Hey, welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday. This should be a rather quick week, as I find myself embroiled in two long-ish novels (Amazon says that they weigh in at a combined 992 pages, so roughly the length of a Stephen King novel). They’re long, but let me tell you, I’m in dark fantasy heaven at the moment and, as usual, find a common thread running between these two books. Great stuff, so let’s take a look at C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.
Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…
Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. My second read through this book, and I’m gaining way more from it on this go-around. It’s been 16 years since last I read this series, so you can only imagine how different the subtext reads from this new perspective. The first read-through led me to believe that Gerald Tarrant (that guy on the cover) was little more than a psychic vampire. That reading holds up somewhat, but there’s a deeper, more sinister reading as well, full of an underlying psycho-sexual current that eluded a 21-year old Jonathan.
It’s quite fascinating, actually. Let’s lay the groundwork first: Black Sun Rising takes place on Erna, a planet colonized by humans about 1200 years previous to the book. Erna has never quite taken to humans and possesses an inherent defense mechanism against outsiders that humans call The Fae. This Fae is highly responsive to human emotion and can manifest wraithlike beings based on those emotions – lust, for instance, can create a succubus; fear can create monsters, and so on. The resulting wraiths are collectively known as demons, though we see that they have decidedly different species and races.
The Fae’s responsiveness is not just a negative feature, however; it also means that humans can learn to make it obey their will by strictly controlling their emotions and using clever rituals and symbols to bring their subconscious in line with their will. This turns the Fae into Erna’s version of magic, with all the boons and drawbacks that typically come with such a force. I think it’s a very refreshing concept and a great way to meld sci-fi and fantasy together.
But as humans have shaped the Fae, so too has the Fae shaped humans; certain people now have the innate ability to see and work the Fae. These humans, known as adepts, are revered and highly sought-after in certain circles. There are some religious subtexts to these abilities, with one of the main characters being a priest, but I’ll touch on that in the future. For now, just know that one of the central characters, Lady Ciani, is an exceptionally talented adept who runs a shop in the City of Jaggonath.
With me so far? Good, because here’s where that creepy sexuality starts to pick up. Demons feed on humans’ emotions and/or memories, tearing out the core of their humanity and leaving them empty shells (or outright killing them, depending on the expediency of the situation). The demons do this because, like their victims, they, too, are empty husks. They seek a more well-balanced life and, in some ways, to become human.
I think you can see where this is going. It feels like a dark mirror of rape in our world, where someone hijacks another’s body and spirit for their own ends, often due to a feeling of emptiness or a yearning to be more powerful. This subtlety did not present itself on my first read-through, but I can only assume that had something to do with my inherent naiveté at that age because this metaphor slaps the reader in the face and draws upon the reader’s discomfort to describe the attack’s horrific nature.
Not much of a spoiler since it happens in the opening scenes, but a pack of aggressive, rare demons attack Ciani, draining her memory and, unexpectedly, severing her connection to the Fae. This renders her a “normal”, vulnerable human. This leads to some moment with which even I’m not altogether comfortable; for a while it’s hard to read her increased vulnerability as anything other than a means to get the male characters moving. She even becomes a bargaining chip at one point, a powerful woman reduced to little more than an object. It’s uncomfortable reading, but I think it’s supposed to be just that – there’s an inherent horror to the situation.
This happens to Ciani not once but twice, and after the second time she begins to get close to that crime’s perpetrator (admittedly he restores what he takes), which makes the reader even more uneasy. Upon reflection, however, the attraction makes some sense, as the perpetrator is the story’s equivalent of Satan and makes a compelling offer to her. Who else but the devil would make such a deal with the very person that he rendered vulnerable?
If my recollection is correct, she does get out of the mess and is stronger for it, making this a story of survival and ultimate triumph over trauma. My understanding of the complete arc of the analogy is still somewhat incomplete, so I’ll reserve judgment for the final review.
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. Boy do these two books work well together. This one is also about a world colonized by humanity; this one also feature(d) native forces who were hostile to humanity. This one is also about discovering that your view of the world was incomplete. The parallels are endlessly fascinating.
Todd is more than just a boy growing up in the dying town of Prentisstown – he is the last boy in Prentisstown and, as far as he knows, the last human boy on this planet after a virus ravaged the residents, killing half the men and all of the women, leaving the remaining men with a disorder that renders their thoughts visible and audible to just about anyone; the resulting cacophony is known as “Noise”. The virus also gives animals the ability to talk, and so Todd’s constant companion, Manchee, is a small dog that keeps up a light-hearted patter (it works a lot better than it sounds, trust me).
Talk about intriguing concepts.
Todd’s world is full of the angry Noise – it’s all he really knows, and he craves a quiet spot, traipsing off into the woods to find those places where he can only hear the speech of the animals. While on one of these expeditions, Todd discovers a “quiet” spot in all the noise, and that discovery begins to tear apart his predictable world.
I’m loving this book and can’t wait to write the review, though I’m not even at the halfway point and it has lots of time to fall apart. I trust Ness, though – he seems to have a good idea of where this is all going, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.
And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!