Module 8 – Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
In a world where dragons and humans coexist in an uneasy truce and dragons can assume human form, Seraphina, whose mother died giving birth to her, grapples with her own identity amid magical secrets and royal scandals, while she struggles to accept and develop her extraordinary musical talents.
APA Reference of Book
Harman, R. (2012). Seraphina. New York, NY: Random House.
I picked this book up because it was about dragons and I’ll read almost anything with dragons in it. Hartman has created a world where humans and dragons co-exist under an uneasy peace treaty. Very few humans actually like dragons - they find them to be monsters. And for the dragons - well, they can take human form. Usually the people around them know that they are dragons - but not always. The dragons could also wipe the humans out if they chose to do so - but they are very logical, mathematical creatures that feel they can learn something from the humans.
The story revolves around Seraphina Dombegh who just happens to be part dragon and part human. But Seraphina does not look like a dragon. In fact, she looks like any other 16 year old girl. Except for a few scales on one arm. It's what goes on in her head - and her extraordinary musical talent - that set her apart from others. She tends a garden full of “grotesques” in her head – other half-human/half-dragon individuals that inhabit her world. If left untended, they would drive her mad. Her father is at a loss what to do with her, so the majority of her growing up years are spent with her maternal Uncle Orma. He is a dragon - but maintains human form as a music instructor. Because of her musical abilities, Seraphina is chosen to be music mistress at the royal palace and teach harpsichord to Princess Glisselda. Thus the book includes not only dragons but court intrigue, romance, and a murder! The setting is medieval in tone and Hartman has done an amazing job with world-building. You will want to walk the streets of Goredd, listen to Seraphina play her oud, and catch a glimpse of the dashing Prince Lucian Kiggs!
What the Professionals Say
The dragons could destroy the humans, but they are too fascinated by them. As musician Seraphina describes it, attempting to educate the princess, humans are like cockroaches to dragons, but interesting. As the anniversary of the treaty approaches, things fall apart: The crown prince has been murdered, anti-dragon sentiment is rising, and in the midst of it all, an awkward, gifted, observant girl unexpectedly becomes central to everything. Hartman has remixed her not-so-uncommon story and pseudo-Renaissance setting into something unexpected, in large part through Seraphina’s voice. By turns pedantic, lonely, scared, dryly funny and fierce, Seraphina brings readers into her world and imparts details from the vast (a religion of saints, one of whom is heretical) to the minute (her music, in beautifully rendered detail). The wealth of detail never overwhelms, relayed as it is amid Seraphina’s personal journey; half-human and half-dragon, she is anathema to all and lives in fear. But her growing friendship with the princess and the princess’ betrothed, plus her unusual understanding of both humans and dragons, all lead to a poignant and powerful acceptance of herself.
Dragon books are common enough, but this one is head and talons above the rest. (cast of characters, glossary) (Fantasy. 12 & up)
2012, May 9. [Review of the book Seraphina by R. Hartman]. Kirkus. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rachel-hartman/seraphina/
A Suggestion for Use in a Library Setting
To celebrate the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie (to be released next November), I would host a fantastical creatures program for ages twelve and up. We would start by reading a chapter from the book – “A Brief History of Muggle Awareness of Fantastic Beasts”. We would then explore some of the Fantastic Beasts that inhabit Harry’s world but also appear in other literature. There would be a dragon table and Seraphina and its companion book Shadowscale, would be used to compare how dragons are presented in Cressida Cowel’ls How to Train Your Dragon series and in the Harry Potter series, among others. The youth would have ample opportunity to look at dragons, read about them, and draw them. For snacks, we would have a sample of spicy treats and plenty of water. The teens could decide which of the spicy treats was truly dragon-breath worthy. I would also have a table devoted to Fairies; Werewolves; and Unicorns – for a total of four stations for further exploration of fantastic beasts in the world of Harry Potter and other literature.