As I mentioned in last month’s recap and on Patreon, Fridays here are going to be spent looking a bit more in-depth at certain books than my typical review allows for. I’ll be going into a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of things, plot, style, characters, interesting stuff that caught my attention, you name it. 5 chapters a week, which isn’t much, but it’ll allow me to keep up this project while still maintaining my usual pace of reading and reviewing, so that things get added but nothing gets dropped.
I’m starting off this project with C S Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy, the first book of which is Black Sun Rising. I’d like to state in advance that I haven’t read these books before, so I’m likely to end up speculating on things that turn out to not be true. Thus is the nature of commenting as I go, I suppose.
Also, though it shouldn’t really have to be said, there will be spoilers in these posts. If you don’t want any parts of this series spoiled for you, then it’s probably best you avoid this series.
She wondered why she was afraid to go home.
The prologue starts with Almea, a woman riding home and wrestling with anxiety. To distract herself, she starts thinking of her family, which is a good way to introduce characters and situations and to some degree the setting. Normally I’m not a fan of the whole “introduction by way of introspection” bit, but it does work here, and given that it doesn’t go on for pages or get particularly drawn out is a point in its favour.
It’s through subtlety that we see, right from the get-go, that this doesn’t take place on Earth. It’s a planet very much like Earth, and strong hints are dropped that humanity came there some unknown length of time ago, resettling for whatever reason. There’s no internal monologue about the history of the planet; you just pick this up from reading bits and pieces about Almea’s family. How her husband breeds unhorses, which are similar to the horses from Earth. There are uncats. The planet has multiple moons, and it’s extremely rare for all of them, plus the sun, to be gone from the sky at the same time. The feel of the story is very much fantasy, only set on another planet, connecting the story to the here and now without needing to mire the reader in an irrelevant time and place. There are fae, though what the fae are, as of the prologue at least, a mystery. There is magic, only not really, and what that is is also glossed over to a degree too. It’s enough to know, for now, that these elements are present.
Almea doesn’t live out the prologue, however, as when she rejoins her husband in the lower levels of their home, she finds that he’s killed their children and plans to kill her. It’s not a brutal killing, the actions of a madman. He’s distressed to do it, needing to do it for the power to do… something. It’s unclear.
Much is unclear, really, but for a prologue, that’s not exactly unexpected. There’s no sign here of what the story can become, but there are hints of a larger and more complex world than just one house and one family, and Friedman’s set enough hooks in under a dozen pages that the desire to read more is not going to be an issue.
Damien Kilcannon Vryce looked like he was fully capable of handling trouble […]
Right off, I notice that I misunderstood something in the prologue. The fae, here, is referred to as an ‘it’, not a ‘them.’ I’m used to think of fae as, well, faerie creatures. Here, it seems like it’s this collective force, synonymous with this world’s magic-that-isn’t-actually-magic. I’m not sure if the prologue left that deliberately ambiguous, because really, why would it when the reader would just discover the truth a few pages later, or whether it was just coincidental wording.
Newly-introduced Damien Kilcannon Vryce is new to the city of Jaggonath, having traveled there from a great distance and across mountains, for some purpose that has yet to be fully revealed. He meets a woman known as Ciani, nicknamed Cee, and it’s through their conversations over dinner (because they both find each other to be at least somewhat attractive) that much of the info about the fae is revealed. It comes across in bits and pieces, and the idea of it is much clearer, but it still feels incomplete at this point, like there’s some piece of info I’m missing to tie it all together. The fae reacts to intent and will, neither good nor evil in its own right, but at the same time there does seem to be a negativity about it in certain areas of the world. Whether that’s due to a corrupting force or because untamed wildness can appear as sinister to the human mind, I don’t really know, but either option is an interesting one to consider.
The fae is what’s stopping humanity from fully settling the planet of Erna, since it cannot be tamed to human ideals, and so humanity exists in pockets, social and civilized but still scattered. Humanity also seems to cling to old ways taken from Earth. The language Damien and Cee speak is noted directly as being English, and the church that Damien visits in the last few pages of the chapter have some representations taken right out of Judeo-Christian myth.
Which makes me wonder how long it’s been since humans settled this planet, and why certain aspects of their society seems to have either stood still or gone backward. Limited technology I can understand, I suppose, and that would force people to revert to ways and methods that seem very fantasy-like when you factor in things like magic. Religion’s always going to crop up when people get together, in one form or another, and especially when you’re dealing with things that are not only outside your control but also outside your comprehension. Like the fae. Or the hinted-at malevolence when true night falls.
