The Wilding by C.S. Friedman
To have an enemy worthy of one’s respect… that is a prize beyond measure. What is a lover’s touch compared to such a thing? Love is but weakness shared, trials halved for being met in tandem. While a skilled enemy provides stimulation, challenge, and ultimately growth for all those who test their strength against his.
I didn’t think that C.S. Friedman’s wonderful space epic In Conquest Born needed a sequel, but here it is, nonetheless. The Wilding can stand alone, but In Conquest Born is a better book, so I’d suggest reading it first.
It’s a couple of generations after Zatar the Braxin and Anzha the Azean lived, but their legacies remain. The inbred Braxin society is still in danger of becoming extinct and they desperately need some new but acceptable genetic material. Their leader, the Pri’tiera, who has a genetic fault he hides by secluding himself, is unable to find a mate who doesn’t quickly commit suicide. The Azean psychics, meanwhile, went mad and may actually be extinct, though many people think they’re hiding somewhere in space.
Conflict between the two races again comes to a head with the stories of three characters. Psychic twins Zara and Rho were separated at birth; Rho was raised as a psychic while Zara was not aware of her genetic potential. When Zara starts to get premonitions, she goes looking for answers and discovers her heritage and her special powers.
Tathas is a political traitor who has been sentenced to death by the Braxins. Encouraged by his lover K’Teva (who may not be trustworthy), he invokes the right of the Wilding in which he goes into exile but may return if he can find a suitable mate (or just some good genetic material) for the Pri’tiera. While on their individual quests, Talthas and Zara meet and find some common ground, and they discover that both of their races want to understand the genetics behind psychic powers so they can crush their enemies.
What I liked most about In Conquest Born was its extensive world building, exciting action, and its exploration of some fascinating moral and scientific issues. The focus on psychology and genetics is still here in The Wilding (and Friedman gets her science right), but because it’s a sequel, the world-building has already been done and is no longer an emphasis here.
The plot of The Wilding doesn’t quite make up for this loss. It’s missing the intense action that made In Conquest Born so exciting. But what The Wilding is missing most is appealing characters. None of the characters, except for perhaps K’Teva, are particularly interesting or admirable. This was a problem with In Conquest Born, too, but that book made up for it by introducing us to a fascinating new world and having a tight plot with plenty of action. And its main characters were interesting, even if they weren’t likable.
I didn’t dislike The Wilding, but I didn’t like it as well as I liked In Conquest Born and I don’t think it added anything necessary to the story. However, if you’re a fan of In Conquest Born and just want to spend more time in Friedman’s world, you’ll enjoy The Wilding. It’s still written in Friedman’s smooth intellectual style.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s production which was read by Marc Vietor. As usual, it was very well done. Vietor has a nice voice and a pleasant pace, and he emits just the right amount of enthusiasm when he reads. I can confidently recommend Audible’s version.