A Writer's Journey

January 27, 2014

Book Analysis: “Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
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If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you probably know I have dabbled in the fantasy genre with my stalled epic. For those who are just joining us—hi! You’ll probably notice I mostly write romance and historical fiction. But I do have a work of fantasy on the backburner. I do plan to return to it.

In the meantime, I have been trying to read a bit more fantasy as well. To that end, I read “Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman on the recommendation of an online friend. I picked it up at Comic Con and started to read. And I’ve enjoyed it.

So, beware SPOILERS!

“Seraphina” is set in the fictional land of Goredd, a land where dragons and human try to co-exist peacefully. On the eve of the anniversary of the treaty between the two, Goredd’s prince ends up dead. The main character, Seraphina, works at court as the assistant to the court composer. But she is pulled into the investigation by her tutor, Orma. She starts to spend time with Lucian Kiggs, the prince’s nephew and the one investigating his death. The mystery deepens and Seraphina wonders if the country’s peace can survive. And will her deepest secret be revealed in the process?

It’s not the best summary, I admit. But I feel its hard to even summarize the story without feeling like you’re giving something away. And I believe that’s the sign of a good book. And Seraphina, in my opinion, is a great book. It was also a great book for me to read as a budding fantasy writer.

Why? Because of the world Ms. Hartman builds. It’s as real as Hogwarts or Middle earth. I could see it while I read the book. And it was animated, but that’s just my imagination. I was raised on Disney. It’s my default now.

I guess I also relate to Ms. Hartman because she chose a medieval world. I wrote a more medieval culture myself. And I relate to how she used religion. I also use religion in my writing. It makes the most sense in a medieval setting, as Hartman notes in the Q+A that was included in my copy of the book. Religion paid a big part in medieval culture. It would be folly to ignore it. Hartman used the idea of saints. I use angels and the concept of heaven.

But enough about me and my writing. For now. Let’s move on to characters. We’ll start with Seraphina, our main character and our narrator. She’s an intriguing one. This is her journey of self-discovery. Or rather, self-acceptance. The chain of events which kick off the story push her out into a world she had been hiding from due to her secret. But it’s not treated like an anvil. It’s hidden from the readers, but it is still easy to figure out if you read it carefully. The amount of time it takes Seraphina to reveal her secret to the readers is good, in my opinion. Not rushed yet not drawn out. Just held off long enough to set up how dangerous her secret is.

So what is that secret? She’s half-dragon—her mother was a dragon who had lived in human form, hiding it even from Seraphina’s father. Besides scales, she has abilities associated with being a dragon. She has visions. She can understand the language of the dragons. And there is also her musical abilities. Seraphina is a talented musician. Whenever she plays, her audience is silent and entranced. It moves them. And is something she inherited from her mother. Along with some of her mother’s memories.

These memories serve a dual purpose. The first is to help move the plot along by providing information from the past for Seraphina to use in the present. And the second is for character development, more for Seraphina than her mother. It pushes her toward self-acceptance. And to understanding why some people take risks. What she could gain by taking risks. Namely, love.

Which brings us to the romance and Kiggs. I’ll start with Kiggs. I like him as a character. He’s genuinely interested in Seraphina. And for a while, I thought he knew her secret. But he didn’t. He just found her a kindred spirit. And a mystery to solve. Kiggs himself is a competent soldier and a good man in general. He has a thing with honesty, something that Seraphina has trouble because of the dangers of her true nature. It creates good conflict between the two.

Hartman’s description skills are wonderful. She paints a picture in her reader’s mind. And she creates amazing, 3-D characters. I definitely recommend this book for fantasy lovers (or people curious about fantasy!).

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