Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by the debut author Sarah Chorn.

About Sarah Chorn:

Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books. You can visit her website at www.bookwormblues.net

About Seraphina's Lament:

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.

Publishing date: February 19th, 2019.

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Guest post about Seraphina's Lament by Sarah Chorn

Someone asked me recently if Seraphina’s Lament was a historical fantasy book, and I honestly had no idea how to answer.

Kind of?
Maybe?
In a way?

Can a book be historical fantasy if it’s set in a secondary world? I get mixed answers there. You decide.

Seraphina’s Lament is set in the Sunset Lands. Once, the Sunset Lands was ruled by a dynasty. Then, one day, a group of revolutionaries, sick of the oppression from the nobility on the serfs, rose up and, in a coup, toppled the monarchy, murdering them. From this event, arose a new form of government: Collectivism, with Premier Eyad at its helm. Eyad, in his vision, decided it was time to move the Sunset Lands into a more modern future. He implemented collective farming, disbanded most religions as a way to control the people and destroy traditions, imposed policies where goods were property of the state, and labor was shared. Those who do not toe the line are sent to forced labor camps.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Maybe it will when you put it in this context.

On July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were assassinated by soldiers at the command of people who were sick of the oppression and poor leadership of the nobility. Once the government toppled, the Soviet Union rose up in its place. After some hiccups and false starts, Lenin began instituting new ways of living, a new vision for the people he was guiding. After him, came Stalin, who had his own way of doing things. Stalin took the roots of Lenin’s policies on collective farming, the role of the state, ownership, private property, social classes, and even gulags, and made them his own. He was brutal, and ruled with an iron fist. There is a reason why many considered him the “Red Tsar.” Stalin flooded the gulags with political prisoners, and killed millions in pogroms, social purgings, the Holodomor, and many other, horrific ways.

Seraphina’s Lament is set in a secondary world, but it is very much influenced by our own history. It was an interesting process, taking some real-world events and twisting them just enough to fit into my own secondary world structure. I had to do an incredible amount of research to be able to get many of these details right. It was important to not just know what happened, but to know the situation before these events happened, the reasons why this could happen—the setup, if you will, and how it impacted the average citizen in this area of the world.

Part of the struggle was research, just the sheer amount of it was mind boggling, and only a fraction actually appears in the book. Most of this research helped me put a lot of things in context as I wrote. Understanding why this could happen, and why people reacted the way they did was essential to the story I was telling.

The Holodomor didn’t just happen. It was mismanagement and terrible, tragic, criminal policies that led up to it.

So much of building my secondary world was understanding all those things that led up to the events I’m writing about.

And another big chunk was knowing where to draw the line. Knowing where I had to cut off the real-world influences, and start twisting things enough to fit my secondary world. I decided to add an elemental magic system, because it has always fascinated me. Not just elemental magic, which is fine, but the idea I was playing with here was a bit different. Humanity has spent its entire existence controlling fire, for example. What I wanted to do was ask, what happens when fire controls humanity?

I also wanted to play with a lot of these policies that are peppered throughout the book. Collective farming plays a role in Seraphina’s Lament, but I twisted it enough to fit this secondary world. In A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes, he talks a bit about collective farming in Russia through 1924, and how land was given based on how many members were in a person’s family. Therefore, people would count hired help as family, and in this way, they’d get more land to work. In Seraphina’s Lament, I took this concept but twisted it just enough to fit my world.

In the Sunset Lands, land was given out for much the same reason, but land was assigned to numerous families to live on and work together. These families eventually became one big polyamorous family unit, banding together to share wealth, protection, and food. In Seraphina’s Lament, you’ll come across a few polyamorous family groups that appear from these collectives and the policies that created them.

Seraphina’s Lament is a blend of reality and fantasy. It was fascinating for me to do all of the research required to write this book, and a challenge for me to learn where to draw the line – when to take the history I was working with, and twist it just enough to fit this secondary world I was creating. I seem to straddle the line between historical fantasy and pure fantasy.

The Holodomor played a huge role in the setup for this book, and that was, perhaps, the part of the book I struggled most with because I wanted to stay true to events that unfolded, while also changing them just enough to fit into my world. I decided to settle for interludes, which are peppered throughout the book. These are short snippets of the life of the average person in the Sunset Lands. They are influenced by eyewitness accounts and testimonies of the things that actually happened during the Holodomor, twisted just enough to fit into my world while staying absolutely true to the stories I read from the people who lived them. These are homages, if you will, to the people who paid the ultimate price due to the policies and dictates of a man so far away.

History is heavy, and there is a lot here that I had to chew on, and decide how to deal with as honestly, and respectfully as I could while trying to make it all fit in my secondary world. It was a delicate balance. There is no easy way to create a world, not if you’re doing it from scratch, and not if you’re infusing it with history, like I did. I had to read a lot, and make a lot of decisions on what to include, and just how to change it so it fit into my particular story.

Seraphina’s Lament has a lot of our own history woven into it, but it is also its own animal, full of magic and people, passion and hope, pain and destitution. Writing this book was a delicate balancing act, an effort to straddle the line between fantasy and reality and stay true to both sides of it.

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