Seraphina is the first novel in a planned series, and Rachel Hartmanís debut novel.Set in a country similar to medieval Europe, Goredd, the eponymous Seraphina has just been granted a position as assistant to the Royal Courtís composer. The forty-year anniversary of peace between humans and dragons is approaching when Prince Rufus of Goredd is murdered in a suspiciously dragon-like manner. Seraphina is caught up in the mystery, trying to discover the culprit and protect the tenuous peace while guarding secrets of her own.
Seraphina provides examples of:
A Child Shall Lead Them: Glisselda is only fifteen when she's thrust into assuming leadership in Queen Lavonda's stead.
Glisselda has one for Seraphina (Phina) and Milliphrene (Millie)
Prince Lucian doesnít like to be called such outside of formal circumstances, and instead prefers his shortened surname, Kiggs. Which makes it more heartbreaking when he tells Seraphina to call him Prince Lucian after the first encounter with Imlann.
Seraphina's mother, Linn, never revealed to Claude Dombegh that she was a dragon, and that their marriage was therefore illegal: he figured it out as she died in labour. He spent the next eleven years lying to Seraphina about her mother's origins, going so far as to forge a marriage with a woman who never existed. He remarried when Seraphina was a child, and while his new wife and their children seem to get along well, Seraphina feels alienated from them.
The royal family aren't such a well-adjusted bunch either. The youngest of Lavonda's children, Princess Laurel, eloped with a Samsamese admiral and had a bastard, Prince Lucian, before dying in a shipwreck. Princess Dionne is incredibly bigoted towards dragons, which is a terrifying trait to have in someone who would soon enough have to help uphold the Treaty. And while Glisselda's father doesn't seem to be in the picture, Dionne was still seemingly willing to have an illegal affair with Comonot. Prince Lucian lost both his parents at age five in an accident he narrowly avoided being in, was brought to a foreign country where he couldn't speak the language, had to live with relatives he had never met and deal with the scorn associated with being a bastard: no wonder he was a problem child.
Orma's family is the best example. His sister, Linn, illegally married a human and brought shame and suspicion onto the entire family: their father Imlann went rogue after hoard was confiscated, their mother killed herself from the shame, and Orma is now under constant scrutiny from the Censors for overly emotional behaviour towards the only thing he has left of his sister, his niece Seraphina.
The Dragons Come Back: Played with. After humans moved south and the herds died off, dragons retreated north to the mountains and declined in numbers due to reduced resources. This all happened around two thousand years before Seraphina, and at an unspecified point in the interval the dragons returned and war was waged. After the peace treaty dragons return in saarantrai, mainly to study.
Dragon Hoard: Dragons hoarded treasure until the treaty and Ardmagar Comonotís reforms. Interestingly, the new generation of dragons still hoard in a way, collecting books and sitting on them.
Elegant Classical Musician: Seraphina rockets from nobody to this very trope shortly into the first scene, when, with no one else to play the flute solo at the prince's funeral, she plays the role herself — her first public performance, ever, and it astounds everyone who hears her.
Emotional Emotionless Person: Dragons claim to have no emotion in their natural forms, and look down on "the fetid backwash of the monkey mind", but they are obviously capable of anger, pride, loyalty and even affection.
Fantastic Racism: Humans see dragons as demonic and soulless; the same extends to Quigutl, which are also seen as filthy. Dragons for their part detest human emotions and their illogical nature, but this is more because of their own negative experiences while transformed as humans, and after the Treaty only really affects dragons who become too close to humankind and their dangerous emotions.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Samsam is something between Scotland (highlands, bagpipes) and Germany (the Funetik Aksent; a strict Protestant-like approach to religion). Porphyry is Africa, with traits of Arabia (including pygegyria, something very like bellydancing, but more acrobatic), and Greece (all those philosophers, plus the fact that it's a city-state).
Fantasy Pantheon: The main religion of the Southlands, Allsaints, which consists of large number of Saints presiding over their distinctive areas, traits and attributes. Children will be assigned a particular patron Saint in their infancy. The Saints have official biographies, but these tend to contradict folk tales and myths. Some of the Saints do seem to have historic roots, such as St. Ogdo who supposedly invented the martial art called Dracomachia.
Founder of the Kingdom: Belondweg, the first queen of Goredd, who has an almost mythic status and is the subject of the national epic.
The Fundamentalist: The Sons of St. Ogdo, Lady Corongi and Princess Dionne, at least where dragons are concerned.
Geeky Turn-On: Seraphina and Kiggs bond over ancient philosophers and dragon lore.
