Seraphina, the kind of YA fantasy I’d really like to see more of

I knew I was going to love this book within the first two chapters, and I wasn’t disappointed. When I finished it, though, I was kind of at a loss for how to talk about it. I’m still not entirely sure what to say, but here’s to trying.

Seraphina is the story of a half-dragon/half-human, in a world where there is a lot of human/dragon tension and hybrids like her are believed to be impossible (dragons can transform into human shape, but are considered to be a different species). If the truth was known, she’d be accepted into neither human nor dragon society.

This book is about prejudice, and being different. A generation back, a peace treaty ended a war between Goredd, the country Seraphina lives in, and dragonkind. But fear and hatred is still alive, on both sides, though we primarily see it in Goredd. And there’s Seraphina, desperately trying not to be found out, but finding herself in the wrong situations regardless.

It began with her learning music, which she loves and has a talent for, against the wishes of her father. And then she applies for a job at court, as an assistant to the court composer–a job that comes with the responsibility of instructing a princess to play an instrument. And after that, she just can’t bring herself not to do something when she has the ability to make a difference.

I like Seraphina. She’s lived with this fear all her life, but she can’t help but want to be accepted, even as she believes that can’t happen. She’s sensible, she’s smart, and she’s driven. The few times she does something stupid, it’s believable given the circumstances and what she doesn’t know. I can’t quite put my finger on why she spoke to me, but she did. Maybe it was how reserved she’d had to become, trying not to stand out.

Her relationships with other characters were also fun to read about. In this book, dragons are supposed to be creatures that are purely logical and don’t feel emotions as humans do. That makes for a fascinating interplay between Seraphina and her unemotional uncle–she loves him and can’t help but want him to care about her, but he isn’t supposed to be able to do that. And she knows how ridiculous it is to want him to feel something that can get him in trouble, but there it is.

The royals, Glisselda and Lucian, are also really fun characters. Glisselda is all over the place–determined and ambitious, but more than a little wild. Lucian is easygoing and cheerful, except where his duties as captain of the guard are involved, which he takes very seriously. And maybe a couple of other things he takes very seriously. They both take to Seraphina, and it’s funny to watch her get swept up by the force of nature that is Glisselda.

There are many more characters, most of whom are at the least interesting in their own rights. Personally, I never got confused with any of them, but there is a cast list and a glossary in the back.

Something else cool–Goodreads has listed a link to a prequel story, detailing how Seraphina got her job. Here it is, for anyone who wants to read it.

Now that I’ve read Seraphina, I’m craving something fantasy, maybe epic fantasy, that can engross me the way this book did. But it’s a tough act to follow.

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7 Responses to Seraphina, the kind of YA fantasy I’d really like to see more of

  1. wildbow says:

    I got this book for Christmas and only recently finished it.

    It’s good. I had some minor quibbles, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll settle for saying it maybe tied up a little too quickly for my liking, and the romance didn’t really work for me.

    That said, I’ve been sort critiquing people’s work as part of a writer’s circle, and critiquing people’s work as I go about some of the Reddit subforums, and man, is it ever nice to read a story that doesn’t make the most common mistakes.

    Seraphina isn’t ugly-beautiful. It gets my goat when you have a character that notes how ugly they are (or complains/angsts about it) and yet everyone seems to accept that they’re beautiful, and eventually it’s realized that they’re perfectly beautiful. Doubly worse when it’s “I’m too slender!” (I’m aware of the potential hypocrisy on my part, but I’m prepared to defend my point).

    Seraphina’s half-dragon nature leaves her with what she describes as ‘horns that protrude from the skin of my arm like teeth from gums.’ – it’s not so attractive. Good.

    Characters that have character development, good. Character development that isn’t all positive. Good.

    The writing overall? Good. Hooked my interest early, had an early twist (her half dragon nature) that was easily guessable, but came with side-details and color that made it so it didn’t fall flat even though I knew it was coming. There were no points where I paused in my reading and groaned aloud at a phrase or construction of writing.

    All that said, if the author went on to write a sceond book, I don’t know if I’d read it. The romance didn’t grab me, and for all the prejudice that was imagined through the majority of the book, it felt like it fell too flat at a time when that fear and hatred should have come to a head. It leads me to believe the second (or third, fourth) book wouldn’t have the qualities/tones I’d liked in this one.

    • Marie Erving says:

      Well, there’s no way I can claim an unbiased opinion when a book hits all of my weak spots the way this one does, but I can’t honestly say there’s anything I’d complain about here. Not just my usual focusing-on-the-positives-of-books, just in case, attitude. Even the parts that didn’t stand out as much to me, I still like something about them being there. I’d also rather romances be understated than overstated. And for me, the prejudice simmering under the surface the way it does in this book is almost more powerful than it coming to a head. It parallels the kind of prejudice we often see in real life, that often gets overlooked.

      And also, I just want more good fantasy that doesn’t follow old formulas. Or the parts of the old forumlas that aren’t my thing.

      The whole beauty thing is often a pet peeve of mine too, regardless of whether or not the character thinks of herself as beautiful, actually. Just because of how subjective it is. Even if the majority agree on what they think is beautiful, there’s still a sizable amount of people who’ll disagree. So how is it possible that every person who meets a character thinks that she’s the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen?

      • wildbow says:

        It’s nice when stuff hits the right buttons.

        Yeah, I thought Seraphina was well done overall. It didn’t have me groaning out loud like 90% of books do, at the annoying little things that they keep doing. The prose was strong. Don’t take my criticisms to mean I disliked it – they’re rather mild as such things go.

        As far as good fantasy, maybe The Lies of Locke Lamora? I was also a fan of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series (less so the royal assassin/tawny man series), but I fully admit nostalgia may be coloring my perceptions there – I read it as a teen.

      • Marie Erving says:

        I’ve already read both. Good recommendations, though, I remember enjoying them! Generally, I prefer more character driven stuff than the Locke Lamora book, but it was just so exceptional at world building that there was no way not to love it. I’ve been meaning to read other Robin Hobb books, too. It doesn’t surprise me that you feel differently about her different series, since she apparently has a tendency to write very different things from what she’d written before.

  2. wildbow says:

    I’d recommend the Rain Wilds trilogy (only 2/3rds complete as of now, I think?) over the Royal Assassin or Tawny Man trilogies, which didn’t win me over (angsty protagonist, among other things), sort of a continuation of the Liveship Traders subseries.

    It’s not fantasy, but I did get a great deal of enjoyment out of Snow Crash and Diamond Age/A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (alternate titles for the same book) as well. You may have read them already, but if you haven’t, I’d recommend reading Snow Crash before Diamond Age. There’s some books I’ll read and I’ll think, ‘If the stars aligned right and my life had gone a little differently, I could have had that idea/wrote that story.’ Snow Crash & Diamond Age are not books like that. They are books where I fully admit and realize that the author is smarter and mor creative than me.

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