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Book Review

“Seraphina” by Rachel Hartman has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Seraphina” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans are preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the truce agreement between the two species. Since then, dragons have been allowed to take on human form and live among the people of Goredd, attending and teaching school, working various jobs, learning the ways of human beings, but strictly forbidden to fully immerse themselves as human.

Seraphina is a young woman who works as the assistant to the court composer. She also hides a dangerous secret: She is half dragon. Her mother, a dragon from a prominent family, fell in love with a man while in her human form. Her deceit was discovered when she died giving birth to Seraphina. Her father kept the truth hidden until Seraphina developed silver dragon scales around her waist and arm when she was 11. She promised not to bring notice to herself, because to be half dragon is considered an abomination by both species.

However, when she must play her flute at the funeral of Prince Rufus, the heir to Goredd’s throne, everyone marvels at her musical talent. After the service, Seraphina meets with Orma, her tutor and uncle, who is a full-blood dragon disguised as a human. A street urchin gives him a gold coin, which, Seraphina notices, causes him distress. Before she can ask about it, a new skin — a dragon who is new to human form, comes under attack from an anti-dragon group.

Prince Lucian Kiggs, bastard prince of the realm and captain of the guard, arrives to break up the fight. He recognizes Seraphina from the court as she instructs his cousin, Princess Glisselda, in music. She and Orma leave before he can question them in depth.

Seraphina returns to her duties at court, tutoring Glisselda and arranging the entertainment program for an upcoming celebration. One night as she walks to Orma’s house, she sees a quigutl, a smaller species of dragon who cannot don human form. Feeling sorry for it, Seraphina gives it money for a tiny figure of a lizard with a human head.

After they trade, two men chase the quig off, and Seraphina pretends to have been offended by its panhandling. Before the men can help her home, she is struck by one of her debilitating visions. The visions, which always show one of several humans with odd features, come on fast and strong.

Orma has taught her how to “tend to” these oddities, as if they were plants in a garden. She daily visits them and makes sure each one remains in its prescribed place in her mind, but sometimes one will force her to have a vision. As she falls unconscious, she sees the boy she has named Fruit Bat, because he often hangs upside down in trees and eats fruit. For the first time, he appears to see her. When she wakes up, one of the men tells her he found the quig figure in her purse. He tells her to repent or be wary of the consequences.

The following evening, Seraphina attends a dance at court. Josef, the Earl of Apsig, holds several women’s attention when he tells the story of how Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon while hunting. Seraphina tries to convince him that someone other than a dragon may be the murderer, but Josef belittles her. She is shocked to see one of the people from her visions at the dance.

Later, she visits the woman in her mind and is pulled into another vision. She sees the woman, whom she has labeled Mrs. Fusspots, undressing in a room of the palace. The woman has a stubby tail covered in dragon scales, and Seraphina realizes she must be another half-breed. The woman senses Seraphina’s presence and tracks her down using her heightened intuition.

She is Dame Okra Carmine, and she swears Seraphina to secrecy. Seraphina realizes that the other odd people in her visions must also be half dragons. Over the next few days, she meets Fruit Bat, who is actually a young dancer named Abdo, and Loud Lad, who is really Lars, the bastard brother of Josef. She learns that she can communicate with them telepathically.

Orma finally admits that the coin he received was a message from his father, Imlann. The ancient dragon sent it as a warning that Orma must not reveal his presence in Goredd. Seraphina knows that Prince Lucian, who is investigating the death of Prince Rufus, must be warned that Imlann may be plotting to assassinate Ardmagar Comonot, the leader of the dragons, when he visits for the upcoming celebration.

Seraphina learns from Glisselda that two banished knights, former dragon hunters, claim to have spotted a rogue dragon in the countryside. Seraphina pretends to be assisting Prince Lucian in the investigation of Prince Rufus’ death and visits the knights in jail. They describe the dragon they saw, and she hopes it will be enough for Orma to identify it as his father.

