Rummanah Aasi
 I've always had trepidations when it comes to reading high fantasy. I often get too overwhelmed by the rich, complex world building and a wide variety of characters from different backgrounds which why I had to pause and wait to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a film before diving back into the books. While Rachel Hartman's debut fantasy series is high fantasy, I can't help be drawn to the characters and the world.

Description (from the publisher): 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.

Review: Dragons have always been fascinating fantasy creatures that have captured our imaginations for quite some time. Hartman proves dragons are more than flying beasts who can spit fire. The Kingdom of Goredd has had a rocky peaceful treaty amongst between human and dragon kingdoms for forty years. The defamed treaty is on the verge of collapse and  tensions are high with an influx of dragons, who reluctantly shape-shift to their lessen human forms, arriving for their ruler Ardmagar Comonot’s anniversary. The anniversary comes at an ominous time when Prince Rufus is found murdered in the fashion of dragons (i.e. his head has been bitten off) and things reach a fever pitch as dragons and humans being pointing figures at one another.
    I was absolutely enthralled with Hartman's world building in Seraphina. The world seems to be heavily influenced by the Renaissance. The arts, philosophy, learning, and religion are given great importance in the society. Instead of believing in one deity, the people of Goredd believe in a variety of saints. There is a rigid social hierarchy amongst the citizens of the kingdom. Humans are the rulers while dragons are second class citizens, and the quitl are virtually the untouchable.
  In addition to the social order, the dragonlore of Seraphina is very tangible and easy to understand. The dragons only understand logic and order. Emotions are considered one's greatest weakness. Love, in particular, is viewed as a disease that must be avoided at all costs. I loved how throughout the book humans and dragons are trying to understand one another though they refuse to work together as each believes they are the superior creature who ought to rule.
  Our heroine Seraphina, a gifted and secretive court musician, bridges the gap between humans and dragons. I found Seraphina extremely likable. She desperately tries to go unnoticed as the investigation of Prince Rufus's murder draws close. Seraphina knows that her real identity must never be revealed since she is considered an abomination by her society. Her plight throughout the book is finding her own place in her world and trying to educate people about their prejudices to the different races without revealing herself. Some readers have called Seraphina cold, but I thought she was very resourceful (one can argue manipulative), smart, courageous yet vulnerable at the same time. Her emotions made sense to me after learning about who she is. 
  In addition to Seraphina, the secondary characters are important and fully realized as they represent different parts of society. Out of the many secondary characters, my favorite is Orma who reminds me in some ways as Snape from the Harry Potter series. Though he has no malice towards Seraphina, he struggles to identify with his human emotions, especially when he shape-shifts from dragon to human.  
  Though marketed as a fantasy, Serphina could work as a political thriller, murder mystery, bittersweet romance, and coming-of-age story. Since Seraphina is the daughter of high esteemed lawyer and a worker at the court, she is fully aware of the investigation. When Prince Lucian Kiggs asks for her help with the murder investigation, she has no choice but to become involved, even if Kiggs’ acute perceptiveness is a danger to her. The romance is slow burn and for once I didn't want to hit the love interest with a frying pan for being overly alpha.
  The only flaw that I can see preventing readers from fully enjoying Seraphina is its slow plot. The first hundred pages moves very slowly but I didn't mind too much as Hartman establishes her intricate world, but I know I was a bit surprised by the lack of action in the first half of the book. Once political intrigue started to develop, I thought the book moved much faster. Soon I found myself involved with the characters and waiting to know what would happen next. Though this is the first book in a series, I'm happy to say there isn't a cliffhanger but I'm eagerly awaiting to see how the story progresses.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Dragondrums by Anne Caffrey, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dragon's Bait by Vivan Velde Vande, Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, Alanna series by Tamora Pierce
7 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    YEAH RUMMANAH! So glad you enjoyed this one too! I definitely agree with you about the slow beginning, the first 100 pages were challenging for me, but I'm so glad I stuck with it because overall I thought it was brilliant. Seraphina was such an awesome character - describing her as resourceful is perfect:)


  2. I have been trying to get this one. I have read so many great reviews. I have heard the same complaint that the pacing is a bit slow but otherwise this is a fantastic read. I love all the genres you placed this one into so I am certain it will be a good read and I am a huge fan of detailed world building. So excited to read this one!


  3. I love fantasy (especially when it involves political intrigue) so I was already planning on reading this one; but your review of Seraphina has convinced me to read it next, Rummanah. I don't mind a slow beginning with fantasies because it's often due to worldbuilding, and it sounds like once the world is firmly established, things pick up.


  4. Months ago, when my co-blogger Lisa read this and gave it three stars, I had decided that it's not for me, but after your review and another one I read recently, I now can't wait to get my copy. Seraphina sounds like a truly admirable character, so easy to relate to, and the world so detailed and well thought out.


  5. This is the most compelling review of this novel I have read and convinces me to read it. I have a hard time with high fantasy as well. It depends on how high the fantasy is, but I have never attempted Lord of the Rings. I'm afraid I would have to read it a hundred times before I could understand it. And the movie, I'd be totally lost.
    I need it grounded somewhat in real life. I can handle dragons though. And the slow world building, for me would come in handy in a fantasy novel. You've convinced me Rummanah!


  6. I feel the same as you about high fantasy, so I often avoid it, but everyone has been reading this one and now I'm intensely curious, especially since I've been waiting to read more about dragons. Glad to know the secondary characters worked just was well, and made an impact.

    I might have to give this one a try, but I'll be honest and say, I'm not looking forward to the slow beginning.


  7. danya Says:

    I keep hearing good things about this book! I'm not normally a huge dragons fan, but I have on occasion enjoyed books with dragons (like Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles!) and I am slowly being swayed to try this one out. I was going to say that I thought it sounded a bit like the world of Anne McCaffrey's dragon series, and then I saw that you listed one of her books in the comparison at the end of your post! If I recall correctly, there's a similar kind of "Renaissance" feel in her books, isn't there? There's definitely an emphasis on music, anyway :)


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