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The Bloodlands #1

Seraphina's Lament

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The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.

First, you must break before you can become.

388 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 19, 2019

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About the author

Sarah Chorn

22 books455 followers
Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a freelance writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor with hEDS, and mom to two. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books. She has been running the book review blog Bookworm Blues since 2010, editing full-time since 2016, and currently works freelance and as the staff editor for Grimdark Magazine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
688 reviews46.1k followers
January 16, 2019
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

A brutally remarkable and captivating Holodomor-inspired fantasy debut.

Seraphina’s Lament is Sarah Chorn’s debut and it’s the first book in The Bloodlands trilogy. For the purpose of targeting the right reader for this book, I'll start by saying that if you’re not a grimdark enthusiast, you might either want to skip this, or at least prepare yourself for some dark and heavy moments. As for its premise, check out the official blurb on Goodreads/Amazon, the author did a great job setting the stage without spoiling anything.

Starting off strongly with a cannibalism scene, the beautiful darkness in Seraphina’s Lament seldom lets up. There’s really no way around it, Chorn’s obsidian imagination shined through like a glistening black diamond, and I'm a sucker for authors whose passion for the story they have crafted can be truly felt from their writing. Darkness, magic, grief, and rage powerfully filled the pages of this great beginning of a trilogy. Extreme starvation, deadly violence, and horrible slavery; utterly vivid images accompanied the tense moments and as a grimdark fantasy fan, I honestly loved every moment of it. This, however, doesn't mean that there was no break from all the grimness. Beneath all the violence and injustice, Seraphina's Lament, to me, contained very strong and inspiring messages about love, hope, and second chances that were delivered magnificently through the characterizations and even channeled through the magic system.

"Love is the only thing that can kill a person, and keep them alive enough to feel that death at the same time"

The novel features a relatively small cast of characters for high fantasy. With, more or less, only ten important characters to keep track of, the character-driven nature of the story made it feel more intimate to read. None of the character's POVs were ever boring to read; Chorn did a superb job in giving the characters highly distinctive personalities and voices with complex, but realistic motivations. Most of them were morally grey, few of them can be considered truly “virtuous”, but I immensely enjoyed reading every POV and I was thoroughly impressed by the evocative prose (which I'll get into more later) that delivered each character's emotions with strong impact. Seraphina's Yin and Yang relationship with her brother, Neryan; Vadden and Eyad's love/hate feelings for each other; Neryan's poignant connection with his adoptive daughter, Mouse; Vadden's poignant friendship with Amiti; there was simply no dull moments reading about these characters' journey.

"Belief was a terrifying thing, he realized. Give a man a blade forged of purpose and another of belief, and he has all the justification he needs to do anything he wanted.”

One of the main driving forces of the narrative relies on the concept of "You must break before you can Become." Although I can't tell you what Becoming is, this is one aspect which I believe is much better for you to read and find out for yourself. I can tell you with confidence that it was superbly written. The hidden message I interpreted from this concept was incredibly inspiring. All the characters deal with severe pain (physically and mentally) and unforgettable baggage from the past. No living beings in this world are safe from pain. There had been—or will come—a day where any one of us will feel like there's no more hope in this world. Seemingly broken beyond any repair, "You must break before you can Become" showed that only when we're completely broken, we can eventually evolve to a much stronger self, at least that's how I found it.

The magic ability in the world Chorn has created is called Talent; fire talent, water talent, wind talent, earth talent, mind talent. Chorn's evident storytelling talent oozed as she juggled the elemental chain reactions and its users wonderfully. She has the ability to seamlessly fuse the world-building, magic, and action scenes into one tremendous sequence in the final section of this book. Built-up gradually, I ended up reading the last 30% of the book in one sitting; it was ridiculously compelling, fun, and wonderful to read. The multiple army-of-one converged in the climax sequence; battalion of elemental magic, Ascended’s manipulation reminiscent of Malazan's Ascendants, and a gorgeously climactic confrontation that took place within an eye of a cyclone. The magnitude of the natural disasters caused by the magic in this book was with temerity tremendously well-written. Surging tidal waves, thunderous cyclones, blazing conflagration, an army of bones combined with intensely palpable descriptions of pain and feelings; the conclusion was a brilliant pulse-pounding ride.

“It is a hell of a thing to kill a man,” he finally said. “To decide the value of a person is less than that of any other. You aren’t just taking a life, but snuffing out a soul, and once it’s done, that’s it. You can’t un-ring a bell.”

Even from the first page, it is highly likely that the first thing you’ll notice is how elegant Chorn’s prose is. I am honestly shocked that this is her debut. Written in multi-POV, her writing was lush and meticulous. Every paragraph trailed with beauty and at times, I was reminded of Staveley’s writing style; that’s saying a lot of how much I enjoyed reading Chorn’s terrific prose. Admittedly, I found that there were a few similar descriptions that felt a bit repetitive, and I also think the book would benefit from more details on the world-building, especially regarding the Ascended but there's a chance the author purposely left this out for the sequels, and I'm definitely intrigued to find out. This, of course, were just minor cons; the brimming positive quality totally outweighed this small gripe of mine.

Everything eventually comes to an end. Good things, bad things, famine, hunger, war; I truly wish this book was longer. Seraphina's Lament is a dark and enchanting debut bursting with passion, magic, and love. I have read and reviewed a lot of books. As the years go by, only a few incomplete series continued to have my attention. Seraphina’s Lament will linger in my mind, and now I wait for the continuation of the The Bloodlands trilogy with much anticipation. I seriously have no idea where the story will go from here, but I'm definitely excited to find out. I highly recommend Seraphina's Lament for character-driven grimdark fantasy reader.

The artist—Pen Astridge—did a penomenal (awesome pun fully intended) job on the cover art.

Official release date: February 19, 2019

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon US | Amazon UK

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books518 followers
April 27, 2023
Seraphina's Lament is a hauntingly sad fantasy loosely based on the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, which killed nearly 4 million innocent Ukrainians at the hands of the Soviet Union.

Sarah Chorn considers an alternate way out for victims of famine, i.e., what might happen when people become so emaciated that they are essentially just skeletons, with nothing left but their overwhelming hunger. But what if this way out is just as horrifying as the famine itself?

Seraphina's Lament gave me an emotional gut punch on the same level as R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War, which is also fantasy retelling of a tragic real-world historical period. While Kuang includes a fictionalized version of Mao Zedong in her fantasy retelling of the Chinese civil war, Chorn incorporates a thinly veiled Lenin-Stalin type character who serves as the brutal Premier behind the famine. Perhaps I'm reading between the lines, but there also seems to be a Trotsky-esque figure in the book.

Sarah Chorn's writing is profoundly beautiful. Although the story is told from several points of view, the main thread of the story is fluid across chapters, with each point-of-view character naturally picking up the story from the previous. This is probably the most fluid storytelling that I've ever experienced in a multi-PoV book.

Seraphina's Lament is grimdark fantasy at its finest, and it's even more harrowing considering Vladimir Putin's monstrous attacks on Ukraine at this very moment.

Five stars.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,563 reviews2,938 followers
October 17, 2019
*I read this as a Judge for this year's #SPFBO competition*

This story is absolutely, devastatingly, beautifully written. There were so many wonderful phrases, sentences and emotions that the author managed to evoke whilst reading this, and yet it's also a pretty dark and even slightly borders on the Horror category.
I have to admit that typically this isn't a story I would probably pick up, as it's definitely dark and has things like cannilbalism from page one. That sort of thing is graphically described, so if you can't stomach that then don't try this one, but if you can it's haunting and terribly beautiful too.

This story follows a group of people who each have some sort of untapped power. At the start of the book we meet Taub who is a starving man who cannot help but to devour. As the story goes on this hunger to consume and convert overtakes everything and he becomes a new character altogether.

Next up we have the twins, Seraphina and Neryan. Seraphina is trapped under the power of the ruler of the land. She has a fire magic but she is harnessed and unable to use it after being broken for helping her brother escape.
Neryan is free but wishes for nothing more than to rescue his sister and his magic is water.

Mouse is the adopted daughter of Neryan and her magic is a surprise to even her. She starts off with a deep gnawing which forces her to suck out souls. She has little control but wants to save those she loves and tries her best to do that.

Vadden is a rebel against the ruler of this place, Eyad. They were once friends and more but now he is determined to bring Eyad to justice for the crimes he's committed. His power is Storms.

Eyad's power is mind-reading which definitely has its perks when you're the ruler of the land. He's done awful things to get to this point but the story questions whether he has humanity left.

We also have the Ascended, a race of ancients who watch events unfold and push and pull the characters for their own ends.

I liked the subtle reference to coping with disabilities in this story, it was present in a good way but not dominant over the story.

I also loved the writing, Sarah C has a way with prose and it's beautiful to read the story through her words. I really think that it's on a higher level than many other SFF titles I have read in terms of conjuring emotional responses through the prose, and worth praising.

