Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (US/CA): Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Review copy from publisher
3.5 out of 5 stars

I was told there would be amazing world building

I thought it was pretty good, but nothing special. It's a neat, though not really unique, world where dragons transform into human form and live in a tense alliance with humans. There's all sorts of heavy handed shades of prejudice, fear, and related racial issues. There was a prior war. There is an impending war.

See? None of that is very unique or amazing, so I definitely am not in the camp that hails the world building as something uniquely special.

That said, I liked the world. I could have done with a lighter touch on the "racism is bad" front (this made some characters ring less true—the princess in particular), but overall I liked reading about the less preachy parts of dragon-human interactions. I'm a sucker for the medieval-ish fantasy world with warring kingdoms and pretty princesses, so Seraphina's world was a good fit for me.

My biggest gripe about the world building though is that there are a lot of holes. I understand this is part I of II, but I don't think there should be this many holes. I have a ton of questions, and they're not of the "Just wait, that will be revealed" variety. This is the kind of world that looks really nice at first glance, but does not hold up under scrutiny. 

I was told the writing is beautiful

It is very nice. Even though the book is massive, and even though the plot is slow (very!), and even though I hate both of those things, I still loved reading Seraphina.

The writing totally drew me in and I barely noticed that I had read a lot and not much had actually happened or that I had barely made a dent in the pasta-bowl page count. I was just really enjoying reading.

But, there's also a whole lot of telling going on. I felt like I had a very unclear picture of who Seraphina was as a character until Kiggs was introduced and started telling me. Seraphina felt like one of those wallflower characters: likable and nothing to complain about, but also nothing to remember once the story is over.

Enter Kiggs, and suddenly Seraphina is bold and daring and other This Is A Memorable Character descriptors. And, yeah, he had a point I guess, and I understand he was telling Seraphina as much as he was telling me, but it still felt very forced. The same thing happened with other characters, too (I was reminded frequently of how regally the princess was acting).

I was told the politics were twisty

Yes-ish? A little? I like political fantasy stories, and Seraphina can definitely fall into that category. I'd fit it somewhere in the middle to low end though as far as twisty-ness is concerned. It's no Megan Whalen Turner, that's for sure.

The politics are more straight forward and while there is a dastardly plot, this is not the kind of political book with lots of subtle maneuvering. There's nothing wrong with that, and I enjoyed the story for what it was, but my expectations bar had been set for the latter and so I was a little disappointed.

I was told the romance was swoony

It's slow burn and built on friendship first, which I like. Her romantic interest is a good guy with solid morals and good character development. He's not a charmer or a bad boy. Their romance was very nice and I was happy to see it included in the book. Their conversations were engaging and reminded me of those rare special friendships where you just click with a person.

I loved reading the romance, but I did not swoon. 

I was told the characters were great

This is the shining part of the book for me. I'm a character girl, and I totally connected with these characters. Or, less the actual characters (because I don't feel compelled to start handing out sleepover party invites, even though they were nice) but more the relationships.

Seraphina's relationships with the various characters truly touched me. I almost cried at various points, both in sadness and in pure joy. I looked forward to seeing her in scenes with the different characters, less for plot progression and more just because I liked seeing them together. I think this is what really hooked me, kept me reading, and will keep me coming back for the sequel. 

But, this wasn't entirely solid, either. Characterizations were shifted in order to fit the narrative. People would change or make decisions that just didn't make sense. Why now? Why this way? I guess they could happen that way, but I wasn't convinced and that doubt interfered with my enjoyment and immersion in the story.

Bottom line

Rachel Hartman is an author I'm going to follow. Seraphina is her debut, and in a lot of ways it reads like a debut. There are things that can be improved, and that is to be expected with a debut. But there is also a lot of promise and a strong foundation, and I'm excited to see how she builds on that.

I wish I hadn't been exposed to so much hype for this book. I'm not sure if it would have changed my enjoyment level, but it may have had an effect. Expectations are a powerful factor.  

The ending actually wraps up a lot better than I was expecting it would, but of course there's all that impending doom stuff that will happen in the sequel. I'm pretty sure this is a duology and not a trilogy, and I am extremely happy to hear that. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, and while I don't feel like I need it RIGHT NOW, I am glad I won't have to wait long to find out what happens next.


Like this book? You might also like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Info for the giveaway:

  • What you can win: A finished copy of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US/CA only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on March 14th 


  1. I really enjoyed this one but I'm not a big dragon fan. The writing and the characters drew me into the story and yes, while the pacing is slow, I didn't seem to mind it. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

    1. I'm kind of hit and miss with dragons. I love the idea, but I think there are a lot of dragon books I don't like as much. I wish these dragons were actually in dragon form more often.

  2. I liked the first book a lot and thought the second book was only okay. But you might actually like the second book better, because there are lots of explanations to fill in all those worldbuilding holes, and she does have a whole lot of interesting background for this world of hers.

    1. I've been hearing that a lot about the second book. I'm nervous! I wonder which way I'll go with it, if I'll ike it more or less than the first since I didn't love the first.

  3. Too bad this was okay for you. I loved it. Although I can't remember the romance aspect at all. So I guess that wasn't so special.

    1. haha no the romance was pretty subtle. Definitely not a consuming romance, and it was nice that the plot was substantial enough to stand on its own.

  4. I loved this one so it's too bad that you found this one only okay, Small. I didn't notice the slow pacing in this one as much, but it was very obvious in the sequel, which I unfortunately wasn't as enamored by.

    1. aw, I'm sorry to hear that about the sequel! I'm reading it now, but I'm not far enough into it to decide how I feel yet. I'm hoping I like it more.

  5. Huh...I really didn't know too much about this one...I usually avoid review and synopses of books I think I'll really like...but I am disappointed to hear about the shifting. I thought they were "real" dragons!

    1. I'm disappointed by that too! I actually picture them as little dragon/lizard creatures dressed in people clothes. It's strange. I can't picture them as human at all.

  6. I've been holding off on this book. Don't know why, maybe a little too much hype for it?

    I think I'll enjoy it a lot more with your review to put it into perspective.


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