Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Seraphina

Go To
Seraphina is a Young Adult Fantasy duology by Rachel Hartman. It comprises the novels Seraphina (first released in 2012) and Shadow Scale (first released in 2015), as well as a prequel novelette, The Audition.

Set in a country similar to medieval Europe, Goredd, the eponymous Seraphina has just been granted a position as assistant to the Royal Court's 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.
    • Queen Lavonda herself was only seventeen when the treaty was signed.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Dragons must stay in their saarantras around human territories.
  • All Gays Love Theatre: Viridius and Lars are a court composer and his musical protégé respectively.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • The Sons of St. Ogdo, a religious group opposed to the peace between dragons and humans, quote their patron saint in their demonstrations and attacks.
    • Orma also does this, but in a purely intellectual sense.
  • Bad Habits: Thomas Broadwick disguises himself as a monk in his attempt to murder Comonot - who is actually also dressed as a monk.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: In-universe exemple: Goredd's Saints were in fact all half-dragons.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Between Seraphina and Lucian, at the end of the first book.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Almost all the main characters come from one:
    • 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 though this impression is brutally destroyed in the subsequent companion novel Tess of the Road, 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, and 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 his 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.
    • Lars' family fits this trope well. His mother had an extramaritial affair with a dragon in human form. When Lars grew up and showed the first signs of being a half-dragon, his mother was killed by her enraged husband - both for adultery and giving birth to a hybrid. Enraged that his father murdered his mother, Lars' brother, Josef, killed his father. Josef, however, harbours no warm feelings for his half-brother, whom he views as a monstrosity.
  • Birds of a Feather: Seraphina and Kiggs.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Seraphina Dombegh ends up in between the affectations of both Prince Lucian Kiggs and his cousin Princess Glisselda who are both head over heels in love with her. Kiggs is an example of Star-Crossed Lovers with Seraphina while the latter is her best friend who awakens feelings within her that she didn't know she had. Eventually it's implied in the companion novel that she ends up with both of them with all three living a happy polyamorous relationship.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both books have this.
    • Seraphina: The dragons are plunged into civil war that threatens the safety of all of Goredd, Queen Lavonda is incapacitated, Princess Dionne is dead, Orma is forced into exile, and Seraphina and Kiggs reluctantly agree to put their budding romance on hold. But Imlann is defeated, Orma is at least alive and has his memories intact, and Seraphina has found acceptance both from others and herself, has new friends and valuable work to do, still has hope that someday she and Kiggs will be together, and finally has a sense of belonging.
    • Shadow Scale: The war is over, Jannoula is defeated, peace is restored, and Seraphina has befriended many other ityasaari like herself and gained a better sense than ever before of her own place in the world. But in the process lives have been lost, certain friends and loved ones are now parted indefinitely, Seraphina can no longer hope for a conventional Happily Ever After with Kiggs as he and Glisselda go through with their Arranged Marriage, and worst of all, Orma's memories have been excised. Still, it's implied that Seraphina, Kiggs and Glisselda will create their own, unconventional Happily Ever After, and Seraphina is rebuilding her relationship with Orma with tentative hope that his memories can be restored.
  • Body Horror: Seraphina growing scales as a child. All the ityasaari are born with some form of defect, but such defects vary from person to person.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Having mothers who both died when they were small children is one the things Seraphina and Lucian bond over.
  • The Church: There is at least one cathedral dedicated to a particular Saint (St. Gobnait's in Lavondaville), which is administered to by monks.
  • Colour-Coded Patrician: While the austere Samsamese wear dull colours generally, only the nobles wear black.
  • Dance of Romance: Seraphina and Kiggs dancing their second pavano at the New Year's Eve ball.
  • Dragon Ancestry: The Ityasaari are a race of half human half dragon hybrids. They usually have silver scales on some part of their body, and have varying Psychic Powers.
  • Dragon Hoard: Dragons hoarded treasure until the treaty and Ardmagar Comonot's reforms. Interestingly, the new generation of dragons still hoard in a way, collecting books and sitting on them.
