I’ve become tired of dragons in fiction. Most of the time, they’re pretty similar. They’re loyal companions, a la Anne McCaffrey’s Pern dragons. They’re lofty ones who see humans are being to use and tolerate, a la Tintaglia from Robin Hobb’s books. Or they’re savage beasts that can lay waste to the land and must be vanquished. Seraphina’s initial premise therefore appealed to me—dragons that could take human form out of a vague fascination with petty human lives. Dragons in Hartman’s world are like the Vulcans of science fiction—emotion is dangerous, and the dangerous of all emotions is love. Goredd was once at war with the dragons, but they now have an unsteady treaty and a tentative peace that could easily turn into an all-out war.
Seraphina is a half-human, half-dragon offspring of one such forbidden relationship. She looks human aside from the band of scales about her waist and on her forearms, which she keeps covered at all times. She’s a court musician, incredibly talented and passionate about music. She has a strained relationship with her father, a wealthy man who feels guilty at the death of his wife, and has a mentor in her draconic uncle Orma.
A member of the royal family is murdered, possibly by a dragon. Seraphina becomes caught up in the politics of Goredd, working with the bastard Prince Lucien and dancing a political dance with royalty and searching for a rouge dragon—who happens to be related to her by blood. At the same time, she learns that the strange people in her head that she’s protected herself from might actually be real and have something in common with her. And at all times, she must try to keep her secret safe, for fear that she will be shunned by humans and dragons alike.
Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy books in recent years. Its prose is lush, its worldbuilding superb. Seraphina is a sympathetic character, and every character is richly fleshed out. While the book started a little slow for me as the world is introduced and layered, by halfway through I was smitten enough that I stayed up until 3.30 in the morning to finish, even though I had work the next day. This is a book I’ll re-read several times, and will buy the sequel the day it comes out. Very much recommended to people who like rich, secondary world fantasy with dragons that are different from the norm.