“I rose to standing, like Lars upon the barbican, the dark city spread at my feet. Lights twinkled in tavern windows, bobbed at the Wolfstoot Bridge construction. Once I had been suspended over this vast space, hanging and helpless, at a dragon’s mercy. Once I had feared that telling the truth would be like falling, that love would be like hitting the ground, but here I was, my feet firmly planted, standing on my own. We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”―
Although it was published in 2012, I only recently discovered Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. In this enchanting fantasy, Hartman creates a world which envelops the reader as fully and pleasantly as a melody filling the air.
Seraphina, the court composer’s young and talented assistant, hides a dangerous secret. Phina is half-dragon. Despite forty years of peace between the species, humans and dragons still view each other with suspicion. If Seraphina’s true nature were discovered, it could endanger both herself and her father. Therefore, Phina lives a guarded life, never letting anyone get too close. But things are about to change.
When Prince Rufus is found brutally murdered, all signs point to a dragon as the culprit. Soon Rufus’s nephew, Prince Lucien, draws Seraphina into helping with the investigation. As they search for answers, they discover that Rufus’s death was only the beginning of a dark plot to thrust the kingdom of Goredd back into war. Seraphina’s true nature might be the key to preserving peace between dragons and mankind, but can she risk revealing the truth?
This lyrical YA fantasy delivers an adventure full of intrigue, friendship, and beautiful observations on life and love. It’s a fantastic story for readers who enjoy colorful fantasies with unique casts of characters and maybe a smidge of romance.
5 things I loved about Seraphina:
1: The witty banter–
Sarcasm and banter are cream and sugar to my sense of humor, and Hartman included plenty of each. Seraphina’s wit matches the dry humor of her Uncle Orma and the gruff court composer, Viridius. Their interactions and one-liners had me grinning throughout the story.
2: The unique world-building–
From the host of saints revered in the religion of the city to the classroom of dragons seen in Seraphina’s vision, Hartman spares no effort in fleshing out the kingdom of Goredd. Even so, Seraphina’s inner world quickly became my favorite part of the setting. Each night, she tends to the garden in her mind, where characters she doesn’t quite understand reside. While we don’t discover the vital role these characters play until near the end of the story, the richness of Seraphina’s inner landscape captivated me from the start.
3: The emphasis on the power of music and art–
With Seraphina’s surpassing skill in music, the value of art plays an important role in the book. Woven through the narrative, we find powerful descriptions of how music impacts the characters. Hartman shows how art can connect people in powerful ways, drawing us together and sharing emotions and experiences with each other.
4: The balance between logic and emotion–
One of my favorite themes in literature is the interplay of the head and heart. In this story, the contrast between the two manifests itself in the cultures of dragons and humans. Dragons in Hartman’s world are highly intelligent creatures with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Logically-driven beings, they have a passion for science, math, and all things balanced and measurable. Yet, the human creations of art, music, and religion fascinate them in a different way. Though curious on a technical level, most dragons struggle to grasp the concepts that require an emotional understanding. Only those dragons which let themselves delve into the “dangerous” world of feelings begin to understand the value of art.
As Seraphina and the other characters try to find common ground between dragons and humans, they also work to gain a balance between rationality and emotions. Dragons such as Orma slowly begin to recognize the importance of emotions such as love. Meanwhile, Seraphina, Prince Lucien, and other humans work to prevent their feelings and the feelings of others from overwhelming them and causing their downfall.
5: The varied cast of characters–
The kingdom of Goredd is home to a large cast of characters, from the nobles in court to the saarantrai (dragons living in human form), to the quigs living in the nooks and crannies of the city. Hartman fills her pages with fascinating secondary characters, who she develops with as much care as her protagonist. Strong female characters abound, as do dangerous extremists, compassionate leaders, and generous underdogs.
If you’re looking for a lovely vacation read, Seraphina is a perfect candidate.