Seraphina - Rachel Hartman "We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful."

Seraphina Dombegh is an assistant to court musician, Viridius, and is desperately trying to keep a secret that could very well ruin her life. As she works in the court amongst a tenuous peace between humans and dragons, Prince Rufus is violently killed. Slowly, Seraphina is drawn into solving the murder and learning that something rotten is afoot.

What an absolutely delightful reading experience! I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading this. And although there were some bumps that kept this from being a full Five Star read, this is a book that I think fantasy and YA fans will positively enjoy.

The absolute best part of the book is the world building. Hartman pulls out all the stops in creating this psuedo-Medieval novel. I've complained numerous times about the flat, unimpressive, unconvincing world building of many a novel, where the author tossed up a few key words but didn't try to flesh out the world, like a college student would toss up a bedsheet onto a rod instead of buying proper curtains. Hartman isn't such an author. The Medieval setting was fresh, new, and inviting; I loved how she developed her own religion complete with a cast of Saints (who were used consistently!). And while I was nervous about the dragons posing as humans (how could such large beasts get into such a small package), somehow, Hartman made it work.

And this leads to one of the next best parts: dragons vs humans. To compare the dragon way of thinking to the Star Trek Vulcans would be appropriate. Orma most definitely comes closest to personifying Commander Spock--logical, unemotional, but when something happens to the ones he loves, he goes out of his way to find a solution. You even see this sort of thing happening in Seraphina. Many times, she seems distant and unemotional...and then you learn she is part-dragon. Somehow, that works for me.

Speaking of characters, the cast is filled to the brim with vivid characters. Seraphina is our lead, and while she has her aggravating moments, overall, I liked her. She was active in her own life, curious, gifted; she struggled with her ancestry, with her secret, and with her growing feelings to Kiggs. If there was one problem with her, it was how quickly she decided that she was in love with Kiggs. (Not to say, however, that Seraphina and Kiggs had no chemistry, but I am getting ahead of myself.) Orma was brilliant, as I touched on above; Kiggs was a joy to read. So many male main characters/love interests come across as domineering d-bags, but Kiggs was not that guy. He was abrupt and candid at times, but that is his character. He is allowed to be flawed (who wants to read about perfect characters all the time?).

As for Kiggs and Seraphina, minus how quickly Seraphina decides she loves Kiggs, I actually liked them together. They spent time talking and getting to know each other--which is why, when Seraphina decides halfway through the book that she loves Kiggs, I was disappointed. Don't ruin a good couple with insta-love, please!

Besides our main couple, there were plenty of other characters to love. Lars, Viridius, Abdo, and my personal favorite, Dame Orka. They were unique and memorable, gifted with their own talents and able to assist Seraphina where needed. And I can't tell you how good it was to see Seraphina in a world with people other than her Love Interest. I get tired of a world filled that seems to hold only a girl and the boy(s) she love(s).

However, some of the other characters were a bit...wonky. Glisselda starts out the novel as a ditzy, young princess and suddenly becomes a competent, political-savvy figure by the end of the novel. This change was not well-documented, nor was it clear if Glisselda had been acting the role of the "idiot" in the beginning (perhaps she was, but what made her suddenly accept Seraphina into the role of confidante?). While I didn't much care for Glisselda either way in the beginning, I did like how she became a good, solid leader in the end and a friend to Seraphina (another thing I hate is how few female friends a female protagonist will have, as if they are competition or a distraction to our MC).

Seraphina's dad and her stepmother/siblings were other characters that I was surprised to see so little of. Claude is spoken of quite frequently, but he appears maybe a total of twice in the novel. I know Seraphina doesn't have the greatest of relationships with him, but I found it slightly odd, as they did both work in the castle. As for the stepmother/stepsiblings, I was a bit surprised at this descriptor found in the glossary:

Anne-Marie-- Phina's not-so-wicked stepmother

Tessie, Jeanne, Paul, and Nedward-- the moderately wicked stepsibilings

Anne-Marie, like Claude, barely appears in the novel, but at least, she exemplifies the description. The stepsiblings, however, are said to be "moderately wicked", but not once do they do anything "moderately wicked". They are actually really polite to their older sibling, in the one scene we see them. Is this glossary entry just supposed to be joking? Given the other entries, such as Prince Lucian's, I almost think this is the case:

Prince Lucian Kiggs-- Princess Laurel's embarrassing bastard, fiance of Princess Glisselda, Captain of the Queen's Guard, possessor of too many descriptors

And let me take the chance now to say: THANK YOU, RACHEL HARTMAN, FOR THE GLOSSARY!! I've read far too many novels lately with a bunch of new people, terms, locations, etc. and have been completely lost.

As for the story, the novel opens very slowly. VERY SLOWLY. A lot of pages are spent building up this world and the surroundings before launching into the main plot. Also, the beginning is a bit rough. I wish I could be more specific, but all I can say is that the first 20 pages or so were a bit challenging to get through. After that point, the book seems to hit its stride, and the flow is a lot better. And once the plot does eventually kick into gear, it is very good. It is unique, our main character, Seraphina, actually acts upon her life (instead of having others make decisions for her and just "float" through the story), and the mystery did have me stumped (for a bit). And I liked how the story concludes: a nice ending, completing this book, but definitely room to continue the story.

And this is definitely a series I will be following. Sure, there were missteps and I'm sure there are gonna be a lot of people who won't want to wade through the world-building at the beginning before the story kicks into gear, but I enjoyed myself. I liked the world, the characters, and the story and am a bit sad that I'm going to have to wait a year or so for book 2. Recommended for fans of fantasy and dragons and heroines that don't need a boy toy to do all their dirty work.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Very tame. Lucian is called a "b*****d" but in the familial sense. Other curses are invented slang or mild expletives ("da**", "he**").
One character's backstory includes his mother sleeping with a dragon. Lucian and Seraphina exchange a few kisses, but nothing more. The sexuality of a few characters is mentioned, but only briefly and not in graphic detail.
The story opens with the murder of Prince Rufus, whose head was apparently bit off. A group of men beat up a saar. Seraphina's old teacher held her over a balcony and threatened to kill her. Otherwise, fairly mild.