Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina Dombegh has a secret. Her mother was a saar, making her half-dragon, half-human, and 100% abomination in the eyes of both humans and dragons. Even though the two races are technically at peace—celebrating an upcoming anniversary of the 40 year treaty between dragons and humankind, in fact—there is intense mistrust and dislike between them. When a suspicious death causes tensions between dragons and humans to rise, Seraphina finds herself entangled in a mystery that could make keeping her secret harder than ever.
Prior to reading Seraphina, I’d been told by multiple people that I was a guaranteed to love it, it was a “me” book. Now, post-reading, I consider that a HUGE compliment, because this book is one of the most original, well-written fantasies I’ve read in a long time. If you want to put a smile on a bookish person’s face, tell them “Seraphina is a ‘you’ book.” It’s better than flowers.
Here are a few reasons this book charmed me:
Sweet (and forbidden!!) Romance
There are a lot of factors going against the romance between Prince Lucian and Seraphina in this book—species and class differences, obligations, secrets and lies—and yet these two crazy kids manage to forge one of those adorable friendships that just builds and builds until it is too big to be anything but love.
Better still, Lucian and Seraphina are straight up nerds—flirting over philosophy, music, science—and their friendship is full of sweet, sweet nerdmance.
Dragons Among Us
I love tales of not-quite-humans trying to fit in as humans and all the drama that comes with it: fear of detection, the stress of perfect imitation, and struggling to understand humanity and its seemingly inferior distractions like love and compassion. It doesn’t matter if it’s cyborgs, vampires, or in this case, dragons; I eat it up. These stories where being outed could mean death will strike a chord with anyone who has felt alienated in any way, because of their gender, race, sexual orientation or religion.
Furthermore, watching a sworn enemy put himself in your shoes and actually get kind of comfy highlights how so many struggles and tensions between opposing groups could be improved upon with a bit of empathy.
Seraphina has a plucky, intelligent, innately likeable voice that you’d have to be a robot or an ice-cold saar to avoid loving. She is tortured by her secret, and ashamed of her body. Though she knows she needs to avoid public scrutiny to keep herself and her father safe, she can’t help but pursue her love of music all the way to the Goredd court—which unfortunately, puts her in something of a fish bowl.
We are also treated to Seraphina’s mother’s memories, which she has passed on to Seraphina in that peculiar way only dragons can. Her voice is just as passionate and lyrical as Seraphina’s. It is wonderful to see this at times brutal world through their eyes, and feel their passion and fear burning through the pages.
Oh I love Orma so much. As a saar, he is not supposed to be capable of love, so if I explained all the reasons why, he would totally be like, “I don’t have the stomach for this human blubbering.” (Then he’d turn away and sort of kind of MAYBE smile a bit).
Dragons are like Vulcans in this book, and Orma is our Spock. They don’t understand emotion, and live for logic and order. Orma shouldn’t care what happens to Seraphina; he shouldn’t have any affection at all for his mentee; there are even dragon censor council tests him to make sure he doesn’t.
But in spite of his dragon nature, Orma can’t seem to help protecting Seraphina, and I love him for it. Plus watching him try to navigate baffling human customs is hilarious.
I confess, I am no expert on dragon lit, but I think I can safely say that this is an entirely original interpretation of dragons. Aside from taking on human forms, these dragons have a lot of familiar features—fire-breathing, hoard gathering, a hunger for humans, and epic wingspans.
Other new dragon features—memories passed on to their children, the mental “tending of the garden,” and dragon technology (which is far more advanced than human technology in this world)—all make for interesting and rich updates to dragon lore.
Best of all? None of this mythology is info-dumped. The rules of the world are slipped in through careful details and plot points, and it makes for SUCH a satisfying fantasy.