Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

by Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
E-book, purchased
499 pages
Grade: B
Synopsis: 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.

That’s the secret to performance: conviction. The right note played tentatively still misses its mark, but play boldly and no one will question you. If one believes there is truth in art – and I do – then it’s troubling how similar the skill of performing is to lying. Maybe lying is itself a kind of art. I think about that more than I should.


  • This is a unique fantasy. Quite a different take on dragons. The world is very different, too.
  • The world building is so detailed and fits together. Lots of meticulous detail and history of the world. There are so many aspects of the book–the dragons, the humans, the court of Goredd, the old soldiers, Seraphina and her music, Seraphina and her mind garden, the death of the crown prince, Prince Lucien and his hunt for the killer.
  • Very interesting that the dragons are so intelligent, such talented mathematicians and that they’ve managed to fold themselves into human shapes.
  • Even so humans despise the dragons and treat them badly when they can. Even though there has been 40 years of peace the humans don’t like the dragons, don’t trust them and don’t want them in their country.
  • Of course, the dragons don’t like humans much better, don’t trust them and some of them don’t want peace.
  • The dichotomy between dragons and humans is very interesting. Humans are emotional and illogical; dragons are unemotional and logical. Neither understands the other.
  • I really like Seraphina and her music. She is passionate about her music and that is one of my favorite parts of the book. Seraphina’s secret is quite clear early on and by the end of the book is no longer much of a secret.
  • Orma is such a good character. We slowly find out more and more about him and I like him a lot.
  • The concept of Seraphina’s mind garden is really interesting. So interesting how she goes into her mind and tends it like a garden. If she doesn’t she’s unable to function. The questions . . . what is the garden? why is it in her mind? what does it mean?
  • Not only is this a fantasy with great world building it’s also full of politics. Mostly the politics of the Goredd court, but we catch sight of some of the dragon politics.


  • The romance didn’t work very well for me.
  • I thought General Comonot was too silly to be such an important dragon. He comes to the kingdom of Goredd for the 40th anniversary of the treaty. He talks about his abhorrence of emotion, but in his human shape he greatly enjoys being emotional.

And a few thoughts . . .

  • Despite my jeers I really enjoyed this debut fantasy.
  • The second book in the series–Shadow Scale–is already published!

Awards & Nominations

This book received many nominations and awards. Some of them include:

  • Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2013)
  • Sunburst Award for Young Adult (2013)
  • William C. Morris YA Debut Award (2013)
  • Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee (2013)

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Rachel Hartman lives in Vancouver, BC in Canada. However, she was born in Kentucky and has lived in a number of other places including Japan and London. She has a BA in comparative literature. And this is her debut young adult fantasy.

Reading Challenges

  • 2015 Goodreads Challenge
  • New Author Challenge–hosted by the Literary Escapism blog
  • TBR Pile Challenge–hosted by the Bookish blog
  • Ultimate Reading Challenge–hosted by the Popsugar blog (A book by an author you’ve never read before)