Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

UK paperback book cover of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’m not sure why, but I don’t seem to come across dragons in my reading much. I like them (or the idea of them at any rate, having never actually met one) well enough, but the concept seems to have been disregarded lately in favour of an abundance of vampires and zombies. Bring back the dragons! I will happily and gladly read any dragon-y offerings that come my way so get on with it, aspiring authors!

Plot summary: The kingdom of Goredd is populated by humans and by dragons who fold themselves into a human form. Though they live alongside each other, the peace between them is uneasy. But when a member of the royal family is murdered, and the crime appears to have been committed by a dragon the peace and treaty between both worlds is seriously threatened.

Into this comes Seraphina, a gifted musician who joins the royal court as the assistant to the court composer. She is soon drawn into the murder investigation and, as she uncovers hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace in Goredd for good, finds herself caught desperately in the middle of the tension. For Seraphina hides a secret – the secret behind her musical gift – and if she is found out, her life is in serious danger.
Seraphina has a very unique plot, even leaving aside the infrequency of dragons mentioned above. It’s mostly of a political nature, dealing with the tenuous alliance between the people of Goredd and the dragons, and there’s not much action. However, that’s not to say it’s boring! There are enough twists and turns to keep fast hold of your attention and the characters are all fairly likeable and interesting.

The writing itself is pretty damn good as well, and I don’t mean ‘good for a debut author’ or ‘good for a YA author…’ It’s just a genuinely well-written book, whatever standard you choose to hold it to. The dialogue seems natural and unstilted, even though this is where an awful lot of début authors fall down. The prose and descriptions of the city are actually kind of beautiful and written in a way that many authors should envy. It seems real and that’s the mark of a truly well-written story.

The romance is also done rather well. I can’t deal with books that shove it in your face to the point where the original purpose of the book becomes merely a subplot to the relationship, but in Seraphina it’s nothing of the sort. It’s subtle and gentle and never implies that ‘that dragon bit’ is less important than the romance. I like it and I actually hope it develops further in the sequel, which is something I never thought I’d say.

If it fell down anywhere, it was the detail. Occasionally something just wouldn’t make sense and I felt the little ‘clunk’ inside my head. Nothing major, just little things like… I don’t know, characters suddenly knowing the name of another character without ever asking for it or talking about something they overheard in a language they weren’t supposed to understand. It’s not a big thing, but it did make the overall novel seem slightly rushed and I can’t help but think it would have been a simple issue to resolve.

I also felt like the fairly intricate plot sped off before I was completely comfortable with the characters and the situation. The world-building is wonderful, but I think I would have liked to get settled a little more with the characters relationships to each other and whatever is going on in Seraphina’s head, before being expected the follow the plot completely.

The ending was great, as well. It has a nicely rounded-off ending yet has a clear direction for the second book, Dracomachia, which is due to be released in February 2014. When I finished reading I actually had to go and check that it was a series. I like feeling like I’ve actually been told a full story and not part of one when I’ve finished a book.

To conclude, I liked Seraphina and will most definitely be purchasing the second book in the series. Still. I can’t help but feel it could have been more – it has a great plot with wonderful writing but the slightly ‘rushed’ feeling meant that it didn’t quite live up to its full potential.

Visit Rachel Hartman’s website here or find her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ellie says:

    "I like them (or the idea of them at any rate, having never actually met one) well enough"… This review was MADE OF WIN before I even finished the first paragraph. 😛

    I think I have an ARC of Seraphina lurking SOMEWHERE on a pile in the flat, so I may have to dig it out at some point. I've heard very good things about it, but I'll take heed of your warning and pay extra-close attention to the world-building in the hope that I won't get too left behind!

  2. Sarah says:

    Dragons that fold themselves into human form?? INTERESTING. Although it's a little sad that dragons aren't more of a focus in the book… still, I'll keep an eye out for it! 🙂

  3. I've been meaning to read this for *ages* and yet keep forgetting every time I go near a bookshop. But you're totally right – there are nowhere near enough dragon books in the world. When I was a teenager, my aunt and uncle kept recommending Ann McCaffrey to me but for some reason I just never got round to reading anything by her. Or if I did, I don't really remember it. Which is probably almost as bad…

    ANYway, the most recent book about dragons that I read was Eragon and that is most definitely not well-written. At all. So it'd be nice to be able to read a book about dragons that I wasn't mentally moaning to myself about the whole time!

  4. Hannah says:

    Okay, cool. Have a feeling I'll agree with your verdict on this one if I ever find the time/want to squeeze it in.

    By the way? Dragons: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/3899614-hannah-jaedia?format=html&shelf=dragons

    1. Hannah says:

      Hm. I need more dragon books. Considering I love dragons so much..

  5. Great review. I do have a copy of this on my old Iphone. Its a long one so I always put off reading it. But, the weird thing is, I REALLY like dragon books. I wish I could find some spare time to listen to this one. After reading your review, I know its going to be a book I can sink my teeth into and enjoy.

    Marlene Detierro (Salmon Fishing Rogue River)

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