Overall, a story that drew me in and kept me reading solidly for two evenings. I would certainly be interested to see where on earth it can go next as the last part of the book is very dramatic, and it's the first in a series. 4.5*s so 9/10 for #SPFBO.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 22 books455 followers
January 27, 2019
I mean, I kind of wrote it so I'm a little biased...
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,384 reviews222 followers
January 18, 2019
Seraphina’s Lament breaks genres, conventions and taboos.

Set in a secondary world based on the Russian Revolution and the Holodomor, it gives a detailed look at a dying world. 

A collectivist government controlled by an ex-revolutionary, Premier Eyad, used to have noble objectives. Things and people changed. Rulers inflict starvation, forced labour, and death on their subjects. Rampant famine forces people to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty and despair, including cannibalism. Magic leaks from the world.

Seraphina, a slave with a unique fire affinity, escapes her tormentors and joins revolutionaries. She wants Eyad dead. Her anger consumes her humanity. The same happens to other protagonists. As they head to Lord‘s Reach city to fight a corrupted government, they undergo significant changes. Some of them start to Become.

Seraphina’s Lament is a dark and unsettling book. Using elements of fantasy, horror, symbolism, magical realism and allegory, it dives into metaphysics and creation of gods. 

Food, eating, and starvation represent life, death, guilt, and withheld love. Early in the book readers get to know Taub who undergoes a shocking metamorphosis. Chorn describes radical changes (mutations?) in such hallucinatory detail that I had to stop and reread chosen passages to picture them accurately. We can see protagnists’ bodily torment and share their disgust and terror when they first witness and experience it. 

You’ll know early in the novel if her writing style works for you. It switches from poetic and allegorical to no-nonsense. I loved parts of it, but had to slowly reread others to see things. Some similes didn’t work for me. Others felt creative and imaginative. Chorn’s writing is dense and her story is so different from mainstream fantasy that I expect it to divide the audience

Some will “get it”, while others will feel lost and helpless. I like allegories and Seraphina’s Lament may appeal to readers who enjoyed themes of unbecoming pictured in Dyachenko’s brilliant Vita Nostra. 

Seraphina‘s Lament is a strong debut. It evokes feelings of futility, confusion, and helplessness, but I wouldn‘t call it nihilistic. It ends with a glimmer of hope. 

It impressed me and I can't wait to see where it goes from here.
Profile Image for SteveTalksBooks.
38 reviews
July 4, 2022
Before we get into the review, we should talk first about Sarah Chorn. Sarah is an author, editor, blogger, reviewer and editor at Grimdark Magazine. I don't know how she finds time in the day.

I wasn't quite sure to what to expect with Seraphina's Lament. The over looks like a dark fantasy and grimdark mix with a touch of horror. That's pretty much what it is, but it managed to have me invested in the characters and world in ways that doesn't happen too often. The story revolves around a group of characters who live in a world of oppression and struggle from a government that controls their lives and livelihoods. I don't want to say too much about this part of the story because it's something that unravels as you read, but you can feel the oppressive nature of this government and it's control over some of our characters. The odds are stacked against them and it's just hard to enough to stay alive. There is little hope at times. In the darkest of times you'll find glimpses of humanity, people doing their small part knowing in the big picture it's futile but still refusing to bend.

Sarah's writing style is very lyrical and poetic. I found myself writing down lines from the book because they were so well constructed and beautiful, sometimes even laughing during a really troubling scene because the word choices were just so clever.

When I was about halfway through this book, author and friend P.L. Stuart mentioned this book was as dark as Michael R. Fletcher's Beyond Redemption. At the time I didn't think it was that dark, but after finishing I can agree it's on par with that world in having you feel the hopelessness the characters feel. There is one death in particular that really got to me. While reading it my heart was pounding because we could see this death coming for a while now but you almost become accustomed to something happening to prevent this horrible thing from happening to a character you are invested in. But I also knew Sarah wasn't going to pull any punches and the world that has already been established set the table that this isn't that kind of world. The final moments of this character was something I didn't want to read but I couldn't put it down. When it was over, I had to set the book down and walk around for a few minutes.

There are different character arcs that we follow, but we spend enough time with each one that switching back and fourth didn't bother me. When we switch POV's too fast and too often I have difficulty being invested, but that wasn't the case here. The arcs all come together at some point and everything becomes clear when they do. The conclusion was very satisfying and left me feeling like I just read a story bigger than what I thought I was reading, left me with questions I didn't expect. This is one of my favorite books of the year, it will easily make my top 10 or even 5.

If you're a fan of dark fantasy, grimdark, fantasy or horror you should give Saraphina's Lament a try.
Profile Image for Rebekah Teller.
Author 3 books50 followers
August 9, 2019
Seraphina's Lament is unlike anything I have ever read. It's set in a communist state, which had recently been a monarchy, overthrown by the current premier.

Though it's named after Seraphina, the story belongs to several POV characters as much as it belongs to her. She is a slave of the premier, and her twin brother an escaped former slave, working with an underground resistance movement.

While this small group is fighting to help people flee and revolt against the premier, larger forces are at work, bringing about the end of civilization and the rise of a new age. It's a combination of an apocalypse and a creation myth. The varying forces at work against the characters is a unique experience.

The magic is based on controlling elements, different characters born with the ability to control a certain one. Seraphina is a fire talent, and her twin, Neryan a water talent. Watching their relationship change and unfold is an amazing, powerful component of the story.

I loved this book. It was easy to stay immersed in it. Chorn's beautiful style swept me up into an alternate state of mind that just lived for this world and stayed there. There's an otherworldly quality to much of the story, and Chorn's style is lyrical and poetic, full of emotion in a raw and beautiful way.
Profile Image for Carrie Chi Lough.
68 reviews6 followers
February 22, 2022
Seraphina's Lament is a lyrical triumph of storytelling artistry.

I finished this book more than a week ago and since then, I have been floundering around with words hoping to write a decent enough review for Seraphina's Lament. I am still at a loss for the right ones. Seraphina Lament found a home within the darkest parts of my psyche and created a dark melody that I am obsessing over. The story is breathtaking and the more the characters descended into chaos, the more I related. I didn't want food, I didn't want to sleep. I wanted more of her book, more of Sarah's words.
Profile Image for Rob Hayes.
Author 35 books1,437 followers
November 21, 2019
Beautiful, haunting, damning. Grimdark poetry.

You'll have to bear with me, my computer has crashed and I'm writing this review on my phone. Yes, I could wait until my PC is up and running again, but that could take years and I've already been sitting on this review for a few days while I figured out what I wanted to say about this book. Well, I've figured it out so I'm writing the review here and now.

Seraphina's Lament is in some ways the epitome of what I consider to be grimdark. It's set in a crapsack world that is literally dying, taking all life with it as it does. People are starving, eating each other, killing each other. And at the same time the kingdom is ruled by a maniacal tyrant who is strangling the population for everything he can take, and he sees spies and subversive elements in every shadow. BUT!!!! But the story is about hope. It says it from the very first chapter, lays it out for us in those first words. This story is about hope. The hope of saving a dying world.

There's a lot of points of view for quite a short book. 8, I think. Possibly 9. But most are pretty integral to the plot and it never really gets confusing. The story is about these characters coming together, breaking down, being reborn so they can maybe, possibly, hopefully bring that same rebirth to the world. It's messy and painful and heartbreaking in equal measure.

So the thing is, this book is beautifully written. It is poetry. It is poignant. It's the sort of book where you find yourself rereading lines multiple times to truly appreciate not only their meaning, but how they flow together. It's not for everyone, but if you enjoy poetic prose written with care and meaning and emotion laid bare, then it's probably for you.

It's not a perfect book. This isn't epic fantasy, it's poetic, emotional fantasy (I have no idea which subgenre to put it in). The world building is scarce, and there are more questions than answers. I also struggled to really connect to any of the characters. This is a personal issue. From the get go every one of the characters in hanging on by the barest of scrapes and we know from the beginning things are gonna get worse for them. Rather than help me connect to them, I think it made me close off a little, cauterising the wound early.

Seraphina's Lament gets a solid 4 stars from me. It's heart-rending, gorgeous, bleak, and poetic. A tough journey, but one well worth taking.
Profile Image for C.T. Phipps.
Author 81 books601 followers
January 14, 2020

SERAPHINA'S LAMENT is one of those books that is very difficult to describe because it doesn't fall into traditional fantasy tropes. If I had to describe its tropes by analogy to other fantasy works then I would just sound insane. Don't believe me? The closest thing I can think of is, "Stalinist Russia meets Avatar: The Last Airbender." If that sounds like something hard to picture, that's kind of my point. The fact it's not a re-tread of Tolkien, Conan, or even George R.R. Martin gives this automatic props, though.

