Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

How Excited Was I To Read Seraphina by Rachel Hartman? 4. Not that excited at all. I’ve been on a contemporary kick lately, but I was looking for something new. And something that would actually be good, since this was a total kindle-impulse-buy moment.

I like dragons. Why not? But I think I associate them with more childish (and delightful!) books, like Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons.

How Excited Was I When I Finished This Book?: 8. Compared to recent series I’ve read, I might even go higher. This book was such a pleasant surprise. Primarily because… it was actually very good! Like well-written, well-crafted storyline type of good. Totally legit kindle buy. Yessss.

Book Jacket: 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.

Review: So as I’ve mentioned above, the key here is that this series was well-written. And the author, Rachel Hartman, was not writing down to her readers. In fact, I felt like she was reading just the sort of book that would appeal to herself as a writer. Which was perfect!

Seraphina was a great main character. She reminded me of Fire from Kristin Cashore’s wonderful book of the same title. She hated herself at the beginning of the book, and that was so sad. Because as a reader, you could tell from the beginning that Seraphina was something special. I loved the mental games she used to keep her mind in order. It was Tamora Pierce-esque in that respect, but a completely original take on such mental games. In Tamora Pierce’s world, the mind tricks were an essential means to access magic. Here, they were a part of who she was and they were parallel to the world around her – not so much a source of power as indicative of who Seraphina was.

I just realized this review is rather garbled already. That’s because this book is complex! It includes a glossary to the characters at the end. I didn’t need such a guide as I was reading, but it’s nice to know that the author sees this as a complicated world – and perhaps one that will become more complicated in the books to come!

Other things I liked: the concept of outsiders. Always great in YA novels. Here, handled very well. On the one hand, those in power were generally quite accepting. On the other, we got to see the dangers of herd mentality when confronted with otherness.

Finally, I loved how Seraphina was not a badass. Not really. She was confident. And sometimes others took that confidence for bravery, when really she hadn’t thought to be brave. She would admit that to herself. That’s often how bravery looks in the real world – it’s not unthinking, it’s not even conscious. Defined in those terms, Seraphina was a heroic main character.

Sexual Tension Factor: Really enjoyed Seraphina’s love interest. She is confident in love as well as in other areas of her life, even if she doesn’t recognize it herself. But the love triangle also broke my heart – in advance. There was nothing tragic here, but love triangles can be stressful, right? And there are the definite makings of something suspiciously triangular here. On the other hand, Prince Kiggs is totally worthy of a love octagon or love radiating star or something geometric that I haven’t quite worked out yet!

Re-Readability: Well I bought this one, so I hope it’s high. I think it will be. The story is complex and there were moments of surprise – I think it will be fun to pick it up again and see what I glean from it the next time!

Recommended for: Old-school fantasy fans.

If You Liked This Book You Should Also Check Out: Tamora Pierce. It especially reminded me of Wild Magic. Also Fire by Kristin Cashore. And for a little more dragon action… why not Game of Thrones?!