Hi all, same spiel as over in SF:
The discussion is open. I'm sleepy, so I'll be along tomorrow to do the opening and such. Wanted to get it up here in case people wanted to dive in, though.
Hi all, same spiel as over in SF:
The discussion is open. I'm sleepy, so I'll be along tomorrow to do the opening and such. Wanted to get it up here in case people wanted to dive in, though.
Well, before I actually post any comments... I'm at page 450, of about 550. Where is everyone else at?
I'm never sure if November is the month for reading the book, or if we're already supposed to have finished it, so we can get straight to the discussion. I guess it's somewhere in between.
I've finished, but I read it about a month ago, so I'll post some intitial thoughts the maybe some more later ...
This I thought was a good idea, I really like the premise Friedman came up with, a semi-sci fi / fantasy setting (Settlers on another world) and the setting infused with the magic (fae) and all the problems suffered by the colonists was really well lain down, but after that it really stuttered, some very strange actions by the characters, and a plodding story really buggered up the book for me.
Was it me or did Ciani and the priest fall in love really quickly, they had one meal then suddenly there was the incident in the shop, and Damien was all lovestruck.
The way the story dissolved into a meandering journey from one safe place to another, just seemed to go on and on, nothing really gripping happened either.
Tarrant is a realy likable villain, easily the best character.
The Magic is very intuitive to the story, and I like how Friedman introduced it and how the characters relied on the different types.
There was some good moments, like in the forest pursuing Tarrant. And the interaction between the priest and the Hunter provided some good interchanges.
I read the trilogy in September so my memory may not be as fresh as those who are just finishing up the book.
I agree with Gildor's good and bad points about this book. The magic, SF backdrop (which gets explained little by little in the next books, by the way) and descriptions of menace are entrancing and evocative, and there are some very good moments.
Friedman seems to put the soul of this book into Gerald Tarrant at the expense of developing some of her other characters, though, and she uses their relationship with Gerald as a way of developing them, which limits them IMO. For example, before Damien arrives where he meets Ciani, we have very little information about his past, and I also agree that relationship happened way too fast (had plot device to kickstart the quest written all over it). Why did Damien decide to become a priest? It would have been helpful to have a better sense of how his past has shaped him to react the way he does.
However, as an atmospheric read, the book has a certain charge to it, and is an entertaining read. It's the kind of book that thrives on the antagonism and charisma of its characters, I think.
(((Evil Agent: The Book Club is a spoiler-full zone. We assume from day one of the month that if you're in here reading posts you either don't mind spoilers or you've finished the book. I always try to have the books finished before the first of the month.)))
I definitely agree with "The way the story dissolved into a meandering journey from one safe place to another, just seemed to go on and on, nothing really gripping happened either."
By the end I was doing some serious skimming.
Raule's comment about the love affair being a transparent device to get things rolling rings really true with me. In fact, almost everything that happens seems like a really transparent device, with the exception of the prologue. That had an interesting atmosphere, and Gerald kept that atmosphere going right up until about the 100 page mark when he joined the Fellowship of the R---or rather, Damien's little band, at which point the prologue became a translucent device to introduce how MEAN *tremble, tremble* Gerald was.
Another thing I found totally transparent:
--"So Ciani, tell me about The Forest or the rakhlands, you pick." Read: "Guess which two places we'll be visiting in this novel." Author's thought: I need to set up where they're going. Let's not bother embedding it cleverly in what happens, let's just mention the two places they'll go. (That's mean. There were many things I liked about the writing, but the clever setup wasn't one of them)
I really quite liked the first 100 or 150 pages of this book. It was interesting. We were in a city and there were characters interacting. The bishop was very interesing in his relationship with Damien. I was wondering where the plot would go. Even the fire was interesting. What'll happen next? 400 PAGES OF MINDNUMBING JOURNEY. Basically the only thing that carries over from the first part of the book to the journey that's of any interest is the Gerald/Damien conflict. But it does nothing, really. It lays there like an old, cold, dead, wet fish. Sure, every few pages Damien thinks about how he hates Gerald or Gerald taunts him a little, but I wasn't moved.
