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The Coldfire Trilogy #1

Black Sun Rising

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On the distant world of Erna, four people--Priest, Adept, Sorcerer, and Apprentice--are drawn together to battle the forces of evil, led by the demonic fae, a soul-destroying force that preys on the human mind.

496 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1991

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About the author

C.S. Friedman

60 books1,162 followers
Celia S. Friedman is a science fiction and fantasy author. She has also been credited Celia S. Friedman and Celia Friedman.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 768 reviews
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,105 followers
April 29, 2011
Black Sun Rising; Or, How Ciani Got Her Groove Back.

two major things to note in this sometimes absorbing, sometimes ridiculous science fantasy novel: a fascinatingly developed magic system and a head-smackingly stupid quest.

regarding the stupidity, let's first clear the air with some extended ranting, so we can later speak on more pleasant things and end on an agreeably positive note. C.S. Friedman seems like an endearing author; her writing style can be lazy but it can also be interestingly quirky. so i feel we should spare the rod and spoil the child, a little bit at least. but only after a firm discussion!

SLIGHT SPOILER: in the very beginning of the book, some creatures attack the lovely and saucy sorceress supreme Ciani and mind-suck her powers away. various characters assemble to journey into a sinister, uncharted land in order to find the nasty & subhuman culprits, deliver some payback, and so release Ciani's powers. okay, let's just get it out there: it is absolutely unacceptable that a bunch of random non-characters (including a father and his 2 daughters) and 1 major character have to die pretty horrific deaths, all so that some sexy enchantress can get her powers back. for chrissakes, her life was no longer in jeopardy! and PTSD that changes sex appeal into mousy forgetfulness just isn't a problem worthy of a body count. even worse, apparently the primary members of the party are automatically willing to just toss everything to the wayside and go on a deadly quest. things like a fiancée, religious orders, and a magical Forest... all because:

(1) an Awesome Sorceress should never be parted from her Awesome Powers.

(2) a couple evenings of flirty banter can really impress a warrior-priest. oh come on! it was just some nights of convo and fine dining. they didn't even bone. he just "has a feeling about her... could this feeling turn to love?" UGH! hey asshole, is your spiritual calling so fragile that you'd give up everything so some wizard you barely know can continue to remain extra-powerful? who cares? both the egalitarian and the God-lover in me freaked out about this whole rationale.

(3) apparently some piddly promise to protect said sorceress, made by an immortal vampire-sorcerer to a pleasure demon (best 2 characters), is enough to just up and change your entire life and go on a dangerous quest and maybe die. this is a guy who mainly spends his time hunting down various virgins stranded in his magic forest (to feast on their fears etc), which no doubt keeps his hands full. it was just so nonsensical. hey Idiot Vampire! why are you even on this stupid quest? you prey on humans. Ciani barely even likes you pal, she's the warrior-priest's gal! so, anyway: awesome character; absurd character motivation.

(4) as far as Ciani herself goes, apparently "She's Quite a Woman!" - at least that's what multiple character say repeatedly, much to my annoyance.

so that's it for the eye-rolling parts. they are a big part of the novel, even enough to give it 2 stars. but there's a lot of intriguing stuff too. the novel is set on a far-flung world in the far-flung future, a world where some natural energy source called "the fae" literalizes everyone's dreams, fears, desires, etc. so on this world you have to exercise a lot of emotional/mental/spiritual control. supernatural creatures do exist, they gain lives and personalities, and often want your blood and/or booty. simple magical devices work if you really, really believe in them. things like guns are more problematic because if you have any doubts, your gun is just going to explode in your hand. and faith now truly and tangibly works. thousands of people believing in something can actually create something super-powerful - like an impregnable-to-demons church! or... HELL! Hell exists because people believe in it, uh oh. and so do pleasure demons, which isn't so bad. in this world, people have varying levels of ability to work the fae and some folks like The Amazing Chiani are born with natural aptitude. the fae itself is also fascinatingly divided into different sorts of fae, based on which type of natural energy source they derive from, and they each have their own unique properties, abilities, weaknesses. for instance, there is earth fae. and the fae that comes from light. or the absence of light. or even from tidal forces - my personal fave. it was all so interesting and carefully developed and new to me that - complaints aside - it all still sorta worked.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,468 reviews9,631 followers
June 6, 2021
I thought the book was ok. I’m not sure if at another time I would have enjoyed it more but I just couldn’t get totally into it. There were parts that were interesting and parts I just wanted to get through. It’s probably the "it’s me not you" thing I’ve got going here. I am however, finally going to unhaul all three mass market paperbacks and not even continue with the books unless it’s through the library some day.

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews124 followers
March 12, 2021
I first tried reading this when I was 10 and hooked on 90s heroic fantasy (Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Redwall, Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan). It was a messed up time, alright?

I remember absolutely hating this book. A book about a bad guy, hungry for power? Where's the farm orphan going on an adventure with his crush?

Anyway, my book club picked this book (I voted against it), so back I went to 90s bad guy land.

I liked it more than the first time. There are some clever things with the city and the magic. And as proto-grimdark I appreciate what this did for its time. But it's so so 90s, with huge exposition dumps, weird stifled gender politics, weak religious politics, old white men with too much power, workin' parents sacrificing their kids for magic, etc etc.

Overall, if you want that old 90s fantasy vibe, there are much better picks but this is solid enough.

