Book Review: Seraphina and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

As a writer pursuing the dream of becoming published, it’s inspiring for me to read authors’ debut novels. The debut of Rachel Hartman, Seraphina, was a true inspiration, as it was a debut that blew me away. Hartman takes the age-old typical of dragons and puts a new spin on them: they can transform into humans. With this refreshing addition to the arsenal of dragon stories, I thoroughly enjoyed a good ol’ return to my childhood favorites: fantasy. It had been a good while since I last read something genuinely and solely fantastical.

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Seraphina follows the half-human, half-dragon Seraphina, a young musician living in the world of the royal court. Naturally, in such an environment, there is dark and behind-the-corner activity about. Seraphina desperately tries to hide the draconic part of herself as she gets wrapped up in conspiracy and murder mystery that shakes the tense feud between dragons and humans.

What blew me away the most is the amount of detail that Hartman obviously put a lot of attention, research, and passion into. In particular, the detail of politics seems so well thought out that this fictional world really could operate as well as any earthly country. Characters are beautifully fleshed out, especially physically. Hartman leaves no inch of them to wonder; we know what these characters look like and how they act. The dragons are fascinating. With their lack of comprehension of human emotions, it allows for some comical misunderstandings of which Seraphina finds herself a kind of translator between the humans and dragons in her life. There’s no wondering of the settings, either. The world of Goredd, as it is called, is so clear in my mind.

Though there were moments when I got a little lost with plot, I couldn’t tell if it was the book or simply just me not paying attention. A few deeper fantastical concepts, such as Seraphina’s “mind garden” I sometimes struggled to follow, but the confusion would soon pass. I did not fault the book too much for that. The length for Seraphina is just right; not too long, not too short.

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I am currently reading the sequel to Seraphina, titled Shadow Scale, so I cannot give a full proper review on it just yet. I am approximately 3/4 through it, however, and have established a few choice opinions. It is longer than Seraphina, and thus there a moments when I feel a slight lag in the plot and action. However, the prose of both books is enchanting. Hartman knows how to spin words. Details are just as superb, if not sometimes a little unnecessary, but I would rather read too much detail than not enough. The climax is creeping slowing, but perhaps that is just me anticipating the end. For a good reason, I do hope. All in all, so far, I am not disappointed with this highly anticipated sequel. It came out around my birthday, and it was the perfect present for myself.

I highly suggest these novels to you, especially if you have as much a love for the world of fantasy and lore as I do. In the midst of this heavily populated genre, it’s easy for new members to become lost in the fray, but Seraphina and its sequel have stood strong and stood out, and I personally hope it stays that way for a good while. Well done, Ms. Hartman.

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