Coldfire Trilogy, C.S. Friedman

(review by Aliette de Bodard)

36159When True Night FallsCrown of Shadows

Aren’t those pretty? The cover art is by Michael Whelan, and I feel they really capture the mood of this. The Coldfire trilogy came heavily recommended by a lot of people whom I trust (and who know my taste for dark fantasy), and it didn’t disappoint me. They’re nominally science fiction (set on a planet called Erna that was colonized by man a long time before the story starts), but they’re definitely fantasy/science fantasy (the veneer of SF is pretty thin and not really the draw of this). On Erna, the fae are energy currents that respond to the emotions and beliefs of mankind: places that people avoid because they fear them soon become a hotbed of darkness and creepy creatures–starting a self-perpetuating cycle that’s pretty inimical to mankind. Adepts can manipulate the fae to cast spells, but this is an exhausting and dangerous process.

Centuries ago, the Neocount of Merentha founded the Church of Human Unification, whose goal is to eradicate the superstitions about fae through reason in order for mankind to finally be able to live on the planet. But the Neocount died in mysterious circumstances, and the Church has been struggling ever since…

Damien Vryce is a young and fairly naive priest of the Church: when he meets Ciani, an adept with a thirst for knowledge, he doesn’t expect to fall in love. When Ciani’s workshop is destroyed, and Ciani loses her capacity to manipulate the fae, he is drawn into a quest to restore her abilities that will send him to the other side of the world, and force him to face his darkest fears. Meanwhile, the adept Gerald Tarrant, who has become the Hunter, a monster feeding on the fears of others, is also drawn into the same quest–when he and Damien meet, sparks can and will fly…

Part of what makes those books work is the duo Damien/Gerald, which is just plain awesome. Gerald Tarrant is creepy, arrogant and bordering on the inhuman (but with a rigid code of conduct and an acute sense of what debts he owes to whom), whereas Damien is naive and a bit of a hothead, and blindly trusting in those he meets. They’re (ironically) both united in their belief on the mission of the Church, which creates an interesting dynamic centered around the power of faith–and on trust, doubts and the loss of faith. As the trilogy progresses, they influence and corrupt one another in a way that’s wonderfully drawn. The other thing that makes them work is the oppressive atmosphere: Erna is a planet where people can’t feel safe, where the fae and the creatures they generate always lurk, ready to snatch and kill–and this comes across very powerfully in the descriptions. Also full of: creepy creatures, complicated plans, last-minute rescues, and heartbreaking sacrifices.

The books are standalone, though there is an arc running through them (and in all fairness, book 2 does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, with a threat that’s still in the background). I really enjoyed them and quite recommend them.

Buy Book 1.
Buy Book 2.
Buy Book 3.

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