From the very first page of Seraphina, it’s evident that Rachel Hartman is a masterful storyteller. With narrative is that smart and as wickedly funny as it is gorgeously poetic, world building that feels both intricate yet effortless, a well-rounded and diverse cast of characters who could leap off the page human and whole (or reptilian and whole), and a plot that never leaves you wanting, Hartman has woven a gorgeous fantasy of dragons, castles, handsome princes, and the girl who doesn’t quite belong.The world held me completely captivated. Though the characters stay in a small localized area for most of the book, the world of Seraphina feels vast and limitless. What I love most about Hartman’s world building is that it’s woven throughout the story – the explanation of this world, its history, customs and technicalities feels organic and natural. Just by cleverly working in insignificant mentions of places, peoples and things outside the confines of Goredd, she is constantly expanding the borders of her world in my imagination. It’s not just the grand scope of the world however, it’s also in smaller details, such as the organized religion of Goredd, the tenuous relationship between humans and dragons and the intolerance and hatred that thrives despite the treaty. I love the strange saints-based religion that permeates the book. It’s infused into how every human views their world and how they interact with it. The dragons on the other hand are believed soulless and have no use for mankind’s silly saints. Logic, reason, knowledge, information, these are the things the dragons value most highly. And perhaps this is the root of both groups’ inability to truly coexist harmoniously – that, as a whole, their foundational worldview is so fundamentally different. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that dragons used to eat humans for a mid-afternoon snack before the treaty. In any case, tensions between the humans and the dragons are always a hairsbreadth away from escalating into a devastating conflict. And when the very human Prince Rufus is discovered murdered and headless just before the renewal of the peace treaty, dragons are the first to be suspected.And into the midst of this civil unrest comes Seraphina Dombegh.Seraphina is one of those characters that inspires instant affinity. Half-human, half-dragon, Seraphina is a girl who’s been forced to hide who and what she is in order to protect both her father and herself. She is the embodiment of something thought impossible, something feared, something humans would find an abomination, something detested by both her species – the merging of dragon and humankind. If caught, she would surely be put to death, and her father alongside. So to avoid discovery, her father encourages her to remain isolated from her peers and insists that Seraphina’s prodigious musical talents be hidden away from the world. Until finally, Seraphina grabs hold of her destiny and decides that merely existing is not the same thing as truly living her life. She auditions for the position of assistant to the court composer, Viridius, a job for which she is chosen. Suddenly, she’s performing, making friends, creating quite the reputation for herself as an incredibly gifted musician, and keeping her closely guarded secret is becoming even more difficult than ever before. While the idea of Seraphina’s existence may be referenced in the butt of many a crude joke or nasty slur among pious, dragon-hating humans, she’s also the personification of the best qualities in both her peoples. Seraphina, for all her isolation, is a strong personality, authoritative, a leader, naturally curious, conscientious, discerning, quick-witted, a music prodigy with an eye for detail. When presented with a problem or obstacle, she’s very practical, analytical and strategic in the way she handles it. However, despite the calculating, disengaged side of her that comes from her dragon heritage and education, she doesn’t ignore the value of emotion. Instead, she embraces her emotionality. She’s passionate. She feels deeply, and her music moves the very souls of those who hear it. Having grown up under the tutelage of her dragon instructor Orma, she’s well equipped to understand the worlds of both humans and dragons. Add to this her dry sense of humor partnered with her ability to see the irony in that which is around her, and I developed a very strong connection to this girl caught between worlds. Also caught between worlds in a sense, is captain of the Guard, grandson of the queen, and fiance to Princess Glisselda, Prince Lucian Kiggs. A bastard by birthright, but a royal one, he has fought to prove himself worthy and gain his esteemed position among the Guard. He’s a part of the royal world, but also not — existing on the periphery and oft reminded of his illegitimate roots. His uncle just having passed under suspicious circumstances, Kiggs undertakes the task of sussing out the truth about his beloved uncle’s death. He proves himself to be determined, dogged, cunning, a skilled investigator, honorable, resourceful, kind – a man of conviction who values truth and honesty. And yet, despite the inherent strength of this young man, he has moments of pure vulnerability that allows Phina — and the reader — glimpses into the very heart of him. When it becomes clear to Kiggs that Seraphina could be a valuable resource to his investigation, they begin to work together to find the truth. But once they begin unraveling the threads that lead up to Prince Rufus’ death, they discover that perhaps the answers they seek may threaten everything they’ve fought to uphold. Tensions begin to rise as the time nears to renew the treaty between man and dragon, and it becomes increasingly hard for Phina to keep her true nature hidden from the shrewd prince she’s come to care for. She knows firsthand what kind of mark secrecy and deception leave on a relationship, but she fears the consequences of outing the truth, for both her heart and her life. What will she choose when it’s all on the line?Well I’m certainly not going to tell you. You must read the book for yourself.Overall, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina is simply magnificent in every way.