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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (edition 2012)

by Rachel Hartman

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1,9031813,598 (4.13)171
Authors:Rachel Hartman
Info:Random House Books for Young Readers (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 480 pages
Collections:Teen, Read but unowned
Tags:identity, teen fiction, fantasy, politics, 2012, MockPrintz2013, self-actualization, dragons, logic, emotion, strong women, smart women, music, court, secrets, love, prejudice

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Enjoyable YA fantasy mixing dragons and humans. I could see some Spock in the dragon uncle, which really helped me relate to the non-emotional dragon point of view. Neat concept and fun read! ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
Enjoyed it :) ( )
  blodeuedd | Mar 2, 2016 |
Seraphina has always loved music, and she has achieved her highest dream: to work in the palace as assistant to the music master. But she is lonely and expects to remain so all of her life, because she has a terrible secret. Seraphina, the dowdily dressed, retiring girl, is half-dragon.

Until a few decades ago, dragons and humans were locked in continual war. But one human queen and one dragon general negotiated a peace treaty in secret, and since then humans and dragons have kept largely to their own spaces, although dragons do sometimes shape-shift to take the form of humans so they can teach math to humans or research human music. The anniverary of the treaty is coming up, and all the old prejudices start roiling to the surface. Seraphine is caught in the middle, hiding from both sides while trying to subtly cajole and threaten them into behaving.

Unique characters, a wonderfully fresh and novel take on dragons, and a main character who felt wholly real. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
The pacing of this book is slow and I nearly gave up on it a few times, but persevered and was rewarded in the last third of the book. However, I enjoyed the premise which enabled humans and dragons to co-exist, with dragons being able to take on human form. I also really liked Serephina who was both dragon and human, torn between two worlds but accepted in neither since both see her as an abomination. "Serephina" had the potential to be a great book with dragons, adventure and romance all in together, but for me it fell short. ( )
  HeatherLINC | Jan 23, 2016 |
In Hebrew and Christian tradition a seraph (plural seraphim) is a winged celestial being, sometimes imagined sometimes as an angel (from a Greek word meaning 'messenger'), sometimes as a serpent. It mayn't come as a surprise, then, to find that this fantasy's protagonist, Seraphina, partakes of a little of each of these attributes -- as author Rachel Hartman, with a degree in Comparative Literature, will surely have known. Young Seraphina often acts as go-between as well as having an affinity for those mythical winged serpents called dragons; and fittingly she is, as St Matthew has it, as wise as a serpent (though not necessarily as harmless as a dove).

In Goredd and its surrounding states humans have kept a truce with the ancient dragon species for many year, thanks to the foresightedness and bravery of its aged queen. But dragons, as we mostly see them, have developed a particular ability over a millennium: they are able to transform into the semblance of humans, though sharing human emotions is not something that comes easily to these reptilian creatures.(I wonder if Hartman was influenced by the popular concept of the so-called triune brain, where human basal ganglia are characterised as the 'reptilian brain', supposedly responsible for the instincts demonstrated by aggressive and dominant attitudes as well as territorial and ritual behaviours.)

With dragons able to pass as humans the stage is set for human fear of the outsider and antagonism towards their kind. In Hartman's late medieval, tending-towards-the-baroque world the there is an uneasy equilibrium between reason and emotion, science and superstition, innovation and the status quo. Alarmingly, some humans seem to have those 'reptilian' responses in abundance while some dragons seem to have a predisposition towards 'mammalian' traits -- such as a sense of familial responsibility and higher faculties like complex culture, as evinced by art, music and language.

So much for context. But mostly the interested reader will want to know about the story: is it gripping, do we care about the characters, are the relationships believable? The answer to all of these is in the affirmative: despite an initial sense of confusion, where there is a lot of expository material in the form of info-dumping and a long gallery of characters, the narrative proper soon gets going, all seen from the point of view of said Seraphina. I confess I was already predisposed to like her for her innate musicality -- we first meet her as Music Mistress at the royal court, assistant to the Court Composer -- but her ability to think on her feet and understandable human failings additionally made her a sympathetic protagonist. When she stumbles upon evidence of a conspiracy to destroy the decades-long peace she finds that falling in love (plus a dangerous secret of her own) complicates any investigation of the guilty parties.

I really enjoyed this, both for the sheer fun of reading an involving story and for the delight at the world-building and descriptions of relationships. The author has cleverly integrated musical themes in the plot, with narrative strands almost like fugal subjects and pacing like the ancient baroque dances that also feature in the tale. In addition she's successfully introduced a panoply of outlandish terms to pepper the text, and a pseudo-medieval gallery of curious saints. On top of that come the visions Seraphina is subject to and the meditations that she uses to keep her sanity, which all hint at a complex psychology for Hartman's heroine, an inner world which impinges on the girl's own reality. And while the story is complete in itself, the stage is set for further complications to be addressed in the sequel Shadow Scale, the title of which includes a clever pun on music and on dragon attributes as well as a hint of darkness to come.

