Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

(Cover picture courtesy of Rachel Hartman’s website.)

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 the 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.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Rachel Hartman’s debut novel has received quite a bit of attention, and rightly so.  Which is why for Canada Day (and review #150!), I’m reviewing Seraphina as it is a novel written by a Canadian author that I actually like.  I’ve probably just jinxed Ms. Hartman now because excellent mainstream novels rarely win literary awards.  Oh well, I’m still predicting that Seraphina will be a bestseller.

The novel starts out rather slowly, but this is a good thing because otherwise readers would be completely overwhelmed by the well built fantasy world it takes place in.  Somehow Rachel Hartman is able to convey enough information so readers know what’s going on, but not too much so readers will keep reading to find out more.  Seraphina’s incredible backstory is revealed to us gradually and could probably be used as an example of how writers should develop backstory.  She is no Mary Sue and will go down as one of my favourite female leads ever, so hopeful writers take note!

And unlike in most fantasy novels, there is diversity.  She has obviously put immense effort into her world building because of all the different peoples, religions and countries.  Some of the government is based on feudal Europe, but it is not nearly as in-your-face as it is in many fantasy novels.  Also, the people of Goredd are not homogenous and we actually see people who worship different gods (or “saints” as they’re called) and speak different languages.  As for the coldly rational dragons…they’re incredibly unique and I mean that in a good way.

Technically Seraphina isn’t out yet (I got an early ebook from NetGalley), but I already can’t wait for the second book.  Rachel Hartman is a new author with enormous potential, so it will be interesting to see where she takes the series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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  1. Elizabeth Kay

    This isn’t the first review I’ve read for this book, but it’s the first that made me know for sure that I wanted to read it. I appreciate books that are well-written and unique, so I’m glad you noted some of those points. I’m excited to find out how the dragons are “incredibly unique;” too many takes on dragons are all rip-offs of each other.

    • Carrie Slager

      Well, I promise that the dragons are no rip-offs! Rachel Hartman certainly took the time to develop realistic and unique dragons for her world. They may seem rip-offs at first, but as the novel progresses we learn a lot more about how they are unique.

  2. Streetlight Reader

    Great Review Carrie 🙂 And yay for another Canadian Author. I’m hoping to read this one sometime as well. I love the cover of it, it’s so beautiful. Hopefully it’ll live up to my expectations.

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