The premise is that a fantasy communist government has risen to power in the Sunset Lands. The dictator Eyad has murdered the previous ruling family, outlawed religion, forced all of the population onto collective farms, and put all subversives into prison camps where they are worked to death. It's blatantly Stalinism and I have to say I approve because sometimes it seems fiction ignores just how bad it was underneath communist rule.

The fantasy element is that a small segment of the population possesses Elemental Magic (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and so on) that has traditionally been used to keep starvation at bay. These individuals are hunted by the government since they are something that can save (or so they think) the country from its current famine. The famine, of course, being caused by combination of natural disasters as well as the Eyad government's gross mismanagement. Not exactly the sort of thing you tend to see in high fantasy but I was one of those people who actually enjoyed the Senate scenes in the Star Wars Prequels (and this is a hell of a lot more dramatic).

Despite the book's title, it does not follow the character of Seraphina exclusively. She is but one of many characters that we follow the struggles of. Seraphina is Eyad's slave, having been taken as a prisoner early in the war and kept for her beauty despite the fact Eyad is gay. A note on this: the book contains numerous LGBT characters as well as polyamorous relationships, highlighting that sexual mores are just different in the Sunset Lands--I always like when books do this. Other characters include Seraphina's brother, a cannibal ghoul, Eyad himself, and a few more other interesting characters.

This is a dark-dark fantasy novel and I fully recommend it for the fact that it shows grimdark doesn't have to be just a pejorative. This is a book that deals harshly with things like mass suffering, tyranny, struggle, tragedy, and the desperation that drives one to revolution. The rebels aren't plucky heroes, either, but desperate individuals fully capable of extreme measures. Again, I like the anti-communist tone of things as I feel that gets overlooked as a potential source of fantasy baddies. It reminds me that I really need to get on that steampunk novel of mine where the villains are the fantasy Confederacy.

Sarah Chorn is a great new author and manages to tell a bleak but engaging story from beginning to end. I have a big love for sharing feminist grimdark stories and I'm sorry that I wasn't familiar with her books before making my initial list of them. I can tell you that I'm definitely adding her to my recommendations, though. Is there anything readers should be cautious of? Well, it's a dark-dark and gloomy storyline. If you don't want to deal with reading about peasants suffering mass famine and the murder of royal toddlers by deranged revolutionaries, you may want to give this one a skip. Seraphina's fire magic will eventually burn brightly but you have to wade through a lot of gloom to get there.
Profile Image for Cameron Johnston.
Author 16 books466 followers
May 2, 2019

It's incredibly hard to believe that Seraphina's Lament is a debut novel. It's exquisitely written, elegant and accomplished, and quite unlike anything else - it's almost mythic in feel.

It may be a darkly beautiful book but it's also brutal and grim, with cannibalism, murder, starvation, an oppressive regime and political purges to unsettle the reader. This is grimdark, but it does not glorify death and slaughter, instead it paints a bleak and terrifying picture of the descent of a land and people into chaos, death and madness. There are no great chosen one heroes here, just desperate people trying to live as best they can.

Only a few rays of hope exist in the form of the relationships between some of the characters struggling to survive, and those bonds feel real, natural, and important enough to make me worry about them. Against the backdrop of a dying world racked by drought, famine and plague, a handful of point of view characters struggle with the sudden swelling of their magical power, powers that seek to break and then remake them into something else: a tyrant, a rebel that both loves and hates the cruel tyrant, a starving farmer taken to eating human flesh, separated twins with the power of fire and water and the adopted daughter of one of them.

This book is a powerful, tragic work of art.
Profile Image for Clay Sanger.
Author 5 books22 followers
January 14, 2019
A fairy tale of sorrow, hunger, and the apocalyptic birth of gods – 4-Stars

Without a doubt, “Seraphina’s Lament” by Sarah Chorn is one of the most unique fantasy pieces I’ve read in years. It largely bypasses the traditional storytelling conventions of the modern fantasy genre and taps into formula all its own.

Told in the manner of a literary fairy tale, it’s driven by theme over plot and internal character conflicts dominate center stage against a backdrop of external conflicts — which are themselves used much like the musical score for the story. A dying world and the end-days of a crippling famine do make a positively operatic score for a tale like this.

In Seraphina’s Lament, the world is dying. The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought and famine ravage the east, and in the west, borders slam shut in the face of fleeing refugees. While behind them, where the hunger reigns supreme and hope is lost, something dark is rising. Enter The Ascended, awakening from their long slumber — and the cello strings of fate they begin to pluck in this symphony of Armageddon. Strings that lead back to a ragged band of survivors seemingly drawn together by happenstance… or perhaps design.

It’s ambitious and mythic in scope — a story focused on the dying of a world and the birth of its new gods. Whether that will lead to the world’s salvation or destruction remains to be seen.

Don’t expect feasts and halls, clashing swords, roaring dragons, and swashbuckling adventure in Seraphina’s Lament. It’s not that sort of fantasy story. In place of mythic wizards and daring swordsmen are elemental furies and the newborn gods who wield them. Seraphina’s Lament is an apocalypse myth paired with a creation myth — a lyrical and poetic experiment of a dark fairy tale.

I think a genre fan might detect reflections of “Mistborn” and “The Last Airbender” in the razor blade garden of this story, but Seraphina’s Lament, without doubt, has a voice uniquely its own. Its darkest notes are devilishly grim and the author’s passion bleeds across every page.

Recommended for fans of poetic narrative, character-driven stories, and the occasional act of apocalyptic cannibalism. 4-Stars.
Profile Image for Alex Khlopenko.
Author 9 books14 followers
February 18, 2019
Originaly for Three Crows Magazine.

Before delving into the review, it is important to establish my bias towards the premise of “Seraphina’s Lament”. I was recommended this book because I’m a Ukrainian and the novel is based on the Soviet genocide of Ukrainians called Holodomor. I was excited and highly suspicious, and naturally so – western writers, even those diligent in their research, usually butcher any topic that is not in their high school curriculum.

Fun fact for the uninitiated – Joseph Stalin and Soviet government in 1931-1933 used artificial famine to suppress the growing unrest, labour strikes, rise of Ukrainian intellectualism, and other fun counterrevolutionary activities. They called it collectivization and used the stolen collected food supply to sell to western democracies in exchange for technologies and machinery. Thus, happened the Soviet miracle of industrialization which cost roughly 10 million lives. My grand grandfather was a head of a kolhoz and was shot for distributing grain to people. My grandmother lost four siblings to starvation and never let a bread crumb fall.

Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by how Sarah Chorn approached the issue and, not without certain reservations, executed the premise of the book.

“Seraphina’s Lament” follows a diverse cast – from a farmer who resorts to cannibalism in the face of starvation, to a group of counterrevolutionaries, to the head of revolutionary government Premier Eyad. Giving a POV to every party and strata of the conflict, not limiting it to lamentations and whining of the oppressed (the Ukrainian literary style of writing about any tragedy) or the power fantasy of the oppressor (the American way). This balanced approach lets the reader delve into the minds of everyone involved, thus blurring the lines of good and bad, further defining the grimdark genre alignment of the novel.

The plot develops in a crescendo, from the degeneration of the common folk and resorting to cannibalism, to the eventual death of the world in a blaze of glorious birth of the new gods. Literal cleansing of the world, and letting it start from scratch is a symbolic offer of a way to deal with a tragedy like that, once again, considering the premise and reality of Holodomor – the nation was not cleansed, there were no consequences for the perpetrators and not justice for the victims.

Inadvertently, Sarah Chorn assumes the role of Tolkien’s Queen of Valar – Nienna, who endlessly wept, turning the grief into wisdom.

Grimdark fantasy has been famous and often criticized for glorifying the over-the-top violence, rape, huge-ass battles, and gore overflowing the pages. It is not always entirely true, but many of the authors are sinful in this regard.

“Seraphina’s Lament” does a wonderful job of not glorifying the atrocities it is depicting, without playing the outside neutral spectator. It shows and condemns the crimes against humanity, without resorting to unnecessary apologism that can be seen in regard to real events (i.e Churchill or Stalin apologists).

Sarah Chorn doesn’t shy away from describing collectivism, enslavement, torture, and what touched me the most – children eating children (this one will stay with me for a long time), in great detail, yet in good taste.

I found Chorn’s idealistic approach to the communal understanding of the nuclear family as a cell of society curious . She turned it all the way to eleven and shown how a community of co-dependent, loving people could live together under collectivism without religious or societal dogma regarding sexuality or family values. It felt fresh and on par with the best thought experiments in science-fiction.

At the same time, from my perspective, it feels like there was a lot more to use from the premise – the period of establishment of Soviet power had much more to offer in terms of human drama, the conflict between a person and the repressive system. More than just the backdrop. And yet it is 100% more coverage and use of the underlying topic than ever before, which deserves praise and respect.

