I was in love with this book a few sentences in. By the end of the five page prologue I realized I was going to stay up all night reading it cover to cover, but it was a work night, so I forced myself to stop before 2:00am. I was not happy about this.
Seraphina lives in the kingdom of Goredd. There has been an uneasy truce between the humans and dragonkind for four decades. The humans distrust the dragons living in Goredd, even though they remain in their human shape all year, except for the anniversary of treaty day. Although time has passed, many in the kingdom still hate the dragons and wish to return to war so they may completely wipe them from existence. A few hours into their cups and they seem to forget that the dragons are bigger and more dangerous than any one man.
The dragons are distant and logical, and humans confuse them. They’re sort of a mixture of Spock and Aspies. (I am aware that people will fight to the death defending the point that Spock is/is not an Aspie.) Because they live so long, they see humans as quick flickers and don’t bother to learn things like emotion, body language, or even the correct pronouns. Why refer to a baby as “she” when “it” works just as well? Their world is pure logic and reason, and when they spend too much time with humans, they return to their Board of Censors where their minds are erased and all ideas of emotion are taken away. Anything that can be considered self-pleasure, such as music or love, is pointless and makes a dragon weak. It makes them humanlike, which is abhorrent.
When in human form, they must wear bells to distinguish themselves from the humans, although their manner would quickly show the truth. Many wear their bells proudly, although a few try to keep a low profile so as not to attract the attention of the Sons of St. Ogdo, the group craving to rid the world of dragons, preferably in the most violent manner they can think of. A few are allowed to remove their bells and study and teach without having to deal with Goredd’s human interference.
It is quickly revealed that Seraphina is part of both worlds. No spoilers here; we know very early on that she is half human/half dragon. This is an abomination on both sides and her father is furious and heartbroken that the woman he loved lied to him. He didn’t know she was a dragon until she died in childbirth, silver blood pooling around her.
He creates a world of lies for the girl, possibly more to keep himself safe than her. Perhaps if she was never born, he never would have know what his wife was.
Seraphina’s two sides are almost constantly at war. Her mother implanted memories in her and if Seraphina is not careful she collapses to the ground, overwhelmed with her mother’s visions. Her dragon uncle, one of the dragons allowed to teach in secret, has taught her to control her dragon mind and hide her identity to keep herself safe. She must take time each day to calm her dragon side in order to maintain her secret.
And of course she almost blows her cover in the first chapter.
Her whole life she’s tired to remain invisible, but when she is forced to play at the Prince’s funeral, she’s suddenly known to all.
The Prince’s funeral threatens to destroy the treaty between Goredd and the dragons. His death is suspicious and points to dragonkind. They have sworn off eating humans, but perhaps their taste for blood has returned.
Seraphina finds herself on both sides, desperate to keep her true self hidden while saving both kingdoms and the treaty.
She quickly makes friends with members of the royal family as well as discovering that there are more like her. These other abominations have also crafted secret lives for themselves and are horrified that there are others which makes their secret that much easier to reveal. If you’re the only one, you’re safe. However, a part of them is relieved that they aren’t alone.
There’s lots of twists and turns and forbidden love and heartache and loneliness as Seraphina is forced to confront who she is and what it means. How does she keep her friends and family safe and will she be forced to choose a side? If her true nature is discovered, she’s not safe with the humans or dragons and if she is somehow not killed, there is nowhere for her to go that will be safe.
Family secrets are revealed and her own mind and memories begin spilling out and she’s caught up in so many undragonlike and intense human emotions that it seems impossible that she won’t be found out by either side. The constant hiding, lying, and redirections are exhausting and I kept expecting her to slip up or simply give in so she didn’t have to struggle anymore.
Hartman follows traditional fantasy paths and I liked it. Seraphina is a fairly strong YA character, even though at times she does fall a little bit into the plot device of a lost young woman desperate for friends but forced to hide a terrible secret. There’s also a teeny bit of Mary Sue lurking about when she quickly makes powerful friends who either willingly overlook her oddness or are completely blind to the signs. I’m willing to forgive this because I liked all of the characters so much. Sometimes it’s OK to use a pattern if you make it enjoyable.
I’m very pleased that this is Book One and I hope the follow ups get better and better as Hartman reveals more of the story and her writing gets stronger.
If you liked The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm series, then try this. Seraphina isn’t as strong as the female leads in the others, but she’s a good companion.