Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My friend introduced this novel to me me as a take on dragons where they hoard books instead of treasure. While that ended up being just a minor facet of the intricate world Hartman built for her characters, I think it set the tone quite nicely. Dragons here value logic and knowledge. But do those traits mean they should embrace humanity? Or quell it?

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Who should read it: Anyone looking for great world-building, a unique take on dragons, and some adventure-mixed-with-romance-mixed-with-humor.
You may like it if you like: Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn.

Characters

Seraphina Dombegh – Seraphina holds a prestigious place at court as a music mistress, assistant to the court musician. However, she must be careful not to draw attention to herself (though her otherworldly musical talent makes that difficult), lest anyone find out her secret: she is half-dragon, considered an abomination by many of her countrymen.

Orma – Seraphina’s dragon uncle. He is a scholar with special permission to wear his human form without the distinguishing bells that most dragons must hang from their shoulders to mark them as such. He tutors Seraphina in music and in controlling the special powers of her mind that reach out to other half-dragons.

Prince Lucian Kiggs – Captain of the Queen’s Guard and betrothed to the heir to the throne, his cousin Princess Glisselda. As a bit of an outsider himself due to his status as a bastard, Kiggs relates to Seraphina even though he doesn’t yet understand what makes her so different and secretive.

Princess Glisselda – Bubbly, young, and with a simplistic view of dragons thanks to the teachings of her governess, Princess Glisselda ends up surprisingly receptive to Seraphina’s more nuanced insights into dragon behavior, even though she does not know that Seraphina gained them from first-hand experience. She may come off as vapid, but Glisselda is not to be underestimated.

Cover of SeraphinaThe Plot

The kingdom of Goredd was formerly a battleground between dragons looking for good hunting lands and humans stubbornly rebuilding their city in the same spot every time it got burned down. Now the two races mingle in a peace forged barely a generation ago, but they better not mingle too closely! If anyone found out that Seraphina’s mother was a dragon in human form and her father was a human, she would be treated as a pariah, or worse, by both societies.

When the murder of a royal family member leaves all signs pointing to a dragon perpetrator, Seraphina ends up teaming up with Prince Lucian Kiggs to unearth the truth, hopefully before the long-awaited celebration of the peace treaty. The leader of the dragons, known as the Ardmagar, will be coming to Goredd and with tensions high between dragon- and humankind, it wouldn’t take much to turn the celebrations ugly and upend four decades of hard-won peace.

My Thoughts

This is one of those books that takes over your imagination, barely releasing you as you go about your daily tasks dying to know what happens next. The world-building is absolutely immersive. I found myself rolling the strange new terms around on my tongue long after I’d put the book down: “saarantras” for a dragon in human form, “ityasaari” for someone of mixed human and dragon heritage, “quigutl” for species similar to dragons but smaller, unable to change form, and more humorous and strange than scary.

The premise seems a little silly, but the author combines just the right mixture of sweet romance with action and mystery that I found the story very compelling. I love all of the characters, especially Princess Glisselda, who really grows into herself in the second book. Speaking of, shout out to book two, Shadow Scale, for introducing a multi-faceted trans character.


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