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