Prince Lucian arrives, suspicious of her motives until she tells him about Orma, although she leaves out the part about him being her uncle. Prince Lucian suggests they join forces in the investigation. Seraphina agrees. She and Orma discuss the developments but come to no conclusion. Orma gives her one of his tracking earrings so that she may call to him for help, should Imlann attack her. The following day, Prince Lucian arranges to ride out with her to the country and interview another knight who may be able to positively identify the rogue dragon.

Lucian and Seraphina interview the knight and learn, to the best of his recollection, the dragon he saw was indeed Imlann. As they make their way back to the city, Imlann blocks their path. He can smell the dragon scales on Seraphina and so believes she is a dragon in disguise. She uses Orma’s earring to send him a distress signal, then bluffs Imlann into believing she has a device implanted within her that will explode should he attack.

He flies off with the warning that he will return soon for battle. Seraphina convinces Lucian that she is not really a dragon, nor does she have any dragon devices on her. Unfortunately, as they embrace in relief, Orma appears in dragon form in answer to her call. Lucian is furious to have caught her in a lie. He also believes she is illegally working with the dragons. He orders their arrest. Seraphina wonders how Imlann knew their location. She suspects Josef may be a spy. Still angry that she lied to him, Lucian refuses to discuss the possibility.

The Queen and the visiting Ardmagar question Seraphina and Orma. All their transgressions are forgiven as they were working to keep the peace. Orma asks to speak to the Ardmagar with only Seraphina present. He asks to be excused from constant scrutiny by the Censors who monitor dragons, looking for signs that they are becoming too human. Seraphina, in an effort to help his cause, admits that he is her uncle.

The Ardmagar becomes enraged. He revokes Orma’s teaching license and orders him to have his brain excised, a process that will remove all his memories. Later, Orma confesses to Seraphina that he will never subject himself to the procedure. He will live in hidden exile until she needs his help. That night, she has a vision caused by an implanted memory from her mother. It reveals how Imlann, her grandfather, plans to overthrow the Ardmagar and destroy the peace between dragons and humans.

On the final night of the Ardmagar’s visit, Seraphina and her friends Lars, Dame Okra and Abdo keep watch over him during a ball. They realize too late that the royal family is also a target for the assassin. Glisselda’s mother is found in her room, having just drunk poisoned wine. Seraphina enlists Dame Okra and her heightened intuition to find Glisselda, her grandmother, Josef and Lady Corongi, Glisselda’s tutor.

They interrupt the group as they are about to share a toast. Lucian and Seraphina accuse Josef of treachery, but he pleads his innocence, pointing his finger at Lady Corongi. The quig figurine of the lizard man utters the truth. It is a tool that can spot dragons in disguise. It calls out Lady Corongi. She flees the room with Glisselda over her shoulder, transforming into Imlann.

Seraphina tries to distract Imlann by telling him the truth of her identity. She gains enough time for Lars and Abdo to find them. Abdo climbs on Imlann’s back, and Lucian is able to stab the dragon’s feet to release Glisselda. Imlann takes off with Abdo, but is stopped in the air by Orma. Orma purposely does not go on the offensive so that Abdo will not be harmed.

After battling, Orma crashes to the ground while Imlann escapes. Other dragons that support the peace treaty stop him. Seraphina is relieved to find that Abdo survived by jumping onto Orma’s back in the air and that her uncle is severely wounded, but alive.

The following day, Glisselda, as acting queen, gathers the representatives of other human kingdoms to gain their aid in the coming war with the dragons. She also convinces the Ardmagar to find younger dragons to fight to maintain the peace against the older dragons that wish it destroyed. Finally, she enlists Seraphina to locate the other half-dragons to see if they will side with Goredd in the coming war. After the meeting, Seraphina visits Orma. He is recovering, but will soon go into hiding so that he will not have to be excised. Seraphina and Lucian admit their mutual love for each other, but as he is betrothed to Glisselda, they agree they will not act on their feelings. They hope that after the war, Glisselda may release him from his promise, but until then, they will serve her and the country, and remain only friends.

