Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (@jessicadhaluska, @_rachelhartman)

Posted February 13, 2015 by Jessica in Fantasy, Jessica, Reviews, Young Adult / 62 Comments

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (@jessicadhaluska, @_rachelhartman)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Published on: July 10 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 512
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.


The oldest of my three younger sisters loves books as much as I do, but doesn’t have nearly as much time to read (b/c reasons). Fortunately, I know her well enough to keep recs to what I know she’ll love, so she can make the best use of the time she does have, not begrudging me my surplus of time—b/c otherwise, who would weed out the mediocre books?

The most recent book I knew she’d love is this one, but I was rereading it before Shadow Scale is released next month, and I couldn’t remember if she’d already read it (b/c my memory is crap), so the day after I finished it:

Me: Hey, did you ever read Seraphina?
Sister: Sarah-what?
Me: Se-ra-phin-a. It came out like 5(ish) years ago. It’s about this girl who’s a half-dragon—
Sister: Ooohhh . . . I wanna be a dragon.
Me: Half dragon.
Sister: Or a half dragon.
Me: Would you really want to be a dragon?
Sister: Depends . . . Would I lay eggs, or have normal babies?
Me: Eggs if you were a dragon, babies if you were half dragon.
Sister: Then I want to be a dragon.
Me: o.O
Sister: Whatever, being a dragon would be awesome. Flying around, breathing fire, hoarding treasure—
Me: Actually, the dragon leader guy outlawed hoarding treasure, so now they hoard knowledge.
Sister: So I get to hoard books?!
Me: Yep.
Sister: Could it be any more perfect?

NO. No, it could not.

As I said previously, Seraphina (the MC, not the title) is a half dragon. As such, she belongs no where and to no one. Yes, there has been a tentative peace between the two races for the past fourty years, but humans are notorious for hating that which frightens them, and these dragons are rather Vulcan-like in their views on pesky emotions.

Vulcans don’t marry outside of their species (unless political reasons *squints at Spock, Sr.*), and they definitely don’t marry for love.

Neither do dragons.

And humans are so horrified by the concept that they have half a dozen Saints encouraging medieval reactions to any cross-species dalliances. BUT they’re not too worried about it, b/c like that would happen anyway—everyone knows they should be killing the dragons (b/c dragons).

So Seraphina lives a solitary existence, in constant fear of discovery.

That sounds rather morose, doesn’t it?

Without undermining the relevant points being made, I will tell you that it absolutely isn’t.

In fact, it’s quietly hilarious. When Seraphina begins coming into her half dragon-ness as a preteen, she starts having seizures that are brought on by strange visions of even stranger creatures she’s never seen before. He uncle, on the dragon (or saar) side, asks that her father hand over the reins of her education:

“To you,” sneered my father. “And what will you do with her? She can’t go two hours without these infernal visions giving her seizures.”
“We could work on that, to start. We saar have techniques for taming a rebellious brain.” Orma tapped his own forehead, and then tapped it again as if the sensation intrigued him.

Why had it never struck me how deeply peculiar he was?

And once he has those reins:

He answered even my most impudent questions. Yes, dragons could smell colors under the right circumstances. Yes, it was a terrible idea to transform into a saarantras right after eating an aurochs.




Saarantras is a dragon’s human form, so you can see why it would be a bad idea to downsize so dramatically after aurochs consumption. *snorts*

Stuff like this is also why I believe in dragons, fyi. I mean, really . . . a dragon is basically a winged dinosaur:


That may or may not have breathed fire . . . not exactly a huge stretch . . .

So the plot is fantastic. What about the characters?

ALSO fantastic.

My favorite after Seraphina herself is Lars, a blond giant, a foreigner, and a fellow musician. I would love him for his (not-so-vaguely German) accent alone:

Lars glowered defensively, as if he anticipated a scolding or a profession of love. Yes, that was it: he thought I meant to proposition him. He wore a closed expression, as if rehearsing a speech in his head, a way to let me down gently after I stripped off all my clothes. Sorry, Seraphina, I dondt like grausleiner thet can put their voices in my headt.

Orma, the dragon uncle, is wonderful as well. He gradually changes from the typical rude and insensitive dragon, to a . . . less rude and insensitive dragon. *snickers* Both versions are highly entertaining:

“I’m attracting small children,” Orma muttered, twisting his hat in his hands. “Shoo it away, will you?”

And when he allows himself to feel the things he’s so long denied, he is helpless to express them:

“Who will kiss you? Who will rock you to sleep?” His voice was slow, drowsy.
“You never did,” I said, trying to tease him. “You were more father to me than my father, but you never did that.”
“Someone should. Someone should love you. I will bite him if he will not.”

And finally, the princess, who is a bizarre yet winsome, combination of oblivious and ridiculous:

“Two Knights came to the castle today!” She could barely contain herself; her hands fluttered about like two excitable small birds . . . “They claim to have spotted a rogue dragon, flying around the countryside in its natural shape! Isn’t that awful?”
Awful enough to have her grinning ear to ear. She was a strange little princess.