Chorn’s prose may be my biggest reservation about this book. The novel declines to fall into the general trend of using simplistic, straightforward sentences and goes all in on Proustian grandeur. Multi-layered metaphors, repetition, callbacks, and purpleness of the prose rivals that of Abercombie or even Anna Smith Spark. It works in lush descriptions of the emotional distress of the characters, the desolate landscape of the Sunset Lands and Lord’s Reach, but when the same toolkit is used in dialogues they sometimes fall flat, sounding like something written by Terry Pratchett or, god-forbid, Tommy Wiseau.

The novel signals a significant shift of interest for western English-speaking SFF writers and their audiences. Increasingly more of them turn from beating the dead horse of Tolkien’s legendarium and Arthurian mythos, to cultures and histories less explored. Sarah Chorn is maybe among the first to pay attention and depict the atrocities of Holodomor in genre literature and it warms my heart.

“Seraphina’s Lament” offers a fresh setting, interesting characters, and researches into Holodomor, an issue generally disregarded by western audiences and writers and is a precisely executed novel with a few caveats could be easily disregarded by the reader not familiar with the issue before.
Profile Image for Ctgt.
1,490 reviews84 followers
April 20, 2019
I am jagged edges and shattered glass. I have come to break the world.

A story set in a land suffering after a bloody shift from monarchism to collectivism.

Bleak, harsh, brutal with only a few rays of hope.

Multiple separate POVs converge, drawn together by an unknown force.

To what end? Destruction? Release for those under a harsh rule? Becoming?

You are not broken, Seraphina. You are art. You are the story of every battle you have ever won.

Only the strong would survive what was happening and he wanted her to be strong. He wanted her to Become. She’d run at him like the past, and he’d come at her like the future. They’d crash together like forces of nature. Their united purpose, their similar instincts, would drive them—and wouldn’t that be magnificent.
Like singing while the world burned.

Make no mistake, this is a dark book with some graphic moments. Moments that explore the depths to which man can stoop when faced with the harsh realities of life.

For a moment, she was overwhelmed by the texture of the world. The soft, covering up all that hard. She felt like she was wearing the universe backward. She dipped her toe into the pool of infinity, took a breath, and jumped. Forever slid over her skin. Stars wove themselves into her hair. She wore the world on a string around her neck. The sun and moon, earrings.
That darkness inside of her was waking up, and when it did, she would move mountains.

What caught me by surprise was the writing. At times mundane but with instances that really spoke to me.

She felt like glass, thin and hard. Transparent. The moment stretched until she thought she could hear it screaming. She wondered if she would shatter. If she’d spray shards of herself into the ether. Perhaps all of her jagged edges would shine in the night sky like stars, glittering and beautiful, each of them a priceless jewel crafted from the fabric of her soul.

He wore his tears like trophies, jewels bedecking his cheeks. Beautiful, and so very, very broken.

She felt like this had happened before, like she was playing a part in some big game. The world was a palimpsest. History written over history, until nothing was left but echoes and ghostly marks, the footsteps of today walking across the graves of yesterday.

I wavered between 4 and 5 stars but when I went back to check my highlights I had to go with 5 stars. The combination of an unusual setting and the wonderful moments of writing sealed the deal for me.

You have stars under your skin and infinity in your eyes.

Profile Image for P.L. Stuart.
Author 3 books413 followers
February 12, 2022
Sarah Chorn is a very well-known, highly decorated author, editor, and blogger, who has a reputation for excellence in all of those aspects. A two-time Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) semi-finalist, and considered to be a top grimdark writer herself, she is also the editor of Grimdark Magazine.    

Popular authors, irrespective of gender, etc. get on one's radar, and then it's all about when is the opportune time (i.e. based on mood, etc.) to read that particular author's book. Yet since my February TBR is dedicated to #FebruarySheWrote, where I would be reading and reviewing exclusively authors using the pronouns she/her, I felt the time was auspicious to read Chorn's work. 

Best-selling authors like Mark Lawrence (of Broken Empire fame), and Micheal J. Sullivan (best known for The Riyria Revelations) provide endorsements on the cover Chorn's debut novel, "Seraphina's Lament". This made me only intrigued me more to read the book. So I took the plunge into this dark, sometimes disturbing, yet brilliant novel. 

Part of the book appears to be inspired by the Holodomor Genocide (also called the Terror Famine), which occurred in the 1930s. Holodomor means, in Ukrainian, essentially, "kill by starvation". In that horrific chapter in human history, it is estimated that approximately four to seven MILLION of Ukrainians died. The belief is that these people died due to a Russian-manufactured famine, designed on purpose for mass murder. It is presumed by many historians that Russia, at the time, forbade outside aid, seized household food, and curtailed movements of Ukrainians trying to flee the situation, in order to ensure Ukrainians died in staggering numbers. 

But there is much more to the novel than perhaps an indicting commentary on this unfathomable atrocity. 

"The goal had been to throw of the oppressor's yoke, not trade one form of slavery for another." 
The Sunset Lands, setting for "Seraphina's" Lament", is a harsh, vicious, unforgiving place. But things are turning from bleak to portentous. In the beginning of the book, an immortal wakes up in his barrow, after sleeping for an eon, and wonders where his three other companions are, and if they still live. 

Meanwhile, a starving man turns into essentially a zombie-like creature, driven, desperate by hunger that has morphed into something more sinister, during a famine, to kill, and to consume human flesh. But the consumption does nothing to satiate his hunger, it only makes him crave more. 

Finally, in the affluent principal city of the Lord's Reach, a crippled slave - Seraphina - with enormous magic, is constrained by a man even more powerful than her. That man who literally keeps her on a leash, is the Premier Eyad, who has ruled for ten years after violently overthrowing the previous noble regime. The totalitarian Eyad rules with an iron fist, surrounded by loyal ministers, completely committed to doing his bidding. 

"It had started with small erosions of liberties years ago. First the Premier had imprisoned all the land owners, and sent them off to labour camps. He was 'liberating the peasants', he'd said, and how Taub rejoiced! Then he forced the peasants, farmers like him, to move onto communal farm plots where the government owned everything; from the grain they grew, to the tools they used, to the cows they milked, and the houses they lived in. They were given one small row of dirt to grow their own food on, and everything else went to the state, to be divided as the Premier saw fit. Ration cards were supposed to keep everything fair, but that didn't last long either..."

Eyad's vision of a world where the state reshapes the land into a perfect society, has failed miserably. Though, fanatically, he thinks his dream is coming to fruition. Famine is sweeping the land, and citizens are dying in droves.

There is little hope, mass refugee movement, forced labour camps, state-sanctioned slavery and execution of anyone who opposes Eyad's regime. Eyad, with the help of his subordinate ministers and cronies, has disbanded religion, making it essentially a crime, is hunting down any opposition, labelled counter-revolutionaries and criminals, and is imposing a reign of terror. As the earlier quote indicates, Eyad's idealism in deposing the former Lord and Lady of the Sunset Lands, has turned him into an even worse dictator.  

One of Eyad's other challenges, besides those who are defying his rule, is that there is new talent scarcity, among young intiaties of magic. Seraphina was part of an elite breeding program of magic-users, whereby her and her twin brother, Neryan, were selected amongst other slaves, to serve the needs of the Sunset Lands. 

Seraphina's power over fire and Neryan's control over water are coveted assets by Eyad. But Seraphina, five years earlier, enabled her brother's escape. In a fit of rage, Eyad assaults Seraphina, crippling her.

But now one of the counter revolutions is being led by Neryan, and the former husband of Eyad, named Vadden, and Neryan's surrogate daughter Mousumi - known as Mouse. Yet the existential threat posed by the god awakened in his barrow, and those like him, could destroy everything everyone holds dear.

This book had almost everything I looked for in a novel. The characters were exceptional, flawed, and their arcs were in doubt, as to whether they would end up closer to hero or villain. Yet, every relationship, and the terrible things, and injustices, that happen to the characters, even the minor ones, will break the reader's heart.

Chorn has a distinct knack of making you care about characters with conflicted and ambiguous morals. That is a rare skill. Fair warning, don't tie your emotions to anyone in this book, for you will be devastated.

If you have ever read my reviews, you know beautiful prose will get me every time. In "Seraphina's Lament", the prose was, in many places, simply terrific, ineffable. 

"Carve your pain into your bones and move on."

The themes were riveting, and as mentioned, very very grim. If this is too much for you, look elsewhere. Cannibalism, obsession, torture, starvation, murder, enslavement, madness, despotism, the purported evils of communism, revolution, oppression, and more abound on the pages of the book. There are times the book feels like more horror than fantasy, but it is a subtle, addictive blend of the two, when it does. 