(Also, let me know if the author was secretly a monster like we now know many of the 90s fantasy writers were.)
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
June 23, 2010
5.0 to 5.5 stars. C.S. Friedman is one of my favorite authors and I have never read one of her books that I haven't loved. I am in the process of re-reading her books after first reading them many years ago and I started with this one.

The first book of the "Coldfire" trilogy, this book takes place on the planet Erna which was colonized by people from Earth over a thousand years ago. When the colonist first landed on Erna, they discovered the "Fae" which is a natural force that causes the thoughts of people (conscious, subconscious and unconscious) to manifest themselves physically. Thus the initial colonists were almost completely wiped out by creatures created by the Fae out of their darkest nightmares.

Now, 1200 years later, the survivors live in a medieval like society where sorcerers and adepts help keep the Fae at bay. This concept of the Fae and its power to make manifest the thoughts of humans was fascinating and got me hooked on the story right away. In addition to the Fae and the many other original concepts explored in the book, the story also introduces the reader to two of the best fantasy/science fiction characters to come along in a while: Damien Vryce, the warrior priest, and Gerald Tarrant, the undead sorcerer.

This is epic science fantasy at its best. Highest Possible Recommendation!!!
Profile Image for Ivan.
417 reviews278 followers
June 14, 2020
On second read my opinion remains mostly unchanged so does original review (with exception of fixing errors I couldn't be bothered to do first time around)

This was great.

Main plot has been seen many times.Fellowship travels to the hearth of darkness for good cause, in this case to restore hot sorceress power.Their travel will take them across Erna, planet who's creatures and natural laws are shaped but it's inhabitants both conscious and subconscious mind. Erna itself is biggest reason for my high rating as it's one of most fascinating setting I came across. While this book is technically sci-fi (Erna is colonized planet) book mostly plays out like heroic fantasy, in that way it reminds me a bit of first Dune book.

One big annoyance is above mentioned hot sorceress.She starts as sassy badass but as soon as she losses her power she turns into frightened damsel and becomes very annoying for the rest of the book.She isn't annoying as some female characters in heroic fantasy can be (like Vin, Ce'Nedra, Nynaeve) but next to interesting fairly well flashed out characters like the priest Damian, Hunter and my favorite pleasure demon she really sticks out.
Profile Image for Ben Johnson.
7 reviews2 followers
January 5, 2011
Black Sun Rising is a brilliant setting with a mediocre story. A warrior-priest and his companions track a demon in order to restore one of their member’s memories, but are forced into an alliance with perhaps the greatest evil of all: the former Prophet, damned by his own church and driven into a dark pact which brings both power and a vampiric curse. The novel sets up a variety of interesting themes but concludes its bloated story with cliches, a disappointment given the great world-crafting of C.S. Friedman.

Black Sun Rising takes place on Erna, a planet whose original human colonists were driven back to the dark ages by the mysterious energy known as the Fae. The Fae both is and isn’t magic in the traditional sense: while it is used for common wizardly purposes, it is also a product of Erna’s ecosystem that grants human thoughts and, most dangerously, fears corporeality. Many humans have learned to Work it for their own uses and a few, known as Adepts, are born with the ability to both see and control the Fae effortlessly.

Ciani is one of these Adepts, but she loses her powers in an attack by a mysterious group of demons for a somewhat poorly explained reason. Damien is a zealous priest of the Church who vows to restore Ciani’s powers. He is accompanied by Ciani’s assistant Senzei, who doesn’t do much except be sad that he wasn’t born an Adept as well. These three characters are all fairly one dimensional: Damien clings to black and white morality, Ciani has a thirst for knowledge that precludes morality, and Senzei just wants to be powerful.

However, they are joined by a much more interesting person: Gerald Tarrant, Fae-vampire. Tarrant was a powerful Adept who finally turned the tide in the struggle against the Fae by founding a Church to discipline humanity’s subconscious and thus limit the Fae’s manifestations. However, the Church eventually damned all sorcerers, and so after death he will go to a hell that he has literally created from the Fae. To avoid this, he murders his family to make a pact with ambiguous dark forces that grants him eternal life and devastating powers in exchange for life as a literary cliche.

The narrative is mostly told from Damien’s point of view, and the book is at its best when dealing with Damien’s conflicting emotions regarding his Prophet-turned-Vampire. Damien hates Tarrant with a religious passion but needs him as a weapon in his quest to help Ciani. He is forced to compromise his stark moral judgments, and enters areas of gray morality kicking and screaming. Likewise, the narrative needs Tarrant as a foil for the relatively simple characters to play off of, and as the only interesting character in the story.

Black Sun Rising begins with Tarrant’s savage murder of his wife and children, and Friedman does a good job of inserting enough instances of his savagery throughout the narrative to make you feel bad for liking him. But as the story develops Tarrant loses his mystique. He becomes more and more Dracula as his nature is explained, and the instances in which his powers are limited in order to generate tension feel contrived. Tarrant preserves his grip on what little humanity he has left by clinging to a personal sense of honor; he is the Honest Abe of vampires, for he will not tell a lie or go back on his word. His adherence to his self-imposed code is the primary way that the narrative justifies his involvement with Damien and his companions, but this mostly feels artificial.

