After reading Seraphina, I was surprised to learn that it was a debut novel. There was such a confident and well-crafted feel to Rachel Hartman’swriting that I would have thought it came from a much more seasoned author. Seraphina is a sixteen year old court musician living in the kingdom of Goredd, who lives with a terrible secret. After years of war, Goredd has managed to live under an uneasy truce with the dragons that had once ravaged their land, but on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty, the murder of a prince threatens to shatter that peace. Almost unwittingly, Seraphina keeps getting pulled into the murder investigation and court politics when all she wants is to be left alone with her music.
Dragons are capable of taking human form and often do so in order to live among people and try to understand their humanity. Since they are mostly emotionless and analytical in nature, they find human attachments like love, messy and undesirable. They are also fascinated by the human need to create art, because it doesn’t exist in dragon society and so they study human music, sculpture and painting.
While in her human form, Seraphina’s mother, Linn, came to Goredd to study music and fell in love with Claude Dombegh, without him ever knowing she was a dragon. Linn died in childbirth, leaving Claude to raise his daughter alone. Seraphina is under constant fear of having her true nature revealed. She is the daughter of a human father and a dragon mother and worries that people will think that she is a monstrosity. She has tried to hide herself away, but her musical talent and her role as music tutor to Princess Glisselda draws her into the machinations of the court and she becomes a key figure in the continuing relations between Goredd and the dragons.
This book, first and foremost, is beautifully written. Hartman’s prose is dexterous and fluid and you can see her love of music throughout. There is a lyrical quality to this book that aids the level of emotion and feeling that is the heart of Seraphina. A lot of fans of the fantasy genre might struggle with this book because of the lack of action or the flowery language. It is a YA novel and needs to be viewed as such. I actually enjoyed the fact that the story exists only through Seraphina’s eyes and from her perspective. She becomes a fully realized character because of this and you get a level of depth that is often not a part of your average fantasy novel. If you are looking for something that has swords, sorcery and mayhem, you will be left wanting, but if you are looking for something written with grace, purpose and skill, Seraphina will fit the bill nicely.