Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side – while below the surface, tensions and hostility simmer.

The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. One that she guards with all of her being.

When a member of the royal family is brutally murdered, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation alongside the dangerously perceptive—and dashing—Prince Lucien. But as the two uncover a sinister plot to destroy the wavering peace of the kingdom, Seraphina’s struggle to protect her secret becomes increasingly difficult… while its discovery could mean her very life.

Warnings: allusions to xenophobia, hate speech

A much hyped novel that I finally decided to read, Seraphina came across as a little underwhelming. Not that I had much expectations before – prior to starting I only had a vague idea that it is an epic fantasy with dragons, and seemed much older in publication (that cover tricked me!) than it is. Seraphina’s story takes place in the kingdom of Goredd, where she is a human-dragon hybrid in a society that has had just 40 years of peace with dragons. If you are thinking about the mechanics of such a conception, worry not – the dragons can shift to human forms called saarantrai when they want to enter human society. The two species are vastly different – humans are, well, temperamental, prone to making decisions on emotions rather than logic and quite judgemental. Dragons, for their part, are an advanced species, logical to a fault, and uncaring of emotions, and utterly disrespectful when it comes to human customs. In the past, they waged a war with the humans for the hunting grounds that became human kingdoms, but in this relatively newer peace of four decades, tensions are rising again now that the leader of the dragons is about to sit the kingdom that forged the truce.

The major arc of the novel is very political – there are forces, internal and external that don’t see a point to the peace. Seraphina, for her part, has stayed out of court politics, but now that she has been made assistant to the court musician (and the unfortunate one who has to arrange ALL the entertainment at the palace) and teacher to the younger princess, she is unwillingly drawn into it. Also, there is the bastard prince (who is also fiance to the young princess) who is continuously amazed by her bravery and keeps thinking she is doing it out of civic duty or something. So, she is trying to hide her dragon part, while also helping out her dragon uncle find the perpetrator to the crime of killing the older prince, and trying to also defy her father who always forbade her from pursuing her musical talents. She embodies some aspects of a biracial identity in that she passes for human, and yet because of her status as belonging to both humans and dragons, understands and bridges the gap between them.

The novel is not all court intrigue and seriousness, though. It also has lighter moments like the running gag of everyone identifying her as ‘that Maid Dombegh who played so wonderfully at the funeral’, the dragons being confounded by any and all human emotions (especially the leader of the dragons who becomes convinced he is in love), her fellow musicians at court who are a little in love with her and tease her for trying to be as strict as the old court musician. She is adored by most of the people, yet she feels a bit alone – she feels insecure because of her dragon heritage and thinks that no one will accept her if they knew (which is partly right, because most of them are dragon-haters). There is the heartwarming friendship trio that forms between her, Glisselda (the princess) and Kiggs (the prince), which, while not exactly a love triangle, presents a similar obstacle for the slow burn romance between Seraphina and Kiggs to proceed. There are also some awesome half-dragon characters who save the day, and which I hope to see more of in the sequel.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

  1. I remember having a love hate relationship with this book. I loved the second half of it, but I absolutely hated the first half and was so confused about what was happening all the time! I was impressed I even made it to the second half. Glad you liked it though ^.^

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