Chorn is inventive and confident in her approach to these themes. For example, she takes some elements of real-life history (think America's history of  slavery) and flips them around, for example, involving race. The oppressors - the former revolutionary leaders-turned- dictators, are dark-skinned. The slaves are fair skinned. For example, liberated slaves are referred to at times as "freed-pale". Chorn sensitively and adroitly handles disability in the book. Seraphina is disabled, yet perhaps the most potent character in the book. The way these elements written are indicative of a very skilled writer. 

The magic system is surreal, harrowing, captivating. I have always loved the concept of elemental magic. Chorn depicts water, fire, and other elements wielded by those with talent, hard to control, and always threatening to destroy those the wielders wish to protect most. Moreover, magic is such a commodity, that  even those with no talent have "null" marks on their faces, to delineate them from more valuable tools in society. 

The book has a relentless plot, with lots of twists, and that feeling of dread hanging over the pages that pushes you to read just one more chapter, because you NEED to see what is coming next, while you are SCARED to see what is coming next. Yet somehow, it's also a slow-burn read, that you want to soak up every beautiful word, the lovely, evocative writing. 

Could this be yet another possible top ten book for me of 2022? I would not bet against it. "Seraphina's Lament" is a grimdark tour de force. This is an extraordinary, incredibly well-written, and extremely haunting book. 
Profile Image for Tabitha  Tomala.
692 reviews79 followers
July 21, 2021
This review is also featured on Behind the Pages: Seraphina's Lament

Sarah Chorn’s writing is as beautiful as it is devastating in Seraphina’s Lament. The world’s heart is dying, the people are starving, magic is fading away and the Gods are about to break what little is left behind. It is in no way a light-hearted story. But through poetic prose, the devastation that readers witness turns into something else. You can’t help but follow along. Every single character is pushed to their breaking point. And when they implode, it is breathtaking.

From the first page, readers will be immersed in a terrifying world where the government has stripped everything outside of Land’s Reach to nothing. And while their leader believes he is doing everything in his power to make things better, he is slowly killing everyone. His obsession with success blinds him to what is happening. He doesn’t care, as long as his city is perfect in his eyes. And yet, while he strives for perfection, his slave Seraphina is never far from his side, an example of what his fury can bring.

Seraphina’s body is broken. Pain is her everyday companion. And it is the price she paid for her brother’s freedom. A woman capable of fire magic, and to all appearances beaten down. But you cannot contain fire forever. She is a slow-burning match, waiting for her moment to strike back. And as the Gods infest a chosen few with uncontrollable magic those who have been beaten down will rise again.

This novel is full of complex characters, each tortured by their past mistakes and current failures. Everyone is fighting for what they believe in and to save a dying world. But hope is a rare and deceiving emotion. Seraphina’s Lament is a book fans of grimdark need to read. You will not be disappointed.
Profile Image for Adam Whitehead.
554 reviews135 followers
April 14, 2019
The Sunset Lands are suffering. Political discontent seethes, as the collectivist revolution which promised liberty and freedom from the old autocracy has instead devolved in a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship. The once-verdant farmlands of the east have been devastated by drought, whilst to the west the market towns which thrived on trade other lands have grown poor and destitute. Change is coming, as a wave of terrible hunger rolls in from the east and an ancient, powerful force returns to the world after aeons asleep.

Seraphina's Lament is the debut novel by Sarah Chorn, a long-established SFF blogger (her website is Bookworm Blues), and also the first novel in a series entitled The Bloodlands. The book features some traditional fantasy tropes, such as "Chosen Ones" who gain great powers, but is also rooted in real historical events, in this case the horrific famine known as the Holodomor which wracked Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, killing at least three million people.

Seraphina's Lament is the story of a group of special people: Seraphina herself, who gains unusual powers related to warmth and fire; her brother Neryan, who likewise gains powers related to water; the (slightly) Stalin-esque Premier Eyad; the rebel leader Vadden; a young woman named Mouse; and a mysterious man from the far east, Taub, whose hunger from the famine eventually results in a startling and horrifying transformation. This is the first way that the book embraces a standard fantasy trope - a group of people gaining special powers - and then inverts it, with some of that group going insane and others behaving in an evil or self manner. The motives of even Seraphina and Neryan, the most positive members of this group, are questionable at times.

This is a modern dark fantasy, with stripped-back worldbuilding, a rattling pace (the book is a breezy 300 pages long) and a strong focus on a small core group of protagonists rather than sprawling across a huge cast. It kept reminding me of Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns, with its dark tone, tight focus and sparse, effective prose that occasionally erupts in moments of haunting eloquence. The difference is that Seraphina's Lament feels both more fantastical, with its depiction of humans becoming something other than human (in what feels occasionally like a much darker take on Steven Erikson's notion of Ascendancy, from his Malazan series) and also more grounded, with its Ukrainian historical inspiration being worn firmly on its sleeve.

The book winds through the rotating POV cast, depicting the world crashing around our protagonists and antagonists (whose lines blur on occasion), until it reaches a revelatory and messy ending which leaves things open for the forthcoming sequel, An Elegy for Hope.

On the negative side of things, the stripped-back worldbuilding (with no map or lengthy appendix of made-up names, as fun as that can sometimes be) is welcome but at times it gets a little too sparse, with little sense of what other countries are out there, or even how big the Sunset Lands are supposed to be, or whether the famine is a worldwide or localised phenomenon. The tone is also unrelentingly grim, with nary a ray of sunshine or hope to be found in the novel. The book's brevity prevents the darkness - and it is real darkness, of both an oppressive society and psychological, rather than brutality for the sake of it - from becoming too overwhelming, but it would be nice to see a few signs that this was a world worth fighting for or saving.

Those are relatively minor concerns. Seraphina's Lament (****) is an original, thought-provoking and unsettling novel that leaves the reader wanting more.
February 16, 2019

How do you describe the gnawing feeling that the world is a dark and horrifying place that you desperately want to know more of? Like a hand grasping about your ankle and pulling you down into another dimension, Seraphina’s Lament grabbed me and didn’t let me go.

The potent use of imagery and elegant words placed one after another, Chorn knows how to get under the skin of her readers and make them feel the wash of emotions from every single one of her captivating characters.

Seraphina’s Lament is written in the third person and is broken out by sections per character. Due to the nature of jumping from perspective to perspective, I was initially worried that the feeling of a unique character through each point of view would fall flat. Boy was I happy to be wrong. Each character was just as interesting as the last. From the seemingly inconsequential farmer Taub to Seraphina herself. Every character drew you into a different corner of the world and psyche.

I was enthralled by the themes along with the subtle tones that lingered behind each character. One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the fact that Chorn was able to keep the heart of the individual character story without losing it to the larger arc.

That is not to discredit the incredible overarching world she created and the story within of course. Though it did end up being secondary to what kept me going through the book. Instead, it was the actual characters and their personification that kept me mesmerized with every page. I wanted to understand them, know them personally, and see just how far they would go with their own designs.

The writing itself was akin to poetry and a mixture of personality fueled dialogue that married the unique style that Chorn displayed. Seeing as my personal preference is to linger on the side of poetic, this spoke to me and allowed the immersion of my imagination to take flight into the vast creation that is Seraphina’s Lament.

From beginning to end, this book was a page-turner. With each outlined plan or derived thought begging the question just which plan would fail or take flight, the questions keep you coming back for more. The pace was near perfect with its ability to keep my attention on both minor and major plot points as we journeyed from one character to the next.

Overall this was a fantastic read that I know I will find myself reading again. If you love the twists and turns of well thought out characters, a dark fantasy setting and the beautiful tale of the end of the world, Seraphina’s Lament is the book for you.

5/5 Stars

S.J. Restivo
Profile Image for Hobart.
2,396 reviews63 followers
February 20, 2019
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader, the author also participated in a killer Q&A with me that you should really read.
I just don't know that I can do an adequate job describing this book -- actually, I do know that I can't do an adequate job describing this book. But I can sort of explain things enough that you might get an idea if this book is for you. Maybe.

This takes place in some sort of Fantasy World, one rich in magic -- elemental magic. There are those with Fire Magic, Earth Magic, Animal magic -- and so on It's hard to tell just ow the various people use their magic -- but you get an idea that the world was full of a lot of magic that just isn't working any more. The planet seems to be dying and one of the first signs was that fewer people were showing signs of magic and those who had it couldn't use it has they could before. That right there is a great hook for a fantasy story -- but for this book, it feels like it might be the seventh or eighth most important thing to know.

There's a little bit of chicken and egg to this situation -- did the economic and political upheaval happen because of the dying magic, or is they dying magic a response to the upheaval? I don't think the book answers the question and I think I could argue for both positions (I've only read the book once, and I might be forgetting the one or two lines that definitively answer this question). The dynasty that had ruled The Sunset Lands was toppled by revolutionary forces -- collectivist rebels seeking to remake not just the government, but society as a whole. After the Revolution, the Premier ends up pushing the citizens into collective farms and mines to provide for the nation as a whole. This is met with resistance, counter-revolutionary movements and problems. As the world dies, as the magic that aided people in both industries fades, the situation gets worse and people are pushed to desperate actions -- and things that are even beyond desperation -- just to survive.

