Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (book review)

Posted: November 5, 2012 in Book Review, LIBR 264 - Materials for Tweens, Tween Books, YA Books
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If you are a fan of Eragon, you will surely enjoy Seraphina

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. New York, NY: Random House.
Subjects: Identity, Self-actualization, dragons, secrets, murder, music, courts and courtiers, fantasy
Interest Level: 5-8 & YA

Seraphina takes place in the Kingdom of Goredd where humans and dragons coexist and intermix. Over four decades before the story takes place, there was a war between the humans and dragons, and as part of the peace between the two races, dragons agreed not to live as their natural self, but rather fold themselves into human shape and live amongst the humans to some extent. During the 40 year fragile humankind-dragonkind peace treaty, there has been tension and sadness between the two races. There are humans that are very anti-dragon and dragons that want nothing to do with humankind. This medieval dragon fantasy is a story filled with accepting oneself, magical secrets, and royal scandals. This is also a murder mystery in which Seraphina, teams up with a human prince, her dragonian mentor, and others that are also part human, part dragon, who, like Seraphina, must keep their heritage a secret.  In the end, the prince and Seraphina discover who it is that has murdered and tried to break the treaty, and bring peace back to both civilizations.

Seraphina Dombegh, the protagonist is a very accomplished musician (human side), with great intelligence (dragonian side), wit, and a brave heart.  As her journey begins in the story, Seraphina believes herself to be human, but discovers that she is part human and part dragon as she can understand dragon speech, not something humans can do, and her body starts to show part of her heritage by developing scaly patches.  Her father, a human lawyer that helped bring peace to the land after the war, and her dragon mother, who left with Seraphina, messages imbedded into her mind that come alive during the course of the story. Prince Lucian Kiggs, a bastard grandson of the queen, meets Seraphina during the journey and they together, not only solve the mystery of the murder of the queen’s only son, Rufus, but also fall in love.  The prince is the Captain of the Queen’s Guard, a very smart military man, who finds a way to understand the rationality of dragons, and how peace is of the utmost importance. Orma, Seraphina’s mentor, the person she goes to when in need of answers, help and even hide her when needed.  It turns out that Orma is Seraphina’s uncle, a dragon himself, related to Seraphina’s mother, who is deceased in the story but who plays an integral part of Seraphina’s self-discovery.

Some ambassadors and nobles include the leader of the dragon world, Armagar Comonot who finds humans most interesting, Josef, Earl of Apsig, the lord from Samsamese, a neighboring country desires an end to human-dragon peace, and Count Pesavolta is another ruler from the neighboring country of Ninys. Of course, there are many more exciting personalities in this story, from spies to prima dona musicians, from princesses to dragonian spies, from knights that have been exiled to of course, Seraphina’s father, a human lawyer who once fell in love with a dragon. And maybe the most interesting and amusing characters of all are the dozen or so half-human and half-dragon creatures (Fruit Bat, Pelican Man, Loud Lad, Newt, and Miss Fusspot) that Seraphina can communicate with telepathically.

What makes Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina so unique and captivating is that the dragons are, for the majority of the story, in human form, not easily distinguished from humans, if they wish to stay hidden.  In Seraphina’s society, though, most dragons wear bells on their shoulders, so that they are identified as such.  There are, however, those that are part-human/part-dragon, and looked down upon by both societies, and not easily accepted by either. Seraphina is well told, exciting, and a very different twist on the human/dragon fantasy story.  Seraphina embraces topics of ethics such as; segregation, acceptance of others, interracial relationships, and the overall good vs. bad.

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