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.