Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman
Review Summary: The author lays down the potential for a fascinating world, but in my opinion she really needed to settle down and focus on the potential richness in the here and now of the novel, rather than rushing through it so that she could push her hero and anti-hero on to the next set of adventures.
C.S. Friedman’s Black Sun Rising has always piqued my curiosity, and I finally had the opportunity to pick up and read it, not knowing quite what to expect. Having finished the novel, I am still not quite sure what I was expecting, but I do know that this wasn’t it.
The author lays down the potential for a fascinating world, the fleshing out of which would have been an amazingly ambitious task for any author – a star-faring human colony trapped on a world where magic, for all intents and purposes, exists and is real, and nearly destroys the colony through man’s own unconscious, and with which the survivors have achieved some sort of uneasy truce. There are worlds and worlds of possibilities here, from the mundane to the high-minded… and the author actually explores none of it worth retelling, choosing instead to focus on a rather banal, slowly moving adventurer/quest storyline that fails to illustrate much of anything about the world these people inhabit.
The characters the author has chosen likewise have a spark of the new, and intriguing about them buried in along with their rather staid stereotypes, and the unfortunate part about this novel is that one ends up not particularly caring for these characters’ welfare. Friedman’s secondary characters are just that, but one only discerns this after the author has built them up and almost randomly discarded them. The Patriarch is a fine example of this – whereas his character and back-story are built up such that one believes he may actually be integral to the story, he is very quickly left behind as the quest is taken up and no more is thought of or spoken of him. It is almost as though the author is unsure of where the storyline is going herself – it kind of weaves between the potentially inspired and the assuredly trite, with many side excursions along the way.
Plot-wise, as indicated above, the quest theme is re-hashed without much inventiveness, and Friedman would have done better to make this much more of a character-driven storyline than it was, as there was much more that could have been done with each of the four main characters involved.
Thematically, other than as an introduction to what appears to be the author’s main goal – the succeeding novel – I really wasn’t seeing anything of interest here. Reverend Damien Vryce’s dual duty of warrior-priest could have been an exemplary spin on the standard warrior character. Senzei’s background could have been discussed, to give an even greater sense of gravity to his struggles with never being able to attain that which he most desired. Ciani’s personality and life could have been explored in much more detail, describing the nuanced changes in behavior and attitude that would be affected by the total loss of her memory and innate magical abilities. Tarrant’s motivation and purpose in unlife could have been discussed in much greater detail, and would have only enhanced his natural creepy attraction. There were so many different options left lying on the table by the end of the book, that to trudge on with these characters page by page without exploring any of the inherent themes was eventually just painful.
So much could have been said and implicated and thought that would have enhanced the experience that the reader took away from this novel, but wasn’t, that I have to say I am quite disappointed. The author wins points for introducing some of these ideas, but in order for this storyline to really work in my opinion, she really needed to settle down and focus on the potential richness in the here and now of the novel, rather than rushing through it so that she could push her hero and anti-hero on to the next set of adventures.