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The Girl with the Dragon Scales

Get swept away with Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, where dragons and people mingle with great dislike. 

The Girl with the Dragon Scales

BOOK REVIEW for Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

Cover Story: The Holy Grail
BFF Charm: Heck Yes
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Ye Olde Worlde Building
Bonus Factors: DRAGONS
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dark Ages
Relationship Status: Hopelessly Devoted

Cover Story: The Holy Grail

Omg, is this a woodcut?! It kinda looks like one. Ok, it’s probably not - but it is super nifty, and I heartily approve. Look at all the detail! Look at the pretty colors! Look at that wicked awesome dragon! The typeface is lovely, and the details in the illustration are really cool. It completely grabs my attention.

The Deal:

In an alternate medieval world, the kingdom of Goredd is gearing up to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of their historic peace treaty with the dragons. These dragons are fierce, fearsome, and smart - they know how to take on a human form at will. That means that now, visiting dragons walk amongst humans; some on diplomatic duties, some trying to learn human-centric arts like poetry and music.

Seraphina Dombegh has grown up in a post-dragon-wars world, but that doesn’t mean the intense fear and suspicion the people of Goredd harbor towards their flying/shape-shifting neighbors has dissipated - far from it. This is unfortunate, because it means Seraphina has to closely guard the secret of her true identity if she wants to get ahead with her career as a court musician: she is half dragon, half human.

It’s not until a member of the royal family is found murdered - in a suggestively draconian way - that Seraphina gets involved with shrewd (and handsome, natch) Prince Lucian to solve the crime - and try to stave off a new, full-blown humans-vs-dragons war.

BFF Charm: Heck Yes

I really dig Seraphina. She’s had a tough road, and the stress of concealing the fact that she’s half dragon, half human has made her both seriously cautious and considerate. She’s a hard worker, and takes her job seriously, but she’s also got a soft spot for anyone else who might be shunned, ignored, or generally mistreated. In a country full of xenophobic jerks, she remains kind, and I really respected that. She’s not just a stuffy workaholic, though - she has a lot going on, but she’s also funny and relatable. I, personally, would hang out with this chick any time.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Prince Lucian Kiggs is a great Romantic Lead. Sure, he’s handsome - tall, dark, strong arms, etc. etc.  - but the best part is, he’s smart. God, I love that. So many heroic love interests are like, super handsome...and that’s it. Sometimes, they don’t even have enough personality for you to tell if they’re smart or stupid, and that’s a major drag. I need some brains with my brawn for me to get hot under the collar, if you know what I mean, and Lucian Kiggs has it all. He’s a self-described shrewd customer (like, when he uses the word perspicacity, I knew this one was a keeper), and he and Seraphina have some fantastic banter. There isn’t a ton of kissing, but was lot of happy sighing and thinking “these two crazy kids are perfect for each other!” coming from this reader.

Talky Talk: Ye Olde Worlde Building

Hands down, the best part about this book (well, other than Price Lucian, obvs) was the fantastic world building. This world was so richly detailed - from the fascinating religion (complete with various saints, legends and superstitions) to the cultural mores of court life, author Rachel Hartman made the kingdom of Goredd feel alive. She even takes us down to the Wrong Side of the Tracks (er, or the river I guess, in this case) to see a glimpse of more humble society. As fascinating as it was to learn these new things, though, the old things I saw were even more remarkable: because, just like regular (non-magical) society, people in Goredd are complicated. Some people are xenophobic jerks, alternately terrified or derisive of the dragons, and determined to discriminate against them in any way possible. Some people are kind and open-minded. Some people were raised to think one way about dragons, and are now reconsidering. Some people are gay. Some people aren’t.  It was seriously an amazing portrait of human nature, and I loved it. There’s even a dictionary in the back (in case you start to lose track of who is what and what’s it called) that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Bonus Factor: DRAGONS

These are the COOLEST DRAGONS EVER, and I’m not even what I would call a die-hard dragon fan. But these guys are rad. They have a fascinating society, they're super smart, and they're more technologically advanced than their human neighbors. They all operate with a hyper-logicality that kind of reminded me of Vulcans, which sets you up for a lot of “that is not logical” Vulcan-esque humor. Which is hilarious. And their abilities to transform from dragon to human and back is super cool, raising a lot of really interesting perspective questions. Like, what does this mean for their society? Are they still dragon, or are they human? CONFLICT!

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dark Ages

(I had a college history professor who hated this term, because he said it was inaccurate. Sorry, Dr. D.!) Guys, the Dark Ages - magical or not, apparently - were both GROSS and DUMB. "Oh hey look, it's like 842 CE and we don't know anything about anything! Let's bleed someone to cure them of a broken arm! Let's pour alcohol down your throat while we sew up this cut! Let's rub this gross tincture of poisonous plants and cow poo on your wound! I don't know, it's the Dark Ages!" Ugh. 

This isn’t really an anti-bonus factor in the sense that it’s a flaw, because the fact that prejudice and ignorance run rampant in this society is actually a factor of the awesomely authentic and believable world-building. But oh my God, it was so super frustrating. And disgusting. Like, you will never hear me wishing for the Days of Olde with princesses and castles and stuff - or even super cool talking dragons - because those times were GROSS, and I love all the modern conveniences (plumbing and antibiotics come to mind, but they certainly aren't the limit). 

Casting Call:

Isabelle Fuhrman as Seraphina

Seraphina is a complicated, nuanced gal with a big heart, and I think Isabelle could handle it. 

Relationship Status: Hopelessly Devoted

Book, I am in it to win it. I hear there’s a sequel - Shadow Scale - and I can’t wait to jump back into this complex, fascinating world and find out what happens next. Let’s do this!

FTC Full Disclosure: I checked this book out from my local public library, and you should too. I received neither money nor chocolate for this review(!). Seraphina is available now.

Savannah Kitchens's photo About the Author: Savannah Kitchens is doing the Lord’s work spreading YA lit to the masses as the head (and only member - but who’s really counting?) of the YA department at her library near Birmingham, Alabama. When she’s not disappointing her parents, she’s bottle drinking wine and playing board games with her husband.