At one point in the story Tarrant is badly hurt and needs to drink blood in order to heal himself. Ciani is the only one with enough blood to spare, but Tarrant won’t drink it because apparently he takes the form of his victim’s fears, and Ciani is most scared of a demon; therefore, if he drinks her blood he will become a demon and attack. He has also sworn not to hurt Ciani. Hence the awkwardly contrived predicament. So he has to stay weak, and the protagonists can’t rely on his powers, and thus narrative conflict is born. It’s a strained way to go about generating tension because the author wants to preserve sympathy for Tarrant. I say, make him drink her blood. Make him go crazy and attack her. Kill her, for all I care (like all the other characters, Ciani not especially likable). Let Tarrant deal with the collapse of his artificial humanity and let’s see what happens. Powerful moments in literature come from those kinds of severe shocks to a character’s worldviews, and this novel does not go far enough in that regard.

Rather than potent character development, Tarrant’s preceding dilemma results in more of the run-of-the-mill action that bloats the novel to almost 600 pages. Some of the action is great; the scene in Tarrant’s forest realm is particularly well done in it’s dark aesthetic. But there are also scenes of earthquakes, and confrontations with various demons that presumably are manifested fears but seem to be generic fantasy tropes, and treacherous nighttime marches that, while none are boring per se, comprise action fodder that doesn’t add much except reading time. While the time invested in the book lends itself toward investment in the book’s characters, the character’s developments over the narrative don’t seem to warrant it. It feels more cheap substitute than effective strategy. Certainly the characters develop and change, but it could have been accomplished in a more efficient (and effective) way.

As might be apparent from the preceding paragraphs, I enjoyed the set-up for this novel but was let down by the execution. The book primarily deals with the cliched theme of the corrupting influence of power, and near the end the book becomes almost pedagogical in this regard. It’s disappointing because this concern is not as unique as the setting is capable of. What compelled me the most was the ecological nature of the Fae; as a product of Erna’s ecology, I think it would have been interesting to explore more of humanity’s relationship to the environment. For example, what does it mean when a religion’s reality is fundamentally linked to one planet in a galaxy full of them? Where is the division between humanity and ecology when nature can manifest human fears and desires, and when evolution is driven by human perception? This is only the first book in the series, so it’s possible that some of those questions are investigated later. I just find them more compelling than the cliched “power corrupts” theme, and wish they had been the focus from the start.

Worst of all, the seeds are clearly sown for Tarrant’s ultimate redemption from his life of evil (I’m guessing in some sort of grand sacrifice to save Erna). While this isn’t bad in and of itself, it just feels too familiar. I want an evil character who stays evil. I want the series to take the moral ambiguities that so stressed Damien and drive them to an even greater extreme, an extreme that truly challenges Damien’s world-view and which cannot be ignored. As it is, Damien is able to preserve his moral compass; I want Tarrant to obliterate that compass as Damien is forced into deeper and deeper reliance on Tarrant’s evil. I want Damien driven to the brink of insanity, maybe over the edge, and then I want to see how he responds. Friedman doesn’t take enough chances in Black Sun Rising, and I’m hesitant to read another two 600 page books just to see if she will later on. Who knows, maybe I’d be pleasantly surprised by the sequels. But with so many other books waiting to be read, I’m not rushing to find out.
Profile Image for Mpauli.
157 reviews458 followers
December 3, 2013
With Black Sun Rising, author C.S. Friedman transports us into a world of darkness, where your fears can manifest themselves to haunt and hunt you.

Erna is a planet humans from earth reached via spacship and settled onto. This sounds like SF, but is just a backdrop for a dark fantasy novel.
The society wasn't able to hold up to the level of progress of a spacefaring people. So, the atmosphere is more of a gothic victorian world. Think Bram Stoker's Dracula and you have a good picture.

Eevryday life is affected by eartquakes, that are way more frequent than on our planet, the cycle of three moons and the omni-present earth-fae, particle-like creatures that can be manipulated to do magic.

But the darkness is not only invoked by the setting, it comes right down to the characters. There is Reverend Damien Vryce, whose love for the adept Ciani will bring him to the point, where he has to ask himself how far he is willing to go to help Ciani in regaining her memory that was taken by a demon.
Ciani herself has to struggle with the loss of her power and memory and needs to find a way to go on.
Then there is Senzi, Ciani's business partner and friend, who longs to have power comparable to Ciani's.
And finally we have Tarrant, the dark Hunter with the mysterious past and a vast amount of power.

All of those are being confronted by one question: How far will you go to fullfill your deepest desire? The answers to this question is what makes this book so dark and bittersweet.

I enjoyed this book a lot, although there were a few dragging parts I could have done without. The book ends in a good place and provides a glimpse of what to expect in the next installment.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,944 reviews158 followers
August 17, 2020
This was a rather strange book. It is a fantasy story that has a basis in sci-fi. What do I mean? The story takes place on the planet of Erna. Humans had colonized Erna during the Space travel age. But, Erna was a strange world. The fey, magic, is powerful here. People's nightmares or dreams can come alive. This led to the destruction of the technology and now, thousands of years later, man uses the fey.
But it is an uneasy relationship. The fey creates dark forces and feeds on humans. Some humans, Adpets, can channel the Fey. But the story starts with the dark tale of the Neocount. A brilliant and learned man, called the "Prophet" by the Church, had fallen to the darkness. he had become something far more than human. he is now called "The Hunter" and resides in his fey-laden haunt called the Forest.

Into this we are introduced to Damien Vryce, a holy warrior of the Church, who has come to the Patriarch for a special mission. In time he will meet a beautiful Adept, Ciani, who will be attacked by one of these demons. Vryce must join forces with the dark forces of the Hunter to try to win back Ciani's memories.

No more spoilers. A very strange story that ends up being rather good. I really loved the anti-hero nature of The Hunter. By far one of the best characters. The Neocounts intentions, as well as his dark sense of honor, make him a superb character.

