Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


August 9, 2012 by Heidi

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman book coverTitle: Seraphina [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Rachel Hartman
Standing: First in a new series.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: July 10th, 2012 by Random House Children’s Books
Hardcover; 467 pages
ARC from publisher via NetGalley
YA/MG Fantasy Challenge

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.

You ever feel like you showed up to a party at a really awkward time?  It’s just after everyone else got there, but too early to be fashionably late?  Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about posting my review of Rachel Hartman’s excellent debut, Seraphina.  It’s like I’ve stumbled into the room decked out in sparkles and enthusiasm screaming ‘OMG you guys! DRAGONS!!!’ and everyone forces a smile and then rolls their eyes behind my back as they turn back to their little groups saying things like ‘yeah, we already covered that, honey’.  Because it has been covered–Seraphina is wonderful, and I’m quite happy to say it totally lives up to the hype.  As such, we’ll keep this one short and sweet.

So here’s my dirty little secret: I have never been afraid of dragons.  I feel like these days we’re living in a culture that likes to render cuddly and inert the creatures of nightmares, just look at How to Train Your Dragon or Monsters Inc. (two movies a freaking adore), but that wasn’t the culture of my childhood.  Dragons were still supposed to be scary then.  But then, of course, I started reading Anne McCaffrey when I was 12, so any chance that I would gain a healthy and proper fear of dragons went right out the window then and there.  So I’ve rarely been able to take the threat seriously.  I rolled my eyes at Smaug, I never blinked when facing the dragons in Harry Potter (Charlie worked with them, after all), so I was a bit surprised to find that the dragons first able to poke at my fear of the creature were in Seraphina, a book in which they don’t often look like dragons at all.

Seraphina is an excellent example of how it takes being human to be inhumane.  Rachel Hartman’s dragons are able to fold themselves into human form in order to better study and learn about those things dragon culture lacks–music and art, but this also renders them susceptible to emotions.  A completely logical creature devoid of emotions may be intimidating, but a creature inexperienced with emotions that suddenly has very strong ones thrust upon them is something to fear indeed.  How do you convince such a creature that love is not a disease, when as The Shins say, Caring is Creepy?

Seraphina is that archetypal character with a foot in both worlds and a place in neither, without whom these dragons would be totally beyond our understanding.  She understands dragons better than any humans–her mother was one of them.  Living her life carefully guarding this secret, Seraphina is full of the knowledge of the things she can never have, and until our story had never felt she needed.

For me, the strongest aspects of Seraphina were the growth of this character and the confidence that can be gained from knowing you are not alone.  I realize there was a romance (which was fine, but didn’t have me completely sold), and political upheaval, but where Seraphina truly shone was in its ability to instill a certain pride in oneself.  The ability to look at burdens as assets, to face the fear of the other and overcome, and to challenge our traditional notions of what it means to be good.  I absolutely loved that fact that Princess Glisselda was such a strong and likable character, which made the romance between Seraphina and Glisselda’s betrothed, Kiggs more compelling than it would have been if we could just hate Glisselda.  I loved the supporting cast of familiars and their real life counterparts, particularly Abdo and Lars (who in my head is always blundering about in a kilt).  Rachel Hartman has a way of phrasing things with a very subtle humor that makes you feel as if you’re sharing an inside joke, and quite frankly I found this book so utterly refreshing in a trickle (which is soon to be a flood) of mediocre young adult fantasy, I cannot wait to see more.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall make half courtesy and quit the room.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Unquestionably!  I was so happy with Seraphina and the fact that it was a nicely self-contained novel, but I’ll certainly be back to see where things go.

Recommended for:  YA fantasy fans–I know you’ve been burned a lot this year, and let’s face it, you’ll be burned a lot more as this trend is just ramping up, but trust me when I say Seraphina is worth the risk.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:
Well, I already mentioned it, so have a listen (I think Orma would approve):


Get a second opinion:
The Nocturnal Library
The Readventurer
Young Adult Anonymous
The Book Smugglers
Janicu’s Book Blog
Ivy Book Bindings
The Book Rat
A Jane of All Reads
Bibliophilic Monologues
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Chronicles of a Book Evangelist
Steph Su Reads
Books Take You Places
Chachic’s Book Nook
Paranormal Indulgence
Good Books and Good Wine

I’ve also reviewed:
The Audition by Rachel Hartman (Seraphina .5)


If you liked that you might like this:


  1. Nicole says:

    I’m ridiculously excited for when I can get my hands on a copy of this and I’m glad you liked it. (Also, more McCaffrey love! *swoons happily*)

    • Heidi says:

      I did! I think that any of us who grew up on fantasy reading tons of Anne McCaffrey hold a special place in our heart for dragon books. As such, I think this should make your heart happy. =)

  2. Alyssa says:

    Couldn’t agree more, I think that one of the best things about Seraphina was the characters, especially those who seemed to spring right from her head! The romance was lacking but I think the reason I loved it so much was because of Glisselda, had she been easy to hate the romance wouldn’t have been so intriguing to me. I especially know how you feel when you “show up at a party at a really awkward time,” there are moments when I think “I have to read this book right now” because EVERYONE else has and then I am like wait..this is for ME! It’s easy to lose track of sometimes! :]

    • Heidi says:

      Weren’t they wonderful? I also love that it’s one of those books where you can really see everyone’s logic and perspective. The bad guys aren’t bad because they’re bad, they’re bad because they have a different but totally legitimate point of view on matters. And I loved Glisselda, it honestly didn’t bother me at all that the romance didn’t really go anywhere because there are bigger and more important matters at hand.

