I know, I know. Everyone and their mother has told you how great this book is. And I will gladly add my name to that list, for Seraphina is a wonderful, wonderful novel.
Seraphina (after the name of the heroine of the story) is set in the kingdom of Goredd. Goredd has known peace between dragons and humans for almost four decades, but distrust between the two is running high. When a member of the royal family is murdered in a manner that makes people suspect a dragon is behind in, these tensions come more and more to the surface, just as the court is preparing for a celebration of the peace treaty’s 40 year anniversary. Seraphina Dombregh, a talented musician, has just been appointed assistant to the main music conductor at court. She has reason to fear both sides, and has been told by her father and the saarantas Orma, a dragon in human form, to lay low. But soon she’s drawn into the investigation together with Prince Lucian Kigg. In the middle of the threat to peace, Seraphina struggles to keep her own secret safe.
I am by no means an experienced fantasy reader, but even so I feel confident in telling you that the world building is fantastic in Seraphina. The setting of Goredd, with its court-life, the different species, dragons being able to take human form, other kinds of dragons who cannot, and the human-dragon relationships is built up so well. It is a rare thing when I have exact pictures of the setting described in my head, but even weeks after finishing Seraphina, my head supplies me with pictures of landscapes , the city, and court. And that isn’t because Hartman’s descriptions are long-winded and all too detailed, because they aren’t. There’s simply exceptionally good gradual world building that allows you to slowly become familiar with the world in which Seraphina lives.
There were two things that particularly interested me in Seraphina. First, there is the divide between the two worlds of dragons and humans (and I have to thank Ana’s review for making this all the more visible to me). Dragons are cold, rational creatures, while humans are seen as emotional, and therefore better able to perform in the arts. When dragons take human form as saarantras, they experience human emotions. Out of fear that their emotions will last and take away some of the essence of being a dragon, any dragon who gets too emotionally attached has to go through excision, in which any memories and emotional attachments are erased from his brain.
This dualism between ratio and emotions has fascinated me since high school due to some interactions with someone who didn’t believe in emotions, and my frustrations on meeting with a strict divide between the two on many occasions. Moreover, the idea of dragons as logicians and humans as more able in the arts reminded me of the common dualism between science and the humanities, that you encounter in so many strata of today’s society: if you’re a physicist, surely you cannot be a proper lover of music, and if you’re an artist it’s a given you aren’t good at math. Having dealt with this stereotype all too often as a science major in high school who went on to study history, it annoys me to no end.
This is why I appreciated the manner in which this dualism is addressed in Seraphina so much. Because it depicts it and foregrounds it even more by letting it coincide with a divide between species, and then continues to undermine it through Seraphina’s story. Seraphina in person, her back story, and some of the interactions between humans and dragons around her continually challenge and subvert these assumptions. I cannot go into detail as to how this happens without giving much of the plot away, but I can say that this was very well executed and subtly done.
The other things I absolutely loved was Seraphina herself. She is insecure yet strong, and she is very much a character who still has to come to terms with who she is, but who deals with this process on her own terms. There is a definite character growth throughout the novel. And while there are outer circumstances which threaten to disrupt her path to finding self-acceptance, and she often experiences a sense of hopelessness, she always comes through fighting. What I loved about the way in which her character is described is that she never becomes an exceptionally strong girl that you cannot identify with but only admire. Seraphine experiences insecurities, even of the most devastating varieties, and she comes close to giving up on herself, but she also learns, grows, and keeps going. Despite the definite trajectory Seraphina goes through, she is thus a character that I was able to sympathise with throughout the novel. And she’s also someone who I would have been able to look to as a literary inspiration when younger, in finding self-acceptance.
What adds to my love for Seraphina’s characterisation and growth is that the love triangle that plays a role in the latter part of the novel never disrupts her sense of self-sufficiency. Despite her awareness of loving a certain character, despite the help she receives from him, she never relies on him. There are even numerous occasions when she ignores his help because she feels she should handle things on her own. [insert joyful dancing here]. More importantly, the love triangle is very different from the trope you often find in YA literature of the last few years, which even had me hesitate to use the word because it might summon dislike in some people. You see, there isn’t any unhealthy rivalry, and the message of the whole thing seems to be that despite having two people love the same person, friendship can still win out.
Despite my love for the novel, I did find the beginning a little bit slow. The world building is still fantastic in that part, and Seraphina’s character is too, but it wasn’t until somewhere in the middle of the novel that I was completely hooked and could not put the book down before I finished it. And I mean this quite literally, as at that point I stayed up until 3.15 am to finish it.
If I were to summarise my feelings for this novel, they would be expressions of love and joy. It is not often that right upon finishing an e-galley, I order the hardcover copy of a novel. Usually I wait for the paperback release. Not for this one though. I am all giddy with the thought of taking up the beautiful US hardback copy of this novel in anticipation of the sequel (There will be a sequel right? For once, I desperately want this to be a series!). There is a reason why I mention the US version though, as the UK cover made me cringe a little bit.
Other Opinions: Things Mean A Lot, Stella Matutina, The Book Smugglers, Bookworm1858, Books Without Any Pictures, The Night Bookmobile, Mindful Musings, Steph Su Reads, Waking Brain Cells, The Readventurer, Gimme More Books, Misfit Salon, Polishing Mud Balls, weartheoldcoat, Paranormal Indulgence, Magnificent Octopus, Charlotte’s Library, intoyourlungs.
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