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.
Please be forewarned that the following might be a huge love letter to the novel because I liked it that much. Where do I start? How do I start? Just talking about the book makes me want to reread it and I hardly ever reread books. Okay, fine, I’ll get on with it.
First of all, I need to apologise to DoubleDay Canada. I’m sorry I sent you so many requests on Net Galley. I also need to thank them for approving my review request because I was heartbroken when Random House declined by request (also many times). Anyway, point is, I got approved and was beyond myself with excitement at the chance to read the novel because so many of my GR friends have given it good reviews. No, not just good reviews but excellent reviews.
The magic of Seraphina is in its approach to the story. There is a quiet intensity in Seraphina, both the character and the novel, that draw the reader in. But before all that, Hartman’s writing is excellent. Her wordplay, wordsmithery is nothing short of genius and I appreciated that her use of vocabulary is sophisticated. She definitely knows how to construct sentences cleanly and clearly express whatever she wants to.
Moving on to the characters, Seraphina as the titular character is gorgeously developed. Her emotions, ambition, fears, desires and passions are all effortlessly interspersed with her character. I really liked how Hartman carefully nurtured the “otherness” in her personality. Very often you have main characters who are half human and half something else but their behaviour and their actions all paint them to be 100% human. Hartman brought out the draconian portion of Seraphina in different and convincing ways. This provides a natural segue to the Dragons in the novel. The Dragons are not humans. They may look like humans sometimes but they are not human and Hartman very accurately portrays this in their actions and their words. I appreciated the distinction.
The relationships are also very well-formed. The conflicts between Seraphina and her father are interesting and more complicated than the usual run-of-the-mill daddy issues but it is the relationship she has with her Uncle from her mother’s side that won me over. Her genuine friendship with the princess who could easily have been turned into a mean girl and in fact, the lack of the Mean Girls in the novel gave it an automatic five stars. The romance is also well done – it is approached almost delicately and remains, rightfully, a secondary plot and does not subsume the entire narrative as romances in YA novels are wont to do.
I really love the gradual coalescing of the Fellowship of the Half-Human/Half-Dragon entities. All the characters are colourful, with their own secrets and their own loyalties in the beginning. As Seraphina begins to find them, her own people, she begins to find herself. There are some sacrifices she has to make, some lessons she has to learn and some growing up that she must do. I could possibly go on and on about this novel but really, all you need to know is that it is wonderful and you need to read it.