“She smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. It wasn’t the kind of smile that would welcome you home and put you at ease. Hunger’s smile was an attack. It was a cold threat and a calculated promise. It was violence with pink lips, and cruel intent’s sharp teeth.”
Seraphina’s Lament is Sarah Chorn’s hauntingly sad grimdark fantasy loosely based on the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, which killed nearly 4 million innocent Ukrainians at the hands of the Soviet Union.
Sarah Chorn considers an alternate way out for victims of famine, i.e., what might happen when people become so emaciated that they are essentially just skeletons, with nothing left but their overwhelming hunger. But what if this way out is just as horrifying as the famine itself?
Seraphina’s Lament gave me an emotional gut punch on the same level as R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, which is also fantasy retelling of a tragic real-world historical period. While Kuang includes a fictionalized version of Mao Zedong in her fantasy retelling of the Chinese civil war, Chorn incorporates a thinly veiled Lenin-Stalin type character who serves as the brutal Premier behind the famine. Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but there also seems to be a Trotsky-esque figure in the book.
Sarah Chorn’s writing is profoundly beautiful. Although the novel is told from several points of view, the main thread of the story is fluid across chapters, with each point-of-view character naturally picking up the narrative from the previous. This is probably the most fluid storytelling that I’ve ever experienced in a multi-point of view book.
Seraphina’s Lament is grimdark fantasy at its finest, and it’s even more harrowing considering Vladimir Putin’s monstrous attacks on Ukraine at this very moment.