See, now this is a perfect object lesson in why I need to write notes immediately after I finish a book. I certainly remember loving Seraphina, and I recall some of the plot and themes, but I am having trouble finding much interesting to say about it, so I went to my goodreads review and found that I had written this: “Beautiful.” Well, that’s helpful.
OK – I’ll give it a shot. One thing that I remember liking quite a bit was the mathematical minds of the dragons. Hartman was clearly influenced by Vulcans and other logically minded science fiction races, but the focus on math made it a bit more specific and interesting. I was particularly gratified by this focus when one of the dragons made the point that they had trouble understanding music (which is one of Seraphina’s talents) because it seemed to be better when minor “errors” in the mathematics of it were allowed. I liked that a lot because as someone who is both mathematically minded and a musician I have never understood the insistence by many that the two are related to each other. Yes, music is based on rhythm and various mathematical intervals in notes, but the part of my brain that makes music has basically no need to know any of that when I play. A small point, but one that endeared Hartman to me.
Other than that, as my goodreads review (such as it is) notes, I recall vividly your point that the language was beautiful. I also quite liked the business of Seraphina and the other half-dragons being disgusted by their scales, which Hartman clearly wants to use, in Seraphina’s case, as a metaphor for adolescent attitudes towards their bodies, and perhaps even more broadly for general American societal digust with physical bodies (another issue that would make for a very interesting comparison with The Brides of Rollrock Island, since Lanagan is seemingly obsessed with our conflicting attitudes towards physicality). As for the politics, I wish I could say more, but I do remember being quite taken with the–what were they called?–sort of minor dragons who inhabited a ghetto within the city.
I would like to talk more about your concept of Realistic Fantasy, but I think I will leave that for a separate post, since this one is mostly just a cautionary tale.