The story is complex and the way in which the fey works is rather well done. A very interesting world and a rather unique outlook for a fantasy setting. At some point, I shall have to pick up the second book of this series-primarily to find out what The Hunter is up too.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,819 followers
July 19, 2014
Okay...this is another I'd like to give 3.5 as it's got to be above a 3 but I didn't care for it as much as I have many of the books I've given a 4.

It has an interesting "world system". I don't think the term "magic system works well here as it all has to do with the planet or world on which the action takes place. (To say more would of course entail spoilers). This book might be more accurately called "science fantasy" rather than epic or high fantasy as it's built around the assumption of an earth colony that arrived on this planet and then had to deal with the forces on and of the world of Erna that they were in no way equiped to understand or handle.

I found this book at times to be of the "neither fish nor fowl" variety to some extent. I liked the idea(s) that it's built on and the world building though I'm not sure the introduction to this world and it's specialness was done all that well. It's an attempt to inculcate the needed details into the narrative without doing a lot of plot exposition atop the storyline, plot and dialogue. A good way to do things when it works. here I think it bogged down a bit and often (for a while in the early chapters) had the reader going"okay...now how does that work?" Still it does eventually get roughly laid out and while we still have a lot of nebulous edges and loose ends to the system i assume she means it to be that way. A great deal of the plot is that humans are "still after all this time" trying to understand and learn to work with the plant's forces.

I found that while I got to know the people in this book the only one I really "liked" all that much was the priest Damien. I was never drawn into the "feeling" I think I was supposed to have for the others. This was the third time I'd set out to read this book. It wasn't that I "disliked it" I'd say I really "liked it" (I mean I gave it 4 stars based on my 3.5 liking) but I just never got heavily "involved" in it. On both prior occasions I laid it down and got involved in reading other things and just, never got back to it. that almost happened this time. I'm always into more than one books at a time and , true to what happened before I got into a few others and this one just didn't "cry out to me" to get back to it. I did as we are reading it in a group and as I said, it's "pretty good". I enjoyed much of it...I just can't say it really "drew me in". I could have lived without getting to the books end.

I have the two books following this one on my shelf and I will (hopefully) get to them "before too long". I don't know. I have a huge to be read pile of books, so we'll see. I'm just thankful for the abundance. After all too many books is better than not enough. They are such fragile things.

Okay, not a bad read, well written, enjoyable and interesting (mostly). As I said, 3.5...rounds to a 4.
Profile Image for Kris43.
119 reviews51 followers
March 8, 2013
Im having a hard time with rating this.

If I were to rate the world building and magic system, I would give it 5 stars, they are absolutely brilliant. This has strong sci-fi elements mixed with fantasy. The whole thing is happening in distant future. Humanity has moved to this planet that is totally different from planet Earth. It has something that at first looks like magic.

It is inhabited by sentiment forces who feed on human emotions/blood/semen and can be tapped to fuel various things. But they can also be a unintentional corporal manifestation of our fears, darkest desires, nightmares, suppressed longings. They even evolve and in time become as we perceive them. They are called fey and respond to strong emotions, desires, focused prayers...or natural adepts. At first humanity had no idea of any of this. So you can imagine our horror when a first glimpse of our own ugliness became tangible and started shoving its true nature.... You know that one about abyss gazing back? Here it also walked, talked and wrecked havoc. All of our own making.

Naturally humanity freaked and founded The Church to combat all these 'demons' and unholy abominations. It's Something between inquisition, warrior monks and witch hunters.

Now moving on to this books weakest points. In my opinion they are characterization and character development and some mayor logical holes in plot and motivation.
Some characters seemed a bit 2d and I couldn't always understand and relate to their reasons for doing stuff. Also sometimes as the plot moved on, I couldn't always answer why this was happening. Or why is it happening this way. You know, logical holes? If they are to big or to many of them the whole thing doesn't fit.

So you can see why I'm having problems rating this. On one hand the world is stunning but characters and plot suffer for it at times. I wish I could give it 3,5. Because 4 seems to much and 3 not enough.
Profile Image for Rob.
848 reviews535 followers
September 10, 2017
Executive Summary: I have mixed feelings on this book. Sometimes it was a 2 star, sometimes 4, and in the end I settled on 2.5 rounded up. I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Audiobook: One of the things that attracted me to doing this book was how much I enjoyed R.C. Bray as the narrator of The Martian. He's quite good here, but at some points he's "too good".

What do I mean by that? Well his voices for some of the characters are so spot on the description as to be jarring, and I'd spend most of the time focused on my irritation at the voice over what was being said. Thankfully those characters didn't talk very much.

The rest of the time he was quite enjoyable as a narrator. I don't think those voices were enough to detract from his narration as a whole. I think audio's a good option here. Hopefully you won't find those same voices as grating to your concentration as I did.

Full Review
This one wasn't on my radar at all before a friend suggested it for a buddy read. It sounded like an interesting mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I was thinking maybe something along the lines of Star Wars.

This book may as well have been straight fantasy however. There is very little science to speak of. Apparently humans have settled another planet and found a way to harness it and some of the creatures who live there as a form of magic. Technology as we know it seems pretty non-existent.

After a pretty intense and interesting prologue, I found the early parts of this book quite slow. Things did pick up later, but then I'd find myself growing distracted/uninterested in what was going on. This made for a very uneven pace to the story. That may be in part due to my general dislike of most of the characters.

