Seraphina: review

August 29, 2012 2012, 4.5 star books, fantasy, K., Rachel Hartman 65

by Rachel Hartman

“He released the last chord like a boulder off a trebuchet.” It always feels this way when ending a book. There’s a weight to the final words, then you let them go and they’re gone.

I don’t think I’ve read a young adult book quite like Seraphina before. Rachel Hartman has built for us a world so rich and unique that it is almost dizzying to walk into. Her world is swathed in dark colours depicting a tale of menacing dragons who advocate peace, a stiff but admirably stalwart royal family of Queens and princesses, mothers persecuted, abandoned children, a gang of grotesques, a population of almost-dragons living like scum on the outskirts of humanity, exiled knights, music, love, war, betrayal, identity, lies and truths, a people divided between acceptance and hostility towards the winged-beasts, and finally, those caught in between.

The story sweeps you off your feet as a dragon might clamp its talons on your shoulders and whisk you away. It’s a story of politics and race, a treaty created between dragons and humans. It has been 40 years since the war and both societies live in relative tolerance — until a prince’s ill-timed murder disturbs this veil of peace, and the animosity, simmering heatedly under the cloak of politeness and adherence to the new law, is given permission to seep out in full force.

Seraphina, our protagonist, is a musical protege. She is also half dragon. She is removed, out of necessity, in all ways a young girl coming into her own cannot afford to be ; she layers her clothes to hide her scales as she layers over her heart to protect her loneliness. Seraphina is quite a bundle of maddening sadness but it never feels too heavy because she is also dignified, intelligent, and wants always to do the right thing. Seraphina’s sense of alienation, of one who cannot fathom ever being loved, effectively evokes sympathy; a universal sentiment written with care and perception. It is a girl living in the shadows, looking out on all the things she’s missing. “Speak more, Seraphina,” they said. “Socialize more.” But it was hard for her to open her heart to happiness because with that came the risk of disappointment. But she does, and the path there is poignantly paved.

What took me by surprise, but not really considering the impressive writing, is how concrete many of the secondary characters turned out to be. They undergo development. Too many times are these characters treated like caricatures; jesters forfeited for the sake of dramatic enhancement of the lead. Hartman generously allows them their own struggles and triumphs and they are wonderful: a young, impressionable queen-to-be who surpasses expectations; a dragon in human form, guarded but beginning to accept what it is to love; and a bastard prince caught in a battle between history and identity.

There’s a lot about sacrifice here. There’s a lot about many things here, but that in particular struck a chord. Sacrifice in the sense of knowing and understanding where we stand in life and how at times we must give up a part of ourselves for the greater good — in whatever terms such situations may arise. Also courage; to pull ourselves from our heap of despair and become whole again. Staving off pain when doing something we do not want to but must. And loneliness. The grave acceptance that being alone just comes all too naturally; that you almost would rather be in solitude than let yourself be seen — worst of all, be wanted. But as Seraphina learns, that is not a way to live and that in fact, when you look close enough, you’ll realize you have more than you ever dared believe you did.

Hartman’s words are exquisite. Her imagination is expansive. Her world is detailed and fascinating. She has created laws, and religion, and a history. She has built architecture, painted landscapes, and constructed streets and alleyways. She has peopled her world with characters of different shades — from rebels to teachers, musicians to politicians, royalty, knights, outcasts and lovers.

Most bizarrely is Hartman’s use of her semi-imagined language. I cannot say how many words I had to look up, discovering that the ones I thought were make-believe were in fact real, and ones I simply thought were foreign were fiction. It was both frustrating and marvelous. Her world is so prosperous of information that characters have entire conversations about philosophers we know nothing about. It puts us on the outside, leaving us in confusion over whether to feel left out or in awe.

All I have to say is that it was about time Rachel Hartman came along. This was quite extraordinary. My paltry attempt at a review can never stress how much good this has to offer. It is passion, intrigue and adventure; eloquence, excitement, and emotion. It may have lacked action in the way that knowing this is a dragon book might lead you to believe, but it is only the first of the series. Hartman is still holding out.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars

This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. 

