Twelve hundred years ago, a sleeper ship from Earth deposited several thousand colonists on the wild, untamed world of Erna. Seismically active Erna is a harsh planet to survive on, made worse by the presence of the Fae, a source of energy that permeates the elements and can be harnessed by certain humans to further their own ends. Unfortunately, the Fae can also be manipulated subconciously, resulting in the people's fears and nightmares taking on solid form.
With all high technology lost in the birth of a new religion, the colonists of Erna have descended to a Renaissance level of technology, although retaining certain advanced medical, astronomical and scientific knowledge. Damien Kilcannon Vryce, a warrior-priest of the Church and one of the few churchmen able to wield the Fae, arrives in the city of Jaggonath to adopt a new and difficult role in the Church hierarchy. However, when a local Fae-wielder is brutally attacked and her ability to wield the Fae is neutralised, Damien is drawn into a lengthy quest that will lead into the dangerous rakhlands to confront a powerful sorcerer. Along the way Damien is forced into a most uneasy alliance with the cold and arrogant Gerald Tarrant, a powerful wielder of the Fae who has secrets of his own...
Black Sun Rising (1991) is the first novel in Celia Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy. This SF-epic fantasy hybrid was very highly regarded upon its initial release in the United States, but oddly it wasn't until a year or so ago that Orbit finally published the first UK edition.
The novel is a mixture of the familiar and the use of more original tropes, although the familiar does win out in the end. This is a quest story, with an interesting band of 'heroes' setting out to right a great wrong and travel across a vast chunk of countryside in the process. The world of Erna has some interesting facets to it but the travelling makes for the more tedious part of the book, especially the endless mucking around in caves. Page after page of description of rocks and tunnels does not make for entertaining reading.
Fortunately, Friedman's characters are an interesting, if largely unlikeable bunch. She isn't afraid to kill off major characters and paints them in convincing detail. Less impressive is that secondary characters are not very well developed at all. The rakhs' motivations in particular could have been fleshed out more and one key character who hangs around for a good 150-200 or so pages doesn't even get a name.
The plotline is intriguing and there's no denying that the worldbuilding is quite well-thought-out. The cliffhanger ending comes out of nowhere and the enforced humour at the end of the book doesn't really work as well as intended. That said, the book was enjoyable enough to make me look forward to picking up the second volume, When True Night Falls.
on 22 March 1999
In my opinion C. S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy is tied with Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series as the best fantasy ever written! Tarrant is without question the most interesting character in any fantasy novel I have read. He isn't the flat "Big Bad Evil Guy Who's Going to Destroy the World" found in so many fantasy books, yet neither is he the "Poor Misguided Soul Who Just Has to Be Shown the Right Path." He's not some looming shadow who can be dismissed as the bad guy, labeled as evil and given no further consideration. He's a real, fully developed, character, one who is inclined toward cruelty. He sees "The Right Path" and is by no means sure he wants to take it. Likewise his companion, Damien, though he is a priest, hardly fits the traditional mold of that vocation. Damien begins the tale as a devout warrior priest to whom Tarrant and all he stands for are anathema. However, Damien's naive idealism and faith soon come under assault, and ever so slowly Damien comes to doubt himself and his beliefs. More and more he comes to find himself agreeing with Tarrant, and more and more the reader who identifies with Damien finds himself agreeing with Tarrant. It is much more chilling to be in the vampire's head, to understand him and maybe even agree with him, than it can ever be to be stalked by him. For anyone growing at all tired of trite conventional fantasy (unicorns, fairies, and little pet dragons) this series will be a thoroughly refreshing read.
The magic system devised by Friedman is deliciously original. The cover art is outstanding. This is one case where you CAN judge a book by its cover; if you like the cover you'll love the book. I have to see if I can get a poster sized copy and possibly frame it. :-) When you finish Crown of Shadows you will be stunned. The ending is like being hit by a train...4 or 5 times in rapid succession. While the body of the series has enough plot twists to utterly enthrall even the most inert reader, the ending puts it to shame as a candle before the rising sun. Without the slightest bit of hyperbole I can state that I had no idea how it would end until the last word of the last page was read. In sum the Coldfire Trilogy is a masterwork, the sort of gem that fantasy aficionados search for but only too rarely are privileged to find.
on 28 June 2008
Dark fantasy set on a planet where the colonists met a force that turned their deepest nightmares into reality, and the legacy of same several thousand years later when the story takes place. Very realistic world building, believable society and religion and a convincing version of magic. With tough no-nonsense characters and events, this is a long way from the usual dragons and magic wands, death and torture and a grey area of morals. Some people seem to have found it a grim read, but I didn't find it so, just a good amount of battling against the odds, and less of the sweet wish-fulfilment stuff that you tend to find in so much modern fantasy - I like gentler books, but this is a tour de force and the ideas linger in your mind for several days afterwards.
on 2 July 2006
With so much dross out there in the genre it's a relief to know some authors can still turn out a novel with fresh ideas. The setting for the novel is unique and believable with a frightening alien world and terrifying magic like abilities simultaneously depriving a previously advanced civilization of its technology. The threats faced are dark and ominous, much like the rest of the novel and the internal and external struggles and conflict between the main characters are delightful, especially given the complexity of certain of those characters. This is an excellent start up to a thrilling and absorbing series. Great stuff.
on 24 July 1995
With _Black Sun Rising_, C. S. Friedman has created a complex and wonderful world peopled by characters who develop noticeably as the story continues, something that is sometimes lacking in other stories I've read.
The story is science-fiction, with the location, the planet Erna, being a colony world of Earth, colonized 1200 years ago. Unfortunately, the colonists didn't know about a curious phenomenon known as the *fae*; a natural 'power' that responds to the thoughts, emotions and needs of any living beings on Erna's surface. The fae is particularly responsive to human hopes and fears, resulting in the *creation* of the focuses of those hopes and fears.