The book describes Damian as a warrior, but in truth he's a paladin. When paladins aren't off heroically saving people in need, they seem to spend their time judging everyone else who can't live up to their lofty standards. Damian isn't quite this bad, but he does have his moments.

I initially was the most interested in Cianni, but her character development throughout this book was not to my liking. Her assistant mostly got on my nerves.

The most interesting character was the Hunter, but he's was very hard to like for many of the same reasons that made him interesting.

I'm very much a fan of character-driven story, so when I don't connect well with the characters, it almost always hurts my enjoyment of the book.

The world building, and the magic systems were both pretty interesting. They felt pretty unique from most fantasy I've read, and that's always hard to do.

Overall I felt like the pacing issues and my general dislike of the characters cost this book at least a star, possibly more. A strong ending and interesting world building helped to make up for things.

I'm still unsure if I'll continue on with the series. The ending has peaked my interest to know what comes next, but for now I'm not going to be rushing out to pick up the second book.
Profile Image for Chris  Haught.
576 reviews214 followers
December 5, 2011
There were some good elements of story here, and some good world concepts. However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The prose is choppy, full of adverbs and redundancies. If I had to hear "he smiled grimly" one more time, I was prepared to gouge out my eardrums (I listened to the audio, obviously). The plot drags on and on. And on. And on some more. Events take forever to set up, and then when something does happen, I'm like "what the hell? Where did that come from? Should I rewind? Oh, Hell no. I don't care."

I didn't like the characters, for the most part. There were three main ones: Gerald Tarrant, a fairly interesting anti-hero; Ciani, the female protagonist, and Damien, the male protagonist. Well, I liked Gerald Tarrant pretty well, was indifferent to Ciani one way or the other, and I disliked Damien.

The dialogue was pretty horrible too, and probably the reason I didn't like the characters. They sounded like heroes from a bad B-movie and even Tarrant sounded more like a Scooby-Doo villain half the time than a normal person.

So why 2 stars rather than 1?


I didn't hate it. I just didn't care for it much. I've heard great things about this book and the rest of Friedman's series, so there's a chance I'll continue some day. But thus far, I can't see what all the hubbub is with C.S. Friedman.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
274 reviews66 followers
December 10, 2021
Probably one of my favorite books this year. One of my best friends has been telling me to read this book for years, I'm sorry it took me until now to do it. The world was very interesting and I loved the characters. I'm definitely continuing.
Profile Image for Mona.
484 reviews283 followers
January 10, 2022

This book is a mashup of several genres. It’s mostly a dark Gothic horror fantasy featuring vampires, demons, etc. But it’s also science fiction, since it takes place on Erna, a planet colonized by people from Earth at some indefinite future time.

Although the author showed considerable skill with world building, etc., this book left me cold.

In some ways it almost seems cartoonish. Like an inadvertent parody of its own genres.

I found it difficult to care about the well drawn but unlikable characters. The hero, Damian, an overbearing, dogmatic but brave warrior/priest who treats women like fragile China dolls, just wasn’t someone I could identify with or find compelling. In fact, with a few exceptions, the men are arrogant and domineering and the women are fragile flowers in need of saving. The Hunter is almost a caricature of the Evil Vampire. Ciani, the central female character loses her initial strength and turns into a woman who behaves like a lost kitten. The imbalance between male and female characters was really irritating. The strongest female character was Hesseth, a member of a nonhuman species.

The story was equally annoying and implausible. Again, it was difficult to really care about the group of relative strangers off on a quest in a foreign land (echoes of J.R.R. Tolkien?? sigh), the ostensible purpose of which was to restore Ciani’s lost magical powers. But unlike the quest in Lord of the Rings, there isn’t a higher purpose (like saving the world from evil) to their quest, although they do end up saving some lives, almost as an afterthought. It’s tough to emotionally invest in a story about rescuing one uninteresting woman’s magical powers at the expense of many others. (There is some vague stuff about the quest putting an end to the Evil One in the East..I think that’s the right direction...but again that’s tacked on as a Tolkienish afterthought. And it seems subsidiary to the main goal of helping Ciani).

R.C. Bray is not my favorite audio reader. He reads competently and has a compelling voice. But I found his reading of this novel a bit histrionic. Maybe that wasn’t entirely his fault, as the material was histrionic.

The book was interesting enough for me to finish. But I’m not reading anything else by this author. I don’t recommend this book.
Profile Image for Pax.
29 reviews
July 4, 2008
I finally made it to the end of this awful book, mostly by skipping about eighty pages in the latter half (figured out what I'd missed within five repetitive pages, and no need to slog through) and then skimming the rest.

All in all, this writer had a good idea, some fun character interplay potential and NO EDITING. As in, where was her EDITOR??? This could have been trimmed to less than half its dense, repetitive mass with such greater impact. Apparently this is part one of a trilogy -- the rest of which I shall do without, thank you -- and she probably could have gotten all three books into one really great novel and been done with it.

All well. I hung on, though I don't usually do so with writing this bad. I guess my devotion to female sci-fi writers was my undoing in this case.


Fun mix of sci-fi and fantasy. I had read the prologue of Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson, and felt the entire time I'd fallen into a bizarre world of male sci-fi. Then, I opened this up, read the prologue and nearly laughed with delight at the utterly female writer-ness of it.

It's pretty good so far, though she does that switching narrator thing so often that it gets a little annoying. Some fun mysteries yet to be figured out.

