Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphina Bibliographic information

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (978-0-385-66839-2)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician who has just recently found a place in the royal court as a new assistant to the court composer. Her love of music encouraged her to defy her father and come to court even though she had been taught to blend in and hide since childhood as her mere existence is considered an aberration to both sides of her parentage. Her mother was a saarantrai; a dragon in human form. It wasn’t until her death and Seraphina’s birth that her father learned that the woman he loved wasn’t really a human.

Seraphina’s musical talents draw her into the inner circle of the Princess  Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucien Kiggs. As Seraphina’s knowledge about dragons becomes known, she finds herself in the unique position of helping Kiggs, who is also Captain of the Queen’s Guard, try to solve a mysterious murder. She has come into the world of court at a time of high drama; it appears that Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon just before Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon’s leader, arrives to celebrate the anniversary of a treaty between their two nations. Someone is trying to destroy that peace treaty and Seraphina may hold the key to peace – or to war. But the more time she spends with the observant Captain, the closer he gets to learning her terrible secret.

Critical evaluation

Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina, received a number of richly deserved accolades including the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel and the Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Seraphina was also a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada), short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK), and long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (“Seraphina”).

Hartman’s tightly spun plot tells the story of the musically talented Seraphina. Told through Seraphina’s voice, the reader is first introduced to a scared young woman afraid to be noticed. As the plot develops, however, Seraphina’s character is shown to be increasingly complex as the reader is given glimpses of the depth of her confusion and self-loathing about her dragon heritage as she relates memories of her childhood. This coming-of-age story follows a remarkable heroine on her road to self-acceptance.

The kingdom of Goredd has the flavour of the Italian Renaissance with the rich interest in the arts, opulent dress, and focus on politics. Indeed, Hartman has aptly developed two cultures; one based on humanism focusing on creativity, art and emotion and the other based on the founding ideals of the Enlightenment with its focus the intellect, reason, and objectivity. These two ideals are embodied in the character of Seraphina who, being half dragon and half human, is struggling to accept herself as something more than the monster that both societies view her as.

Reader’s annotation

Seraphina’s gift of music came from her dragon heritage. But, when a dragon becomes the main suspect in a royal murder, that closely guarded secret could undermine her growing relationship with Prince Lucien Kiggs, destroy her family and, perhaps, throw the kingdom into war.

Information about the author

According to her website, http://rachelhartmanbooks.com , Rachel was born in Kentucky. She has lived throughout the United States, England, and Japan and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has a BA in Comparative Literature but “eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books.”

Challenge issues:

  • none

Seraphina is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy fiction, subgenre: animal

Curriculum ties: none

Booktalking ideas:

  • Read the section where Seraphina is describing her garden
  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Conflict of the rational vs emotion
  • Use of music as a plot device
  • Fear of the “other”
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest:

  • 15 and up
  • Grade level 4.6

Why did you include this title?:

  • Canadian author
  • Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, Cybils Award,Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada),Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK),Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal
  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
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