Refugees from Earth colonized the planet Erna some 1200 years ago. Excepting its extremely high seismic activity, Erna seemed a hospitable planet for mankind to call home. However, soon after our arrival a terrible threat was discovered. A natural force of energy called the fae animated the thoughts and emotions of all living things, so that our very nightmares could be brought to life. This almost destroyed us. Then, some humans figured out how to manipulate the fae to become sorcerers. A religion was created, too, based on the hope that faith would one day make mankind immune to fae manipulations. These two events kept the struggle against the fae at an uneasy stalemate for close to a millennium. But as human civilization has been developing, a dark force fed by the sorcerous uses of the fae has secretly grown in power to become a new and powerful threat.
Ms. Friedman’s plot is original and Black Sun Rising is a perfect example of science fantasy — the world of planet Erna is based on science and logic and the the fae magic is a natural force, like gravity. Another cool scientific element that enriches this world’s history and becomes a significant part of the story is Erna’s turbo-charged evolution. Where it takes thousands of years for a species to evolve particular characteristics on Earth, on Erna it takes only two or three generations. Almost immediately after we settle on Erna, mankind’s presence affects the evolution of its primitive life-forms. Imagine humans realizing this when they discover ape-like mammals that are evolving to become our competitors in settling the planet.
What fascinated me most about Black Sun Rising is the character of Gerald Tarrant. He’s the ultimate anti-hero in the truest sense of the word, like a combination of Count Dracula and Moorcock’s Elric. Even more than that, Tarrant is a unique concept. He was once the major prophet of Erna’s religion but then becomes its “Antichrist.” He commits horrendous acts of violence but his motivation is that these murderous acts grant him the power to live forever. For Tarrant, death means more than the end of his life; his afterlife will be eternity in the worst of hells. When faced with that alternative, it’s easy to sympathize with such a vile villain.
These good things noted, Black Sun Rising was a bit of an effort for me to complete. It might be a personal hang-up because I’m a big fan of descriptive writing, but I think Ms. Friedman really missed an opportunity. With a whole alien planet to work with, it could have been a world full of cities, creatures, and landscapes, as bizarre, terrible, or beautiful as her imagination could dream up. At times, Friedman does do this extremely well, but she chooses very few items to bring to life. The rest is just left flat. Because of this, some parts of the story seem to drag on and on, making it a challenge for me to get to the end.
So I really struggled with how to rate Black Sun Rising. Many readers would give it more stars than I did, and perhaps it deserves more. But I base my rating on how easy it is for me to escape into the author’s imaginary world and how much I enjoyed the trip. There are some truly great things about Black Sun Rising, and I’m still intrigued enough to try book two, When True Night Falls, eventually. But Black Sun Rising just didn’t quite get me there.