Okay, further along now. About halfway through actually. This book is so slow that it is nearly painful. Definitely not riveted, which seems a shame since the concepts are very fun and full of potential, and even her turn of phrase is good. But the PACING, oy. I read two sentences in the book yesterday that seem to sum it up nicely:

"Inch by inch, yard by yard, they approached the shore. The splashing of the twin paddlewheels had slackened to near-silence, and the boat drifted forward with agonizing slowness."

I keep holding on to the hope that the confrontation she's supposedly building towards will happen soon and things will get interesting. If not, I may just give up and chalk it up to a failed match of me and book.
Profile Image for Sumant.
240 reviews8 followers
September 13, 2017
Started reading book as it was recommended to me by many people, and also a book club of which I am an member was doing it for this month.

But after almost completing almost 80% of this book, I don't give a damn about the world which the author has created neither the characters, so I am going to stop reading this book and further books in this series.

I am just going to highlight the weak points for this book.

1. The story is all over the place.

The book begins with a certain premise and plot, but completely jumps into another plot and this keeps happening with addition of more characters and concepts that after a certain point it just becomes too much for a reader to take.

2. You don't give a damn about characters.

We get introduced many characters in this book, but as the plot keeps jumping all over the place we are not introduced to a single character properly.

Also what drives these guys, is the big question I have and not a single character answers this question for me.

3. What exactly is genre of this book?

I don't mind when author mixes his genre but there has to be some solid foundation and rules of how things work in his world.

The biggest issue was I did not get after reading almost 80% of the book how exactly things work on Urna, neither was I interested in finding out.

I give this book 1 star.
Profile Image for Seon Ji (Dawn).
1,014 reviews219 followers
April 17, 2017
A re read for me. Read this back in the early '90's and completely forgot everything.

The good:

I liked the writing style in that it is very descriptive and shows more than tells. Tarrant and the priest were well developed and complex characters and I loved them both.

The world building was fantastic..beyond fantastic!

The pace was steady with good conflict and I did not skim.

The bad:

MC Ciani was a useless and underdeveloped charcter. She was not used to her full potential. I cared nothing about her which nearly ruined the entire story since it was her that was supposed to be the driving force behind the group's entire journey and the risks they decided to take for her with their lives. I didn't feel the "love" the priest had with her and didn't feel her importance as an adept or friend to Senzei. I kept wondering why these two care about her so much? Why did Tarrant care about her? Lame lame lame....I was expecting her character to become this awesome poweful source that would save them all.. and it never happened. The author could have eliminated her character completely and I wouldn't have noticed or cared.

The ugly:

The "romance" between Ciani and the priest was horrible...Non existant! They met, they fucked, he supposedly loved her, she lost her memory, forgot about him..never said she loved him, and when she got her memory back..still didn't give a shit about him. He leaves her behind and chalks it up to.. "we are too different people from two different worlds." If there was more than an entire paragraph within the whole book dedicated to their "romance"I'd be surprised.

Why have them even together? It was unnecessary and pointless.

Lastly, I felt no sense of urgency or fear. No feeling of being on the edge of my seat. There was a definate lack of emotional impact.


I enjoyed it for the most part and plan to continue the series out of curiosity.

Would I recommend? If you are a die hard fantasy lover and can get this book for free or low cost then yes. If you like romance or are looking for a kick ass heroine.. then no.

Safety: Blood, gore and violence. Some cursing.
Profile Image for Matt.
628 reviews
June 26, 2022
Near the galactic center humans must adapt to life on an alien planet, but it turns out that the planet and its life adapts quickly to humans as well. Black Sun Rising is the first book in C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy follows a band of humans journey to the lands of the native rahk to hunt down demons that have stolen memories from one of their number and pose a different threat to another of their number.

Twelve hundred years before the time of the novel, a colony vessel arrived on the earthlike Erna only for humanity to find the fauna not only alien but fantastical. The mix of science fiction and fantasy instantly makes an interesting environment to set a story, but Friedman adds to it by having humans upset the balance of Erna that must account for and adapt to the presence of humanity especially when human minds and emotion resulting in physical change of the world. Throughout the book this background is slowly revealed to set up new twists of the story that the five significant characters of the novel must deal with, along with their attitudes with one another. The main two characters of the book, Priest Damien Vryce and Gerald Tarrant are uneasy allies as they venture to the protected area in which Erna’s native inhabitants live for their own particular reasons to face the same antagonist; what makes things more interesting is that Damien is a part of the order that Gerald founded as the Prophet of the Church before turning heretic and becoming near immortal by joining with the dark side of Erna’s magical forces. The unique world and the uneasy alliance between the two main characters makes this a fascinating read.

Black Sun Rising is a well-written very interesting science fiction-fantasy opening installment of a trilogy. C.S. Friedman not only creating an amazing world that the reader explores, but fascinating characters as well.
Profile Image for Kinga.
476 reviews2,200 followers
February 28, 2013
How can you take such an interesting, excited and complicated world with so many conflict possibilities and write such a crap book about it? It’s rather amazing.

I haven’t read a proper fantasy novel since my early high school days. Back then I used chain-read Andre Norton but I can tell you very little about as it has been mostly eradicated from my memory to make room for all the plotlines of Grey’s Anatomy. Therefore I can’t tell you if C.S Friedman writes badly or whether she is in line with other fantasy writers and what is considered the norm in the genre.

