Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina is set in the kingdom of Goredd and follows the sixteen-year-old Seraphina, a court musician. She’s drawn into a murder mystery when the Crown Prince of Goredd, Rufus, is found decapitated in a manner that insinuates that he was murdered by dragons. The murder occurs on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the signing of a treaty that ended the war between humans and dragons.

Dragons can take human form but find human emotions baffling, which only lends to the continuing distrust and hatred between them and humans.

I love that with some of the characters what you see is what you get, but better yet are the many characters who have layers upon layers to them.

The main character, Seraphina, is wonderfully complex; she’s a mystery to everyone. The other characters perceive her as being reserved and prickly, but because of the first person narrative we are in her head all of the time, and we know better. Within the sensible, practical music mistress beats the heart of a passionate, young woman torn between having to deny her true identity and potentially causing harm to herself and those she loves.

We move at Seraphina’s pace of discovery, uncovering a few new truths about herself, which in turn cause her to question things that she considered to be certainties in her life.

Seraphina’s a truthful person, trapped in a liar’s life. Deception is her everyday reality, and there are people in her life who are lying to protect her too and people whom she feels guilty about betraying. It’s easy to identify with the questions she has to ask herself – “Who am I? What do I stand for? Where do I belong? Can I be accepted?”

The story is beautiful; it can be enjoyed by skimming its lovely surface, or by diving deeper to examine things in more detail. That is, it highlights serious issues but addresses these in the same way real-life does: through the tragicomedy of living. We all initially inherit from our parents’ generation a world of their making. At some point we have to decide which parts of that legacy to keep and which we may wish to strive to change, and we do this while trying to earn and learn, and while building relationships through the trial and error of trusting the right and wrong people.

Discrimination, deception, and the wounds caused by war are all dealt with, but I’d be wrong to tell you that this is a novel dealing purely with challenging themes.

This novel is a bit of everything. It’s a coming of age story, a fantasy filled with men and dragons of peace and war. It’s a fable about those who think power is owed to them. It’s a love story. It’s a tale about people who are learning to come into their own. It’s a story about so-called misfits – and it’s a story about finding your place, that spot where your words and actions can finally align, and you think that whatever you are is what you were meant to be.

If that hasn’t convinced you to read it, then I’ll just throw in that there’s a grand finale of the fire-breathing, bone-rattling variety!

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