Rachel Hartman


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

August 22, 2020

don't remember why I decided to read Seraphina. I think I was reading a review of a different fantasy novel, and the reviewer made a remark like "...not since Seraphina, have I seen such an original world building..." - so I ended up checking Seraphina out of the library. I am certainly glad I did - once the story got rolling, it was hard to put down. Seraphina is a half breed - she had a human father and a dragon mother. In this world, dragons have the power to transform into human form, and it was while her mother was in human shape that Seraphina's parents fell in love.

Seraphina's world has a Renaissance feel to it. There are saints, cathedrals and orchestras, balls, kings and queens, and knights with swords. Seraphina is an assistant music director to the court, the country is preparing for a big celebration of the 40 year peace treaty between humanity and dragons. The leader of the dragons, named Comonot, is titled the Ardmagar; (I was a long way into the novel before I realized that Ardmagar was a title, I had mistakenly thought Ardmagar and Comonot were two different characters) he is coming to the human capital to celebrate the anniversary of the signing. But it quickly becomes apparent that not everyone wants peace. The body of Prince Rufus was found after a hunting expedition - his head had been cut off - just the type of deed a dragon would commit. Are dragons trying to destroy the treaty, or is someone (the Sons of Ogdo?) trying to implicate the dragons?

Being a halfbreed, Seraphina has a unique understanding of both worlds - she was raised by her father, but her Uncle Orma is a dragon, and he has taught Seraphina to speak dragons, to understand their ways and customs. Seraphina's dual nature is a dark secret, no one (except her father and Uncle Orma) know that she is part dragon. Although she scales on part of her body, to the outward eye she looks like a normal human. Half breeds are despised and hated, if Seraphina's secret became known, she would be ostracized.

Seraphina's unique ancestory has resulted in mental problems that plague her. To control these visions and mental storms, Seraphina has construct a memory garden, and stored within in it the seventeen different monsters that haunt her dreams. If she can keep the monsters mentally in their garden places, Seraphina can get through a day. But stress and weariness can lower her defenses, and the monsters can act. This is a unique aspect to Seraphina's personality, it makes her different from any other heroine that I have encountered in a fantasy novel.

Since this is novel, Seraphina becomes involved in many of the goings on at court. For an assistant musican teacher, she is known to many of the royalty and top nobles. Much of her interaction is with Prince Kiggs. Despite his title, Prince Kiggs is a bastard son, and so serves as captain of the guard. Kiggs acts like a medieval detective, it is up to him and Seraphina to figure out what is going on before anyone can strike a fatal blow to the treaty. Seraphina is well drawn and likable, but Prince Kiggs was my favorite character. Hartman shows Kiggs to be intelligent, likable, and a thoroughly decent human being. But Kiggs doesn't know Seraphina is part-dragon, and she finds herself telling lies to deflect him from discovering her ancestory. But Kiggs can sense that Seraphina is not being truthful with him, but he can't figure out why, and so the two, who should be partners in the investigation, don't trust each other.

Hartman has created an excellent cast of characters, and given them a nice plot, but perhaps the strongest part of the book is the world building. Seraphina's world seems so alive and detailed, that even a world full of shape shifting dragons seems like a plausible story. This is a great read, and I see that there is a sequel Shadow Scale, so I will have add that to my To-Be-Read stack. I hope I get to it soon.