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Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Dragons rule the land of fantasy, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman creates a unique fantasy world where dragons can take on human form, though not necessarily human emotion, and try to blend in.  For 40 years the land has been ruled by a shaky peace treaty between humans and dragons, but not everyone supports the treaty.  And as an upcoming gala event approaches, the signs seem to indicate that there are those out to sabotage the peace in Goredd.

“I know courage when I see it, and when I lack it.”  (from Seraphina)

In the midst of it all is Seraphina, a gifted musician with a secret of her own.  This secret could cost her life.  As events unfold, Seraphina in drawn into the investigation and as time races forward, Seraphina must spend more and more time with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, Prince Lucian Kiggs.  It seems sometimes as if he perhaps knows more than Seraphina would like, and that is a dangerous thing.

Seraphina is a rich high fantasy novel, the first in a new series that will warm the hearts of fantasy readers everywhere with its dragon’s breath and soul that permeates the page.  Here, there are different types of dragons hiding as humans in a world that still isn’t sure what to do about these fierce creatures.  As you read the story of Seraphina, you can’t help but reflect on our own world history and how various people groups have not always gotten along and have often afforded an uneasy, delicate peace.  Seraphina affords readers the chance to step outside and look at the interactions of different groups through a safer lens.  Through the art of storytelling, Hartman gives us a crafty, glorious vehicle to examine our own hearts and explore what it means to live in a world with people different than ourselves.

Seraphina is also a story about identity and self acceptance.  Because of her secret, Seraphina is not always at peace with who she is.  She straddles a variety of worlds and is trying to find a way to be a part of each of them.  Her struggle is one that any teen will readily identify with.

“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.”  (from Seraphina)

As is true with most high fantasy, Seraphina is a visionary world with unique names, places and terminology.  Part of the goal of this first book in the series is to build that world, which can sometimes slow down the pacing, particularly in the first part of the book.  But as readers come to understand the world of Goredd and what is at stake, they are drawn into the story of Seraphina.  Seraphina is a story beating with a dragon’s heart, being told with a dragon’s breath, and filled with a melodious language that is pleasing to read.  There is danger, mystery, and intrigue.  There is everything that a fantasy fan could ask for and more.  4 out of 5 stars, recommended for all libraries.

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