Seraphina by Rachel Hartman — A Review

seraphinaSeraphina by Rachel Hartman

RaeleighReads rating: 4 out of 5 coffee cups

“You, of all people, understand the burden of having to prove that you are good enough to exist, that you are worth all the grief your mother caused everyone. Bastard equals monster in our hearts’ respective lexicons; that’s why you always had such insight into it.”

Seraphina, ah, how I wanted to love you! Why? I love dragon novels, and I especially love it when authors do something new with an already saturated genre and that is exactly what Hartman does. Seraphina is well written, timely, has a great deal of subtext that I may examine more closely in another post, but I just didn’t LOVE it. I liked it – quite a bit, and that is why I have given it four out of five coffee cups. Allow me to explain.

My initial impression was that the writing was a tad clunky, but that evened itself out after the first couple of chapters. After that, I found the writing to be superb. Hartman creates quite a few vivid word pictures, and her musical language was something that struck a particularly delightful chord with me.

Now, let me move on to the story. This is, without a doubt, the most interesting take on dragon literature that I have ever read. This is not your typical dragon world — dragon’s actually take on human form! What!? So awesome. Seraphina is a particularly interesting character because she is caught between these two worlds — the world of man and the world of dragon in man-form, which Hartman calls saarantras (if you’re put off by books that create new words to fit the new world you may not like this, but there is a handy glossary in the back of the book).

Seraphina has a terrible secret to hide, which causes her to wear lying like a second skin. She’s a talented musician, very intelligent, strong, and caring, but those amazing parts of her character are harshly contrasted with her less appealing characteristics:  cowering, degrading herself, negative self-talk, and becoming shy and tongue-tied in the presence of a particular man. The sharp juxtaposition in traits seemed a little odd to me at times, but I think if we really think about the novel, they make perfect sense. Seraphina is struggling to create a life of her own and fit in to a rigid medievalesque culture, all while trying to conceal a very major secret. Further more, I’m not sure why we insist that human beings must have consistent character traits. We don’t. Still, the differences in her behavior were something that rankled throughout the novel.

The plot was a little slow to develop, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By the end of the novel though, the action was so intense I was wishing it had been that way much sooner, but that is simply a personal preference. I enjoy a lot of action over a lot of dialogue and inner monologue in my dragon novels. If you really enjoy hearing a character’s inner thoughts — you will likely enjoy this immensely.

At this point you are probably wondering, “Well, then why didn’t you love it? This review seems pretty favorable.” And it is. I enjoyed this novel and will read the second in the series, Shadow Scale. But something about it just didn’t grip me, and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what that is. All I can say in defense of myself is that when I really love a book, I will not put it down until I’ve finished it. I will forgo meals and bathroom breaks, and I will ignore every other human being in my life. With Seraphina, I had to take breaks. We’re talking every-couple-of-chapters breaks. It took me an entire week to read a book that I could have finished in roughly ten hours.

That said, if you like dragon novels, if you like novels where a main character struggles with pieces of herself, if you’ve ever felt like the odd man out, if you like a hint of an authentic romance, and/or if you like a novel with a medieval tableau, then you will enjoy reading this, and I hope you do.

Some opinions you may be interested in:

“[A] lush, intricately plotted fantasy.” — The Washington Post

“Will appeal to both fans of Christpher Paolini’s Eragon series and Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.” — Entertainment Weekly

Some other opinions you may find useful:

“Sometimes you read a book, agree with all positive reviews of it, but it just doesn’t work for you. That’s the case with Seraphina and me.” — Tatiana on Goodreads

“Another book that sounded really good and the cover was great but that did nothing for me. I obviously must have read or attempted to read a different book from everyone else. I say this because most people loved the book or at least liked it. I wanted to so like this book but I could not get into it. In fact, I had a hard time trying to figure out what was happening as I was reading it.” — Cheryl Koch on Amazon



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