8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (US) / Doubleday Childrens (UK)
Publication Date: July 2012 (US & UK)
Hardcover: 480 Pages (US)

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.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

How did I get this book: e-ARC from the publisher (via NetGalley)

Why did I read this book: Firstly, the US cover caught my eye because it is gorgeous and different and so very appealing (the UK cover…not so much). Then, I read the blurb and immediately wanted the book VERY BADLY. Finally, I saw the stellar reviews start to roll in – not just from the likes of Tamora Pierce and Naomi Novik, but from some trusted bloggers. Naturally, I was completely and utterly SOLD on Seraphina – and when the publisher contacted us about coverage, you bet I sent back a very excited, exclamation-pointy email.


From the moment that Seraphina was born and made her way, screaming, into the world, she immediately knew that she was different. Able to recall her birth and time as a baby, Seraphina grows up to a precocious young girl, infuriatingly hidden away by her overprotective father. Of all her father’s rules, one rankles most of all – Seraphina is forbidden from playing music. After she discovers her mother’s flute and teaches herself to play it, with the goal of shaming her father into assenting to giving her music lessons, her father is enraged, and terrified. The exchange leads Seraphina to discover one of the most desperately hidden secrets and truths of her young life – and her life from that point onward will never be the same.

As a result of that earthshaking night, Seraphina is allowed her music if nothing else, and apprentices under Orma, a saarantas dragon in human form. As her skill grows, so too does her reputation, and soon Seraphina becomes the apprentice of the finest musician in the kingdom and tutor to the crown princess herself. Attention, however, for someone in Seraphina’s position comes at a terrible risk, and soon she finds herself embroiled in the ever-increasing tensions between the dragons and humans of the Southlands. When a beloved monarch, Prince Rufus, is killed by means that look very much like a dragon attack, the truce between the two species is strained to its limits – unrest from anti-draconian factions and religious brotherhoods take to the streets, while the dragons themselves survey the fraying political situation with disdain.

At the heart of this powder keg, Seraphina struggles to calm tensions and encourage understanding. Working to uncover the truth of Prince Rufus’ murder with Prince Lucian Kiggs, bastard heir and captain of the guard, Seraphina also struggles with her own abilities and heritage, which threaten to overcome her and reveal her deepest, most guarded secret.

It is very hard to write this review without spoiling anything, so I apologize if anything here is slightly misleading – it would be a shame to spoil any of the developments and turns the story takes along the way. What I can tell you, dear readers, is that Seraphina is a beautiful, majestic creature of a novel in style and in substance – so much so, that it is hard to believe that this wondrous book is Rachel Hartman’s debut novel. Dragon fantasy novels are a dime a dozen (though perhaps not so much en vogue as they once were in earlier decades), but Hartman takes what could have been a very tired magical creature novel and weaves a complex world rife with inter-species tension and bigotry, a refreshingly unique and awesome sense of magical ability, and an ode to what it means to feel and be…well, not just human, but a sentient, respected living creature.

There’s a richness to every facet of this book, from character to world, but there are two superb aspects of the book to which I must draw your attention, dear readers:

First, there is the amazingly nuanced and genuine relationship between human and dragon that underscores the main conflict of Seraphina. I love that dragons are not treated as majestic beautiful shiny creatures in this book – they are both familiar and alien, cooly logical, precise, and uncaring of human sentiment (or are they?). The idea of dragons that can shift into human form is not an unfamiliar premise, but the behavior of these dragons and their reverence of knowledge and attitude towards humans is decidedly unique and beautifully constructed. As Seraphina makes the comparison to Princess Glisselda early in the novel, to dragons, humans are not too different than cockroaches – reproducing quickly, stubborn to kill, scattering and multiplying. But more than just cockroaches, humans are interesting, and their ability to create art and their messy emotions are what fascinate and seal the peace between the two species. The tensions that follow this uneasy truce are wholly believable, and I love the careful, nuanced way that the story develops this storm and feeling of mistrust on both sides of the treaty.

The second outstanding aspect of the novel, and most important to me, is the character of Seraphina herself. People, I LOVE SERAPHINA SO MUCH. Struggling to conceal the secret that would mean her immediate doom, walking the fine line between the world of dragons and humans, Seraphina is an enterprising, wonderful heroine for whom you cannot help but feel and cheer. She tries to keep herself separate from others, but yearns so much to end the lonliness that has characterized her entire life – in particular, her relationship with the dragon Orma is a wondrously complicated construct. Her relationships with other characters are fantastically done, too, from the impish Princess Glisselda to the cuttingly intelligent Prince Kiggs.

And I haven’t even touched on the richness of art, the melodic quality of the writing that sits so beautifully against the music that moves Seraphina so, the thread of creative joy that runs throughout the novel! Nor have I touched on the wonderful conceit of Seraphina’s emergent memories, gifts from her mother, and latent abilities that need tending in the form of a magical garden (and what this translates to in the real world). But therein lie spoilers, and I promised not to spoil.

