Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

December 6, 2013 4 stars, Book Review 32 ★★★★


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.

Dragons, Dragons, Dragons! Need I say more? Fine, okay – let me explain the wondrous thing that is Seraphina. Humans and Dragons were at war 40 years ago until the human Queen and the Dragon General signed a peace treaty between the two races. Since then that peace has been a very delicate thing indeed. Dragons can take human form allowing the races to better communicate and learn from one another. But dragons value logic, reason and science and they shun emotions, while of course we humans are a very emotional bunch. The dragons are capable of locking their emotions away with mental techniques thus denying themselves that particular part of the human experience. But 16 years ago a dragon fell in love with a human and from that union was born Seraphina, half human, half dragon.

Seraphina has lived her life in fear and loathing of what she is, but despite that she has carried on with life and has even landed herself a job in the palace as a music mistress. She heads the court’s musicians as well as gives the princess her music lessons. But troubles are brewing as one of the princes has been murdered in a very suspiciously dragon like manner. Somehow Seraphina constantly gets mixed up in situations that draw attention to herself and even some dangerous circumstances. She’s spent her whole life trying not to draw notice but now she seems to the center of attention much too often..

I thoroughly enjoyed the amount of character development that I witnessed take place with Seraphina. You really see her mature while still maintaining her stubborn prickly personality. She has a real habit of sticking her foot in her mouth and getting into trouble. You’d think with how much she needs to keep her secret that she wouldn’t be as bull headed as she is. Though, I have to say I really liked that about her.

With a good bit of political intrigue and mystery surrounding the late princes death, Seraphina gets to be quite involved with investigations that Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda are doing. The closer she gets to both of them the more she discovers she wants all those things she never thought she could.

Looking at the cover it definitely isn’t your typical “pretty girl in a dazzling dress” YA cover. Which I was so thankful for. I believe this one has some great potential to appeal to adult Fantasy readers because of that but also due to the strong world building and mature personalities of the characters. In this world Seraphina is an adult, with a job, living on her own. So I think this has a good deal of crossover potential that it need not necessarily only be considered a YA book.

Melancholy, humorous and at times heartbreaking – Seraphina was a wonderful fantasy book that would be a shame to miss.

Seraphina (Seraphina #1)

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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32 Responses to “Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman”

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      That is a very interesting thing to note. Obviously they aren’t fully without emotions. They have this board of Censors that is supposed to monitor them for indulging in emotions and then excise those emotions/memories out of them. Its very neat. They simply do not value emotions so don’t want their race to be tainted by them. I guess that is rather Vulcan like huh?

      What other books have you read that the ‘other’ race is void of emotion?

      • Nathan (@ReviewBarn)

        Ouch, put me on the spot. I know I can up with one specifically if I have enough time.
        But I guess it is more taking another race and making the entirety of said race have one distinct personality; stolen from the entire range of emotions we have as humans. Often it is an easy way to make them ‘alien,’ just limit them to one defining characteristic.

        Of course, I am not saying that takes place in this book. Just that it is the type of thing that may make me wary about a book like it. I am still interested, and from your review it appears this author didn’t just take the easy way out with it.
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        • Tabitha the Pabkins

          I completely know what you mean yes. It is a convenient way to make another race ‘alien’. I like the way it was done here because you see plenty of evidence of members of the dragon race NOT following along with what is expected of them.

          I’d be curious to see what you ended up thinking about this one.

      • Tabitha the Pabkins

        In my mind I feel Seraphina would be more likely to appeal to adult SFF fans because the content has great world building, while there is some light romance of course which you have to expect in almost any YA book…almost any thankfully not all…I still think it has some good cross over potential.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Really you didn’t like the cover? I agree with Nathan, I loved the cover. To me it felt more strongly Fantasy instead of the typical YA cover with a pretty girl in a dazzling dress on the cover (which pretty much never fits the content of the book).

      • [email protected]

        Seriously The cover didn’t do anything for me . If I was in the library I wouldn’t have picked it up, but once I read it ..the cover did fit it. I admit that I am a cover whore 🙂 Yes it was more fantasy , and there was no girl in a dress which I know that there are too many of those one 🙂
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    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      See I agree – I LOVE the cover! Oh goodness if you liked the style of the writing you would have loved the narrator of the audio book. I listened to the first half on audio and then the rest I read. The narrator was so awesome. I think she was British.

  1. Anya

    Woot! I of course loved this one as well, haha, but not just because of dragons ;-). I really loved the mental garden that Seraphina has to manage the problems of being who she is *eyebrows of significance* and how that whole plot line developed, so intriguing :D.
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    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Yes – that mental garden was crazy interesting! I listened to half of it on audio – the narrator was amazing! Then I finished reading the rest because I started getting inpatient with how slow the narrator reads. That always seems to happen to me.

  2. Pamela D

    This sounds like a great book. As an added bonus there are dragons both in the book and on the cover! I think this will help with my dragon fix, while I anxiously await the final book in the Temeraire series (dragons! during the Napoleonic Wars!).

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I’ve heard of that one – I think I even have the first one on my shelf somewhere. How long is the series? If its actually a short one for once I’d be more inclined to start it LOL.

      • Pamela D

        I LOVED the first book. I did the audio book and Simon Vance’s voice for Temeraire is my Temeraire. When I read the most recent book (I got an ARC, so I didn’t do the audio book), I imagined Simon Vance saying his lines. This is a bit problematic now though, because I can’t listen to Vance read any other books. All of his voices are strongly associated with particular dragons.

        Okay, back to your question. 🙂 I loved the first book, but the others are just varying levels of good and very good. The ninth (and final) book are coming out next year, I think. The world building and the characters are really great. You can just read the first one and stop, but seriously, you should read the first one.
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          • Pamela D

            The series is one big overarching arc, because Temeraire and Laurence are in the British military and are fighting Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars. If I recall, there is something at the end to lead into the second book; however, I am giving you permission to just read the first book. It is the strongest and the best.
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          • Pamela D

            I am so excited for you that you are going to BEA. I might potentially be able to go, but things are up in the air for the next month or so, so I am not sure if tickets will still be available. I know people who live in NY, so room & board are covered. 🙂 Do you go for the whole thing or just for the last day? I couldn’t tell how the whole thing worked.
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  3. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I also loved the character growth, world building, and political intrigue of this story. I agree that it has a lot of potential to appeal to adult audiences as well as YA, so hopefully it’s getting read as widely as it deserves to be 🙂

  4. Bibliotropic

    I was impressed by this book to start with because it can be so hard to find traditional fantasy geared toward a YA audience range. 9 times of out 10 it’s all urban fantasy or soft sci-fi, so Seraphina was a real treat in that regard. It wasn’t the greatest book ever, but it was definitely enjoyable and had some interesting characters and developments to keep readers going.
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    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      I agree completely! There are so many urban YA books, or paranormal YA, and Dystopians…but it really is a very small market for traditional fantasy. I adore when I find a good one!

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Yes you definitely must read. I super super enjoyed it. It’s not often that you find traditional fantasy in the YA genre. Everything right now seems to be dystopians, post apocalyptic or fairytale retellings. So this one was such a refreshing change.

    • pabkins

      Yes, I think that’s my problem lately is I’ve read too many dystopians that I’m burnt. What I find helps also is switching back and forth between adult and YA books since I love both. Good! I can’t wait to hear what you think! I know I checked and the next book isn’t due to 2015 which just about broke my heart!
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