Random House Books for Young Readers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
This story, in one word, is amazing. It has to be, hands down, the most interesting take in dragons I've ever read. This whole world, with all its details, makes me want to stand up and applaud Rachel Hartman for her raw originality and wide imagination, that were essential to create this incredible universe. It is an astounding YES to the rest of the saga!
Seraphina brings us the land of Goredd, a place with its own geography, manners, religion and politics, in which dragons are a part of everyday life, after the treaty between the human monarch, Queen Lavonda, and the Ardmagar Comonot, leader of the Tanamoot, the dragon country, which brought peace between the two races. In this world lives Seraphina Dombegh, a young girl whose father fell in love with a beautiful singer and composer, and married her, not knowing she was actually a saarantras, that is, a dragon under human form, making her a hybrid, a half blood, with the best of both races, with dragons’ logical thinking, and human warmth and pure feelings. And the fact that she was born from her parents’ love also makes her a rarity, because dragons are not supposed to love; they see feelings (especially love) as a disease, something that needs to be uprooted in order to think with a clear mind and be entirely rational.
I loved Seraphina as a character. She was educated by her uncle Orma (which is an amazing character too!), her mother’s brother and also a saarantras, who knows her real nature and taught her everything there is to know about dragons. Her life isn’t exactly easy, as she lives every day hiding her true self, and though it makes her sad, because she doesn’t feel natural and worthy, she has her dignity, her seriousness, and never once feels sorry for herself. She has accepted her nature, and she also has the pride of her mother’s side of the family. She may be different, the only one of her kind, and she’s not even supposed to exist, but she has nothing to be ashamed of. She’s a strong young woman, who doesn’t need anyone’s pity, and finds a way to be happy, even when all the things are not the way she would like them to be.
Something I also truly loved about Seraphina is the way she feels when she plays her music. Her uncommon talent landed her in the palace of Goredd itself, as Music Mistress, assistant of the royal Music Master, Viridius, and when she plays, it is like she opens the door to another world. It is like reality shifts, and she can express her soul in the chords that come from her oud or her flute, enchanting people, transporting them to a different place in which everything is music, the world is built on the notes they hear. Seraphina is purely herself when she plays. There, no one can tell her what to do, and no one will ever understand better the meaning behind every piece, even when she is able to make her listeners feel the way she does. It is wonderful, the description of her feelings upon her music are one of the best parts of the book.
The love story is so beautiful! The reason why Seraphina and Lucian fell in love is simply because they could understand each other. They saw their own hearts mirrored in each other. Neither can deny their true nature, both as a hybrid and as a bastard, and they feel every day the burden of the label they've carried since birth. Seraphina is tired of the necessary lies she lives with every day, but in him, she finds a kindred spirit, someone who knows what it means to be under constant scrutiny, trying to figure out their true role in their society and navigating everyday life feeling out of place. They feel the constant pull to each other, in despite of the obstacles (her scales and her draconian abilities and talents, his fiancée and also Phina’s friend and student), and when they are together, Seraphina and Lucian are simply themselves, and the raw honesty breaks the wall of lies that covers Seraphina’s existence since birth.
“He did not know the truth of me, yet he had perceived something true about me that no one else had ever noticed. And in spite of that –or perhaps because of it– he believed me good, believed me worth taking seriously, and his belief, for one vertiginous moment, made me want to be better than I was.”
That is, after all, what love does. They find relief in each other, and their secrets mean very little. At the end, they realise they are each other’s missing half, and that their differences are nothing when there’s love and understanding between them.
“He ran his thumb along the silver line of scales, his brow puckering in concern at the scab, and then, with a sly glance at me, he bowed his head and kissed my scaly wrist. […] I couldn’t breathe; I was overcome. I didn’t usually feel much through my scales, but I felt that to the soles of my feet.”
It is utterly beautiful, and their scenes together kept my emotions afloat with every passing page. And I also liked the fact that when she finally reveals her scales and let Lucian and Princess Glisselda know who she really is –her true nature as a hybrid–, they don’t accept it right away. It takes them some time to take in Seraphina’s truth, but at the end, they realize that without her abilities, without her help and that of her half-blood friends, things could have had a much worse ending.
Personally, I thought the book would delve more into the murder plot around Prince Rufus’ death, or at least, more about his character, and honestly, I thought they would discover he was in some unholy dealings with the dragons, the Censors, or even the Sons of St. Ogdo. But it doesn’t take away anything of the book’s wonderfulness, and the talent and brilliancy Rachel Hartman put on the creation of races such as the Quigutl, and the devices they craft, is another reason why this book is so great. I find amazing the way dragons, with their consideration of human emotions, get scared when they discover they acted upon feelings (like when the Ardmagar Comonot saved Seraphina’s life), and are unable to avoid giving in into human weaknesses when they take their form, whatever gross they may be (Princess Dionne and Comonot? – EW, I seriously wanted to slap that woman, but she paid for her mistakes, and dearly).
But, seriously, the best part a book can have is how you spend pages and pages believing something is going to happen, and at the end, the plot twist leaves you mouth-opened, like this one did with me. I wish I could do some justice to all its details with my review, because it has to be one of the best book discoveries I’ve found in a long time.
A must-read for fantasy lovers, and I’ll definitely read the rest of the saga!