Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Seraphina #1)

seraphinaFour decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written New York Times bestselling and Morris Award-winning debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex and utterly original world that readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page. 

Seraphina gripped me from the very first word and enthralled me to the last. Right from the beginning I knew I would love this novel, what I didn’t know until the end was exactly how much. And that is, a lot. Enough to earn it a spot on my very exclusive favorites shelf. Enough for me to want to restart Seraphina again from the beginning so that I would never have to leave the atmosphere and world of the novel.

Perhaps I just read it at the right time. Because Seraphina was exactly the type of book I was looking for; it hit all the right notes.

Seraphina is possibly the most compelling character I’ve met in a long while. She is the heart of the story and her first person narrative is intimate and honest, often brutally so. Part of what makes her so interesting is that she is not fully human, and her mind and actions differ at times from the norm. I also loved the musical note she brought to the story.

I am equally in love with the rest of the cast of characters, the only ones I hate are the villains. Kiggs and Orma definitely top the list though. You won’t find any stereotypes here, only wonderfully developed personalities. The relationships between the characters are perhaps the best part; Seraphina changes, and is changed by those she meets. The romance is subtle and extraordinarily well done, never overshadowing the rest of the plot, but affecting it nonetheless.

Seraphina is wonderfully atmospheric and there is an underlying tension and pensiveness to Seraphina’s seemingly passive narration. The plot is intricately laid and flawlessly unveiled. It is filled with political strategies, assassinations, coups and battles. Plot lines smoothly give way to others and the novel never loses momentum. Foreshadowing is used masterfully well and cliffhangers are used sparingly for maximum effect. I could not put this book down.

The dragons present in the novel are explored to their fullest potential – from the way they interact with the world to the way the world interacts with them. Even the setting goes beyond just a backdrop and affects the ways the characters think and act.

But I saved the best for last. Hartman’s writing is nothing short of perfection and it is the glue that binds that elements of the story together. I think an example will serve better than my bumbling attempt at using adjectives:

“That’s the secret to performance: conviction. The right note played tentatively still misses its mark, but play boldly and no one will question you. If one believes there is truth in art – and I do – then it’s troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying. Maybe lying is itself a kind of art. I think about that more than I should.”

Or this:

“He did not know the truth of me, yet he had perceived something true about me that no one else had ever noticed. And in spite of that—or perhaps because of it—he believed me good, believed me worth taking seriously, and his belief, for one vertiginous moment, made me want to be better than I was.”

Seraphina is an exceptional fantasy novel and I can only hope that the sequel, Shadow Scale, will be equally mesmerizing.

Highly recommended.


4 thoughts on “Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Seraphina #1)

  1. I have yet to read this book! I’ve always been looking for more fantasy books on my tbr shelf.

    Great review. 🙂

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