As soon as I saw that Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, was YA fiction about dragons, I thought I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Seraphina is awesome—it’s engaging, well plotted, and a delightful read.
The book’s heroine Seraphina, a musician, lives in Goredd, a country inhabited by both people and dragons. The dragons, which hang out in human form and are known as saarantrai, or saars, have their own country and government, and they coexist with humans thanks to a treaty. (Goredd is also home to other non-humans, quigutls, which have some dragon-like characteristics.) Each saar always has his or her real dragon form lurking beneath the surface; changing back and forth is limited by bureaucracy but is always a possibility.
While the saars look human, they are identifiable as their real selves through their smell, which is apparent only to other saars, and their silver blood. Another, more subtle giveaway can be their non-human behavior; dragons struggle to understand human emotion, and they’re forbidden from developing feelings toward or about humans. Yet the rules keeping saars and humans from bonding do get broken. For instance, Seraphina’s long-dead mother was a dragon who, as a saar, fell in love with a human, Claude; a situation made worse by the incredible result, in the book’s universe, of a saar becoming pregnant by a human.
After a prologue centered on Seraphina’s birth, the book picks up several years later. By then Seraphina, who has become an exceptional musician, has a place at her country’s court. When the murder of a human royal, Prince Rufus, kickstarts worry about whether dragon-human agreements will hold, Seraphina soon delves into the intrigue surrounding his death. She’s not an official spy, but she’s good at spying, and while she thinks critically of herself for continuously lying to most other characters, her lies—such as those obscuring her dragon-born half—are necessary for her survival.
As the plot races through the suspense of maintaining dragon-human relationships between both individuals and species, other wonderful characters appear: Orma, Seraphina’s maternal uncle and teacher, who also breaks the dragons’ rules about emotion; and members of the royal family, including the third generation’s engaged cousins and future rulers Princess Glisselda, whom Seraphina tutors in music, and Prince Lucian Kiggs, a philosophy reader and Captain of the Guard. Of course, the connection between Lucian and Seraphina gets increasingly more powerful as they try to maintain their individual loyalties to Glisselda – and as Seraphina tries to protect herself – while figuring out what happened to Prince Rufus and why.
Ultimately, I think it’s impossible to recommend Seraphina enough. Even before I was done reading it, I had started wondering about its sequel. I can’t wait to read that, too—and in the meantime, I might have to reread Seraphina right away.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.