The following is a guest post from Sara Weikel.
In her much-anticipated book, new author Sarah Chorn combines her own experience of chronic pain and an interest in Russia’s grim history into one unforgettable dark fantasy.
Seraphina’s Lament, the first volume of her Bloodlands trilogy,tells the story of an escaped slave who lives in a world in flux. A recent overthrow of the Sunset Lands’ monarchy has resulted in a collectivist government that inflicts starvation, forced labor, and death on its subjects. The world’s rules of magic are also undergoing mysterious radical changes. Undaunted, Seraphina joins a counterrevolutionary group trying to change things for the better, even as she struggles with the trauma of her past enslavement and her constant physical setbacks.
“I gave Seraphina my spine and leg injury and my chronic pain,” Chorn said.
Chorn’s injuries were due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an incurable genetic condition that affects the connective tissue of her body. Her spine and leg injuries in turn caused permanent nerve damage that three surgeries were unable to fix.
You can be amazing, powerful, and captivating AND deal with disability.
“Two years ago, I went to the doctor and just broke down,” she said. “There is only so much a person can take, and I’d hit my limit.”
She found some relief in a fourth surgery, when she had electrodes implanted into her spine to disrupt the signals between her spine and brain. It made it bearable, she said, but the pain was not gone. Life is still a constant struggle to figure out how much activity she can handle. Some days her condition greatly limits her, while on others she is able to endure it and live her life.
“I wanted to bring my experience, at least a fraction of it, to life in Seraphina. You can be amazing, powerful, and captivating AND deal with disability, chronic pain, degenerative conditions and other disabilities.”
It is rare for her to find book characters she can relate to in their mutual struggle against their bodies’ limitations, so she fixed the problem by creating her own.
“We deserve to see ourselves in the books we read, and I really wanted to add my experience to Seraphina’s Lament. Maybe someone else can see a character who suffers from chronic pain, needs a cane for mobility, and still manages to be a badass, fierce individual, and see a bit of themselves in her.”
Seraphina’s Lament is also unique because it builds on a historical model virtually untapped in fantasy. Chorn reads a lot of historical nonfiction, she said, and when she started digging into the dark history of the Soviet Union, she was captivated.
The seldom talked-about period of Stalin’s Holodomor, the brutal oppression of the Ukraine in the early 1930’s that claimed between three and seven million lives, was particularly fascinating to her.
“In the end, I just couldn’t let the time period go. The fact that almost no one in the West knows about the Holodmor is tragic, and I wanted to not only raise awareness of this time period in my own weird way, but I also felt like the event itself was ripe for someone to tell a story about. So many tensions, so much tragedy, and all that darkness.”
Interludes throughout the book are based on real people and events during the Holodomor, and are intended as an homage to them.
Chorn started out on her literary career ten years ago as a book reviewer, mainly just for the fun of it. She has been a judge for the SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) competition for the past four years, and has spent the past two working as a freelance editor. She wrote her first book in kindergarten and never stopped writing, though Seraphina’s Lament will be her first published work.
Its paperback release on Amazon is scheduled for February 19, while eBooks are currently available there for preorder. In the meantime, slake your thirst for the grimdark with a sample chapter from Seraphina's Lament.
They’d changed the name of their village from Slavatspol to Eyadigrad after the Premier took control of the Sunset Lands. The wealthy farming village was located a day’s ride from Lord’s Reach. The change of power had been liberating and exciting for them. They followed the Premier eagerly throughout it all, through the communal farming, the rounding up of land owners, as well as the state’s reclamation of private property, farming implements, and livestock. They’d been with him the whole way, eagerly offering up what they had to the Sunset Lands, anxious to reap the benefits of this new, incredible system. Some of the changes hadn’t made a ton of sense, but they’d gone with them because the Premier seemed to know what he was doing.
Life had gone on much as it had before, and the changes seemed minor and manageable. Farmers farmed, merchants traded, secret police came and went, and the collectivist commissar was muddled in the middle of it all.
Then, the land rolled over and showed its dead side. Fields dried up, and no rain appeared on the horizon. Winter never came. The earth talents who lived in the village, all three of them, had searched out water and fertile soil, and that had saved them for a while. But then the wells filled up with dust rather than water, and two of the earth talents ran off, afraid for their lives as the farmers increasingly blamed them for the drought and poor crops. They’d just disappeared, damning them all.
Adrian’s wife had been one of them, the one that stayed behind. She’d been killed early on in a fit of pique by a farmer who couldn’t stand seeing his children starve. He’d blamed her for not working hard enough, and bashed her brains in with a rock. When she died, the sun stopped shining on Adrian’s life.
Yet, despite all the turmoil, the loss, and upheaval, the Premier never lowered his taxes, never decreased the amount of grain and food they were to hand over to officials, and never increased rations. Slowly the countryside, even their loyal, wealthy corner of it, died.
“Premier Eyad requires us to hand over more subversives and counterrevolutionaries to the state,” said the Elder of the mir, the ruling village counsel, to the assembled villagers. He was a portly man who wasn’t so portly anymore. “He is giving us a quota of twelve land owners from our village, all to be sent with the collectivist commissar to a camp for a sentence of five years forced labor.”
There were grumbles and mutters, but the people had been starving for so long that any feeling of anger or worry was just too much energy for their shriveled bodies to handle. So, they muttered, exhausted, saying words that meant less than nothing because words could not be eaten.
“Furthermore, our grain quota has increased—” the elder continued.
“The land is dead!” Alexandra, a mother of four on a collective farm, shouted from the back of the room. It used to be a temple, but Premier Eyad had disbanded religions, and now it was a meeting house. If he concentrated, Adrian thought he could still smell the incense that used to burn here daily. “How does he expect us to give him more food? We don’t even have enough to feed ourselves, or our children! Already there are rumors of roaming bands of cannibals wandering the countryside, so hungry they are eating those who have fallen before them. My children ate a soup made of boiled tree bark tonight! It was all we had! Will they take even that from us?”
That was the kind of talk that would see someone hung, but no one seemed to mind overmuch. Not now, not when everything was so hopeless.
More shouting. More worry. So much of it. A deluge of fear, with nothing but the tentative promise of tomorrow at the end of it all.
Adrian was on his feet before he realized he’d stood.
“I am a land owner,” he said loudly.
“You are not,” a woman yelled. “You don’t even own the shirt on your back.”
“My wife is dead and I see the writing on the wall,” he said. “If I stay here, I will starve to death. At least in the labor camps I will get gruel once a day, and because of that, I will live.”
He was the last person who could be dubbed a counterrevolutionary. He’d volunteered to work with the collectivist commissar. He’d done his due diligence, turning this land from monarchy to collectivism. He bled the Premier’s colors, even after his wife had been brutally murdered, but here he was. Survival was his siren call, and he wouldn’t find it in Eyadigrad. He inhaled and faced the elder and the assembled mir. With all the resolve he could muster, he said, “I am a land owner. I am a subversive. I am a counterrevolutionary. Arrest me.”
Silence fell like a shroud, and then there was shouting.
Adrian laughed as the collectivist commissar’s men came.