“She kneed her unhorse gently into motion again and tried to lose herself in memories of her family, as a means of combating the uneasiness that had been growing in her since she left the Bellamy household nearly an hour earlier. Her daughter Alix, barely five, had already [...]. Tory, nine, had […]. Eric, the oldest […]”

This is not a very sophisticated way to introduce characters (very minor ones as well), almost as bad as having the characters look in the mirror to describe their looks. So there is this sort of lazy writing and there are characters who say every other page ‘God help us’ or ‘gods help us’, depending on which denomination they belong to.

But that’s nothing, it could still be a four star read because the world, in which the nature produces currents which respond to psychic stimulus and can take a physical form, is a fascinating and intricate one. There is an outline of a religious conflict between the old religion (based possibly on Christianity brought to the planet by its colonisers from Earth) which rejects any use of those magic-like currents and all the new religions invented on the planet which pretty much base themselves on the fae – the currents. But instead of this fascinating story of high politics, religion and magic, we have a lame tale of a girl, Chiani, who lost her special powers and a group of men who, for god (or gods) know what reason decide to help her get them back, even if it means risking their lives.

We have the priest who has a bit of a crush on Chiani, which is why he decides to ruin his career and go against everything he believes in just to help her, while still acting like a self-righteous prick when he is forced to accept help from someone who seems to be not a very good person at all (we will call him the Lesser Evil). The Lesser Evil puts up with the self-righteousness of the Self-Righteous prick and generally acts in a very honourable way and is the most interesting and three-dimensional character, which is quite funny because he is supposed have no human soul left in him. I don’t know how Friedman managed to make her inhuman character the most human of them all but it probably wasn’t intentional.

Oh, and there is this one more character, so superfluous that you can’t help but wonder if he is going to be killed off somewhere along the way.

The four of them set off to get Chiani her magicks back. Chiani’s motivation is obvious but the rest of them follow because of some peculiar mix of honour debt, loyalty, and simply having hots for her. The fact that they are actually saving the world (and therefore themselves) at the same time seems to constantly escape them, when focusing on that would just make a lot more sense and make their motives logical.

In the end it’s a fairly enjoyable read but you are left thinking that there is a better story happening somewhere else in that world.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,437 reviews830 followers
January 29, 2021
Loved the setting and the world building- I thought for the first third of the book It was heading for at least 4 stars, but alas, the plot didn’t wow me and I found large parts of it boring!
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,864 reviews370 followers
November 5, 2018
This book has been one that I’d been looking forward to in my SFF reading list and I was not disappointed! It has much more good/evil complexity than many of the fantasy books that were previously published (before 1991). Although it is in many ways a typical quest tale, Friedman gives it a couple of twists that distinguish it from earlier quest tales—one member of the party is undoubtedly evil and the party is looking to track down a demon-type entity which has stolen the memories of one of the party. This demon must be killed to restore her to some semblance of normality. Normally, all of the questers would be good guys (sometimes corrupted like Boromir in LOTR), but this is like inviting one the Nazgul to join you in your travels! They are not looking for an object, but for a target, bringing back a memory, not a trophy.

The world Erna, where this tale takes place, reminded me somewhat of Sheri Tepper’s world, Grass. There is a malign feeling to Erna and its inhabitants toward the humans who have settled there that felt familiar from that world. I also was reminded of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series—the settlers of Erna didn’t actually choose the planet so much as get stranded there and have to deal with the fae emanations of the new world, just as the Darkover colonists must deal with their unchosen planet. Plus, the changes to humans and the rakh of Erna made me think of Julian May’s The Many Colored Land, and the adaptations of the ship-wrecked Tanu & Firvulag on ancient Earth.

Having enjoyed all of those books, these were all good associations for me. Although most groups fulfilling a quest have to deal with the price of success, I thought this one explored the notion of “how much power at what cost” very effectively. It is, of course, the first book in a trilogy, so I didn’t expect things to wrap up neatly, but I was pleasantly surprised at how unsettling the ending was—Ciani is restored, but has been very much changed by the whole experience; the priest has to let go of his preferred outcome; the Hunter has realized his limitations. I very much look forward to continuing the series.

Book number 296 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,583 reviews398 followers
March 20, 2015
Black Sun Rising is the first novel in C.S. Friedman’s popular COLDFIRE trilogy. I read Dominion, the prequel novella, a couple of years ago after reading (and loving) several of her science fiction novels. I admire Friedman’s worldbuilding and her writing style.

The COLDFIRE trilogy feels like traditional epic fantasy, but it would best be categorized as science fantasy because it takes place in the far future on Erna, a planet colonized by humans looking for a habitable world. When they got to this world, they discovered that natural laws work differently. Some force, which they call the “Fae,” feeds on human fears and uses those “vibes” (my word) to influence evolution. This means, for example, that creatures that aren’t ... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
Profile Image for Mary.
83 reviews43 followers
October 31, 2007
I'm not really sure what I didn't like about this book. The setting was amazing, the plot was interesting, the characters were... well, they weren't horrible, but I've read better. And that, I think, is where it lost me. I liked the characters well enough, but their problems didn't engage me. I wasn't particularly upset when one of the characters died, I wasn't particularly glad when they resolved some of their issues, and I wasn't particularly interested to find out what happened to them in the later novels.

That's not to say that they aren't good; my roommate is reading the series at the moment, and he loves it. It seems it's just a matter of taste, so I'd say give it a try. They're very interesting and incredibly detailed, just not really my thing.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,618 reviews478 followers
April 9, 2011
There is an old episode of Star Trek . . .

Okay, for you born after the 1990s, I'm talking about the really old ones. You know the ones with the Enterprise attached to a string, with Leonard, with Shatner and his ever changing girdle.