  3. Grace says:

    I’ve got a bit of a bookish crush on Orma. He was adorable, and it was neat to see him start to allow himself to feel.

    I also thought the love triangle was done in a very mature way. It’s not teenage drama, but rather more of an “I’m betrothed to you, but in love with someone else” type of deal. It’s refreshing.

    • Heidi says:

      You know what? I didn’t even THINK of this as a love triangle until you mentioned it because it was that well done. It was certainly very mature, a matter of state, which is very realistic for political relationships. I don’t think Glisselda would even be all that upset if she know Kiggs and Seraphina’s feelings, the fact is she’s the Princess and she has to put decisions for her people and country first. I kind of loved that.

      Orma’s wonderful! I really enjoyed the entire supporting cast so much.

  4. janicu says:

    No way, I’m perfectly willing to bring back the party hats and glitter to join you in the OMG, DRAGONS dance! I’ve been secretly doing this every time I see a positive review because I was so enthusiastic about it but I felt like I was TOO early to the party and everyone was looking at me like, what is this crazy girl selling.

    • Heidi says:

      Hahaha, sweet! I’m not alone. We’ll do the OMG, DRAGONS!! dance all over the place. This was totally one of those where I’m like ‘hey, I know there isn’t much more to be said but…I just have to tell you again how awesome this was’.

  5. Yet another brilliant review, Heidi! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one!(: I really love what you said about Seraphina shining due to its character development as that is so true. I loved what Hartman did with her characters and the manner in which she developed them was astounding! I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel and will totally freak out along with you about the dragons all over again! 😉

    • Heidi says:

      Yay!!! Looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to getting to meet the rest of her familiars, and am hoping that the ones we already know go along for the journey. Even the characters who had such small parts were absolutely wonderful!

  6. Ahahaha! Your list of “second opinions” made me laugh so much. I guess we really HAVE talked about this book…just…a bit. 😐 I’m so glad that it’s getting so much acclaim. I love your review too. I’m not sure that I was ever afraid of dragons either. And of course I always love a Shins reference. :)

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah I almost changed it to ‘a tenth’ opinion because I think I linked like 16 reviews? And ALL of them were good. So happy this one lived up to the hype, and that it’s getting so much attention–it deserves it!

  7. VeganYANerds says:

    Loved this review, Heids! The intro about turning up to a party all excited made me laugh because it’s so true! This book has been discussed a lot but I feel like I need to keep reading about it so I remember to go out and buy a copy. I like that there’s growth and that the focus isn’t on the romance, too.

    Also, can I be your best friend? I LOVE Monsters Inc. (ahhhh, new movie coming out soon!) and I watched How To Train A Dragon on the weekend and LOVED it. I think Molly (our kitten) is just like Toothless!

    • Heidi says:

      OMG I compare our cat, Wocket, to Toothless as well! You most certainly CAN be my best friend. I’ll watch either one of those movies pretty much any time they’re on. ;P

      This is totally one of those times when I feel like a broken record, because I honestly haven’t seen a bad review of Seraphina, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about!

  8. The Shins! You Rock, Heidi:)

    You know I passed this book by a couple of months back, because I’ve never really been that into dragons, either. I prefer the scary ones too (I remember watching Dragonslayer with Peter MacNicol when I was kid and LOVING it!) but they have never been something I was that into in my reading. However, I have seen SO many glowing reviews of this book (your’s must be like the tenth I’ve read in the past few weeks) that I think I might be ready to climb aboard the dragon train at last :)

    Have you ever watched Reign of Fire, with Christian Bale? THAT’S a great scary dragon movie:)

    • Heidi says:

      I have NOT watched Reign of Fire, but clearly I need to.

      I think that this is a book you could really enjoy as a fan of fantasy, even if you aren’t a fan of dragons because it’s just so different than a traditional dragon book. And yes, I’ve seen a couple of reviews from people who just liked by didn’t love this one, but not a single negative one.

  9. Jasmine Rose says:

    This review is lovely, lady :]
    You probably know by now that fantasy and I aren’t usually the best of buds, but I received Seraphina for review through the Ambuzzador program on Random Buzzers. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, but you’re review combined with April’s have convinced me that I might very well not hate it ;]

    • Heidi says:

      You should give this one a shot, even though you’re not usually much of a fantasy reader! This could easily be one of those exceptions for you, and I really hope that it is. =)

  10. elena says:

    UMM LOVE YOUR SHINS REF! I liked this book but can’t really work out I feel about it exaaactly. The dragons were really interesting, definitely a new spin that I appreciated. I wasn’t sold on the romance either, it seemed unnecessary to me especially like you said, Glisselda is so likable!

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! I liked that the romance wasn’t in the foreground, but it really could have not been there at all and the story would have been just as good. I really do like Kiggs and Glisselda both though.

  11. […] Kristin Cahore, Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, or absolutely anyone who loves well crafted character-driven […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.