Publisher: Doubleday Childrens
Release date: July 19th 2012.
Hardcover, 368 pages.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Liz
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.
Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina reminded me of why I love fantasy so much. Fantasy is a difficult genre to get right – sometimes the descriptions can drag on, sometimes the world isn’t explained properly, sometimes the characters lack depth because the story is too focussed on plot (or vice versa). But Seraphina is definitely a fantasy done right. Half dragon, half human, Seraphina is a music mistress in the court of Queen Lavonda, the Queen of Goredd who signed a treaty with the dragons in order to bring peace to the lands. However, when the Queen’s son is murdered, the peace is threatened as a dragon is suspected of committing the crime. Seraphina has always been told to hide her secret and avoid drawing attention to herself – but her unique position may allow her to solve the mystery of Prince Rufus’s death. Is maintaining the peace worth risking her secret – and her life?
The dragons in Seraphina were unlike any dragons I’ve read about before. My first thought while reading the book was that they were a bit like Vulcans; they were very rational creatures that did not understand human emotion or how to deal with it, and saw things such as art as having no rational value. The reason Seraphina was such an interesting character was because she was human and dragon. She quite clearly understood emotion and didn’t have much trouble expressing it. She often got upset when her full dragon uncle, Orma, seemed as if he didn’t care for her. She could be funny too, and I really liked her subtle sense of humour.
However, she often displayed several dragon-like qualities too. She could think like a dragon, with impressive logical thought processes, and was very intelligent, able to put things together and work things out quickly. It was interesting to see how she fit (or how she didn’t fit in) in both worlds. She was also a good teacher (in charge of teaching Princess Glisselda music) and was also a capable leader, often put in charge of organising concerts by her master, Vividius. I also loved the fact that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, even in front of Princess Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucian Kiggs. She also acted fast in times of distress, and saved Prince Lucian a fair few times (which I thought was completely awesome). I really loved her character, and felt for her as she struggled to understand her own mind (she suffered from visions, and had created a garden in her mind to isolate the people she saw in them – which I thought was very original and clever) and her status as half human, half-dragon. Things were made worse by the fact that she had to spend a lot of time with Prince Lucian (or Kiggs, as he preferred to go by) and started to develop feelings for him. I felt so bad for her; not only was he engaged to her friend, the Princess, but she could never tell him secret and they could never be together even if she did.
Kiggs was an interesting character and love interest, because he didn’t seem to care much about the fact that he was a prince and Seraphina was a music mistress. He seemed very genuine, and I liked the way he was curious about Seraphina. He appreciated her talents but also understood how being different made you stick out and feel uncomfortable (being illegitimate, that was something he could relate to). He liked her curious nature, and was often surprised by Seraphina. I liked him because he showed real interest in her, and seemed to really want to get to know her better. I loved the way they spoke to each other and the time they spent trying to solve the mystery of Rufus’s death, and by the end, I was rooting for them, despite knowing it was a doomed relationship. The thing is, I liked Glisselda too. She was confident and fun and wanted to Seraphina and Kiggs to get along, so I was so torn because I knew that if Seraphina ever acted on her feelings, she’d be betraying her friend.
Orma was another character I loved. As a dragon, he was expected to act rationally, and not get too emotionally attached to his niece, Seraphina. If he were to put her wellbeing first before the rational course of action, he would be labelled as emotionally compromised and would suffer the consequences. And though he tried to act in the most logical way, there were hints throughout that suggested that he really did care for Seraphina. I loved the way he supported her from the background, subtly but still there. He was a scholar, and valued knowledge, but the time he spent in his human form changed him quite a bit – and after that ending, I am very curious to see what will happen next!
The plot was very engaging, and I was always kept on my toes, wondering whether it really was a dragon who killed the Prince, and if so, why? I was curious as to which dragon would want to break the treaty, and how it was even possible for them to attack the Prince without being caught. I loved the way the romance developed – it was slow, but it was amazing – and there were a lot of twists I did not expect. The world building was excellent, probably one of my favourite things about the book, with rich descriptions and attention to detail and some truly beautifully written parts. I loved so many of the characters too – I found Seraphina’s master to be hilarious, and Fruit Bat (one of the people Seraphina saw in her visions) was so intriguing because he seemed to know Seraphina and want to protect her.
Overall, Seraphina was a brilliant fantasy, and as I reached the last few chapters, I kept thinking, “I don’t want this to end!” I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel! Definitely recommended to all fantasy fans.