  • 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.
  • Disguised in Drag: It is revealed in Seraphina that for fifteen years, Imlann (Seraphina's grandfather) lived at Court in Onison Palace as Lady Corongi, Princess Glisselda's governess.
  • 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).
    • And Ninys, with its dukes, palashos, mild climate, and well-developed culture is reminiscent of Renaissance Italy, with a bit of Spain thrown in for good measure (the way Des Osho look).
  • 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. In Shadow Scale, its eventually revealed that all the Saints were ityasaari.
  • 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, among other things.
  • Gender Bender: In Porphyria, citizens can choose their own gender and this is treated as something natural, the best example being Camba.
  • Going Native: Dragons are discouraged from this, and punished with a memory-wipe if evidence comes to the Censors.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Ityasaari are treated with distrust, if not outright hostility, by most human nations, with the exception of Porphyry.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Seraphina and the seventeen people in her visions. In Shadow Scale, Seraphina learns that there were hundreds.
  • 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. We eventually learn the full reason why in Shadow Scale: she wrote a treatise revealing the secret that she and her fellow Saints were actually ityasaari and that their "spiritual" visions actually stemmed from their draconian Psychic Powers.
  • Human Shifting: Dragons can only transform into their own human form, called a saarantras (saarantrai for plural, saar for short).
  • Humanity Is Infectious: Dragons have to safeguard themselves against experiencing human emotions.
  • Interspecies Romance: Seraphina's parents, though her father didn't know his wife was a dragon until their daughter's birth.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Eskar refers to Seraphina as an "it" due to her infertility, until Orma corrects her.
  • Kissing Cousins: First cousins Prince Lucian and Princess Glisselda of Goredd are engaged. They aren't in love, though. Ironically, they are both in love with Seraphina.
  • Like Brother and Sister: After finding out that they are both half-dragons, Lars treats Seraphina as his little sister.
  • Love Triangle: Revealed in Shadow Scale between Seraphina, Lucian and Glisselda: Seraphina loves Lucian, Lucian loves Seraphina and Glisselda loves Seraphina. The ending may or may not have resolved it with a legendary case of One True Threesome. The author leaves it unclear, although it seems to be subtly confirmed in the companion novel Tess of the Road.
  • 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.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Dragons are prone to giving these.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew: The Censors are this for dragons.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Several: Seraphina's and Lucian's are both dead long before the start of the series; Glisselda's died in the first book.
  • My Instincts Are Showing: Dragons are prohibited from eating meat in human form so their carnivore instincts don't lead to unfortunate consequences for the humans around the table...
  • Non-Heteronormative Society: In Porphyry, everyone is free to choose their own gender as well as the personal pronoun others should use to address them.
  • 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.
  • Official Couple: Seraphina and Lucian.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Most exclamations refer to the many Saints - often incorporating rhyme - 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.
  • One-Word Title
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They can take human form, inherit their ancestors' memories and are emotionless as well as highly intellectual. And when confronted with humans and their social interactions, they often behave as if they had Asperger's.
  • Protagonist Title: First-name-type One-Word Title.
  • 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.
  • Royal Bastard: Princess Laurel, the youngest daughter of Queen Lavonda of Goredd, eloped with a Samsamese admiral and later died in a shipwreck. Their son, Prince Lucian, is raised at the Goreddi court and expected to marry his cousin, future Queen Glisselda.
  • 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.
  • Slow Transformation: Dragon muscles are soft, and their wings incapable of flight, for the first few minutes after transformation.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Seraphina and Lucian, due to him being engaged to his cousin Glisselda Who is later revealed to ALSO be in love with Seraphina and their loyalty to her. That Seraphina herself isn't completely human, and that he is a prince doesn't help, either.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Seraphina's uncle Orma and, to a lesser degree, Seraphina herself.
  • 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").
  • Tin Man: 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.
  • The Trickster: Pau'Henoa — legendary queen Belondweg's companion, a trickster rabbit. Also called Mad Bun.
  • 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.