Seraphina by Rachel Hartman REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW Fantasy multiculturalism

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Sometimes you wonder what the marketing team was smoking. The blurb for this smart and affecting debut novel, for example, chirps, “Will appeal to fans of George RR Martin and Christopher Paolini!” It’s difficult to imagine two fantasy authors who have less in common with each other – or, on this evidence, with Hartman – beyond the fact that all three have written stories with dragons in them.

There’s an air of the fire-breathing Vulcan to Hartman’s dragons: intellectually and technologically advanced, they find humans bafflingly prone to illogical "feelings". Forty years into an uneasy peace between the two species, some dragons have taken on humanoid form to live among people, but neither side is entirely happy with multiculturalism. Many humans fear that dragons could start snacking on them again at any time, and see humans who form friendships with dragons as traitors and perverts. The dragons, for their part, monitor each other, and anyone who looks like they might be developing un-dragonish emotions gets hauled home for a lobotomy.

Being the daughter of a human man and a dragon woman, then, makes life rather tricky for court musician Seraphina. She’s forced to hide what she is (including the dragon scales on her arms) to avoid the disgust – or worse – of a society increasingly concerned with maintaining boundaries between its various peoples. Hartman tackles difficult issues with subtlety and creativity, weaves in a surprisingly touching romance, and does it all in beautiful prose.

Nic Clarke

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