In the midst of all this we focus on a few people -- one farmer who lost everything, his home, his family, his hope. Seraphina, the title character, a personal prisoner of the premier, a slave that he spends years tormenting and crippling. Her twin brother, who escaped from the premier because of Seraphina's sacrifice. We also meet others who offer aid and succor to as many as they can -- food, shelter, assistance fleeing from the government's forces -- they're dubbed counter-revolutionaries, and while they might aspire to that, they basically just help people live a little longer. We also, of course, spend a lot of time with the Premier -- who can do nothing to prevent the collapse of his world and his society, but puts all his efforts into it. Lastly, we see the sleeping gods of this world awaken to watch the approaching end. I don't feel comfortable enough talking about the characters in any more detail than that -- they will grab your heart, break your heart, inspire and frighten you.

I've seen a couple of reviews that use the phrase "grimdark" to describe this book. Maybe I'm being restrictive in the way I use the term, but I don't see the book in that model. It's a different kind of dark, if you ask me (there's a torturer that I can imagine Abercrombie's Glotka accusing of going too far). This novel feels like it's a few steps beyond dystopia, when the status quo of unjust society, environmental woes, extreme poverty are looked back on by people in a sense of "remember when we still had a chance to turn things around?" One character prepares for death and thinks back on his full and happy life. My notes focused on that "happy" with an all caps, "HOW?" Yet somehow, and I wish I could give a reason for this, somehow the book never becomes burdensome to read, you're never thinking, "I've got to trudge through how many pages before we can get to some resolution?" You don't want to see more tragedy befall the characters you know, you don't want to face another interlude where you see the horrors that other characters face, where society breaks down further, where taboos disappear like a mist. But you can't stop reading this book, you can't help but read on.

This comes down to the way that Chorn tells the story, the language she uses to talk about the heartbreak, the horror, the tragedy, the atrocities, everything. So often, she'd be talking about life being pain, and death being the release in ways that elevated the idea, that seemed new and revolutionary, yet so true, so familiar that you intuitively related to the sentiment. It's not right of me to talk about this without examples -- but I have an ARC, so I can't quote from it (and even if I had a published version, I don't know that I could've picked just one or two examples -- I'd have had a hard time limiting myself to a dozen favorites). There's a lyrical, poetic quality to the language. There's a humanity that infuses every nook and cranny of this novel in a way that I can't imagine not appealing to readers.

Before I forget, I want to talk about this cover a little bit. Is that not one of the most disturbing images you've seen lately? When Chorn's publicist approached me about reading this book, I (mostly) jokingly said something about having to read this book just to get the image out of my brain -- like you have to listen to an earworm all the way through to get it dislodged from your brain. It's a perfect cover for this book.

This isn't a perfect book -- there were times I wondered if she'd gone to far with the depravity expressed by one character or another. The repeated uses of "closure" as in a character getting or needing "closure" or "moving on," seemed out of place for this world -- the same for "survivor's guilt." And honestly I have no problem with the conventional wisdom of a world like this having a concepts similar to those, but talking about it in the psychological language of late 20th/early 21st century seems odd to me. The Yeats allusion really struck me as unsuitable. (any of these might have been addressed in the final edits and might not appear in the final copy). None of these ruined a scene or a moment for me, but they did all cause me to take a beat and ask, "really?" It's nothing significant, but they all felt inappropriate in this setting.

Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was -- I hadn't felt like this since I read Darrell Drake's A Star-Reckoner's Lot a couple of years ago. Which doesn't say much to most readers, because it's a criminally unknown book. So I stretched my memory some more and came up with N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as having a similar impact on the way I thought about the story, and how unusual it feels compared to other fantasies I've read. The experience of reading this isn't something I'll forget any time soon.

Now, this is the first book of a trilogy, and I'm left totally unprepared for the second book. The middle book of a trilogy is where things are supposed to take a turn for the worse, leaving the reader wondering where the story is going to be able to take a turn for the better. I don't see how things can get worse from this point, how there's more chaos, more destruction, more peril possible. Which means that Chorn's going to have to cast off traditional story structure, or pull a rabbit out of her hat (well, probably a few nests' worth). Maybe both. I'm eager to see how she accomplishes book two.

But to focus on this book -- this is a special fantasy. Beautiful, moving, and brutal. Read it.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this novel from the author, it didn't impact my opinion beyond giving me something to have an opinion about..

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge
Profile Image for Paul English-Wolfe.
132 reviews21 followers
May 16, 2021
SERAPHINA’S LAMENT is a unique read, and as such, one that is difficult to adequately review.

There’s grimdark, and then there are people driven to eat their own legs due to hunger.

There’s lyrical writing, and there’s Sarah Chorn’s sumptuous narrative where poetry and allegory dance and weave like a pair of courting birds.

It’s extremely dark with gloriously embellished writing, so if that’s your jam, grab a spoon and dig in.

SERAPHINA’S LAMENT isn’t your traditionally set western fantasy and instead is eastern-European. It takes inspiration from the Holodomor genocide in which Russia brutally oppressed, starved, and killed tens of millions of Ukrainian citizens.

The story itself takes place in the city of Lord’s Reach and the surrounding villages, hamlets, and farmlands. We find ourselves at the end of the world, with everything and everyone dying — physically and emotionally — because of the ruthless control of Premier Eyad’s collectivist government.

While the world itself is horrifically realised, it is perhaps secondary to the characters themselves, who have the most profound depth. The central cast is lean with Seraphina, Neryan, Vadden, Eyad, Mouse, Taub, and Amiti offering PoV chapters, but this affords such a closeness, allowing Chorn the time to cradle their trembling souls as we bear witness to their flaring pain and guttering hopes.

The complexity of these characters is outrageous, as is the complexity of the story itself.

Everything is draped in layers of emotional fabric, edged with the grimy lace of questionable morality. Reading SERAPHINA’S LAMENT is an undressing of the most intimate and vulnerable nature, as these layers are slowly and delicately removed, edging us ever closer to the raw beating heart beneath.

This is a book that you could — and should — read multiple times as it has a lifetime worth of lessons and will yield new revelations each time.
Profile Image for Mili.
395 reviews35 followers
August 26, 2019
'The Children didn't even notice. They were too busy peeling skin off the toddler's legs and eating it. She watched in horror as the boy reached down, grabbed a chunk if skin from his own body, and shoved it in his mouth, swallowing almost before he could finish chewing.

This is what the Sunset Lands had turned into

A world, devouring itself.'

What an intense read! It starts off super ominous with an Ascended ( immortal) waking up noticing that the world is dying. We slowly get introduced into this sombre and harsh world where everything is fading. The suffering comes to life because of the prose. There are a few with magic most elemental. But less and less are born with it. The land is dry and people are dying, the land is dying. The city of Lord's Reach is thriving or so the Premier is focussed on believing. Turning a blind eye to all the suffering and carting people off to labour camps if they complain. We follow a few people who are rebelling against the Premier, things are complicated though. The Ascended has a plan and is subtly pushing it into motion, the characters we follow are being thrown into something they don't understand. It starts small, their elemental magic feels off. In the meantime the Ascended waits for his plan to come to fruition.

The prose is magnificent, the lack of hope is tangible. The author uses a lot of metaphorical sentences (I didn't always click with them all or found them long at times) to deepen the emotion, it is utterly dramatic and poetic. I got so swept away in the feeling that was being described in passages. And the atmosphere was ominous and depressing, what fit this grimdark world where everything was ending.

