Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

- Seraphina #1
Release date: July 10th 2012
Published by: Random House Children's Books
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Find it on: Goodreads, Amazon

Four 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.

It certainly wasn't easy to read Seraphina, especially the first and second chapters. The writing was sloppy, full of short sentences and weird phrasings and expressions, and most of all, the narrative was as confusing as one can possibly be. I almost stopped reading right there. However, I had read several positive reviews last week, and all of them mentioned Rachel Hartman's beautiful and thoughtful writing style. As the story progressed, and we, as readers, get more comfortable in the world Seraphina lived it, the writing abruptly changes. It transforms, indeed, into a narration as beautiful and delicate as the main character herself. I had to keep a dictionary at my side, for Rachel's use of vocabulary was... eccentric, to say the least.

You know that protagonist that feels human, and is so solid it's like she's close to you at all times, when you're reading a book? That's Seraphina. She's intelligent, talented, compassionate, caring, and most of all, smart. She makes mistakes, of course, but none that made me want to pull my hair out. Phina, though a half-breed, was the most human character in this book - and that's saying a lot, since all the characters created by Rachel Hartman, from Phina's father to Lucian Kiggs and the Queen herself, are solid and well constructed.

A fantasy novel - especially one that deals with creatures such as dragons - has to have a dense world-building, enough for me to create in my head a layout of what the author intended. That, in my humble opinion, was the only aspect that was missing in this book. Of course, we get to know everything about the city, the races, the dragons, the characters, the Treaty between humans and dragons... but what about the world itself? What's it like? Many times I simply had to imagine it, and though it worked (kind of!) it was a gap in the story that was never fulfilled. This is the first book in the series, and I sincerely hope Rachel Hartman will offer us a deeper insight of her novel in the next installment.

As for the romantic element in Seraphina... well. It was subtle and suave, consisting of smart dialogues between Phina and Lucian that began to deepen more and more as the story progressed - and as Phina's secret almost surfaced. The romance developed slowly, and by the time I was on the last chapter, I was begging for more. One of the things I liked most about it was that the author didn't write one single cliché. It wasn't like Lucian fell to his knees and said "I can't live without you". The characters were so well constructed it would've been ridiculous, had something like that happened. This particular quote jumped at me: 

"If we were to go forward from here, we would proceed not rashly, not thoughtlessly, but Kiggs-and-Phina fashion. That was the only way it could work."

If everything I said in this review wasn't enough, here it is: I loved Seraphina. It was refreshing, and at the same time incredibly complex. Christopher Paolini saying great things about it should've been a tip of how unique this novel is. After the Inheritance Cycle (that's still my favorite series about dragons, hands down), Seraphina is the best fantasy novel I've read. It has the writing, the characters, the mythology, and the story necessary to grab thousands of readers out there and never let go. 


  1. "You know that protagonist that feels human, and is so solid it's like she's close to you at all times, when you're reading a book? That's Seraphina."
    That's exactly how I felt about Seraphina. I loved this book from start to finish. Great review :) You know I totally missed that Christopher Paolini had said anything about it, but I did get the audio book so I didn't have his recommendation on the front cover! Thanks for sharing.

    1. He did! He said, "Beautifully written, well-rounded characters, and some of the most interesting dragons I've read in fantasy for a long while. An impressive debut novel." Well, I should have listened to him :D Is the audio book good?