Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is a YA fantasy novel set in the mythical human kingdom of Goredd, where a peace treaty of forty years enables the human and dragon kingdoms to coexist without the need for war, with each race respecting the legislation.
However, in typical fashion this peace is not as stable as it could be, and when a royal prince is murdered the dragons are instantly blamed by several groups. This mainly arises out of lack of understanding as most humans don’t trust the dragons, particularly the ones that live in Goredd in their human forms, called the saarantrai. Likewise, the dragons don’t understand human emotions, as they don’t allow themselves to make any emotional connections and any who find themselves developing such feelings have their minds purged by the dragon Censor Office.
Into this unstable peace comes Seraphina Dombegh, an exceptionally talented musician who works at the court of Goredd’s royal family. Her existence is even more unstable than that of the kingdom, as she struggles to hide her true nature from everyone she meets, meaning she can never get close to anyone. Seraphina’s terrible secret is that she is half-dragon and half-human, her draconic mother having committed the crime of falling in love with her human father. As a result, she has silvery scales upon her left arm and back which she must always keep hidden.
Believed to be the only one of her kind, Seraphina is taught by her draconic uncle, Orma, who unwittingly appears to have formed an emotional family bond to her despite dragon law. He teaches her about locking her overwhelming emotions away in her mind, in order to prevent the onset of visions left to her by her mother, as dragons can pass memories through the generations. As a result, the reader is given an insight into Seraphina’s mind ‘garden’, which is filled with other individuals whom she believes to be a product of her imagination, but who start to appear in her reality…
Seraphina is an amazingly strong main character, with her first person narrative providing the basis for the majority of the novel. I was a little doubtful about her perspective to begin with, as the prologue wasn’t overly strong, but I ended up growing to love her. Her emotional struggles drive the novel forward, as she faces a never-ending battle to keep her true self hidden from those she meets, and to protect her uncle Orma from suspicion. She displays both dragon and human traits at times, and it is often like she’s trying to prove to herself as much as everyone else that she isn’t a monster. I also loved how protective she is over Orma, and how unprejudiced she is towards dragons, often defending dragons against accusations.
Seraphina builds up a relationship with the engaged royal cousins Princess Glisselda and Prince Lucian as she helps to uncover the truth behind the plots to sabotage the peace treaty, but will they still accept her if they know what she really is? She becomes attached to Lucian in particular after undertaking a couple of investigative missions with him, as he is the bastard of Glisselda’s aunt and knows how it feels to be outcast from society. He was a really intriguing and philosophical character, but his investigative nature means that it is constantly dangerous to be around him for fear of what he may discover about her true nature.
I loved the plot of this novel, as it constantly took me through a series of twists and turns that I really didn’t see coming. Seraphina’s heritage gets explored along the way, and I loved her growth as a character as she became more confident in herself. At the end of the novel I had my suspicions about what would happen, but the book completely went against everything I expected and I was really surprised. I’m hoping for a sequel, as I really want to know what Seraphina will discover next!
Seraphina is a wonderful book that dragged me into its fantasy world and wouldn’t let me go. The main character’s internal struggles were beautifully detailed and full of emotion, and the plot kept me guessing right until the end and wasn’t the obvious ending I was expecting. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel some time soon!
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