'This was killing her. She was dying right in front of him and he didn't even realize it. This was the kind of death that went on and on, once slice at a time until there was nothing left of her but a keening wail, a dirge so eternal it would take its place among the starts, filling the heavens with its mournful song.'
Profile Image for M.L. Spencer.
Author 20 books606 followers
April 27, 2019
Seraphina’s Lament is a dark and gritty tale that follows six would-be saviors of the world in an interesting take on the Chosen One theme. Seraphina and her twin brother Neryan were born with elemental talent. Seraphina wields the gift of fire, while Neryan commands the gift of water. Both have been enslaved in a kingdom ruled by the ruthless Premier Eyad, a sociopathic revolutionary who has come into his own. But while Neryan escaped years ago, Seraphina has continued to be the slave of Eyad and suffered greatly at his hand, both in spirit as well as body.
Meanwhile, all around them, their world is dying. Drought and famine grip the land, refugees clog the borders, and the heart of the world is beating its last rhythm. In this time of desperation, an Ascended god summons gifted people with great magical potential to heal the heart of the world. But in order to complete the task set out for them, each must Become something far greater than what they are, which involves abandoning their true selves in the process.
Seraphina’s Lament is unabashedly grimdark, exploring the wide moral spectrum through the eyes of several point of view characters with their own agendas and own sense of right and wrong and the gradations in between. It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel; the story is immersive, the characters flawed but sympathetic, and the prose sophisticated and elegant.
I fell instantly in love with many of the characters. I was happy in that this book does not fall into the trap common to many grimdark works which, while trying to develop morally gray protagonists, result in unsympathetic characters that readers find unrelatable. In this book, each of the characters is flawed and yet relatable in their own way—some more so, some less. Seraphina’s situation as a crippled and abused slave draws the reader right into her storyline. Her brother Neryan’s compassion both to her and to his adopted daughter make him easy to like.
Vadden was my favorite character, as he is the most complicated and compelling of the cast. Vadden is the husband of the Premier, who left his spouse when he recognized Eyad’s capacity for evil. He became an insurgent, fighting against Eyad’s cruel tyranny. He has spent years opposing his husband’s rule, seeking to topple him—all the while still deeply in love with him. His talent is lightning, and, like all the other main characters, he is Becoming, being shattered and then rebuilt.
Even the minor characters are well-drawn. Mouse and Taub are also Becoming and, of course, the tyrant Eyad, who embarks upon his own personal journey. Also worthy of mention is Lyall the Ascendant, who establishes the inciting incident that sends all the characters hurling into a collision course. I felt the subplot involving Kabir and Amiti to be just as gripping as the main story arc, perhaps even more so.
Seraphina, the titular character, was for me the least relatable of the cast. She starts out as a slave, crippled and in constant agony. After being rescued from Eyad, she is compelled to embark upon a selfish quest for revenge, even if that means the destruction of her brother who loves her and needs her. I was not able to connect with her as well as I was able to with Vadden and Neryan, perhaps because of her lack of compassion and emotional engagement.
Chorn has a way with words; the writing is simply gorgeous. The imagery is stunning, the narrative sophisticated and engrossing. My one complaint is that the plot can occasionally become lost between metaphors that, while arresting, sometimes force me to reread sections, breaking me out of the story. Nevertheless, the plot unfolds at a good, consistent pace. No parts feel slow or rushed.
In conclusion, I very much enjoyed Seraphina’s Lament. It is perhaps the best debut self-published novel I have read to date, with a complexity of plot, theme and cast that left me both satiated and yet hungering for more. I am looking forward to the sequel, which will be a no-brainer purchase upon release. I highly recommend this novel to fans of grimdark fiction who enjoy substance and have a stomach for violence.
Profile Image for Ulff Lehmann.
Author 10 books103 followers
January 18, 2020
In the past decade or so I pretty much stopped reading fantasy. It’s tough reading the same thing one is writing, and I prefer not to fall into the habit of adopting/copying someone else’s style. (I caught myself doing that, and it isn’t fun.)

Now, beforehand, Sarah Chorn is a friend of mine, and before I even wanted to read her book, we had been talking for over a year, about almost everything writing, and a whole lot more.

Seraphina’s Lament had been on my radar pretty much since Sarah and I started talking, and me realizing we pretty much were on the same wavelength. So at one point I managed to bug an ebook copy out of her. That copy landed on my kindle and sat there for a while, like oh so many other books. (Pretty sure you know how that is.)

I knew the elements Chorn incorporated into the novel, and I freely admit my utter ignorance about the Holodomor. So reading about a similar famine in Seraphina’s Lament struck a chord, not from experience, obviously, but empathy. To say the novel is bleak does disservice to her work, it isn’t just bleak, it’s depressingly, devastatingly bleak.

To then read about a soviet revolution in fantasyland and its repercussions, paired with events that pretty much bring about an extinction level event, was… interesting? Yeah, I think interesting sums it up. Much like a panic attack is interesting, from the outside. Not so much for the people going through this.

I’m not going to sum up the plot, or point to singular characters that stood out to me. Doing so would do a disservice to the author’s work, and that would be beyond wrong.

I’ve read some one star “reviews” by straight white folk, whether men or not doesn’t really matter, but their main complaint was that the majority of the characters is not white, that the society most of the book takes place in has enslaved white people, and that the characters were mostly gay. (Insert fake shocked gasp) How utterly terrible, really, to have tables turned on the straight white supremacist fantasies that have been usurping the genre pretty much since its inception. Nobody complains about Frodo’s servant, cuz he’s white and male, sure he has stubby feet and he’s straight, even though at times the presentation makes me wonder if Mr Frodo and Samwise Gamgee didn’t enjoy a roll in the hay or two.

It’s a fantasy novel, it’s Sarah Chorn’s world. She saw deficiencies, if not downright systemic wrongs, and she decided to do her part in righting them. Does that upset the straight white power brigade? Of course it does! Will it change them? Of course it won’t. But changing idiotic viewpoints of people who will never know any better is not the point. The story is! And it’s a damn good one… unless you're homophobic white supremacist, in which case I suggest you just move along.

It’s Chorn’s beast, this world, and Chorn’s story, and writing a fantasy different from the typical whitebread fantasies is already bold… Sarah Chorn has drawn a line in the sand, a line as twisted and pained as her main character, Seraphina, yet sparkling in its beautiful prose.

Read it, if you dare.
Profile Image for Kristen Walker.
Author 50 books122 followers
September 3, 2019
“You must break before you can become.” Those words are ominous but you have no idea just how bad it is until you read this book. It broke me, a little. I don’t know if I Became anything through it but I feel emotionally wrecked after finishing this novel.

And it’s the first in a series. I wasn’t sure, most of the way through, that there would be anything left to say after the book ended. But from the epilogue, it’s obvious that there’s still a lot yet to come. I have no idea which direction it’s going in, but the consequences of what happened in this book are huge.

Let’s back up a little. This is an epic fantasy in the sense that the scale is epic–literally the fate of the entire world and all of humanity hangs in the balance–and there are several viewpoint characters you follow over the course of the story. One of them is Seraphina, from the title, and she’s pretty central to everything. To say she’s had a hard life is an understatement. But in total there are eight regular viewpoint characters, who rotate through chapters, and then minor viewpoints are scattered in between, although I’m not sure how much they added.

One problem of many viewpoints is repetition. Especially when multiple characters see the same event or learn the same information, you feel like things are getting repeated and this can slow down the pace. This increased toward the end as the main characters all converged into one location. But the repetition also gives you a little more time to absorb each new bit of information and emotional blow.

This book is brutal. It truly breaks every single character. There is no sexual violence but there is a lot of violence and death. Also, Mouse was my favorite character, and let’s just say that you shouldn’t pick a favorite character in this story.

At the end, I didn’t know if I want to cry or throw up. But I couldn’t stop reading. This book is incredible, with lyrical descriptions of its horrors. This book stands out as the most skillfully-written book I have read from this year’s batch of SPFBO books (maybe tied with the Yarnsworld book but I’m not objective when it comes to that series, I’m a long-time fangirl). So I recommend it to everyone who likes dark fantasy… but maybe have a warm mug of hot chocolate or something to comfort yourself when you get through it.

Representation: the author obviously has experience with chronic pain. Seraphina’s disability is a major part of the story and it doesn’t magically heal. Also, there are several LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, these are treated as a normal part of life in their society. In fact, because of limited resources, many people have banded together in group marriages to share land and raise children. It’s not uncommon for characters to mention multiple wives and husbands as part of their family.

Get yourself a box of tissues and read this book.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 2 books102 followers
June 18, 2019
I must admit I found this book a little tough to start with. It is written with beautiful prose but it took me some time to connect truly connect with the characters. Maybe because it is such dark subject matter - and while I have read 'grimdark' before I don't think I've read anything as grim or as dark as this- or the Holodomor that Chorn used to anchor her world (an actual real life historical event that is appalling - check it out).

I've read Chorn mention that she deliberately chose such vibrant and beautiful language because the subject matter is disturbing and confronting. It certainly makes for a remarkable and intense foil.

But I've followed Chorn online for a very long time so I stuck it out - and I am so glad I did. When this story shifted gears, when we reached the cliff - and were pushed off - the story exploded into an epic conflagration. And I am still reeling from the shock-waves.

Seraphina’s Lament is a brilliant grimdark fantasy with lyrical prose set in a world where love is love and same sex couples not a thing, they just are; Chorn also gives voice to the many readers out there who live with a disability but never see themselves reflected in the books they read.

If you enjoy fantasy that pushes boundaries while remaining epic in scope, that delves the soul while reaching for the stars, then I highly recommend you give this book a try.

