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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Seraphina's Lament by Sarah Chorn (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Seraphina's Lament over HERE
Read Stalin, Communism, & Fantasy by Sarah Chorn (guest post)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: 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 writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she'd do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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.

CLASSIFICATION: Seraphina's Lament is a gritty and dark dark fantasy.

FORMAT/INFO: Seraphina's Lament is 398 pages long divided over 44 chapters. The narration is in the third person and focuses on eight POV characters: Seraphina, Premier Eyad, Mouse, Vadden, Amifi, Taub, Neryan, The Ascended. This is the first volume of the Reborn Empire series.

This book is available in e-book and paperback format. It was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Pen Astridge,

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): 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 protagonists’ 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.

CONCLUSION: 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.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Seraphina’ Lament is Sarah Chorn’s debut book and knowing Sarah’s penchant for the darker side of literature. This title was high on my list once she announced it. The story is set in a secondary world and one wherein magic is present but not in a high fantasy sense. Focusing on different characters such as the titular character, Premier Eyad, the rebel leader Vadden, Seraphina’s brother Neryan and a few others. We are shown a world in crisis and one wherein there’s no straight end in sight. Sarah Chorn deftly gives us a landscape wherein famine and magic co-exist. There have been calamities on all fronts and Premier Eyad is forced to take certain hard steps or is he

The story is dark and right off the bat, I can see this is going to be one of those wherein readers will be divided into camps about it. There’s no two ways about this book because of the darkness and the misery it showcases. The author brandishes a deft hand in handling a sensitive subject such as the Holodomor as well showing a thing or two about communism. Not that she names them as such.

Characterization is a forte of Sarah’s writing as she handles each person’s needs and ambition crucially while never making them caricatures. Even the villains as well those manipulated by the higher beings. The characters never take missteps within the story’s needs but act as simply with their own feelings and intellect. I loved this aspect and I couldn’t wait to see how they would react within certain points within the story and especially in the end. The author also has highlighted characters with disability and I found that to be another unique feather in her cap.

The prose is perhaps the best part of this debut. The author manages to show the depth of suffering and yet elegantly describes feelings, emotions and such. There are such gems strewn throughout:

 "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.”

CONCLUSION: The book is littered with such lyrical prose that brings you joy and will have you doubting the depths of human depravity. It’s highly unusual to find such accomplished writing in a debut and the fact that Sarah has written this is of no surprise. Sarah Chorn is an author who impressed me mightily and if his debut is any indication. Then we can wonder what further brilliance there is to come. Dive into Seraphina’s Lament and discover why Sarah Chorn is dark fantasy’s next superstar.

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