But there is a new evil rising on Erna, and it is an evil that is unlike any previously known. Four people must go into the land held by Erna's native sentient species, in order to confront and conquer this evil. A Priest, a Sorceror, an ex-Adept who is a victim of the evil, and an Adept who has been one of the evils of Erna for nine centuries. Together, they must defeat this new evil, or Erna will be changed in horrifying ways.
If you like complex stories, with no *obvious* right or wrong side, with developing characters, and with action and excitement (and a touch of magic), then _Black Sun Rising_ is *definitely* for you. I hope you find it enjoyable.
on 2 January 1997
Mankind has developed the power to travel beyond the stars, to new galaxies, with new planets to colonize. Erna is one such planet, peaceful and tranquil. The only problem is that Erna isn't a "normal" planet-it has the fae. The fae responds to the will of the creatures of Erna, causing evolution to occur at an astounding rate. Then humans came, with their own thoughts and fears. They wrecked havoc upon the delicate balance that the creatures of Erna have created. Many of the colonists die from their hidden fears-vampire, succubi, and others plague them. Humankind sinks into the Dark Ages.
An adept is attacked, her power to "weave" the fae stolen. A warrior-priest, her assistant, and a dark evil over nine centuries old must now aide her in recovering her "sight," but the end is only a beginning...Wheel of Time fans will especially enjoy this one!
on 6 August 1999
As many of the other reviewers in this genre love to brag, I, too, have read a lot of fantasy. I usually lean towards writers like Tad Williams, David/Leigh Eddings, Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb, Melanie Rawn, and Katharine Kerr (to give you an idea of what kind of reader I am). C.S. Friedman, in her trilogy, has created something so unusual that it swept me off my feet. Her characters are captivating; I found myself as fascinated by the Hunter as the other reviewers on this page seem to have been. The way she uses the traditional fantasy backdrop of a world where magic is a reality and twists it into something so bizarre and unusual, sets the scene for a striking story that questions the boundaries between good and evil even as you, as the reader, are convinced you're rooting for the good guys. It's true that we've seen the very basic plot before, if you want to get to the bare bones; however, there are very very few stories in this world to which you can't do that. The characters, setting, creatures, and details in this world are ones that would make any mundane tale a complete delight. This trilogy comes highly recommended.
on 28 December 2006
Black Sun Rising has been my introduction to the world of Celia Friedman. It provides a new twist on the way that magicians are portrayed (not a pointy hat or flowing robe in sight) and also the way that magic is portrayed. In this world, there are energies constantly flowing (known as Fae), all of which are based around an element and all of which can be manipulated by a suitably skilled adept.
Adepts can only manipulate one of the energy types and this is quite a neat mechanism which allows the characters to be imperilled and doesn't allow the reader the luxury of assuming that they can get just use their magic to get themselves out of trouble. For example, one of the main characters can manipulate Earth Fae, but when he is on a sea voyage, the earth Fae are too far away for him to access their power.
The story follows the usual small group of people and their adventures through the land. Other races are encountered with varying degrees of success as they battle to defeat the "Evil Power". Also interesting is that like George RR Martin, Friedman incorporates a duality to the characters which allows you to like the "evil" and dislike the "good" as the story progresses. One particularly interesting character is "The Hunter" who is an expert in his field, but has matured into a distinctly nasty piece of work.
One thing worth mentioning is that this story is quite a bit darker than you are used to, where the characters use various foul means to generate a negative emotion (like fear) and then feed off them. A good, concise description would be an emotional vampire. As well as the dark themes, there are a number of quite graphic scenes which are certainly harder hitting than you would think.
In giving a mark to the book, I find myself a little torn. It is undoubtedly intriguing and the second half moves at a fair pace, but I did find it a little hard going to start with. I was toying with a 3-star rating, but when it comes down to it, I did enjoy the story and I would certainly like to encourage others to try it out, so I've settled on my rating at 4.
If you like your fantasy dark, this will be right up your alley and if you're getting a little sated with the standard fantasy plotlines and concepts, this is a good place to find something different.
on 19 February 1999
For once when you go to the bookstore and you find a book that looks promsing, and for once isn't a copy of a copy of a copy ... and so on untill you finaly see Tolkiens' great work behind it all. You want to flip out and buy before some evil person steps in front and carries your prescious book away to attain mounds of dust in a rickety bookcase miles away from you. When I read the back of thebook my eyes were seeing a real word opening up even before I got to the first page. This in my opinion is one of the best, and most original works on the market. Reverend Damien Vryce your hero throughout is a character that brings you back to Middle-Earth seeing what appears to be another Aragorn, I nearly put down the book and wondered what was going through my mind when I bought it. For the sake of not wastiing my money I tried to finish the book. As I went along new chaecters and changes in Damien made the book a lot better and smoother. One of the coolest characters in the book was Gerald Tarrant, an undead adept(Friedmans' version of an archmage, really tough) who turns out to be a founding father of Damien's religion. The world was stunning if left alone magic was completly devoid from the planet instead a natural force of nature called the fae took its place. Adepts had the inborn abillity to work it. The storyline was smooth throughout and couldn't have done a better job of setting the stage for the second novel. All in all the book was great and in the end Damiens character turned out to be better and darker that expected. In my opinion its a great book. Read it!
on 12 July 1999
This book was excellent... When asked to describe it, I have a hard time - there's definite sci-fi thread running through the book, but the predominant mood to me was one of fantasy, and even occasionally horror. The characters were well-thought out and the storyline was intricate. Even more importantly, Gerald Tarrant is just incredible. :) I've read this book over and over just to read about the Hunter!