Summary: In a world where dragons are real and an uneasy truce exists between them and humans, Seraphina is a young woman with a secret. The offspring of a human and a dragon, Seraphina is a musical prodigy whose situation allows her considerable insight into both worlds. But a half human/half dragon isn’t even supposed to be possible, and there is such stigma over the idea of humans and dragons mating that Seraphina must not tell anyone about the dragon scales on her body or the mysterious psychic connection she has with others like her. As the anniversary of the dragon/human treaty approaches, there are many barriers from both species that stand in the way. When a rogue dragon has infiltrated the court putting everyone in danger, Seraphina is in a unique position to figure out what is going on and to do something about it. Fortunately, she also has a lot of people to love and support her.
Number of Pages: 512
Age Range: 13-15
Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is a richly detailed fantasy story that on the surface is about dragons and humans trying to co-exist peacefully, but has many layers of plot and character development underneath.
It’s hard to read a book that’s over 500 pages in a day and provide an well-rounded review, but here it goes.
Hartman pours the history of dragon/human relations into her story, focusing on the fortieth anniversary of a treaty signed between the two species, but she also explores how difficult it was to achieve the peace and the various ways people and dragons are trying to pull that peace apart.
Though dragons are logic creatures, emotionless and have the ability to take human shape (somewhat like Vulcan except able to breathe fire), not all are interested in letting bygones be bygones and giving up their glory days. There are still those who would like to hoard gold over knowledge and who aren’t interested in consorting with humans.
But it goes both ways. When dragons are in human form they are generally tolerated and accepted, but appearance in dragon form is not permitted except for one day a year. Humans are fear-mongering and with some reason as the treaty has effectively wiped out their defences against dragons with the banishment of the knights and other complicated plots are in progress to weaken the humans even further.
I love how Hartman allows her reader to see both sides of the story. While being specific, the tension between humans and dragons also speaks to accommodating anyone we feel is different from us and finding empathy for them as well.
I’m looking forward to learning more about the Saints in Hartman’s next book, especially Seraphina’s true saint who was proclaimed to be a heretic. The religion of the humans is intricate but has its’ faults, and I can’t wait to read how the church is going to handle the existence of several half human/half dragons.
But the best part of the book is Seraphina herself. She may be a character plagued by dragon scales and an imposition on her mind that takes time to reveal its true nature, but she is fearless. Seraphina knows so much about the dragon and human worlds from her studies and her heritage that being able to unravel the plots behind ending the treaty is something Seraphina is uniquely qualified to do. And through it all she comes to terms with her body and abilities, while also finding love and acceptance after years of isolation. Definitely a heroine I want to keep reading about.
Overall, it’s well-developed tale with action and adventure that serves as an excellent, solid start to the Seraphina series.
“I remember being born.
In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.
Then my world spilt open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.” – Seraphina from Serephina by Rachel Hartman, Prologue
“Not that St. Capiti – may she keep me in her heart – made a poor substitute saint. She was shockingly apropos, in fact. St. Capiti carried her own head on a plate like a roast goose; it glared out from the page, daring me to judge her. She represented the life of the mind, utterly divorced from the sordid goings-on of the body.” – Seraphina from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Prologue
“‘There are unseen forces that act upon all of us, all the time, and they act in predictable ways. If I were to drop you from this tower’ – here she shook me, and the city spun, a vortex ready to swallow me up – ‘your falling form would accelerate at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. So would my hat; so did your shoes. We are all pulled toward our doom in exactly the same way, by exactly the same way, by exactly the same force.’
She meant gravity – dragons aren’t good at metaphor – but her words resonated with me more personally. Invisible factors in my life would inevitably lead to my downfall. I felt I had known this all along. There was no escape.” – Seraphina reflecting on a vivid lesson on gravity from Zeyd from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Three
“He continued: ‘In this particular case, I think there was more to it than that. You honestly answered by question.’ He sat back smugly, as if he’d solved a difficult riddle. ‘I asked what it’s like to be so talented, and you gave me a straightforward comparison: like being a bastard! And with a little extra though, I get it. Everyone gawps at you for something you can’t help and did nothing to deserve. Your very presence makes other people feel awkward. You stand out when in fact you’d rather not.'” – Kiggs from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirteen
“‘One night I saw a hoard, gleaming like the sun. I stepped up to it, to run my fingers through it, but it wasn’t gold, it was knowledge! And I realized a wondrous truth: that knowledge could be our treasure, that there were things humankind knew that we did not, that our conquest need not comprise taking and killing, but could consist of our mutual conquest of ignorance and distrust.'” – Comonot from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Fifteen
“With shaking hands I opened the wooden case. Inside, wrapped in a long strip of saffron fabric, was a flute of polished ebony, inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl. It took my breath away; I knew it at once for hers.
I put it to my lips and played a scale, smooth as water. Both my wrists twinged painfully as my fingers moved. I took the saffron strip and wound it around my scabby left wrist. It came from both my parents. Let it remind me I was not along, and protect me from myself.
I rose renewed, and headed for the door. There was work yet to be done, and I was the only one who could do it.” – Seraphina from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Twenty-Nine
“A thousand regrets I’ve had in love,
A thousand times I’ve longed to change the past.
I know, my love, there is no going back,
No undoing of our thousand burdens.
We must go on despite our heavy hearts.
A thousand regrets I’ve had in love,
But I shall never regret you.” – Song written by Seraphina’s father from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirty-One
“Papa extricated himself, bowed, and set off down the hall. For a fleeting instant, in the sad curve of his shoulders, I saw what Comonot could not: the core of decency; the weight he had carried so long; the endless struggle to do right in the wake of this irreversible wrong; the grieving husband and frightened father; the author of all those love songs. For the first time, I understood.” – Seraphina observing her father from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirty-Six
“His eyes fluttered shut, and he was quiet so long I thought he had fallen asleep, but then he said, in a voice so soft I could barely hear: ‘Love is not a disease.’
‘I’m not completely certain she was right,’ he murmured. ‘But I cannot let them cut you out of me, nor her either. I will cling to my sickness … if it is a sickness … I will hold it close to me like the … the sun, and the …’ – Orma talking to Seraphina before succumbing to a drugged sleep from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirty-Six
“If I could keep a single moment for all time, that would be the one.
I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence, and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven. I believed, then, that I would have risen bodily into the sky but for the anchor of his hand in my hair and his round soft perfect mouth.” – Seraphina describing a kiss in Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirty-Seven
“Once I feared that telling thr truth would be like falling, that love would be like hitting the ground, but here I was, my feet firmly planted, standing on my own.
We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.” – Seraphina from Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Chapter Thirty-Seven