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.