Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – book review

16074352You probably have heard a lot about this book before. I personally have strange relationship with it. You want to know why? I will tell you.

It all started when I picked up a free postcard at the cinema. I used to do that every time. I also used to do a lot of Postcrossing (it’s a postcard exchange program, if you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out) and always needed more cards. So one time I picked up a pretty card with the dragon and a castle on it. It was the cover of Seraphina. Back then I thought that I should read this book, it looked very intriguing. So I put the postcards away and completely forgot about the book. Some time later I saw a book review on Goodreads, that’s when I added the book to my to-read list. And again, I forgot aubout it. Lately, I started watching YouTube videos with people doing book reviews and talking about books (it is also known as BookTube), and again – here it is in it’s glory – book that is praised and put in TBR piles by so many. So this time I thought, OK, I should probably get this book  from the library and be done with procrastination. And so I did.

To be honest, that wasn’t the best start ever. When you have imagined what a book might turn out to be, it never is as you imagined. For the first 50 pages I thought I will quit. Seriously. But I have made a rule for myself – don’t judge a book by it’s beginning. By page 100 it started to get interesting and the second half of the book went very fast. By the end of the book I had decided that I definitely need to read the sequel, when it comes out.

What is this book really about? Well, it’s about Dragons (Duh!) but in a different perspective than in most other books about them. Usually dragons are lonesome giants living in the mountains and hoarding gold. This book talks about the possibility that dragons could learn how to become human. Not just take a human form but actually become like people – feel the emotions; see beauty in things; care for someone other than themselves. This book is very political. Dragons have lived in their human form among people for over 40 years and still there is mistrust and cunning plans form both sides. There are both people and dragons, who think that this is never going to work but there are also people and dragons, who think that it is working well for both parties. This book also talks about love, trust and friendship. Even though it is all taken only from one perspective (of Seraphina), it still shows a lot of things that are happening in the background.

SPOILER ALERT – if you don’t want any spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

There is one thing about Seraphina that makes her so special – she is a cross-breed. Her mother hid that she was a dragon from her father and he only found out after her death in giving birth to this impossible child or demon (as many might think). Seraphina is neither human nor dragon. She has a bit of both in her. The weirdest part is that her mother had preserved her memories, as dragons do, but Seraphina can’t control their appearance and it creates a lot of problems because she collapses every time she remembers fragments of her mother’s past. She has created a garden full of “grotesques” to cope with her dragon side. In addition to that, she can understand the language of dragons, play musical instruments with some special charm, and she has some physical markings. Life is hard for her as her father tries to hide who she really is but, as she starts to get out of the shed, she finds all this unexpected attention overwhelming and strange. Later on, she finds out that she is not alone born this way.

The plot evolves around the mysterious death of the crown-prince; it appears he has been killed by a dragon and that might put the human/dragon treaty under the question. To make things worse, there is supposed to be a huge festival devoted to the treaty soon after. Seraphina gets herself entangled in state affairs and wants to discover the truth. On her way she falls in love with the wrong person; gets abused in different ways; discovers lots more about the world of dragons; gains new friends and popularity among people; almost gets herself killed numerous times, etc. Lots of philosophical thoughts about human nature, how it is hard to be different and that life isn’t always fair.

This book starts slowly but gets faster and more exciting with every chapter. There are several characters I liked but I can’t say that Seraphina herself would fall into this category. She is very self-centred and most of the times egoistic. She gets lucky not to get killed but mostly because other people are there to save her. She pretends to be strong and fearless but most of the times she is a damsel in distress. I do not consent with her moral standards of life. I don’t like her decisions, I don’t like her obnoxious ways of dealing with problems, and, most of all, I don’t like how she treats others. Of course, she is only 16 years old but I believe the age is not the key factor here. I guess this shows her duality of being a human and a dragon, and at the same time not being either. Her logics don’t always work well with her emotions, and her human side is contradicting the dragon side. She doesn’t feel to belong to either worlds at the beginning but by the end of the book she understands, that being so special might be exactly what both worlds need at the time of political shifting.

Overall, I liked the way this book was written. There are not many characters to remember; language is rich enough not to fall into repetition of the same thoughts all over again; the world setting is clear and plausible (if one can make oneself believe in dragons). I did feel a lack of action in the first half of the book and unexpected depth of political influence in this book took me by surprise at firs but later on it made more and more sense. One might find a lot of symbolism and parallels with our world in this book but it will also work as an interesting story for others, who just want to find something interesting to read in the fantasy genre. Despite my personal struggles with this book, I rate it by 8 out of 10.

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