I really like dragons, okay. I very much like them. They are really cool. And at my library they have a good amount of fantastic dragon books. The middle-grade section is full of them, and I’ve read all the good ones.
But like. I’ve read all the good books in the middle-grade section. All of them.
So when I went to the library a couple weeks ago, I went up to the Teen Section.
Just gonna say, it’s still terrifying up there, and I’m a whole adult now.
I found this book in the corner of the lowest shelf, tucked in next to a few authors I recognized. Looking at the back, I was instantly intrigued. Something something war, something something half-dragons, secrets and love and all. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
It started out really, really good.
The worldbuilding in this series is just. Incredible. Rich culture, several rich cultures, even, right off the bat. Goredd, the main country where the first book takes place, is based a lot off of England in about the end of the Middle Ages. There’s an entire saint-based religion that is very well explained and integrated into the storytelling, in the same vein as the Fly By Night religious system. The people in Goredd have an interesting relationship with dragons, which is of course where the conflict and plot come from.
In this universe, dragons can transform into a human ‘disguise’ of sorts, called a saarantras. Many years before this story, the war between Goreddi and dragons was brought to peace by the Goreddi queen and the leader of the dragons, Comonot. The agreement is that dragons would never attack humans, and if they wished to live among them they would stay in their saarantras form and be clearly marked as non-human. This arrangement is alright with dragons, who operate entirely on logic and think that human emotions are stupid and useless, and any attachments are merely human brain malfunctions.
Any sort of relationship between a human and a dragon is completely unheard of, forbidden, shameful, and definitely cause for murder.
Which of course is where Seraphina comes in.
Seraphina is a half-dragon. Her mother was a saar, but her father didn’t know until Seraphina was born and her mother died in childbirth. Seraphina was never told. When she was about twelve years old, she was suddenly blindsided by strange visions and night terrors, along with stripes of silver scales on her body. It was then that she found out her tutor, Orma, was actually also a saar, and in fact her uncle. He helped her work through the weird visions and organize her wild thoughts by making a ‘garden’ in her mind where the visions she’s seen of weird people can hang out and not bother her.
Now sixteen, Seraphina is a royal musician and the book begins with her playing the flute for the funeral of the recently murdered prince. Yes, the book starts with a murder. I was a little confused as well. And the guy who died isn’t even extremely plot relevant . . . anyhow.
The plot is kind of all over the place, I had somewhat of a difficult time keeping up for a while. But basically tensions are high between humans and saar, and Phina is trying to keep her heritage a secret while falling in love with Prince Kiggs, who is engaged to Princess Glisselda, who is Phina’s best friend, which makes everything awkward. There’s a traitor in the palace who may or many not be Phina’s dragon grandpa, Orma is being threatened to have his memories erased because he’s learned how to have emotions and love people and that is Not Okay, and some of the people from Phina’s visions turn out to be actual people who might even be half-dragons, and even with all that nonsense there’s a whole dragon civil war to deal with.
It’s kinda crazy.
The thing about this book . . . mm.
I don’t actually like this book.
Usually when I do a review here, it’s because the book knocked me twelve feet and ripped my heart from my chest. It filled a gap I didn’t know I had and created three more.
This one didn’t.
This book hit me with its concept. Rich cultures and philosophies in the context of logic versus emotion, questioning what it means to be human, prejudice and bias and compassion.
It didn’t quite hit the mark for me with the story.
For one thing, I do not like Seraphina. She is manipulative, deceptive, selfish, judgemental, and throughout the course of the story none of these attributes are at all redeemed or even really pointed out as being actually wrong. She is both coldly logical and wildly and unreasonably emotional. The weird, awkward, tense romance between her and Kiggs is uncomfortable, at least to me. She’s just . . . really irritating to read as a POV character.
The rest of the characters are fine, they’re very well done and their unique voices and quirks and personalities are part of what drew me in at first, but seeing them through Seraphina’s eyes made it less enjoyable.
Religion is a big part of this story, especially in the second book which I also read and greatly disliked. The saints are just, really weird and creepy, and religion is used as the basis for a lot of the prejudice against dragons and half-dragons. There was a lot more of . . . I guess you would call it spirituality? A lot of mind stuff that just hit wrong and made me uncomfortable.
There was also a lot of adult content in this book. Nothing graphic or explicit, but the idea of immorality is very much present at least once in almost every chapter. A lot of talk and jokes about illegitimate children, crass flirting, a decent amount of discussion of how a half-dragon would exist. There was also a surprising amount of both blatant and implied homosexual relationships, especially in the second book, including a really weird scene between Seraphina and Glisselda at the end of book two. It was just really weird.
Violence was also something I had an issue with, because like. Dragons eating people. Decapitation. Also some graphically described self-harm.
I just . . .
It was such a good idea, you know? An amazing concept that I fell in love with. But . . . Hartman could have done better, I think, and I wish she had. I’m sad now.
This is the first negative review I’ve done and honestly it feels a little weird.
So, uh, yeah, that’s my thoughts on Seraphina. Any books you think I should check out? Leave them in the comments! I’l see you next week!