that they don’t necessarily have to be fire-breathing beasts (although they can be) because of their ability to shape shift and walk the streets of human towns looking just like any other guy or gal. The only problem is that not all humans are jazzed about the idea of dragons walking their streets, and despite a peace that has been going on between the two races for 40 years, there is still rampant racism going with racial epithets and intense violence typically directed toward dragons.
The problem for Seraphina in all of this is that she is half-dragon. An even bigger problem is that inter-species breeding is against the law, and she can only imagine the atrocities that could happen to her if her secret is discovered. That, in essence, is what this book is all about: Seraphina doing all she can to keep her half-dragon status a secret, yet struggling to prove to herself and society at large that her race is not the trait that makes her who she is on the inside, and that it should not be the one trait used to judge her character.
This theme is extremely applicable to the real world right now. We still live in a society where all people are not created equal. We are still judged by our gender, sexuality, race, religion, and so forth. Hartman delivers this often heard but still not fully practiced message of judging a person by their character and not by their demographics, yet does it in such a completely unique way that the message seems entirely her own. Hartman’s emphasis on music during the tale, her addition of a love story, as well as a cast of eccentric characters make “Seraphina” a beautiful story with an even more beautiful message.
Unique and interesting characters.
A new take on dragons for the fantasy genre.
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.
Seraphina is the unique story of a girl cursed, or is it blessed, with the blood and scales of her mother's dragon form. It is a curse because of the uneasy alliance between the dragons and the humans and a blessing because her unique talents could help her to save the two races from going to war.I really liked this book it is different from every dragon story I have read to date. Although I have read books with dragons with the ability to take on the shape of a human before the stories were nowhere near as compelling.Seraphina was one of my favorite aspects of the story. She felt more real than most female YA protagonists tend to today. She was not overly brave, had flaws that made sense, and her sob story was sob worthy. I appreciated how she didn't complain about nonexistent flaws throughout the entire book, her scales were the only things she didn't like about herself and that seems to only be because they could easily reveal the secret of her heritage. She was a very likeable and relatable character.(
(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.
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.
• Seraphina is a likeable heroine: brave, independent-minded, and compassionate--but not too much so.
• In so many stories with a female protagonist and a romantic rival, the "competition" is petty, unkind, easily dismissed. But Glisselda holds her own as smart, strong, and willing to learn, and is a genuine friend to Seraphina. I have my suspicions about how this will be resolved without serious harm to either side, but I think it's wonderful for women and girls to have a fair and humanizing portrayal of this kind of female relationship, rather than pitting the two against each other.
• The society Hartman has created, including prejudices, political dynamics between Goredd and Tanamoot, and social castes have satisfying depth and subtlety. Answers aren't easy, but this layering makes them seem worth pursuing.
• Likewise, the humans' and dragons' difficulty in understanding each other, simultaneous with their reciprocal fascination, is not only believable and "true" in the context of the story, but is the kind of exploration of the attractive and repellent power of differences and commonalities that makes literature--and YA lit in particular--important.
• Seraphina and her love interest seem well-matched; he makes a worthy object of her affection as shown through his actions and character, but neither is he a two-dimensional Prince Charming character.
• People of different races and orientations are included.
What's not to like?
• The book uses the "psychic gifts" trope, which I find to be rather tiresome/clichéd, and which I personally believe to be a crutch that authors use to manufacture situations and relationships that would otherwise be unbelievable--or just take longer.
• Seraphina is brave, but it doesn't seem believable that so many people would automatically put their faith in her as a leader, given her personality (see above criticism of "psychic gifts").
• People talk about "princess fatigue"--isn't it time to rethink the prince-as-love-interest as well? Kiggs is an admirable person, but still...
• Goredd's religious system is central to its culture, but seems rather thinly developed. This is perhaps intended to create some suspense for the next book(s), but it does feel either insufficient or deliberately obfuscated at times. (On the other hand, perhaps it only seems so in comparison to the detailed facets of the culture that Hartman has created.)
Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums
Fly By Night
What made me pick it up?
Lovely cover design and a rave Goodreads review from a youth services librarian friend.
Overall Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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).
- Well-developed characters
- Good protagonist
- And pretty much everything else
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!
-All the characters were amazing
-The plot was so thought out, brilliant!
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.
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.