While still somehow managing to be highly intelligent, and on occasion, even wise.

Ultimately, Seraphina is one of those books that never really goes away. Along with Poison Study, it was one of the first YA fantasies that I read and loved as an adult, so once again, I was worried about whether or not it would live up to my memories . . .

I should not have been. It was every bit as clever and amusing, as pertinent and thought-provoking, and as lovely and bittersweet as I remembered. Highly recommended.


And there’s also an excellent and short prequel novella that you can read for FREE here: Seraphina: The Audition (Seraphina 0.5) by Rachel Hartman
Was this review helpful to you? If so, please consider voting for it on Amazon or like it on Goodreads!
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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.


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62 responses to “Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (@jessicadhaluska, @_rachelhartman)

    • I actually like dragons, but that’s mostly b/c I read a couple of really great MG fantasy books when I was a kid. I can admit that the more recent offerings had mostly left something to be desired. This one, however, is excellent. It’s fantasy, but it still tackles relevant real life issues. 😉

    • Thanks, Jeann! This really is one of the great YA fantasies. Here’s hoping you do read it sometime, and discover that, yes, it was indeed the dragon book you’d been waiting for 😉

  1. Pili from In Love With  

    I’m still halfway reading Seraphina, but not because I’m not liking it, which I am, very much, but because I have been distracted by other books that had somewhat of priority given that I ought to review them first and the like… but today, today I will dedicate it to Seraphina only!
    And seriously, I want to be a dragon and hoard books! Because I already hoard books and being a dragon would be just an awesome perk!
    Great review Jessica!
    Pili recently posted…Friday Reads: Gates of Thread And Stone by Lori M Lee!!

    • I hope you like it, Pili! I’ll admit that this was one of the few times that a reread went even better for me than the first time, and I do recall thinking it was a bit slow. BUT. This time I blew through it, and just LOVED it all.

      Thank you! And you and my sister would be great friends, I think 😉

  2. 4.5?? Well say no more because you know what that means, right?? You are what I will be calling my Fairy Book Pimp…*snickers* And that conversation with your sister…HILARIOUS!!!! I love this review Jessica but I’m sure you know that. ♥

    • Thank you! I don’t always, but when they’re this good, I can’t help it 😉

      And I don’t understand the lack of dragon love. You guys must not have read Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde or Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede when you were 12 o.O

  3. Jessica, you can’t imagine my relief in seeing that you love this book. It’s been on my bookshelf for…well, clearly for a long time if it came out 5ish years ago. The cover caught my eye and the synopsis hooked and reeled me in. I didn’t even know a second book was coming. I’ll have to make time for this one soon. Because yeah, there is nothing better than being a dragon and hoarding books. I already have the hoarding books skill perfected. 😉
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…Bought, Borrowed, & Bagged ~ #54

    • My sister IS awesome, and I talk to her every morning one her way to work 😉 If it sounds like I’m gloating, I’m not. This just hasn’t always been the case, so I’m inordinately pleased. And Orma is the best, LOL.

  4. I *LOVE* that conversation with your sister! Especially the ending (could it be more perfect??)! I don’t read much YA, but really enjoyed Seraphina and am looking forward to Shadow Scale.

    • This is a book that definitely warrants attention, and if your sister loves dragons, then yes, recommend Seraphina. I’ve not encountered more than a handful of people who didn’t love it as much as I did.

    • Thank you, darling. If I didn’t already say, it’s one of my favorites too. ALSO–I LOVE Janet Lee Carey’s dragons, DRAGONSWOOD, in particular. I cannot wait for her new book to come out.

  5. Your review reminds me how much I adored Seraphina. I’ll have to make an effort to read the 2nd book sooner rather than later.

    And I totally love your conversation with your sister. It fits right in with the rest of the review. 🙂
    Sarah recently posted…Review: The Windup Girl

  6. Jessica from a GREAT read  

    OOoh nice review! I bought this one not too long ago at HPB because I had heard good things about it over the years! Glad I did wait, because omg a 5 year wait for the next book?! My sanity is already stretched pretty thin with a few cliffhangers that have not been resolved as it is! 1 hopefully won’t be too much longer with its release, the other…who knows! And that’s deadly scary to me because OMG that was the most cliffhangery cliffhanger ever and there’s no resolution in sight!!!! *insert endless screaming!!*

    So yeah, a lot of rambling! I see you mentioned Poison Study and OMG I LOVE that series! Though I had NO idea it was classified as YA! I mean, I know I’ve seen it classified as both, but I always thought it was adult because when I bought it just before Magic Study released, it was considered adult. Though after reading it, I can see it as both…

    More rambling…sorry! Anyway, GREAT review! I cannot wait to read this one!
    Jessica recently posted…ARC Review–Soulbound by Kristen Callihan

    • Thanks, Jessica! The first book didn’t quite read like a standalone, but it did conclude nicely, without many loose ends, so the wait has just been the standard “OMG I love this author, when is she going to write a new book?!” kind of wait.

      And yeah, Poison Study is kind of adult of YA, especially considering that it was written 6 or 8 years ago, but it was never an issue for me, LOL.