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.
Goodreads Link: Seraphina’s Lament (The Bloodlands #1)
Author: Sarah Chorn
Genre: Epic fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars
“You must break before you can become.” Those words are ominous but you have no idea just how bad it is until you read this book. It broke me, a little. I don’t know if I Became anything through it but I feel emotionally wrecked after finishing this novel.
And it’s the first in a series. I wasn’t sure, most of the way through, that there would be anything left to say after the book ended. But from the epilogue, it’s obvious that there’s still a lot yet to come. I have no idea which direction it’s going in, but the consequences of what happened in this book are huge.
Let’s back up a little. This is an epic fantasy in the sense that the scale is epic–literally the fate of the entire world and all of humanity hangs in the balance–and there are several viewpoint characters you follow over the course of the story. One of them is Seraphina, from the title, and she’s pretty central to everything. To say she’s had a hard life is an understatement. But in total there are eight regular viewpoint characters, who rotate through chapters, and then minor viewpoints are scattered in between, although I’m not sure how much they added.
One problem of many viewpoints is repetition. Especially when multiple characters see the same event or learn the same information, you feel like things are getting repeated and this can slow down the pace. This increased toward the end as the main characters all converged into one location. But the repetition also gives you a little more time to absorb each new bit of information and emotional blow.
This book is brutal. It truly breaks every single character. There is no sexual violence but there is a lot of violence and death. Also, Mouse was my favorite character, and let’s just say that you shouldn’t pick a favorite character in this story.
At the end, I didn’t know if I want to cry or throw up. But I couldn’t stop reading. This book is incredible, with lyrical descriptions of its horrors. This book stands out as the most skillfully-written book I have read from this year’s batch of SPFBO books (maybe tied with the Yarnsworld book but I’m not objective when it comes to that series, I’m a long-time fangirl). So I recommend it to everyone who likes dark fantasy… but maybe have a warm mug of hot chocolate or something to comfort yourself when you get through it.
Representation: the author obviously has experience with chronic pain. Seraphina’s disability is a major part of the story and it doesn’t magically heal. Also, there are several LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, these are treated as a normal part of life in their society. In fact, because of limited resources, many people have banded together in group marriages to share land and raise children. It’s not uncommon for characters to mention multiple wives and husbands as part of their family.
Get yourself a box of tissues and read this book.