Book: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House, 2012
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Source + Date Read: Christmas present + Jan. 2013
Recommend: 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.
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.