Speaking of puns, one of the dragons is called Orma. Now, Hartman mentions somewhere that the name is derived from a one-time acquaintance called Norman, but with the 'n's removed. But I'm sure you will have noted that Orma is suspiciously like the Norse Viking word ormr, meaning dragon, serpent or reptile as well as the humble worm, so Orma is most apt. This edition includes, in addition to the customary map, a necessary glossary, a Q&A session with the author, an extract from the sequel, a short story prequel and a list of dramatis personae. It's also nice to note that Hartman's favourite authors include British writers George Eliot, Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, though of course her style is all her own.

http://wp.me/p2oNj1-1ym ( )
  ed.pendragon | Jan 21, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rachel Hartmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AndrewCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kolesova, JulianaIllustrator (Title Page)secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palisi, HeatherCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In memoriam: Michael McMechan.
Dragon, teacher, friend.
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I remember being born.
I usually practiced smiling while I slathered my scales with goo, figuring that if I could smile through that, I could smile through anything. Today I really didn't have the time.
We were all monsters and bastards. And we were all beautiful.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375866566, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Teen Book of the Month, July 2012: In Seraphina, dragons and humans maintain an uneasy peace and for a woman who is both there is nowhere to turn for acceptance--not even within herself. Seraphina has spent her young life concealing the truth of her parentage and authentic nature, a task that proves ever more difficult when she is thrust into the spotlight of the royal court. Author Rachel Hartman’s dragons take human form but shun the messiness of human emotion by remaining “in ard” (a highly rational state of mind), while their counterparts cling to a dangerous assumption of species superiority. As the anniversary of the treaty between the two sides approaches, court intrigue reaches a fever pitch and hard-won truths, betrayals, and intricacies of the heart are laid bare. Seraphina is a beautifully complex fantasy that delves into the most basic of desires—to be loved, to belong, and to find peace in self-acceptance. --Seira Wilson

Guest Review by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce is a best-selling author of fantasy books for teenagers. Her books, known for their teenaged girl warriors and wizards, have received critical acclaim and a strong fanbase. Her newest book, Mastiff, is the third book in The Legend of Beka Cooper series.

In Seraphina's world, coldly intellectual dragons can take on the shapes--and feelings--of human beings. Sometimes this results in a surprise. Seraphina's father married a beautiful musician, and discovered too late that she was a dragon. She died, leaving him with a daughter who confuses him and his new wife and children.

Now the half-dragon Seraphina is the assistant to the cranky royal music master. She is in charge of Princess Glisselda's music lessons; she books performers for the 40-year celebration of the peace treaty between dragons and humans, and she rehearses the rowdy court musicians. She has to hide the scales on her arm and around her waist, and she can never let anyone find out that Orma, her music teacher, is actually a dragon.

When she plays the solo for the funeral of the realm's murdered prince, Seraphina is suddenly raised into entirely new, visible levels of peril. People she always avoided are noticing her. She has to attend social functions, where she is caught up in court politics, between those who support the treaty and those who want to destroy it. She runs afoul of conspirators who want to start the war again--one of them may be her own grandfather. She even discovers that Prince Lucian, who is betrothed to Princess Glisselda, is not only very sharp-eyed but also very agreeable to be around. He appreciates her insights on intrigue at court and in the city and uses her as an unofficial investigator into the ongoing unrest.

The plot thickens. A new religious order plots riots and revolution. Exiled knights return to report an unregulated dragon flying near where the old prince was murdered. The dragons are trying to send Orma for corrective surgery--they think he's gotten too human and they want to cut those parts out of his brain. Seraphina fears that if she tells the prince and the princess what she is, they'll hate her forever, but their work to preserve the treaty celebrations is bringing them closer together. And all of them are terrified that the dragons will decide that humans are not worth the trouble, and will destroy them at last.

I loved this book even more the second time I read it than I did the first. The characters are interesting and engaging, and I love the new look at dragons. For all that she's half-dragon, Seraphina is a very believable human being, caught between different loyalties and just trying to keep everyone she loves alive. But don't take my word for it--read it yourself!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In a world where dragons and humans coexist in an uneasy truce and dragons can assume human form, Seraphina, whose mother died giving birth to her, grapples with her own identity amid magical secrets and royal scandals, while she struggles to accept and develop her extraordinary musical talents.… (more)

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