Anyway, in this episode, Lt. Uhura, who is very cool, gets her knowledge zapped by some alien in bad make up.

That's this book, sorta.

The book is about power, knowledge, people, and cost. Very few books deal with cost. This is one of them. I enjoyed this book very much.

See there is this guy and he thinks he is in love with a girl, who is OLDER than he is. But then something bad happens, and then he learns the truth about his religion's prophet and whole bunch of other things.

It makes you think.
Profile Image for Laura.
714 reviews
April 26, 2023
Metto in standby questa lettura...non è il periodo giusto per leggerlo...tanti begli elementi interessanti!!!
Profile Image for Zach.
285 reviews274 followers
June 8, 2017
1200 years ago, human colonists landed on the planet Erna, which they quickly discovered was home to an energy field called the force fae, which reacts to the human mind by giving life to people's unconscious fears and desires. This doesn't mix very well with human technology, so what we have here is a kind of post-apocalyptic science fantasy (indeed, the characters stop at an Inn of the New Sun early in the book, hint hint).

With that (very appealing!) background in place, our story proper begins with a priest meeting, and immediately falling in love with, a renowned scholar. After they spend an indeterminate amount of time together (probably days, but maybe weeks, neither of which is really enough to support the weight of the rest of the book, and the fact that it isn't clear is weird enough in and of itself, but here we are), things fall apart, both for the characters and for the book, and we're only on page 75 (of almost 600). The scholar has her magical powers and, well, joie de vivre stolen by a group of monsters, and so the priest (in addition to a student, who barely counts as a character, and a vampire, but more on him later) sets off to kill the lead monster and therefore make her happy again. She tags along too, but is now just a blank slate of sadness. That's two characters out of four who are not really characters. They're later joined by a fifth whose single character trait is "not a human" and then, briefly, another, who doesn't even get a name and whose single character trait is "even less of a human."

As a catalyst for a fantasy quest, this is pretty lackluster stuff, and the weirdest part is that Friedman appears to realize this, . This is a particularly bizarre case of what the internet would call "fridging" - the whole point of this character's anguish is to get the priest and vampire together so that they can argue while hauling her along on their rote epic fantasy wilderness travel, headed toward a showdown with a big villain whose identity I smugly figured out almost immediately (100% incorrectly).

Aside from the banal plot, my chief complaint (as almost always with this sort of mass-market genre literature) is that things should be weirder. We're told over and over again that the fae twists reality to suit the subconscious mind, but this basically only ever manifests itself in the casting of a few spells and monsters appearing at night and swiftly getting chopped to bits by the priest or the vampire [Also there's a pleasure god/demon of some sort who provides the vampire with a nonsensical reason to join the quest]. The most interesting part of the book, by far, is in the initial city and the hints we get at how society has evolved in the shadow of the disastrous colonization. Mainstream society has adopted to the day-to-day use of what is essentially magic, while the Church (a much-mutated version of Christianity, it appears, with the priest and the vampire sharing a joke about "parting the waters" at one point) wants to return to a more terrestrial way of life.

This is as good a point as any to segue to the vampire, who, it turns out, was once the prophet of this church, before forsaking his soul and humanity for eternal life sustained by feeding on the fear (and/or blood) of women he kidnaps and hunts. There's a painfully obvious subtext of sexual assault here, which later moves to outright text, with the narrative letting us know that while he is incapable of actually performing sexually, he uses the threat in his arsenal of fear-mongering. The other subtext here is the homoerotic relationship between the priest and the vampire, who loathe one another and are from completely incompatible backgrounds but are inescapably drawn together anyway, etc. It's like one problematic romantic cliche after another, but with no indication that the relationship will ever be consummated (or, perhaps, that the author is even aware of it). The vampire is clearly the author's proudest creation, but he, like the novel itself, moves quickly from some interesting ideas into cliche.

Honestly, I would have quit this one about halfway through if I hadn't just done that to a different book. The sunk cost fallacy is a dangerous thing.
Profile Image for Julia Sarene.
1,256 reviews131 followers
November 16, 2016
Don't let my low ranking deter you - this is a perfectly fine book, just not my exactly my personal cup of tea.

First off it has kind of a fairytale vibe for me - and I never liked those.

It also starts off with a feel like a secondary world - but after a short while (so no spoiler) we learn that it actually us humans in the future - and I personally HATE mix ups of realworld and secondary worlds. No idea why - it just doesn't click with me.

It is written emotionally - don't get me wrong, it isn't a romance or anything, but I much prefer a style that is more matter of fact and way faster paced.

So all these things don't make it a bad book at all - they just mean it isn't the perfect book for me!
The plot itself is interesting and the prose is fine, even if it isn't my favorite. Some of the characters could have had a bit more depth, but overall they were pretty well developed as well.

So if you don't object to my pet peeves, this might still be the perfect book for you. :)
Profile Image for Conor.
148 reviews315 followers
February 11, 2020
Read this trilogy ages ago, before I was even on GR. I've hardly seen it talked about on here which is a shame as although the pacing was poor in places and the supporting cast of characters was limited this was a memorable trilogy (especially this first installment) with one of the most unique and disturbing worlds in fantasy or sci-fi and a great relationship/bromance developed between the 2 lead characters. Gerald Tarrant was also a great anti-hero or maybe just straight up villain. A man who had done truly horrible things and whose motivations for much of the series were far from noble but he was always compelling whenever he appeared throughout the series and his redemption arc in the final book did a lot to humanize him.
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