Hartman, Rachel: Seraphina (2012)

seraphina complete

There are tons of reviews of Seraphina out there. Seriously, tons. Most of them praise Rachel Hartman’s writing to heaven and with good reason. Believe it or not, this is actually Hartman’s first novel. Her grasp of the flow is amazing. This is definitely an author to follow.

What genre is this? Well, that is a toughie. Like The Intergalactic Academy blog points out in their review, there are reasons one might suspect the world of Seraphina lies not only in a fantasy universe but also in a science fiction one. You would be surprised at the number of stories out there that seem to be fantasy (and are) but end up having a basis in humans having come to another world.

One of the traditional conflicts between humans and dragons in Seraphina has to do with humans invading the continent of the dragons. This might be one hint as to the otherworldliness of humans. The other is as TIA points out some of the vocabulary.

How the wars began in the first place is not commonly known, but as Seraphina is lucky enough to have a dragon music teacher (Omra) she learns of these matters. That her father happens to be the local expert on the treaty between humans and dragons has given Seraphina more knowledge than the usual citizen. There is a reason for her father’s expertise. He is the father of a girl who is half-dragon/half-human. Seraphina’s mixed race must be hidden from the knowledge of both dragons and humans as such a relationship is thought of as disgusting. But it is interesting that such a relationship is even possible. Perhaps that means that a dragon’s transformation into human is on a genetic level.

When peace was forged, one of the consequences was that dragons could no longer be among humans in dragon form. Dragons society seems to be ruled by logic rather than emotion. To them becoming human is a shock to the system as they are drenched in feelings they do not understand. Emotions are forbidden and all memories pertaining to such emotions are excised upon returning to dragon form. Such excision could mean that the dragons have some form of advanced technology unless the excision happens through some kind of paranormal ability.

Seraphina’s mother took human form and fell in love with Seraphina’s father. Seraphina was the result of that match. Sadly, Seraphina’s mother died at child-birth. Child-birth is the time her father discovered that Seraphina’s mother was a dragon. This has to do with the color of dragon’s blood. Seraphina herself showed no sign of the match until puberty. At that time she gained scales on parts of her body and a gigantic degree of self-disgust. In fact, her disgust ended up being so strong it led to self-harm. I have absolutely no trouble understanding why the self-harming happened. When one’s difference is so readily identifiable, the temptation to remove it must be staggering.

There are some positive factors in Seraphina’s life. Her music teacher Omra has stuck with her since her dragonhood was revealed. With him she does not have to fear revealing her forbidden race. As I said earlier, Omra is Seraphina’s music teacher. When Seraphina showed the same kind of talent her mother had had, Seraphina was permitted lessons if they were held out of sight of her father. Music has led her to the position she now holds – as the assistant to the court composer.

Seraphina is our protagonist. An excellent protagonist. She has depth and character in a way that only the British can manage to convey. Understatement seems to be something the Brits get through their mother’s milk. Hartman attacks a great deal of society’s crueller sides gently and with enough of a sting that the reader feels it. (I feel it) Such writers are a miracle to me, something I can admire yet never aspire to be.


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