Book Review : Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. 9780375866562. 2012. Gr 9-12.

The English journalist and bibliophile Holbrook Jackson said, “Books worth reading are worth re-reading.”

I am a steadfast re-reader.   I get as much pleasure reading my favorite books over again as I do reading a good book for the first time.  For example, every time I recommend Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens to someone, I end up pulling my own copy off the shelf and calling in sick to work.

Some books I re-read almost every year.  Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, Clare Dunkle’s The Hollow Kingdom, and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard all have a similar feel to me, with their realistic fantasy settings, legendary characters, and strange powers.  And, best of all, totally un-sappy romance.

Seraphina has this same feel to it, and I’ve added it to my yearly re-reading list. Actually, I am already reading it for the second time (it went on sale less than a month ago).

For forty years, the treaty between humans and dragonkind in the kingdom of Goredd has kept the peace, though there is little friendship or understanding between them.  Humans think dragons are disgusting and inferior creatures, while dragons find humans to be…interesting.  Some dragons live among humans; they have the ability to fold themselves up and take human shape, but if they do, they must wear silver bells to warn humans of their presence.

Seraphina is the new assistant to the court composer at the king’s palace and is preparing for the festivities to celebrate the treaty anniversary.  The Queen’s son has just been brutally killed on a hunting trip—and it appears that a dragon might be the murderer.  Since her father is an expert on dragons and the law, Seraphina is familiar with dragon customs.  Drawn into the investigation with the perceptive captain of the guard—who also happens to be the fiancé of the Queen’s granddaughter—Seraphina discovers an evil plot that aims to destroy the fragile peace.

But Seraphina has more to worry about than preparing music and solving murders.  Before her birth, her father had unknowingly married a dragon in human form.  He didn’t learn the truth until his beloved wife died in childbirth.  Only when bands of scales started growing on her arm and around her waist did Seraphina find out that she was a half-dragon.

Seraphina has lived a desperately lonely and solitary life.  The very idea of a human mating with a dragon is an abomination.  If her secret is discovered, she knows she will, at best, become an object of scorn and disgust.  At worst, she and her father could be killed by angry mobs.

Hartman has created a fascinating, intricate world with detailed customs, religion, and social problems.  Most of her characters are interesting and believable within the world she has created.  Seraphina herself is intelligent, creative, and independent—definitely not a damsel in distress.  And the dragons are unlike any I’ve ever met.

So far, Seraphina has received five starred reviews and is definitely a Mackin Pick as well!

More quotes on re-reading:

To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one.  (Chinese Saying)

Rereading, we find a new book.  (Mason Cooley)

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond. (C.S. Lewis)

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