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Undergrad California girl reading and reviewing young adult, mystery, classics and whatever else takes my fancy.

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

This book had all the ingredients to be a brilliant read: an intelligent and sympathetic protagonist, political and social conflict, a touch of romance, quality writing, fear of alienation, fear of the unknown, good guys, bad guys, guys who think they are good but aren't, and, of course, dragons! But I just couldn't get into it. It just wasn't for me.

There were a lot of interesting and compelling elements to this story. For one, our main heroine Seraphina herself. She is an excellent protagonist! Her personal dragon issue provides a plot, but her personality and character are what truly make her awesome to read. She is very private and very emotional. She is highly sensitive to the emotions and relationships of everyone around her. She reminds me strongly of my favorite protagonist: Jane Eyre. They both have an intense inner life as well as empathy and understanding for others. And both have passionate personalities, but are also a bit rigid and "prickly." (For those who are into this stuff, as a complete non-professional, I'd say that they are both INFJs in Myers-Briggs.)

The effect of Seraphina's narration is to illuminate all sides of the socio-political issues of her world. She sees all sides, therefore, we do too. This brings me to the other major highlight of this story: the complicated and realistic socio-political world building. How do humans react when trying to coexist with another intelligent life form? In this case, it's dragons. Rachel Hartman presents us with a dilemma more similar to our own world than I was expecting. 

There are dragons who oppose cooperation, dragons who want peace and harmony, humans who also want peace, humans who hate dragons, humans who don't hate them but would prefer it if they just went away, dragons who love humans, and dragons who don't love at all. Fear, hate, calls for purity, calls for harmony, and above all misunderstanding. Because that's what magnifies the issue of peace and disquiet between the two species. Dragons and humans have different customs and world-views and they can't seem to understand each other. Not truly. 
Compare it to how J.K. Rowling describes the differing beliefs between goblins and wizards on the rights of ownership in Harry Potter. Or how Orson Scott Card illustrates the existence and the non-existence of individuality between the Buggers and humans in Ender's Game. Seraphina is able to understand, feel, and empathize for both dragons and humans.

Despite these positive aspects, Seraphina left me uninterested and I'm not sure I'll read the sequel, Shadow Scale. I wasn't excited about any of the characters except maybe Lars or Abdo, however, neither was given the spotlight they deserved. The plot wasn't overly exciting. The romance was slow to build. This was both good and bad: it avoided insta-love, however, it felt a bit dispassionate. Because the romance was so lukewarm, I was surprised when it actually came to a head before the conclusion of the book. I thought perhaps Hartman would wait until the sequel.

If you're interested in a thought-provoking fantasy YA, this'll do. But it's not an edge-of-your-seat, can't-turn-the-page-fast-enough, leaves-me-different kind of read.