review: ‘Seraphina’ by Rachel Hartman

4 stars

Even though I gave this 4 stars, I didn’t whizz through this like I thought I would have. These are definitely some of the most intricate and well thought out dragons I have read about, but I found the novel quite slow and hard to get into at the beginning. In fact, the last couple of chapter’s were my favourite and can be largely thanked for my final rating.

Seraphina Dombegh is our protagonist, a half-human half-dragon hybrid (an ityasaari), her true identity unbeknownst to everyone around her except a select few of her nearest and dearest (her father, step-family and dragon uncle/tutor, Orma.) Her mother, who provided her dragon half, died in childbirth and a new identity was created for her in order to cover up the truth of Seraphina’s parentage. Relations between dragons and humans are hugely frowned upon, and births from these unions are completely unspeakable and unheard of, at least in the early days of the novel.

At the beginning of the novel Seraphina has been recently appointed as the assistant to the resident court musician, Viridius, and is music tutor to the Princess Glisselda. I liked Seraphina as a character, she was a well written and mostly relatable teenage girl (as much as a half dragon can be), but maybe at times a little too whiny and ‘woe is me’ for some. The fact she begins to develop feelings for Prince Lucian was extremely predictable, but I think the way the novel wraps up any subsequent ‘romance’ was actually quite satisfying, leaving room to explore their relationship in the follow up novel.

As briefly mentioned above, the dragons in this novel were really interesting and complex. They are written as totally straight to the point and literal. You know exactly what you’re getting with these dragons, they shoot from the hip. You’re going to get a totally unfiltered reaction when talking to a dragon. I really enjoy this quality in people in general so I liked that this was one of their main qualities, it was quite endearing to me. They have little regard for human emotion, not understanding sarcasm and the whole unperturbed attitude they give off was really amusing at times. They are very intelligent creatures and highly value mathematics and their concept of ‘ard’ – pertaining to correctness, and everything being orderly. Due to the peace treaty created 40 years before after a war, dragons are permitted to live among humans as long as they stay in their human form, called saarantras, and wear bells to identify themselves. Also, they have silver blood which is pretty cool.

There is a kind of subspecies of dragon called Quigutl, commonly referred to as Quigs, which do not have a human form (but they are closer to human size anyhow) that were also included in Comonot’s Treaty, and many of them live among humans also, but are fairly reclusive. Not to mention most humans have a strong dislike for them (among other things, they smell and are quite the troublemakers), and tend to avoid them at all costs.

The peace agreement is still to this day not entirely accepted by all however, and the novel opens with tensions risen as The Crown Prince of Goredd, Rufus, has been found in the woods dead and decapitated (a dragon trademark move), and the first part of this novel is mainly a whodunnit. As the novel progresses we get more background, we get further exploration of the tentative relationship between humans and dragons, and we get to hear a lot from Seraphina, our protagonist, and her inner turmoil. Seraphina’s personal life is discussed in depth, covering her rocky relationships with family members, and the experience of her making new friends and bonding with new people, despite her being adamant that she wants to keep under the radar. Being half-dragon, Seraphina has silver scales on her back and part of her arm, which she has to be vigilant in keeping hidden at all times.

In terms of content, apart from the slow beginning, I thought it was interesting if not a little complicated at times. Seraphina has a kind of mind palace, or garden as she calls it, where various individuals live (she doesn’t know until later in the novel that these are real people), and if she doesn’t keep these guys in their places and under control she suffers from blackouts and flashbacks courtesy of memories of her mothers that were passed onto her. Her tutor Orma helped her to build this mind garden in order to keep these visions under control. This is really difficult to explain (I’m probably doing an awful job), and it was equally as difficult to understand for me when I was first reading this. Without giving anything away – a bit later on in the novel, as the plot unfolds, it makes much more sense to why she has these people in her head.

Philosophy is a theme with a strong undercurrent throughout the novel, with Seraphina and Kiggs (Prince Lucian), often having conversations pertaining to their favourite philosophers and teachings. Religion also plays a pretty prevalent part in peoples place in this world also, with each person being assigned a Saint at birth, and this really enriched the novel with building up the history and details of this world.

I’m really looking forward to the follow up novel, and I hope we are given the opportunity to delve deeper into the dragon world in Shadow Scale.

Thanks for reading!

sign off heartJess

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