I received a review copy of Rachel Hartman’s debut novel “Seraphina” from the publishers via NetGalley. It will be released in July. Based on the author’s blog, it looks like there’s a sequel in the works.
Dragons and humans were at war for much of history. Forty years ago, dragons and humans signed a treaty which began an uneasy but mutually beneficial peace between the two races. Dragons are able to take human form, but whenever they are present in human society they are generally forced to wear bells to prevent the people from being scared. There is a lot of tension between the two races, which reminded me a lot of what racial tensions were like in the US prior to the civil rights movement. Seraphina is half-dragon, and she wasn’t supposed to exist. If anyone finds out, she’s likely to die a horrible death at the hands of an angry mob.
Seraphina has musical talent, which draws attention to herself even as she’s trying to keep her identity secret. She ends up at the royal court right after a member of the royal family was killed by a rogue dragon trying to destroy the peace. Seraphina must use what she knows of both human and dragon cultures to be a bridge between the two worlds and to save the peace.
Dragons are mathematical creatures and believe that emotion is a disease. I liked seeing the awkward interactions between Seraphina and her uncle Orma, a dragon who has allowed himself to develop more feelings than is permitted in dragon society. Orma’s amusing because even a dragon with emotions is logical and distant to a level that’s not normal in our own society. Orma was easily my favorite character in the novel.
“Seraphina” is well-written and is a delight to read. This book is being marketed toward YA audiences, but it would also be appropriate for an advanced younger reader. All I can say is that more YA should be like this. There is a minor love triangle, but it’s not obnoxious (minor spoiler: Seraphina falls in love with the prince, and the prince is betrothed to a princess. At the same time, he’s not romantically interested in the princess, so it doesn’t have the whole Hunger Games dynamic going on.. It’s more like an additional obstacle that they’re going to have to confront later on). The story is imaginative and Hartman’s words are articulate. She doesn’t talk down to her readers, which is something that I’ve always appreciated, even when I was far younger. I’d highly recommend this book.