When True Night Falls: Compelling, but too long

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhen True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman epic fantasy audiobook reviewsWhen True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman

When True Night Falls is the second book in C.S. Friedman’s COLDFIRE trilogy. You’ll want to read the first book, Black Sun Rising, first. This review may spoil some of that first book’s plot.

At the end of Black Sun Rising, Reverend Damien Vryce, the devout warrior priest, discovered the source of the evil that is infecting his country — it lies across the ocean where there exists another continent that humans are aware of but know nothing about. In the past, several expeditions have been sent to explore it, but none has returned. Damien knows he should report to his church’s patriarch, but he’s afraid the patriarch will forbid him to go, so Damien ignores the man and instead boards a ship to cross the ocean. He is again reluctantly teaming up with Gerald Tarrant, the evil undead sorcerer who used to be considered a prophet until his fall from grace.

Damien despises what Gerald has become, but they have a common enemy and there’s no way Damien can succeed without the help of Gerald’s unholy power. Damien has begun to fear for his own soul because he’s using evil to fight evil. He is not sure whether the end justifies the means and he is worried about blurring the line between good and evil. He’s also not sure how far he should go to protect himself. Is it greedy to want to kill others to save your own life? Can you consider saving yourself to be working for God because then you’ll be alive to serve God?

When Damien and Gerald arrive on the other continent, they find a country that at first seems ideal — the citizens appear happy, prosperous, and full of faith. They’re more technologically advanced and they seem to have tamed the wild fae that wreak havoc in Damien’s land. But soon Damien and Gerald discover that something sinister is going on. They don’t know exactly what it is, or who they can trust in this foreign land, but they know they have to travel to a distant part of the continent to get answers. There are many hardships along the way and even Gerald is frightened by what they encounter. Then things get worse when Damien suddenly isn’t sure if he can even trust Gerald anymore. Is it possible that Gerald is actually allied with the demons that are trying to eradicate humanity?

The strengths of When True Night Falls are the same as those of the previous book, Black Sun Rising. Friedman’s style is engaging and Damien’s personal ethical struggles make for compelling reading. Friedman talks deeply and intelligently about the power of faith, sacrifice, repentance, and forgiveness. Most fascinating is how she portrays Gerald Tarrant as utterly evil, yet gives him just enough humanity to make the reader long to seem him redeemed. In When True Night Falls, we learn why Gerald sacrificed his soul and I think many readers will understand his reasoning and sympathize with him. (I did.) Gerald is completely aware that he can repent and be forgiven, but he also knows that his repentance would be false because he’s not sorry for what he did. Gerald Tarrant has got to be one of the most tragic “heroes” in fantasy literature.

The main weakness of When True Night Falls, at least in my opinion, is that it’s much too long. Like the first book, it’s a fantasy quest involving all the familiar elements — lots of travelling, fighting, hiding, fleeing, etc. There are earthquakes, crevasses, desserts, oceans, cliffs, volcanoes, and all sorts of other hostile landscapes. This just goes on way too long and makes some parts of the book feel like a 1980s epic fantasy quest. (Though a particularly well written and intelligent 1980s epic fantasy quest.) If the number of pages detailing the traveling had been cut by a third, When True Night Falls would have been a better book. The ending is exciting and touching, though it’s a little annoying that it’s clear that another quest will be needed to wrap things up.

I read the audio version (26 hours long!) narrated by R.C. Bray. I have enjoyed his performance so far. In this second installment he distinguishes the speech of a couple of the new characters by giving them an unnatural cadence, making them emphasize the wrong words in a sentence. I’ve heard this technique used before and I wish narrators wouldn’t do it. I think it’s unappealing and distracting — it sounds like computer-generated speech. If the narrator has run out of voices, I’m perfectly able to rely on context cues from the text to understand who is speaking (after all, that’s what we do when we read in print). Other than this issue with a couple of minor characters, Bray’s performance was very good.

Publication Date: September 1, 1994. Determined to seek out and destroy the source of the fae-borne evil that is rapidly strengthening its control over the world called Erna, Damien Vryce, the warrior priest, has renewed his dangerous alliance with Gerald Tarrant, the immortal sorcerer known as the Hunter, and together with Hesseth, a woman of Erna’s native species, the rakh, they will dare the treacherous ocean crossing to Erna’s eastern continent. But the crossing may well prove the least of their worries. For though the eastern continent appears to be a haven of stability and prosperity, this image of paradise masks an underlying corruption that threatens the very essence of the human spirit. And the three are soon forced to flee south into realms long since abandoned to the dark fae and its creatures. Lost in a land where those who offer hope of salvation may prove to be the true masters of treachery, and steadily drawn toward a rendezvous which may rob them of that which is even more precious than life, will Damien, Tarrant, and Hesseth find their own fragile alliance shattered by a power out to possess or destroy all of humankind?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. Kat, a couple of panelists a FOGCon mentioned this series. (The theme of the convention was “The Traveler.”) They said that the geography is extremely hard to follow. One panelist said that fans of the series have tried to map the world and can’t.

    Did you notice that or have any trouble with it? I’m just curious.

    • Marion, I didn’t even attempt it. Years ago I used to refer to maps in epic fantasies and follow the traveling, but I don’t enjoy doing that anymore, probably because I’ve gotten bored of all the traveling types of scenes. They all pretty much sound the same to me these days — they ride the horses, hobble the horses, water the horses, hunt for their dinner, sit by the fire, take turns keeping watch. Maybe the stop at an inn. Blah blah blah. (And there IS too much of it in these books.)

      Another issue is that I read these in audio format and there was is no map, so I focus less on the geography when reading audio.

      I can believe that the geography was hard to follow for someone trying to map it, but the gist of it that I had in my head was good enough for my purposes.

  2. I hadn’t thought about the audio bit. That’s a good point.

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