Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The last few years have brought us some amazing fantasy written by Canadians. Seraphina is devious, thrilling, filled with mystery and (of course) romance. I adored every minute of it!
Rachel Hartman's first book in her dragon (infested?) world is wonderful. Not only do we have a strong heroine to view the world from but she is surrounded by supporting characters that are well developed and could easily carry the story themselves. I especially adore the Prince and Seraphina's teacher.
It seems that I've read a lot of books lately where there is one dragon or a rebirth of dragons. Instead of there being lots of dragons there are very few of them. So it was really nice to read a book in which there are lots of dragons and even two distinct different breeds of dragon! Of course giving a world many dragons presents it's own issues which Hartman addresses elegantly. From the issue of how do dragons and humans interact, to the destruction a dragon falling from the sky can create (never mind if they are looking to burn a town to nothing), to trying to hide a giant dragon. As our dragons can take human form many of these issues are easier to resolve but not all of them. And I adored how Hartman handled the challenges that a large dragon may have next to a teeny tiny human.
Yep, there is a huge focus all on when dragons get it on with humans. All these nuances are touched upon in Seraphina, and Hartman even gives us a selection of cross-species (not supposed to exist) characters whom are both human and dragon. It's really interesting how unique each of them is. And I will confess that I now really want scales hidden on my body somewhere. It'd be even better if those scales could match the patterns of my pet snakes (lol).
Seraphina herself is one of these born of a human and a dragon cross breeds and so we are able to experience the challenges of someone who is considered to be an abomination try to hide and exist in a world that is not at all understanding of their existence. I believe many who feel they don't fit into our society (be it due to race, culture, sexuality, physical appearance, etc.) will find this to be very relatable narrative.
Seraphina is an accomplished musician. There is a lot of talk in Hartman's series opener about how music is not just about hitting the correct notes; but also about being able to put soul and emotions into said music. Of course, our leading gal is the best around. It's wonderful to discover all the different (and unique) instruments Seraphina plays as well as what she thinks of when she is playing to create such emotion that resonates amongst the crowd of listeners with her music. If you are a lover of music I think you will really appreciate the amount of effort Hartman has put into the musical culture of this world.
Royalty always brings in distinct elements to fantasy novels. Hartman has done a brilliant job of building a bridge to understanding her primary royal character the Prince. As a bastard the Prince is nearly as much of an outsider as Seraphina herself. Their interactions are just delightful, and the friendship that starts to form and subsequently become the possibility of something more is done with a gentle yet frustrated passion that I really appreciated. No insta-love or ridiculous admissions of lust or love early on here. Instead we are treated to a realistic (with dragons) picture of how love tends to evolve over time. While you may be attracted to someone that doesn't mean they are your immediate soulmate and I really appreciated the way Hartman treated this.
While at the beginning Seraphina seems to lack plot or a direction forward, this is resolved by the 25-30% mark when the mystery of a dragon, whom was thought to be dead, is discovered to probably be alive. It's not always apparent that this is our plot and mystery to focus on but by the end it's easily understood. And those moments in which there may not seem like a clear driving plot forward are some of my favourite as they are filled with character development and emotion that keeps me wanting more and more of our characters.
All the Other Things!
There are so many more elements to Seraphina that could be talked about. From the dragon slayers that are in hiding, to the politics of the dragon/human alliance, to the complex relationship between Seraphina and her father, to the treatment and intolerance of the humans towards the 'lesser' dragon species that has become a nuisance in their towns. I could probably go on and on about it all. Instead I'll just encourage you to read this book!
I cannot wait to dive into the second book of this series. What's especially exciting is that many people that I trust whom have read the second book say it's even better!!! Now I just need to find a gap to squeeze it into as I cannot stand to be one of the few who hasn't read it yet.
Overall, I regret that it has taken me so long to get to reading Seraphina. I should have read it a few years ago when it first came out! If you are a dragon or fantasy lover then you need to read this book. It's YA/Teen but the story and world are so wonderful that I believe even that high fantasy adult readers will still be enamored of it.
What's more is that this is a series unlikely to be made into a series or movie anytime soon as the production costs of the dragons would be very high. I'm always hopeful that we can keep a few 'special to the book community' series to ourselves. Not that I don't love the media created from books but it's nice to feel like us readers still share a few secrets from our non-reader counterparts. I believe Hartman may have created one of these, best kept to the written page, series. For that reason if nothing else this is a must read for all fantasy and dragon lovers.
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