Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1)

Book: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House, 2012
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Source + Date Read: Christmas present + Jan. 2013
: Everyone should read this! It is utterly brilliant!
Book Pro’s: It’s Amaze-Balls
Book Con’s: Err… there are times when it drags out. Not many though.

Summary: 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.
Reading Challenges: Seriously-Series Reading Challenge + Feminist Reading Challenge
More Information: GoodReads

Simple and pretty, when I first saw this I thought of the classical etchings you’d see in museums. I think it’s a good cover, classical, engaging with a modern color-scheme. The British cover for this book is such crap that I know it’s gonna appear on a Bat-List-Crazy post in the future. The Americans got this one right.

What I like best about this story is the time it is set in. Since this isn’t our world, the dates are muddled and never truly addressed. The setting seems similar to Elizabethan England, and I think this is just great as Hartman’s inclusion of dragons could easily make the story ‘cheesy’, yet the period is both modern and historical which seems to help make everything make sense. To me at least.

There are a number of characters in this and they are a lively different bunch. We’ve got bubbly (yet ruthless) Royals, cold and rational dragons, emotionally charged citizens (who seem to want nothing more than to smack a few dragons around), a garden of grotesques, a love interest and the strong, eloquent and confused protagonist, Seraphina. It’s like a circus almost and every single character is important to the final show.

This review is going to be a long, personal, semi-emotional one. You’ve been warned.

Seraphina is a jewel of a book written by Rachel Hartman. Set in an alternate world, the story begins with Seraphina, a half-human, half-dragon girl and musical prodigy. As the protagonist she leads the readers gently along the story, describing her city (it seems like a Elizabethan style London), her family and the ongoing struggle for peace between dragons and people. Dragon’s here are special, as they are able to don the skin of humans. They known as saarantras in their human shape, and must wear bells around the city to announce their presence. Don’t be worried though, Hartman doesn’t weave a cheap story. Rather, Seraphina is a very rich, thick tale that is fleshed out in such a beautiful and endearing way that you leave the story actually understanding what is going on (and this, makes the story brilliant).

I don’t really have any con’s for this book but I will make one comment: the pace is a tad slow at times. Seraphina is a slow and detailed protagonist so there are times when you sort of want to kick her and tell her to get on with it. Besides these minor irksome moments, the story is still really well written and worth its 5-Page-Turn rating. There are a few strengths that I wish to point out.

Firstly, Hartman really thought about what she was writing when she produced this book. Every loose end is tied and the questions that are left unanswered are good ones, questions that make you want to read the second book.

Secondly, Hartman creates several allusions to life conflicts and struggles that lend itself to the strength of the book and what the characters are going through. Firstly, these silver bells all the saraantras must wear aren’t so much a sign of peace but a warning to humans that this is a dragon in human form. This made me think of some horrible parts of human history, most particularly WWII and the Nazi regime where Jews were required to well a Yellow Star of David on their chest to denote their difference from everyone else. The horrors of life cannot compare itself to that of a piece of fiction, but it makes you think a little, on why it is so necessary in the book for the saraantras to be immediately known as different (even though their personalities will give them away).

Finally, Hartman is a genius at exploring binaries and the human need to be either/or, black or white. The mythology she creates is a rich one, where Dragons are deemed logical and rational (any moment or utterance of affection, love or softness are harmful for the creatures, as their brain is excised of the emotion and they are put to rights again) and humans as emotional, creative and irraitonal. This binary creates some confusion for Seraphina, as personality wise she appears to be a bit of both, and must struggle to keep up a face of human normalcy in order not to be found out.

Another instance of the constructed binary causing conflict is the fact that Seraphina is a ‘half-breed’ in the book. I found this part to be a bit too personal for me, being half-black and half-white myself, and how Seraphina was forced to keep up and demand human-ness for herself, despite her scales and her superior mental abilities (attributed to her dragon mother). Why must she pick a side? She is human but yet not completely, and she has trouble owning up to this truth. Ultimately, it is her dragon Uncle and human Father that make her realise that she must be true to herself and what she is no matter what. She stopped trying to ‘pass’ as one particular side. Again, to be anal, this parallels our reality with its allusions to ethnic and racial tensions and the pressures mixed race people to pass or choose a particular side of their heritage.

Enough formalities though, Seraphina is an excellent read. It is emotional, thoughtful, mythological, exciting and just plain ole’ brilliant. I really want to hear your comments on this book if you’ve read it.



About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, SFF, YA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1)

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  7. bookshy says:

    Reading it right now – thanks to your recommendation :). I’m only about a quarter through and I do find that it is slow in some places but it’s still such a great story so far that the slow pace doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

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  10. Nafiza says:

    Hartman is really awesome in real life too. She lives in Vancouver and I got a chance to meet her (and it was very awkward and I lost several cool points, hee). Have you seen the purple cover? I am so tempted to get that one as well.

    • bwithbooks says:

      You met her? CAN I just freak out? I didn’t know she was Canadian? Dammit… I had my chance and didn’t even realise it. I lived on Vancouver Island for a few years ago as a student (I studied about an hour south from Victoria) but I was in Vancouver every other weekend man.

      I want the purple cover. Yes.

  11. Kelley says:

    Beautiful review for a beautiful book! You pointed out some of my favorite things about Seraphina. It was a little slow sometimes, but the depth of the story really made up for it, I think.

    I’m sorry that you found Seraphina’s inner struggle with her identity so painful. I, too, thought it was one of the most emotional and hard-to-read parts of the story (I’m also half-black and half-white!). I love that she finally learns to be true to herself, and I love that people love her even “despite” these things. 🙂

    • bwithbooks says:

      Your comment really did make my day!

      I enjoyed this book tremendously and I’m glad that the review reflects this.

      And I agree, with the last bit, that her finding herself in the last bit was one of the best parts in the book. It sort of dislodged something in me. Something that needed to be done.

  12. Yamini says:

    Can’t wait to get started on this book. I love the name, Seraphina.

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