For the first of two posts today I am delighted to be reviewing Seraphina’s Lament. As anyone who knows me will know, this is hands down my favourite book and I am horrified that I haven’t reviewed it fully before – I had done a brief review on goodreads (which seems to have been eaten by the recent chaos on there) which was mostly me flailing about this book, so it was past time to sit down and talk about a book that means a lot to me (note there is still flailing).
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.
The day my copy of Seraphina’s Lament arrived (sometime back in 2019 before I had even conceived of this blog), I sat down and devoured it twice within the space of twenty four hours. Since then I have lost track of the number of times that I have reread this book, and each and every time I fall in love with it all over again.
This is one of those books that no matter how you choose to define grimdark (and I am not stepping into that debate here) falls within those boundaries. This is a dark book. A book that takes the darkness – and a very real darkness at that, as Seraphina’s Lament is inspired by Holodomor – and finds beauty in all the broken bits. So, if you’re not a fan of dark and heavy, this one may not be for you – if you are, or if you are ready for something that is equal parts beautiful and harrowing, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I will say the darkness – (and it starts with cannibalism to give you an inclination) – is deep, but it is not without glints of light and hope, they might be small, but those moments shine bright.
As with all of Sarah’s books, it is the emotion that captures me, both within the writing itself and within the characters, and you will find the whole roller-coaster of the human experience within these pages. Whether it was the more familiar moments of grief and rage, to the moments that we all hope we will never find ourselves experiencing – violence, starvation and slavery, each is written so vividly that you experience them right alongside the characters. It’s breath-taking and devastating, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Another reason why I love this book so much is the titular character Seraphina. It was the first time, that I’d had that – this is a character that represents me, because of her physical pain and issues with mobility. There’s a moment where she gains a cane to help her walk, and her reaction to being able to move more freely on her own hit home – especially the first time I read it, as it had been just after I’d found myself having to use a cane a few times. Just something that simple and poignant was everything. Seraphina was so much more as a character too, her pain and experiences have shaped her, but they don’t define her and I loved the yin-yang of her relationship with her brother.
There is a small cast of main characters, and each is as memorable as the rest. Seraphina hit home the most, but each POV was memorable and evocative in their own right. Seraphina’s Lament is character-driven at its heart, and that only helps to heighten the emotional impact of the story, because it makes it more personal and intimate when you’re so close to the characters. There was so much nuance to the characters both as individuals, but also through their relationships. In particular I loved the turbulent relationship between Vadden and Eyad, love and hate twisted together until it was hard to tell where one ended and the other begun, and the relationship between Mouse and Neryan was both touching and heart-breaking. These characters weren’t good or evil, they were shades of everything in between, shaped and coloured by the world they were trying to survive in, and what they had experienced. No one was safe in this world, all of them had suffered in some way and carried the scars and open wounds – and the world pressed on those pressure points again and again.
The world-building is a fantastic seamless blend of historical inspiration and fantastical elements. The magic within this world, or Talent was very elemental and emotional in nature, and Sarah brought it to life with some truly spectacular descriptions, and by showing it not as a separate thread but as something that had impact of the world, on the characters and the unfolding story. The final part of the book in particular truly made this aspect shine, and the climax of Seraphina’s Lament is so compelling and action-packed that it is impossible to tear yourself away from this world and these characters that are breaking apart – the final confrontation is cinematic with how it was written, balancing the sheer magnitude of the natural disasters with the smaller, but no less catastrophic breaking to become that the characters undergo.
Seraphina’s Lament was a book that I needed for so many reasons, from being able to see myself in Seraphina, to finding the inspiration in this story that made me feel as no other book ever has, and I will forever be glad that I discovered this book. I have no words to describe how excited I am for the second book An Elergy for Hope coming out next year! This is a book that I keep coming back to, that I will always come back to, and a book that I hope more people will pick up and fall in love with – and a book that will remain my favourite for a long, long time to come.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.