Last summer, I read review after review that sang the praises of Rachel Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina. I finally got my hands on it last month, and it was a great read. Just like my last post, here are the ups and downs:
Top 3 Stereotypes
1. The commoner who falls in with royalty
Recognize this stereotype from Dragon Slippers? It’s back! To be fair, Seraphina is slightly more than a commoner. Her father has worked his way up to become the top expert on the dragon-human treaty, a position that helped him get his daughter into a comfortable job with a famous musician. Still, Seraphina does a lot more than teach the young princess her music lessons. She serves as a friend to the girl, and even befriends (and falls in love with—big surprise there…) the princess’s cousin and intended fiancé, Prince Lucian Kiggs. They trust her enough to let her be a part of the plans that save the day, even after they find out her terrible secret.
2. The secret that would prove deadly if discovered
Yes, Seraphina has a secret. In a book about a girl with an unbelievable gift in a world where dragons take human form, it’s not too hard to guess what that secret is. In her novel, Hartman uses a common plot device that adds tension to many stories: both humans and dragons would kill Seraphina if the truth came out. She is conveniently stuck in the middle, where young readers will feel for her and desperately want her to be accepted as she is.
3. The treaty on the verge of collapse
Treaties never work out well in fantasy stories. After all, where would the story be if they did? Seraphina contains the age-old tale of a human-dragon treaty about to go wrong (this is another similarity to Dragon Slippers). As is the case in many dragon tales, humans and dragons don’t get along so well, and there are those on both sides who want war. Naturally, it’s up to a young heroine to jump in and save the day—but that’s another stereotype in and of itself, so I won’t go there.
Top 3 Unique Points
1. Music as a theme
Rachel Hartman worked more complex themes into Seraphina than many writers do when writing fantasy stories for youth. One of the most beautiful things that she did with Seraphina was to weave the theme of music into the story. From Seraphina’s special talent to the songs of the characters in her mental garden, the book is full of different music styles that enrich both the culture and the storyline in the novel.
2. A mental garden
When Seraphina first started having strange visions, a distinct set of characters would appear and take turns pulling her into their worlds. She doesn’t figure out who they are until well into the book, yet she manages to organize the mental chaos by arranging her mind’s visitors into an imaginary garden. Due to the nature of those characters, I found her ability to organize them unique and fascinating. Keeping with the book’s music theme, it almost seems as though she has composed a piece of music where each character must play their part.
3. Science instead of magic
This is becoming a little more common in books today, but I still appreciated reading a fantasy story that doesn’t assume magic. The morphing of dragons into human forms, the communication devices that dragons use, and the musical machines and masterpieces created by the humans are all scientific in design. If sentient dragons existed in our world, it would not be jarring to find the culture of Seraphina fitting in nicely.
Overall, Seraphina was a great book. It did have its share of stereotypes, but if I had read this book when I was going through my first dragon phase, it would have become a fast favorite. As it is, I’m looking forward to the eventual sequel. I’m hoping the unique story and lovely writing style are just as good in the next installment!