Image of a Patriarch: stark white hair above aquiline features, eyes a cold, piercing blue.
A short chapter, but one that’s filled with philosophy and so much background. Damien spends the chapter talking to the Patriarch of the church, discussing why he’s in Jaggonath in the first place. The church divides itself from the fae, seeing its power not so much as unnatural, but without a part in church function. Anathema. Damien, as a Knight of the religious Order of the Golden Flame, has been sent by his Matriarch to figure out a way to incorporate the use of the fae into the church, something which isn’t exactly met with resounding support.
I’m already starting to get the feeling that any time a chapter leaves me with questions, a number of them will be answered by the next chapter’s contents. As to why the church seems to be so based in Judeo-Christian practice? Well, it sort of is. Humanity has been on Erna for at least 1000 years, and while it’s not the only church or religion around, it clings very strongly to its ideals, against a rising tide of other religions popping up over time. Really, to say that this is unrealistic makes no sense when you consider that Christianity nowadays has been around for a couple of millennia too; it’s not like other religions or religious upheaval have caused the ultimate dissolution of Christianity.
But interesting to me is that through the entire discussion that Damien and the priest had, no mention of God was made. It was about the church, and about faith, and the fae, but it wasn’t said that any deity considers the fae to be wrong. Just that the church does. Again, I’m not sure if that was coincidental wording or some commentary on how sometimes religious politics involve far more politics than theology, but it certainly was interesting to note.
Also interesting was the priest himself. He has some ability to work the fae, to bend them to his will, though Damien thinks that he couldn’t ever admit it even to himself because that would require admitting that he’s incompatible with his own church. Just made me think that it’s amazing the things we can deny to ourselves in pursuit of other things.
The two do make a very compelling reason as to why the fae is not magic, though. The Patriarch comments that the only difference between magic and the fae is semantic, practically negligible. Damien replies that the real difference is that magic can be controlled. He doesn’t say that the fae cannot, but that much has already been established in previous chapters. It was a good way of cementing that in the reader’s mind, too, as to what the biggest practical difference is.
The sun had set.
Narilka, a young beautiful woman, rightly afraid of the dark because the Hunter likes to prey on girls like her, walks home after the sun has set, and has a conversation with a mysterious man who leads to a dangerous epiphany.
It’s not a stretch to say that I think this mysterious man is the Hunter, all things considered. And given that churches and religion are on my mind from the previous chapter, I started to see greater Christian allegory here, with the Hunter being analogous to Satan. When you have a figure that’s associated with dark malign energies that children are essentially taught to fear as a very-real boogeyman figure, that offers beautiful temptations away from safety and security and an introduction into a tantalizing new way of living and looking at things, leaving you wanting more… Yeah, the comparisons are pretty plain. Throw in some references to more folklorish tales of the devil, that he has a tastes for kidnapping and seducing beautiful young girls and ruining them, and the comparison gets even more blatant.
Which, if I’m reading this all correctly, actually fascinates me more. Common myths retold in different settings have the power to draw me in pretty quickly, because there’s enough connection to that myth now for me to appreciate both the origins and the way that it’s retold in a new way. Plus sometimes old stories given a new shape can disguise the old story almost perfectly, so that the whole thing seems brand new to begin with.
I really hope I’m right about this interpretation. If so, this story just got way more interesting!
They used the river the gain the coast[…]
The shortest chapter yet, a mere 2 pages. But it’s a good one to end up for this set of chapters, since even in so few pages it hints at some big plot events to come. The very first sentence tells readers that there are non-human on a ship, though what manner of non-humans remains to be seen. There’s a sense of malevolence about them, though that may be a very biased feeling since they’re plainly The Other. Not human, trying to imitate humanity in certain ways, talk of reaching human settlements soon. I’m not sure if I picked up malevolence from the text or from my own prejudice.
There isn’t much to comment on here, really, since as I said, it’s only 2 pages long, and it breaks away from Jaggonath entirely to give us a glimpse into something that’s in its early stages, but that clearly will play a greater part in chapters to come. I’m curious as to who these people are, and why they’re heading for humanity in the first place.
So there’s this week’s 5 chapters. Feel free to read along with me, if you like, or to snicker behind your hand at anything I’ve said that you know to be wrong because you’ve read this all already. Either way, I’ll be back next Friday with more chapters and more commentary.