Genius Ditz: Glisselda is giggly, silly, and a highly capable leader when she puts her mind to it.
Going Native: Dragons are discouraged from this, and punished with a memory-wipe if evidence comes to the Censors.
Heaven and Hell: Heaven is the abode of Allsaints, and the location of the afterlife.
The Heretic: Oddly, St. Yirtrudis, whose motto is 'No heaven but this', despite presumably having been worshipped along with the other Saints at one point. All of her images in psalters, chapels and the like are destroyed.
Human Shifting: Dragons can only transform into their own human form, called a saarantras (saarantrai for plural, saar for short).
Kissing Cousins: First cousins Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda of Goredd are engaged.
Lady-In-Waiting: Lady Milliphrene is Glisselda's lady-in-waiting, and they get on pretty well.
Like Brother and Sister: After finding out that they are both half-dragons, Lars treats Seraphina as his little sister.
Lover and Beloved: Seraphina suspects that Viridius and Lars have this sort of relationship, and itís ambiguous for a good part of the novel.
Magic Pants: Averted. When Orma and Basind are ordered to shrink back into their saarantrai in the freezing snow, Seraphina reminds Lucian that the dragons have no clothes to protect themselves from the cold.
The Magnificent: Queen Lavonda is actually referred to as "the Magnificent".
The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: While dragons still retain their near-eidetic memories, pedantry, and innate logical processing, they can be affected by the intense human emotions of their saarantras.
My Instincts Are Showing: Dragons are prohibited from eating meat in human form so their carnivore instincts donít lead to unfortunate consequences for the humans around the table...
No Infantile Amnesia: Presumably because of her heritage, Seraphina has clear memories of the day she was born — even, in fact, the time before she was born.
Non-human Lover Reveal: Seraphina's human father found this out in the worst possible way: by seeing his wife's silver dragon blood as she died in childbirth.
Seraphina confesses her parentage to Kiggs in the middle of a life-or-death situation, having to repeat herself to convince him she's not bluffing.
Not Quite Back to Normal: Though she cannot experience the emotion, Linn still remembers her love for Claude Dombegh once returning to dragon form, and wants it back.
Oh My Gods!: Most exclamations refer to the many Saints - often rhyming - or Allsaints in general. St. Daan is usually used for this purpose because the patron saint of romantic love isn't likely to take offence.
Older Than They Look: Okra Carmine gives her age as one hundred and twenty, but to Seraphina she looks middle-aged or a bit elderly, certainly not centenarian.
Psychic Powers: It turns out that Seraphina and other half-dragons each have some ability beyond the pale. Okra Carmine, for instance, has gut feelings that have always helped her be in the right place at the right time. And what Seraphina thinks of as her "mind garden" is actually more like a shared psychic dreamspace that only half-dragons can exist in.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Queen Lavonda put her life on the line in her youth to negotiate a peace with Admagar Comonot, trekking up a dangerous mountain pass with only two guides, and she continues to put a lot of energy into keeping peace with the dragons for the next forty years; Glisselda learns everything she can about how to run her future kingdom and declares war on the Tanamoot when they've already broken the peace; and Kiggs is a military captain with a reputation for investigative talent.
Shapeshifting: A major characteristic of dragons in this universe
Slow Transformation: Dragonís muscles are soft, and their wings incapable of flight for the first few minutes after transformation.
Sorry, I'm Gay: Seraphina expects Lars to go this route when he thinks she is about to profess attraction to him.
Sand in My Eyes: Orma, anticipating that the Censors will remove his memories of his sister and niece.
Seraphina: I want to say goodbye to you while you still know me.
Orma: ... My apologies. This body's ridiculous larynx seized up. It's functioning normally again.
Tactful Translation: When Orma arrives in response to Seraphina's distress signal, only to realize that the danger is already gone, Seraphina translates his angry outburst of dragon-speech ("Tell me why I shouldn't bite your head off") into something more civilized for Kiggs' benefit ("We will comply with your every reasonable demand").
Unfortunate Names: According to Kiggs, when he first arrived in Goredd as a child his embarrassing Samsamese surname, Kiggenstane, contributed to the awkwardness surrounding his motherís elopement and his subsequent status as a bastard.
What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Conomot, the dragons' ruler, is fascinated by all human emotions, not just love, and demands that Seraphina explain to him what he is feeling.
What Measure Is a Non-Human??: The Sons of St. Ogdo, as well the dogma of Allsaints in general, follow the belief that dragons and half-dragons are soulless and evil. Even Seraphina admits that she is repulsed by the more nonhuman avatars in her garden, and feels the most affection for the ones who have normal physical appearances.