Christian Beliefs

The terms heaven and hell are used to indicate places, but there is never any mention of the God of the Bible.

Other Belief Systems

The Goreddis practice a form of religion in which saints play an important role. All children are baptized and take a patron saint to guide their lives and protect them. Saints’ names are invoked in prayers, but they are not Christian saints.

It is believed that dragons do not have souls. Seraphina says that she believed in the mother her father made up, the same way other people believe in heaven. She describes the time of year as Golden Week, starting with Speculus, the longest day of the year. It is a time of reconciliation and religious plays. Abdo comes from a nation that believes in other gods, though they are not described. Infernum is described as a place of torment that await the souls of those who reject the light of Heaven.

Authority Roles

Seraphina’s father has sworn her to secrecy in order to protect her and save his own life. Over the course of the story, he admits he failed her, and eventually they come to a place of forgiveness and acceptance. Orma is the figure she most relies on throughout the story, and his inability to show affection, because he is a dragon, is a source of pain for Seraphina. By the end of the novel, he allows himself to express his emotions and is willing to sacrifice his life for Seraphina and Abdo.


The words b--tard, a-- and d--n are used. H--- is used with the word beast. The exclamation, heaven’s sake is uttered and the term shite eater is also used.

A group of men beat up on a new skin, a dragon who has just taken on his human form. He has several cuts and is bleeding before the guards arrive to help. Seraphina was once held over the side of a bell tower by a dragon who wanted to kill her. Before the treaty, dragons would burn down villages and kill humans. Although they usually did not hunt them for food, as they were not good eating, the dragons resented human encroachment on their lands.

Seraphina’s father explains that if anyone found out he had married a dragon, he could be killed by a mob or burned alive. Dame Okra hits Seraphina in the face with a book, causing her nose to bleed. Josef’s horse knocks Lars off a bridge and into a freezing river. Dame Corongi cuts Seraphina with a knife in order to prove that she’s a dragon, as dragon’s blood is silver, not red. Because Seraphina is half human, her blood is red.

In an effort to try and hide what she is, Seraphina takes a knife and tries to cut off her scales. She only manages to pluck out one as the pain is too excruciating. A man belonging to an anti-dragon group tries to stab Seraphina because of her association with them. Her scaled back prevents the knife from hurting her.

Glisselda’s mother is poisoned and dies. Her grandmother also drinks the poison, but although it makes her very ill, the grandmother does not die. Imlann killed Prince Rufus by biting off his head. He also poisoned the royal family. He and Orma battle as dragons, biting each other and spewing fire. Orma crashes through a bell tower before falling into a river, too wounded to continue. Imlann is eventually brought down after an epic battle and killed in a fireball.


Seraphina’s mother implanted a memory of her first kiss with Seraphina’s father. Seraphina is very attracted to Lucian, but she does nothing but hug him until the final chapters of the book. Before she goes out to face Imlann, she kisses the prince. She also kisses him after she admits that she loves him. They promise not to kiss again until after the war and only if Glisselda will let him out of their betrothal. When they find a discarded dress in a cave, Lucian guesses it may belong to a serving girl who met her lover. It is intimated that the court composer is a homosexual as he tells Seraphina he may have let himself fall in love with her mother, if he had any attraction to women.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Several characters occasionally drink. Orma has a glass of beer. Wine is served at palace functions. Seraphina drinks too much wine and becomes drunk. Imlann poisons the wine he gives to the royal family.

Lying: Seraphina’s life is built on the lie that she is fully human. The price of that lie is too high, and she eventually decides to tell the truth of who she is and face the consequences. Her father also admits the truth to those he serves.

Prejudice: The problem of prejudice runs throughout the book. Many humans distrust dragons and find them disgusting. Many dragons feel the same way about humans. Seraphina understands how both species think and hates the bigotry and intolerance she finds in each. Many Goreddis also have prejudices against those from other nations.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Rachel Hartman






Record Label



Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc.


On Video

Year Published



William C. Morris YA Debut award 2013; An ALA-YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Books 2013; and many others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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