Book Review: Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

Publication Date: 2 July 2012 by Random House Children’s Books

Synopsis: “An new vision of knights, dragons, and the fair maiden caught in between…

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 the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisite 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.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

I took a glimpse through the ratings for this book on goodreads prior to picking it off my book shelf, and was amazed by the number of 5-stars littered throughout the page. Everyone seemed to love this book and it’s even won a few prizes. I tried not to get my hopes up too high in case the book did not meet my expectations, but unfortunately, I did fall to the hype and was expecting a wondrous story with epic dragon battles akin to other high fantasy novels. It didn’t even have to be filled with battles, I loved The Hobbit for its characters, journey and wit – even though Bilbo blacked out during the final epic battle and basically missed the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong though, I did thoroughly enjoy this story as a whole when I look back on it. It was probably due to my own tastes as a reader that lowered the overall score. This is really a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Seraphina starts off so strongly. I was dazzled by the first chapter in which we learn that she remembers being born. How trippy is that? With a knowledge like that, I was instantly interested in her character. And she doesn’t disappoint. Like every other review out there on this book, I agree that Seraphina meets all the expectations of being a brave, smart and loyal heroine. It wasn’t all words and no action. Hartman has truly created a character that could stand up for herself during hard times, and she’s become one of the best heroines I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a book. She will have a spot on my ‘Top 5 kick ass girls'” list for a long time.

When I think about it, Seraphina’s world is full of fantastic female characters. The royal family is ruled by Queen Lavonda, and the first and second heirs are also female. I love that Hartman has created a world that doesn’t spit upon the idea of females being in power – it is so refreshing to read about female characters that don’t need to be continuously rescued by men.

I would also like to praise Hartman on the beautiful world she has created. While I cannot say that Goredd is a city that I can picture in my mind, its characters are as vivid as they come. They all feel so real, it’s almost as if I’ve known them all my life. My favourite would definitely have to be Orma. His eccentric dragon personality is so quirky and loveable that you can’t help but wish he really existed. Then there is Fruit Bat, Loud Lad and Miss Fusspots – the grotesques of Serphina’s mind who are all so unique and wonderful. And the dragons – the saarantras – definitely a very refreshingly new take on them. If I had to praise Miss Hartman on one thing, it would be on her characterisations and development.

However, and here comes the bad part, I did rate Seraphina a 3.5 star novel for a reason. A part of it was because of me, and I found that half the novel was so slow and boring that I almost gave up on finishing it. If it wasn’t for the lovely characters that I rooted for, I don’t think I could have continued. Miss Hartman’s Goredd is extremely religious, and we learn this through the many religious teachings Seraphina throws at us. There are seriously way too many Saints to even keep with, and if it weren’t for the glossary at the back, I wouldn’t even understand what half of them stood for. While I don’t mind reading about a religious city, there are limits to the amount I’m willing to endure when all these teachings have no relation to the overall plot of the story. Aside from St Ogdo, whose faction hates dragons and despises the treaty of peace made between the dragons and Goredd, all the other Saints play little to no role in the story.

And the plot – my god was it slow! I am someone that loves a fast placed plot with lots of action. While I understand that this is a fantasy story of mystery and politics, it has dragons too. Who can really say that they don’t expect lots of action and adventure when dealing with a story that has dragons? What we get instead is a small mystery about a rogue dragon being sighted, with the main focus on the celebration of 40-years of peace. Seriously, half the story is really about Seraphina organising the music for the celebration of the treaty. Make that around 80% of the story … and the only fight we see is at the end of the novel, which probably lasted two or so pages and was resolved much too easily.

What I really wanted to read about was Seraphina’s ‘mind garden’, which holds these grotesques that end up being other half-dragons like herself. This was the most intriguing thing brought about by this novel, and I wanted to learn so much more about it, but sadly it was barely touched upon, overshadowed by the need to talk excessively about the different Saints being worshipped in Goredd. However, Seraphina is setting out to find her grotesques in the next book so I may just pick up the sequel to find out how that goes. It sounds like a much more promising story with an actual war brewing and potential action. Hopefully that rings true or I would be more let down than I am right now.

Overall, a very well written story that lacks the oomph I was so looking forward to.

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