Seraphina


Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, is a story about dragons.

“Naomi Novik, New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire series:
‘A book worth hoarding, as glittering and silver-bright as dragon scales, with a heroine who insists on carving herself a place in your mind.’”

Which is a perfect way of putting it.

Seraphina is an incredibly talented musician in a land of tentative peace between people and dragons. The Treaty has been in effect for 40 years of peace, but the people of Goredd still maintain distrust for their long-lived, coldly logical dragon neighbors. Oh, and dragons have the ability to take on the appearance of humans at will.

Seraphina arrives at court for her position as assistant to the music master just as a member of the royal family is murdered in “suspiciously draconian fashion.”

Suddenly, the Treaty is being questioned and hate explodes between the peoples. Seraphina, half-dragon, with a dragon tutor, doesn’t fit in anywhere, and she’s got her own problems to deal with. But suddenly she’s swept up into the case, trying to find the rogue dragon causing the trouble, while trying not to drown in the sea of lies she’s spun around herself.

That was a slightly awkward summary. Rachel Hartman is not any sort of awkward in her writing. Even if the plot were gaping open with implausibilities and plotholes, this would be a beautiful book. She writes with an elegant grace. For example,

“I became the very air; I was full of stars. I was the soaring spaces between the spires of the cathedral, the solemn breath of chimneys, a whispered prayer upon the winter wind. I was silence,and I was music, one clear transcendent chord rising toward Heaven. I believed, then, that I would have risen bodily into the sky but for the anchor of his hand in my hair and his round soft perfect mouth.”

And, a song she wrote, that I found beautiful:

“‘Peaches and Cheese’:
The vagabond sun winks down through the trees,
While lilacs, like memories, waft on the breeze,
My friend, I was born for days such as these,
To inhale perfume,
And cut through the gloom,
And feast like a king upon peaches and cheese!
I’ll travel this wide world and go where I please,
Can’t stop my wand’ring, it’s like a disease.
My only regret as I cross the high seas:
What I leave behind,
Though I hope to find,
My own golden city of peaches and cheese!

This is a book of trust, conspiracy, revenge, choices, family, love, mystery, politics, music, and…so much more. The characters are true and complex, and even if there is war, it is a world that you want to live in. Everything is tangible and true. Some parts of it are more…simple than NOTW (grr), and it’s nowhere near as complex as either of the first two in terms of plot. But it still manages to span a graceful arc. It takes place in the present and the past; inside Seraphina’s head (literally) and out of it; in the land of the humans and the land of the dragons and the inside of the palace; surrounded by family and all alone. The dragons are logical, and dispassionate, and distant, aloof and calculating and rational—and still lovable. The humans are flawed and awkward and full of emotion, like real people. And the names. “Ardmagar Comonot.” This name just pops into my head at the most random of times. I always am very careful when picking names. Clearly Ms. Hartman shares this philosophy.

This is an author with talent. She speaks at times with simplicity and at times with complexity and builds a world around you, of sparkling lights against midnight skies, and sharp-edged scales, and mud in the cracks.

And of course if none of this convinces you, the back is covered with reviews by people like Tamora Pierce(!!), Christopher Paolini, Alison Goodman (Eon), and more.

Writing

I think I’ve answered that. I’ll give 5.5/5 stars, because I have very high standards for writing quality, but this was gorgeous.

Character Depth/Development

Seraphina is tangible. She has flaws, and she lies to hide the parts of herself she’s ashamed of. Then she gets caught up in the lies. She has problems trusting. Her dragon teacher Orma is always cold, and detached, and aloof, like all dragons, but he’s still fallible and lovable and sweet in an awkward way. All of the characters have flaws and depth, and over the course of the book most of them learn important things about themselves (at risk of being trite and simplistic, Seraphina learns that sometimes the truth is OK and you need to trust people; Orma learns that sometimes, emotion is not deplorable, and love is wonderful; etc.). 5/5. I’m not sure exactly what would elicit a rating higher than that here, but this was slightly above average. Just not enough for that.

Plot

The plot is strong, without plotholes, and unpredictable. It’s not the most intricate, but it’s complex in comparison to “normal” books. 5/5

Je Ne C’est Quois

5/5

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