Book Review: Seraphina

Published By: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Page Count: 464
Source: Kindly Provided by the Publisher via NetGalley & Amazon Vine UK
Audience: Young Adult - Fantasy

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is set in a land of humans called Goredd, which has established a fragile peace with a race of dragons who can assume a human form. The dragons are highly logical species, with no tolerance for human emotion or sentimentality. The lines between the species are clearly drawn, and no fraternization is allowed beyond official interactions between ambassadors and teachers with their students. 

The main character, Seraphina, lives between these worlds and she constantly fears that one or both sides will discover her life-threatening secret. She has a fascinating insight into the dragons because of this though, so when she comes to court as an assistant to the court's composer she makes a lasting impression and is reluctantly drawn into an investigation into the murder of the crown prince. The prince was murdered in a suspiciously draconian fashion and it threatens the peace treaty, so Seraphina risks all to assist Captain Kiggs; a bastard prince who seems to understand what it is to be an outcast all too well. Seraphina finds herself dangerously drawn to his wry understanding as their investigation progresses and her self-imposed boundaries are tested. 

The pace of the novel is fairly relaxed, but the story was never boring. Developments come along in reasonable intervals and serve to push the plot forward at a satisfying pace. Seraphina's secrets are revealed quite early on, and she is written in a way which makes her very easy to relate to. She is determined, and desperate to be truthful in spite of the many lies which she is forced to tell to protect herself. Her fear at revealing herself to those around her is counter-balanced by a no-nonsense approach that frequently sees her speaking out and then regretting it; a trait which made me grow very fond of her. 

I felt that Goredd was set in medieval times, and the presence of real flying dragons and knights trained to kill them helped set a really delightful mood in the book. I felt like I could feel the cold flagstones under my feet as Seraphina rushed about the castle. The fantasy elements were well written and had great substance; there were many details which gave a well rounded feel to the world Rachel Hartman has built. The ending showed a great coverage of battle, and left me feeling satisfied that my major questions had been answered while providing room for development into a second book. I will look forward to enjoying that in the future!

I think that readers who like historical fiction and fantasy would get a lot of satisfaction from this book; in particular I think those that enjoyed Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers should give Seraphina a read, and vice versa. 

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 her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy 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.