65 Responses to “Seraphina: review”

  1. Lisa

    Lovely review! It’s good to know that the secondary characters are also fleshed-out in addition to the beautiful writing. I’m going to pick this up next since it’s been sitting in my to-read pile since the day it came out.

  2. Christina Fiorelli

    I absolutely loved Seraphina! I completely agree with you, how the words flow and the world is so truly vivid! Love your review as well, with all the metaphors:)

  3. Jaime Lester

    I am so excited about Seraphina. I love the cover, the premise makes me happy, and you like it, so I know that I can go into expecting really good things. Thanks so much for the review!

  4. Shanon (Escaping With Fiction)

    Your review of this book is definitely the most beautifully written review I’ve come across so far! This book sounds amazing, and it seems like it is filled with many intriguing elements. I’ll definitely have to check this book out. =)

  5. Adriane

    Thanks for the review on this one! I am super excited to read this book. I love dragons and this one really intriuges me!

    • K.

      Well, never too late, Heidi. And I know what you mean. It’s like there are no words to express how good a book is. Alas, we must try…for we are reviewers and that is what we do ;)

  6. Vivien

    I wish I had enjoyed this novel more. I just hard the hardest time getting into it. The writing didn’t keep my attention very well. *shrug* I don’t know…I didn’t hate it though!

  7. The Teen Book Guru

    Aaaaw K, what an absolutely brilliant and well-written review. This book seems so good and I really can’t wait to get lost in Rachel Hartman’s dizzying and fabulous world. :) I love what you said about sacrifice and courage, and it just really struck a chord, just as I think this book will. Amazing, fantastic, fabulous review, K! I’ve only been following the blog for a little while now, but you guys seriously write the BEST reviews ever! Love you guys! xx

    • K.

      Wow, thanks! What a compliment! And yes, this book is more than what we usually get. It was fun, deep, and moving. So get going!

  8. Natalia Belikov @ Dazzling Reads

    OOOOOh Wendy!!! I LOVE your reviews!!!! <333333333333333
    You see beyond the mere entertainment and I love how deep you go with your reviews.
    Now Im just waiting my next paycheck to go to the bookstore.

    Thanks for sharing sweetheart ^_^ Marvelous review!

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks, darling–but this amazing review is all the ingenius work of my lovely co-blogger K. I would like to take credit for her work, but alas, my conscience would get the better of me. ;)

    • K.

      Hi, Natalia! Wendy doesn’t have to take credit for anything. She’s a force all on her own ;)

  9. Savannah Valdez

    I’ve seen this book around, but felt a bit skeptical to reading it. Your review is awesome and have convince me otherwise. Thanks for sharing!

    • K.

      Just please read a few chapters, Savannah, and if you don’t like it, put it down. Just give it a tryyyy!

  10. Joyous Reads

    I think this is the first detailed review of this book that I’ve read that told me why this book must not be missed.

    Thanks for yet another insightful, great review.

    • K.

      Oh really? I’ve seen quite a few, which is why I decided to tackle this beast of a book :)

  11. Vegan YA Nerds

    Beautiful review, K! I feel like one of the only bloggers not to have read this yet and now I am really wondering why! They world sounds amazing, as does Rachel’s writing.

    • K.

      I don’t read as many high fantasy ya as other readers but if they’re all like this, then I’m going to have to do something about that.

  12. Rachel

    I really need to pick this up. I’ve seen so many rave reviews for this story. Lovely review K. :)

  13. Eden

    Wow, you’ve just added yet another glowing review to the pile I’ve read already for this book, K! I have heard that it takes a while to get into, but everything that you’ve mentioned — the themes, the secondary characters and worldbuilding — do sound as if they would take some time to estbalish around the reader. I’m guessing it’s one of those things where, if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded in the end? :)

    • K.

      It is quite a heavy book in that there’s a lot that goes on. Plus, the overall atmosphere isn’t all light, or insubstantial, as other ya fiction are. But obviously, I thought it was worth it ;)

    • K.

