My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Short version: richly-imagined world, historically important in modern fantasy, and mostly skilled prose, though mixed and sometimes hard to follow.
Black Sun Rising is a book I have looked forward to reading for years, as it’s often found on library shelves and lists of influential or favorite books. The tipping point came when I found the third book of a different trilogy at a local thrift store. C.S. Friedman’s skill was evident from the first word and I found myself stuck, ignoring my kids. Black Sun Rising, likewise, is engaging and drew me in with its inventive and original world. The author is not tentative about revealing the nature of the world: this is a future world colonized by spacefaring humans, and the relationship to earth is clear from the very beginning, in the prologue. You’re clearly dealing with earth cultures and remnants from Earth on a world that works differently, right on page 1.
The world of Erna was the last ditch point for the colonists and despite extensive testing, they had to settle the habitable, but quite un-earthlike planet. An unseen elemental force called fae alters the laws of physics and feeds off human psychic energy (careful there: this is not faerie, fairy, faery, fair-folk, etc; it’s a completely different sort of thing). Dealing with the fae has led to not just difficulty settling, but a host of magical beings: demons, adepts, and sorcerors. It has also kicked the evolution of the rakh, the planetary natives into high gear, since invasion of humans seeded their evolution into an intelligent life form.
Our hero is warrior-sorceror-priest Damien Vryce, who comes to town to crack down on unorthodoxy in his church, and befriends Ciani, an adept and loremaster. Damien gets to know the local situation well, especially the lore of The Hunter, a rogue adept who tortures women, chasing them through a local forest. Everything goes haywire when Ciani is attacked and loses her adept powers and much of her memory. Damien, Ciani’s friend Senzei, and Ciani herself set off after her attacker, in the hope that killing the assailant will restore Ciani’s identity. They meet Gerald Tarrant, a cold-skinned adept with extraordinary powers, and there is rivalry between Damien and Tarrant for the rest of the book.
That’s the setup, in about 120 pages, and it was almost inadequate to maintain reading this nearly 600 page book. I read the whole thing, and I enjoyed it, but it was hard to get to sometimes.
The motivation seemed poor and I was often puzzled by the intensity the author told me the characters had. I was often thinking “They’re bleeding and starving and killing all these people for revenge? To do something that might not work? Or is it something else?” The prose was mostly good, but was vague in some parts, to the point where I sometimes just couldn’t tell what was happening. The inventiveness of the world outweighs this, but makes it harder to keep momentum than with Melanie Rawn or Robert Jordan. Behind it all, Friedman is a sincere, honest author who doesn’t resort to cheesiness, take shortcuts, or lapse into sentimentality. There are genuine well-built feelings here with genuine, believable adult characters, even if they are not clearly motivated.
Overall, this is an inventive and interesting book, even if the writing is not entirely consistent. I really look forward to reading the Magister Trilogy.