I can't wait for book two - An Elegy for Hope - when it's done.
Profile Image for Leona.
72 reviews24 followers
February 7, 2019
Full review coming soon!
But for now I gotta say this:
This was one hell of a grimdark, it's totally METAL and the prose is right up there with Rothfuss -not the story, the story is daaaaaaaark brutal and grim in the extreme but with shining beacons of hope! The prose though..... One of the few books that left me speechless. The most quotable book after Bakker and Mark Lawrence to say the least.
Profile Image for Tim Martin.
744 reviews46 followers
March 22, 2019
This was a stunning fantasy novel, all the more stunning for being a debut novel, the start of what looks to be a wild ride known as the _The Bloodlands_ trilogy. There is quite a bit to recommend about this book, including its unusual Soviet-inspired setting, the strange nature of magic in this world, its most unusual deities, its evocative prose, several gripping central characters, and the deft and skillful way the author made something so very, very dark compelling and fascinating, that as dark as the book got (and make no mistake, it does get extremely dark) it never ceased for me to be compelling reading whether because I cared about the characters or the central plot or just enjoyed the prose. Even at its bleakest it never felt nihilistic (though I am not sure how much of that is from the wonderful writing and descriptive powers of the author and how much from the nature of the story in _Seraphina’s Lament_).

Another feature of the book I liked was its relatively small cast, unusual when compared to many fantasy novels. In addition it had a relatively small scope (not in terms of impact of the events of the novel, no, those are huge indeed, but in terms of the numbers of different locales and settings to keep track of). It will be interesting to see if later installments in the series will maintain such a relatively tight focus in terms of numbers of characters or locations.

The novel centers on a brother and sister and their enemies and allies. The sister, the titular character, Seraphina, is both very powerful (wielding some potent fire magic) but is also I won’t say very weak but constrained, as she is the slave of the ruler of the Sunset Lands, Premier Eyad, symbolically bound by a leash she can break at any time but also in a very real sense confined by a painfully and nearly debilitating physical inconformity given to her by Eyad, who nearly beat her to death with she helped her brother Neryan get free of Eyad (Neryan for his part has very potent water magic at his disposal, though as the setting shows with great power comes great risk, as possessing powerful magic can also potentially destroy a person and those they care about). Other characters include Vadden, fellow counterrevolutionary and friend of Neryan in exile and little known to anyone else, also former husband of Eyad (who despite being his biggest political opponent still has feelings for Eyad), and a young woman nicknamed Mouse, adoptive daughter of Neryan. There are a few other characters of note that aren’t at first connected to Seraphina and Neryan, such as Taub, a peasant who, in the grip of the famine, heat, and drought plaguing the Sunset Lands, becomes something quite, quite horrible and in the story assumes a very important role indeed.

Many of the standard fantasy tropes are not present in this novel. There are no princesses or princesses or lost kings or queens – the communist/collectivist revolution that took over the Sunset Lands did away with those in a violent manner. There are no dragons, no dwarves, no elves, no faerie or unicorns or doddering wizards. There are prophecies of a sort, kind of, but they are vaguer and more ad hoc or improvisational than any prophecies I have ever seen; there are roles to play, but how these roles are filled and by whom has lots and lots of wiggle room, with no guarantee of success at multiple levels. It felt like the best of both worlds; the structure and foreboding a prophecy gives to a novel without any sense of fates being sealed or any sort of success guaranteed.

There is relatively little I can say about the plot without risking major spoilers. It moves at a very brisk pace, slowing down a bit when the author takes care to show multiple points of view of the same events at the very end but never dragging or become tiresome or tedious. The ending of the book is surprising and world shattering; I have literally no idea what is going to happen next and have a hard time imagining what the world is now like. For all the relatively small scope in terms of places used or characters followed it is a huge, huge outcome that changes absolutely everything. All I can say about the ending is I cannot wait to see what happens next.

For all its dark tone there is a lot of beauty in the book, the author making lonely fields, starry nights, sunsets, old city streets, quiet pauses in conversations, good meals all things of beauty without drowning the reader in descriptive prose. A dark book where characters suffer and die, it is never quite bleak and certainly never nihilistic, as even in the darkest times the writing is beautiful and characters always seem to hold onto some sort of hope or brightness, that to paraphrase a certain hobbit there is always some good worth fighting for, and the worst of the worst can only take away so much.

I liked how the author personified the suffering of the masses as it were, that the little people, people beyond the central cast of characters, their horrid lot is not neglected and their suffering and quiet (and not so quiet) endurance is a very big part of the novel’s setting and feel.

Great start to a great series!
Author 4 books68 followers
February 17, 2019
It feels wonderful getting back into reading books. I’ve already finished half the number I did for the whole of 2018. I’m also returning to reviewing, and here is one of the best debuts in a long time for me.

This book is dark fantasy in its purest form, and it does it without the weaknesses a lot of grimdark novels suffer from: edgelord characters doing evil stuff for the sake of it. There is none of that in this book.

Yes, I might gush a bit about this in my review, but I really think it’s great and you should all give it a read. It debuts on the 19th February.

It’s hard for me to say in words how much I enjoyed reading Seraphina’s Lament, but had I read it in 2018, it would be my Book of the Year. It’s leading the pack on books I have read this year so far as well.

Have you ever watched Threads? It was a BBC docu-drama in the 1980s, and perhaps the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. It did something no horror film could, and that was frighten me to the bone. It covers a nuclear attack on Britain and its catastrophic aftermath. Every person in the world should see it.

This book hit me on levels similar to Threads, on a form that few other books have achieved. There is a deep level of human suffering in the book. It’s heavily inspired by Stalinist Russia during his Five-Year economic plans, decisions that cost millions of lives. This is a brutal book that goes beyond the rest in many ways, but it does so in a way that made me keep reading. Not once did it annoy me or wind me up with things some grimdark books do. In a way this is historical fantasy at its core, but there is a powerful magic at heart in this book. I’ve never seen a novel that writes the destruction that is starvation so well. Hell, it’s even a character in this book.

The cast of the book is small with the number of dedicated POVs in the single digits. The story focuses on these select few and it does well. Having a focused character setup is a good thing for any fiction, and we really get to grips with the characters. There is a deep level of characterisation and development with all of them. They’re living, breathing works of art, not words on a page. Sometimes you don’t get that often.

The plot sounds simple at first. Remember what I said about Stalin? The main antagonist Eyad is a brutal man with plans to turn his realm into something breaker. You must break before you become and under such ruthless economic reforms, hatred and suffering are everything. His lover and rival Vadden leads rebels against him – and he is someone not of mercy. Magic begins to break into the world properly as Eyad tries to collect all those who can use it. When his favourite slave Seraphina escapes, it starts a destructive path that rebirths the gods.

While we have that, we also have a power struggle going on between Mouse, whose magic is growing out of control to the extend of her feasting on human souls to survive and the growing might of the Bone Lord, the manifestation of one man’s starvation and the breakdown of his gut instinct to survive.

I won’t say much more about the story because it’s really something that should be tasted yourself, like a really good meal. The prose is excellent without being too flowery and the world-building is well done, again without going over the top. It has great description of what’s going on, and teases you with more. I’m really looking forward to the next edition of Sarah Chorn’s work. I’ll imagine it’s not for everyone. There is a deal of dark themes explored such as cannibalism, murder and torture so if you don’t like reading it, you might want to give this a miss. Even if you get queasy, I still recommend giving the book a try.

Personally? I loved this book. It think it’s amazing, and one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
Profile Image for E.M. Hamill.
Author 9 books87 followers
February 23, 2019
Every once in a while you read a book that's unlike anything you've ever read. Seraphina's Lament is that book.
Part fantasy, part zombie, and all grimdark, the book blew me away. Sarah Chorn's prose is lyrical, heartbreaking poetry in so many places that I just had to stop and digest some of the merciless beauty at times.
Seraphina is a fire talent, a kind of Dark Phoenix in a broken body that seethes with rage. Her twin, Varyen, is a water elemental: shapeless and lost without Seraphina, who is enslaved by a dictator. Vaddon is a revolutionary with lightning in his veins, and grief in his heart for the man his husband has become - the dictator Eyad, a despotic and cruel man with mind talents that keep his citizens in fear.
When these literal forces of nature come together, manipulated and molded by an ancient god, the world will burn.
This book is not for the weak of heart. Cannibalism among starving people is prominent, and the harsh conditions of the Sunset Lands are based on the horrific event of the Holomodor (Ukrainian Genocide) in Russia in the early 30's.
I can't say enough good things about this book, but its strengths were some of its weaknesses for me, too. I found myself rushing through the last third to "get to the good stuff" and was completely rewarded. I waffled on a rating between four and five stars because of that, but ultimately, this book is a work of art and deserves five because, goddamn, this is a DEBUT NOVEL and it knocked my socks off.
Profile Image for Andrew Hindle.
Author 19 books46 followers
July 25, 2021
Reading this book was like watching epic worldbuilding in reverse. Character development in the form of characters breaking. Love outlined in the white spaces between intolerable pain.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, it made me think about things that are often invisible, by putting them in a vivid and shattered fantasy setting. It made me want to be a kinder person, and a better writer.

Thank you for this story! I will definitely check out more by this author. Good voices must be amplified.
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