Suffice it to say, there are many, many beautiful things about this novel. I loved Seraphina from cover to cover, and I dearly hope that fantasy lovers everywhere take heed and read this remarkable, wonderful debut. Seraphina is another lock for my favorite books of 2012, and I emphatically recommend it to all.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt:

“He was going to kill you,” I said, my chin quivering. “I had to do something.”

Damn propriety. Forgive me, St. Clare.

I stepped forward and took him in my arms. He was exactly my height, which surprised me; my awe of him had made him seem taller. He emitted a whimper of protest, or maybe surprise, but wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my hair, half weeping, half scolding me.

“Life is so short,” I said, not sure why I was saying it, not even sure if that was really true for someone like me.

We were still standing there, clinging to each other, our feet ice-cold in the snow, when Orma landed on the next hilltop, followed closely by Basind. Kiggs lifted his head and stared at them, big-eyed. My heart fell.

I’d told him I had no devices. I’d lied right to the prince’s face, and here was the proof: the dragon I’d called, and his dimwitted sidekick.

PLUS, you can read an exclusive prequel to Seraphina, titled “The Audition”, online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: Make sure to stop by on Monday, as we have author Rachel Hartman over for a guest post plus a chance to win a copy of Seraphina! Until then, we leave you with the official book trailer:

Rating: 8 – Truly Excellent, and leaning towards a 9

Reading Next: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook, google, & apple


  • Darlynne
    July 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

    This sounds fabulous and thank goodness for the library. Ouch! I wish price weren’t a consideration, but there it is. Can’t wait to read this one. Thank you!

  • Rachael
    July 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I loved, loved, loved, loved (is that too many?) this book. Such stunning writing, glorious details, and so much more awesomeness.

  • Estara
    July 6, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I had read good things, but this review clinched my need to buy this forthwith. Thanks, Thea! 😀

  • Zoë Marriott
    July 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I loved this one too! I snapped it up from NetGalley because transforming dragons are one of my bullet-proof kinks, but I had no idea I would be getting this amazing story filled with such nuanced, complex characters. Rachel Hartman’s writing was a revelation. And I adored Seraphina – she reminded me of Jane Eyre, a resolute, moral heroine under terrible pressure. I can’t wait for the next one, and this one is barely out!

  • janicu
    July 6, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I’m so relieved you liked this! I was nagging everyone about it at BEA but later started to worry about other people’s reactions to a book I really liked. This is one of those books that just makes me gleefully happy though. SO up my alley.

  • Thea
    July 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Darlynne – I completely understand (as someone who spends the vast majority of her disposable – and not so disposable! – income on books)! I really hope you are able to get a copy of this book and love it as much as I did!

    Rachael – YES! The writing is flawless, and I loved this book so very much. I’m so happy to see that you did, too!

    Estara – Oh, I *know* you are gonna love this book. It is right up your alley! Can’t wait to see what you think!

    Zoë – Yes, a million times yes! Seraphina has become one of my favorite heroines and I love the Jane Eyre comparison – so very apt! I cannot wait for the second book, hopefully it won’t be too long in the making!

    Janicu – Your review is the one that really got me hyped for this book 😀 So THANK YOU! I loved Seraphina so very, very much.

  • Maya S
    July 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I absolutely adored every word of this book. Simply stunning. I was so sad at the end when there wasn’t any more and I knew I’d have to wait ages for the next book.

  • Ashley Prince
    July 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I really, really want to read this one! I put in a request for it on NetGalley. Fingers crossed! Great review. 😀

  • Linda W
    July 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I heard that the world building was superb.My advisor also highly recommended it. Now your review clinches it. I will preorder this! I can’t wait to read it.

  • Liz
    July 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Oooh, this looks so good! It’s a hard balance to write dragons so that they’re still relatable and yet not human — so far I would say Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series does the best job with that. I can’t wait to check this one out! Plus it’s received good reviews from so many authors I already like.

  • Liviania
    July 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I can’t wait to read this one – dragons, music, everything nice. And all the reviews have been amazing.

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  • Sofie
    July 9, 2012 at 5:42 am

    I was on the fence about this one, but after reading your review I’m buying it immediately. Thanks, Thea!

  • Emily's Reading Room
    July 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I read this one and just had to slog through it. I don’t know what happened! I just couldn’t connect with it. I thought that the concept of the memory garden and such was SO imaginative and cool. But, I’m not sure if it was just the sheer length of the book or my mood while reading it. Such a bummer.

  • Chachic
    July 10, 2012 at 7:37 am

    I’m currently reading this one and I’m hoping that I end up loving it as much as you did. Thea, I got my copy from the big Fully Booked branch in Fort. :mrgreen: We rarely get books in time for their release dates over here so I was pretty excited when I found out that Seraphina was already available.

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