Sara's Reviews > Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, female-protagonists, young-adult

Actual Rating: 3.5 / 5

After reading the songs of praise from authors, book bloggers, and other critics – and learning that the sequel Shadow Scale is due out next March – I decided it was finally time to take flight with Rachel Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. And what a sweet, intelligent story this turned out to be! Not only does Hartman offer a compelling new take on dragons, but she also proves that YA fantasy doesn’t have to be action-packed or overly romantic to keep readers in suspense and turning the pages.

So much of Seraphina’s plot involves the protagonist, Seraphina Dombegh, keeping a monster of a secret: She’s half-human, half-dragon – and half-breeds are considered an abomination by both sides of Goredd’s human-dragon quarrel. With her new position as the royal family’s assistant musical director, Seraphina finds it increasingly difficult to not only conceal her truth, but also accept herself for who she is. For example, she’s repulsed by her patches of scales (which she covers with her clothing) and ultimately herself. This theme of self-acceptance is what I enjoyed most about this novel. In some ways, I could see myself in Seraphina, since I’d experienced similar struggles as a teenager. So, I was pleased to see what starts as Seraphina’s means to protect herself evolves into a journey of compassion, identity, and self-validation – lessons that Hartman’s target audience will relate to and embrace.

What’s refreshing about Seraphina is its focus on political intrigue and mystery-solving instead of violence or romance. Sure, there’s an awesome dragon fight at one point, and Seraphina does fall in love, but both elements take a backseat here. Tension builds as Seraphina struggles to hide her heritage, keep her mentor Orma out of trouble, and successfully orchestrate the musical side of the peace treaty’s 40th anniversary festivities. Hartman also shows off an adorable, unexpected sense of humor throughout Seraphina. I laughed out loud several times, especially during the tavern scene in Quighole. (I’m still chuckling about it now!)

One more area where Hartman excels in Seraphina is character development. Seraphina in particular is a well-rounded heroine. She’s clever, caring, wry, and stronger than she realizes. She’s also wary, self-effacing, and a little too curious for her own good. Her passion for music can be felt through her intricate descriptions and emotional reactions; and since I love music, it’s such a pleasure to see this kind of literary character brought to life.

Oh, and the secondary characters! Orma grew on me as the novel went along, especially as he battles his own internal conflict. Basind’s ineptitude of everything from dragon-to-human transformation to basic social skills was a constant source of giggles. And the major character twist regarding General Imlann’s human form? Well, I guessed two different characters and was wrong both times, so Hartman deserves credit for fooling me there. Finally, while I liked Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda but was disappointed by their initial one-dimensionality, Hartman redeems herself by letting both royals evolve late in the book and show new sides of themselves.

So, why only a 3.5 out of 5? For me, Seraphina gets off to too slow of a start. After introducing the main conflict, Hartman spends a chapter and a half on backstory. OY VEY. I agree that the information helps readers understand Seraphina and her past, but it would have been less overwhelming to have it sprinkled throughout the novel instead of dumped all at once so early on. Several chapters passed – or rather, crawled by – before the story recovered and hooked me in again. Also, the excessive use of adverbs annoyed me after a while. That use is likely part of Seraphina’s intellectual “voice” as a narrating character, but it made me feel detached from her at times.

All that said, Seraphina is a truly unique symphony of intrigue, engaging characters, humor, and heart. There’s still so much to say about this novel even as I wrap up this review. Discussing the world-building alone would take up another paragraph or two – or more! So, just believe me when I say this novel will delight fantasy lovers who crave dragon tales, political conspiracies, and coming-of-age stories. And now I can say with certainty that I’m eager to see what the future holds for Seraphina in Shadow Scale next year. :)
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Reading Progress

October 5, 2014 – Shelved
October 5, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
November 15, 2014 – Started Reading
November 15, 2014 –
page 41
8.22% "Keep hearing good things about this book, so I finally started it today. A little prose-y, but interesting so far."
November 16, 2014 –
page 94
18.84% "First thought: My brain hurts from the backstory and internal garden / vision / sanity checks poor Seraphina has to do. Second thought: What's the plot again? :S"
November 18, 2014 –
page 134
26.85% "Liking Hartman's "voice" for Seraphina. It blends the scholarly, intellectual side of dragons with human emotion, and shows how she's constantly straddling that line between the two races. Still wondering what the book is actually about, though, other than Seraphina trying to keep her secret."
November 18, 2014 –
page 193
38.68% "Finally, we're getting somewhere! OH, and the tavern scene with Basind was hilarious!"
November 20, 2014 –
page 241
48.3% "Awww, I wish Seraphina would feel more deserving of happiness, but I know her feelings about her heritage and appearance hinder that. And Lucian has a complete crushie-crushie on Phina even though he's betrothed to someone else. OoooOOOOoooOOOoooh. *lol*"
November 20, 2014 –
page 285
57.11% "I think I know who General Imlann's human form is... Won't spoil it for anyone, but I'll let you know whether I'm right later on! ;)"
November 22, 2014 –
page 363
72.75% "Now I have TWO guesses as to who General Imlann's human form may be. Watch me be wrong about both. XD"
November 23, 2014 –
page 426
85.37% "Hoping to finish this tonight! Also, I was ABSOLUTELY wrong on both guesses about Imlann's human form. Never would have expected who it really was!"
November 24, 2014 –
page 483
96.79% "Done with the novel! Now I just need to read the short story at the end. :)"
November 25, 2014 – Finished Reading
December 1, 2014 – Shelved as: fantasy
December 1, 2014 – Shelved as: female-protagonists
December 1, 2014 – Shelved as: young-adult

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