Reviewed by Ambrea
Seraphina Dombergh is a gifted musician and a talented singer and, as the assistant music mistress in the castle, she is constantly moving in and out of the royal court. Seraphina, however, has a very dangerous secret she’s trying to conceal: her mother was a dragon—which makes Seraphina half dragon.
With tensions rising between the dragons and mankind, Seraphina finds herself in a very precarious position. Caught in the middle of the investigation of the prince’s death and struggling to keep her true nature a secret from everyone she’s ever known, Seraphina will find herself balancing on the precipice of two worlds—the human world of her father, and the dragon world of her mother—and she will soon have to decide where she belongs.
Rachel Hartman’s novel is wonderfully descriptive and detailed. With her narrator, Seraphina Dombergh, she creates a beautiful and strange world full of dangerous dragons, unique races of people and creatures, martyred saints, and volatile politics. Seraphina is an intriguing piece of work—complex and intricate, but it flows effortlessly—and it’s highly addictive. (I read Seraphina in less than three days.)
Additionally, I liked that Hartman tinkers with dragon lore. She turns dragons into more than simply a sentient race, but an entire people: a community with its own laws, its own systems of belief, its own technological advances and literature and art. Moreover, she creates a reality in which dragons have managed to take upon themselves a human form. She offers new qualities, raises new questions about dragons and their capabilities, but, more to the point, she provides readers with a richer mythos.
I also enjoyed Hartman’s narrator, Seraphina, immensely. She’s wonderfully descriptive and completely candid, having both a scathing wit and a shyness that make her an intelligent, insightful, and enjoyable narrator. She’s brave, she’s flawed, and she’s startlingly human—and it’s incredibly easy to become emotionally invested (and addicted) to her story.
However, Seraphina delivers an unexpected emotional impact. Seraphina has many obstacles to face: her dragon heritage, her fear and self-loathing, her hatred and distrust of her parentage, her fear of discovery and impending war, fear for her own soul and social stigmas as she struggles with her own mortality—or immortality?—and love. It’s a heady brew of emotional, social, and political conflicts. And, honestly, I sometimes feared for Seraphina’s safety, keeping my fingers crossed that she would find the happiness she so richly deserves.
(Seraphina is the beginning of a series by Hartman. Shadow Scale, which was published earlier this year, continues Seraphina’s story.)