Clare Cannon's Reviews > Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
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's review
Jul 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 13-15yrs, young-adult, favorites
Recommended for: 14+ (females)

Seraphina is first and foremost a beautiful character story. It is also very original fantasy, and though it takes some time to situate the reader in its world, it builds to an exciting climax. In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans had been enemies for many years. But not long ago the dragons discovered how to take human forms, and their leader made a treaty with the human king to ensure peace. Now humans and dragons live side by side, though strict social rules prohibit their becoming too close.

In this highly original setting, we come to know two superb main characters, as well as a host of interesting secondary ones. Seraphina is a teenage girl who has grown up under the protection of her father and the guidance of a dragon tutor; her mother died while giving birth. Before this story begins she learns a terrible secret about her parentage, and this story is in part her journey toward self-acceptance. Prince Lucian is cousin to the Crown Princess of Goredd, and in spite of his illegitimacy it is expected that he will marry his cousin and assist in ruling the kingdom. When he is intrigued by Seraphina's outstanding musical ability, Seraphina must do everything she can to keep him from learning her secret.

The narrative is beautifully though simply told. Stylistically it could appeal to both adults and younger teens, however some innuendo and coarse language as well as blunt discussion of the shame of bastardy render it less appropriate for younger readers. Hartman has also invented a semi-religion where newborn babies are each dedicated to a particular 'saint' in order to win their intercessory blessing and inherit their special gift. This somewhat incomplete picture of 'saintly intercession' could confuse readers who are less well formed on the topic. Broader theological questions are also occasionally introduced, such as whether the possibility of eternal damnation is preferable to having no soul (and hence no freedom). Though this question is not answered directly, it could be said that the good characters demonstrate their belief in the value of the soul by putting their freedom to good effect in learning to combine duty with love.

This latter point is one of the greater developments in the main characters. Seraphina first interprets some others' actions as entirely selfish, because of the impact of these actions on herself. Later, once she is able to remove herself from the centre of the issue, she comes to understand others' goodness and can interpret their actions more objectively, judging them even as heroic and recognising the genuine love that drove them.

For herself she learns to acknowledge her heart, but realises that the needs of others must prevent her following her wishes straight away. She knows she could persuade another to forsake his duty, but that in doing so she would break a part of him - a part that she loved - that could not be fixed. Instead she shows how much nobler it is to make the right and more difficult choice, and live in hope.

As a romance this story is perfect, the kind that makes the soul sing. Without giving away who says what to whom, this is my favourite quote "I glimpsed the very heart of you, clear as sunlight, and it was something extraordinary."

I cannot wait for the rest of the series.
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