      Thanks you double, Lisa, haha! And you’re going to be so happy that you own this book. Just wait.

  14. Pocketful of Books

    Drrrrrragonsssss. I loves them. My favourite part of this book was the imagination garden thing- so cool! And the depth of the world- I agree about the words! I can’t wait to read more from Rachel Hartman.

    • K.

      I know. I don’t think I’ve ever come across as bizarre as the inner garden thing. It’s still a bit of a mystery so I’m excited to delve deeper into those secrets.

  15. Keertana

    Stunning review, K.!(: I loved Seraphina and I’m so glad you enjoyed it this much as well! I feel like re-reading this book now after reading your fabulous review, especially because your review reminded me of all the reasons this novel became one of my all-time favorites. Seraphina was simply such a well-developed character that I felt for her and admired her so much. Plus, Kiggs!<3 Absolutely beautiful review K...definitely one of my favorites of yours! :)

    Ivy Book Bindings

    • K.

      Thank you, Keertana. I can’t wait to see where Seraphina and Kiggs go from here. I did have a slight qualm about the romance, however, thus the 4.5 stars…but still rooting, I promise ;)

  16. Braiden

    Probably need to return this book. Read up to 7 chapters and just found it an overload of sensory information – was just too much to get used to because it’s just unbelievably different to every other YA book. But that’s a positive isn’t it? So I should really return to it.

  17. Wendy Darling

    The story sweeps you off your feet as a dragon might clamp its talons on your shoulders and whisk you away.

    ♥ this review, and you.

  18. The Story Queen

    K, this is such a beautiful review! It really brings me back to reading the book itself which was another amazing experience. I loved the detailed worldbuilding, the realistic characters, the gorgeous writing and the wealth of messages and themes. There was so much going on that I fell in love with and I can only hope that the next book is just as brilliant. Fantastic review, K! <3 Thanks for sharing! :)


    • K.

      Thank you, Sonia. I can’t wait to see what Hartman has in store for us. What sucks is this just came out!!

  19. A Canadian Girl

    K, I adored Seraphina too. The worldbuilding is so intricate, the coming-of-age aspect beautifully done and the cast of characters just felt realistic. I didn’t realize though that some of what I assumed to be Hartman’s imagined words were actually real. Guess this one is also good for your vocabulary :)

  20. Gina @ My Precious

    Wow! What an utterly insightful review. I had wanted to read this one before, but now I want to go out and get a copy now. I do have it on audio, its really long, so far I’ve been afraid to start it. Your review convinced me otherwise.

  21. Jennifer Messerschmidt

    I’ve seen a lot of people reading this one but admit I had no idea what it was about. I kind of over looked the cover even though I love dragon stories. It sounds very interesting especially since the main character is part dragon and hides her scales.

    • K.

      Maybe its because the cover makes it seem like a children’s book? I think, anyway but it definitely caught my eye. Good thing, too.

  22. Sam

    Your reviews are always brilliant, K. This one is no exception. :) I’m glad you enjoyed Seraphina! I keep meaning to return to my copy (I’ve read about the first 50 pages and agree that the writing is impressive), only I never seem to have the time to squeeze it in. It’s clear I will need to push aside some of those review copies and make an attempt on this book. Great review! :)

    • K.

      Oh, you must, Sam! I read maybe 10 and dropped anything I was doing just to read! Well, just go on and try again then. And come back to me when you’ve finished and report your feelings which will undoubtedly be blown :)

  23. SaraO

    I’m excited to do this one. Think I’m sold on the audiobook after seeing a review of it on Love that you thought the world building and character development were fantastic. Love it when something is new, different, and well written ;)

  24. April (BooksandWine)

    Oh, K this review is utterly gorgeous. I love your love of Seraphina. I agree so much about the secondary characters and how they seemed pretty realized, if you know what I mean.

  25. Melliane

    I heard great things about this book and I forgot I had to read it so thanks for reminding me. great review!