Title: Seraphina (Book 1)
Author: Rachel Hartman
Published: July 2012 by Random House Children’s Books
Recommended for ages 12 and up
Source: Purchased from the bookstore
WHAT’S THE BOOK ABOUT?
Here’s a description from the publisher:
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.
WHAT DID I THINK OF THE BOOK?
It was very engaging. The notion of dragons taking human forms (called “saarantras/saarantrai”) and getting baffled by human emotions was interesting (but the thought of scales made me cringe a little bit as I’m not very fond of scaly things). In this fictional world, dragons and humans can interbreed, although it is frowned upon by both species.
Seraphina was a court musician in the kingdom of Goredd, so there were songs; some silly, some about love. And by gosh, of course there was singing (there was even a duet!). I liked Seraphina. She was a strong and brave heroine. Kiggs was likeable too. They both valued honesty, though sometimes lying gets in the way to protect the ones they love or because they are afraid of what others might think.
I think Seraphina had the most character development throughout the story. She develops into the heroine that she can be as she comes to terms with her own identity and embraces her reality. Princess Glisselda and Orma were nice supporting characters, too. The memory palace that Seraphina constructed (which she called “garden of grotesques”) in her mind to help her manage her visions was interesting and it also played an essential role in the story.
The villain was named early on and he was a dragon, but since dragons can change into human forms, they didn’t really know what or who exactly they were looking for. As I read, I was guessing along with the characters on who this villain might be as he could be anyone in the kingdom, posing as a normal human. I didn’t even suspect who it turned out to be. That was a surprising twist!
There were several quotes that caught my fancy and here are some of them:
- “But she’s right,” said Millie. “Rudeness is rudeness, even if unperceived.”
- “Sometimes the truth has difficulty breaching the city walls of our beliefs. A lie, dressed in the correct livery, passes through more easily” – Seraphina
- “There are two sacred causes in this world. Chance and necessity. By chance, I was there to help when you had need.” – Abdo
- “I don’t want to lie to you, but if I don’t, then there is nothing I can say. My hands are tied.” – Seraphina
- “It’s not bravery; it’s bullheaded bumbling.” – Seraphina
- The future would come, full of war and uncertainty, but I would not be facing it alone. I had love and work, friends and a people. I had a place to stand.
HALT! WHO GOES THERE? The publisher recommends it for ages 12 and up. There’s a bit of foul language, like “ass,” “bitch” and “bastard” (the latter in the technical and non-technical sense), but these were used sparingly. There are also some references to interbreeding and mating, but none described in a graphic way.
TO WRAP IT UP…
It’s a tale of love and acceptance, of good vs. evil. A tale where the good have to band together, set their differences aside, and battle against evil. It didn’t quite capture my imagination as much as I hoped it would. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read and the characters were appealing. There were a number of new terms and vocabulary to remember as I jumped into the very detailed and well-imagined world Ms. Hartman created. The glossary at the back pages were helpful for reference. The story is open-ended, but it’s not so much of a cliffhanger.
The book is intended to be the first of a series, and I’d be very interested to know what challenges Seraphina & company would find themselves in next and the role each of them will play.