When I was little, I was obsessed with dragons. They were the beasts that replaced my beloved unicorns once I realized that the single-horned equines were for weaklings—scales and breathing fire? So much cooler than a horn and the ability to attract virgins.
Rachel Hartman gets that. Stepping away from the vampire/werewolf/zombie nonsense that has caught the young adult genre by its under-developed… er… boot-straps, Hartman has created an amazing world in Seraphina that doesn’t just feature dragons, but is defined by their presence.
The eponymous Seraphina is the latest assistant to Goredd’s court composer, Viridius, taking on the job just as one of the city’s beloved princes has gone and lost his head… to a dragon. Well, the theory is that a dragon was the cause of death, but in a city only four decades into a rather unstable treaty with dragon society, that theory rapidly becomes “fact”—whether it’s true or not.
What makes things worse than they already were is that Hartman’s dragons can take human form. That doesn’t sound too bad until we learn about the doubtful social skills of the dragons— skills a few steps removed from the comparatively charming cordiality of Star Trek’s Vulcans. The culture clashes in the story hearken back to the race riots of the mid 1900s—with only one side erupting in violence.
But it is because of the dragons’ ability to take human form that Seraphina exists at all. The supposedly impossible offspring of a human and dragon, Seraphina possesses physical and metaphysical manifestations of her blended heritage and does her best to hide them—something that was infinitely easier before she caught the notice of the royal family.
Running through a city slowly going mad, trying to uncover political machinations worthy of Lord Littlefinger while keeping her origins hidden, Seraphina finds that she might not be the only child of mixed blood and that sometimes that very blood comes back to haunt you.
Seraphina is one of those books that, if you risk putting it down, thoughts of it will stay with you until you pick it up once more. The prose is simple and intense, dreamily romantic yet cuttingly precise. You will fall in love with Seraphina and the beautifully wrought world she inhabits in minutes, so prepare for a captivating ride.
Seraphina is published through Random House Children’s Books.