Seraphina has an intellectual quality to it that isn't often found in young adult literature. The world is well-realized, the book tackles serious issues such as prejudice and self-mutilation, and the protagonist is very introspective and reflective. I really appreciated how richly developed the world was in terms of history, culture, and religion, which is a prominent part of society instead of an afterthought. The dragon mythology is unique, and it presented some interesting questions about reason and emotion.
Several of the characters were likable. Orma, Seraphina's uncle and teacher, was hilarious without meaning to be, and his descent into dragon insanity developing emotion was done very well. Words cannot express how much I loved his character. I also enjoyed Princess Glisselda. For once, the female rival in a love triangle wasn't presented as an evil bitch, who hates the heroine for no discernible reason. Glisselda was a strong female character with the sort of qualities one would look for in a friend and future queen.
Unfortunately, I liked Seraphina and her love interest, Lucian Kiggs, considerably less than some of the other characters. While there was nothing overtly wrong with Seraphina in the beginning—she's intelligent, strong, and nuanced—I simply failed to connect with her, and I didn't get the appeal of Kiggs. Their romance made very little sense because there was almost no build up. The relationship also reflected badly on both their characters because Kiggs is engaged to Seraphina's friend and supporter, Glisselda. I might not have faulted the characters as much if they had felt the proper amount of guilt, but neither of them seemed all that concerned for Glisselda. Their conversation in the end where they agree to love each other behind Glisselda's back was particularly distasteful.
Outside of the romance, I also took issue with the pacing. The plot moves very slowly, and there wasn't very much action. Chapters would go by with very little plot development. Much of the story is devoted to Seraphina's thoughts and feelings about human prejudice towards dragons, and her struggle for self acceptance amidst this prejudice. Although Seraphina's self-hatred was well-presented, her overall journey towards self-acceptance was undermined by the fact that everyone Seraphina loves and cares about accepts her once they find out about her true nature. It made her fears over being discovered and losing her loved ones seem irrational. I also thought the story took an overly simplistic view of prejudice by making all of the evil characters be intolerant and extremely bigoted, while all of the good characters were mostly open-minded and accepting.
To end on a positive note, the writing was superb in terms of grammar, sentence structure, and word choice. Hartman's vocabulary is simply impressive, and the sentences flowed nicely. I appreciated the eloquence of the writing. I'll definitely check out Hartman's work outside of this series.