There was one chapter in the middle, of special note, that was the most boring thing I'd read in a long while. I'll try to look up which chapter it was sometime for you all.
Okay, that's a lot of bashing for one post, but I thought the book was pretty middle-of-the-road. Especially aggravating is the fact that there are some potentially really interesting ideas and characters here that I felt got wasted away on a bad travelogue.
So one of the interesting ideas that I thought was frittered away: The SF tie. Just because we mention we're from Earth once or twice doesn't do it for me, especially as one of the characters professes to be studying old earth technology. Some interesting commentary could be made, some social ideas, comparisons to earth, a better exploration of HOW the fae turned humanity down this path, SOMETHING. Instead, we'll just mention earth a few times over the course of the book.
So you all say the SF connection was interesting. What was interesting about it to you? Do you think it was used well? How did it enhance the story for you?
I'll admit that I skimmed the last 100 or so pages, couldn't be helped really, as I really couldn't continue properly.
A few more thoughts
I wanted the senior bishop (forgot his name) to play more of a part, I thought when him and Damien could have formed an interesting part, but alas he simply lets Damien do whatever he wants to, something I found that his character should maybe not have done. in going to save the woman he falls madly in love with, inbetween paragraphs as it appears.
And was it me, or did the mounts take a bit of a gruesome bashing. The horses all seemed to go in nasty ways.
Though the parts where the outright SF connection is actually used were quite sparse. I think there's a scene where Tarrant has a telescope of sorts .. and maybe some other vague devices. But on the whole perhaps some more harkening back to Earth could have been used more widely, instead of some pointless wandering.
Well no, it didn't really enhance the idea and was hardly used at all, though Raule hinted that it was explored further in later volumes. Meh, it showed promise but it enhanced the story in no great detail, featured too much in the background.
Last edited by Gildor; November 1st, 2006 at 05:00 PM.
The thing about this trilogy is, I think, that the story is crap. If you read the next two, then don't expect an increase in pace, or well developed main villains, or anything like that. But after Black Sun Rising, I didn't really read the other two books for plot. Erfael, your accusations about the plot, and "forgettable female love interest," are really spot on. What I disagree on, however, is your assertation that the journey that takes place throughout the novel was meandering (though the book certainly could have been shortened by a good 50-70 pages), and just an excuse to show how "mean" Gerald was.The journey is used as a metaphor for change, and is used to explore both the concept of evil and religion, through the strong characterization of both Damien and The Hunter. And Gildor, you'll be happy to know, if you continue, that both The Patriarch and the sci fi elements play a larger role in the later novels.
In any case, back to the journey. This novel, it seems to me, asks simple moral questions: Do the ends justify the means, and if so, how far can one stray from one's morals? How do we react to different shades of evil? I think Fridman here might be coming out more on the side of "the ends can justify the means;" clearly, I don't think we're really meant to identify with Damien's narrow religious view. But neither are we to condone Tarrant's actions. In the end, I think Fridman is taking a kind of skeptical view of morality, in that it is perhaps better to be open minded and add perspective to our moral views rather than simply accept what we have as the TRUTH (TM). Another theme I think Fridman explores is, as I said, the different shades of evil. Many of the people whom I've talked to about these books have stated that they love Tarrant; he is their favourite character and that they admire him in some way(and indeed, he is quite compelling.) But firstly, what does this say about us and our view of charisma in the role of evil? To take two examples from A Song of Ice and Fire's world (and I promise, these will not include spoilers, unless you find a one sentence character sketch to indicate a spoiler), we have Cersei and Littlefinger. Both are considered villains; both perform villainous actions. Yet many readers' sypmathies are extended towards Littlefinger, and nearly all hate Cersei, simply because one charms us, while the other does not. What does this say about our own Western moral values, and our beliefs in them, if simple charisma can kind of change our moral views? I understand this is a work of fiction, which is quite different from real life, but I still find it interesting how it plays out.
And so here back to the journey, and here's where I disagree with you, Erfael. There was nothing gripping in terms of plot, as I have already said, throughout the journey. However, what did provide interest, and what was gripping, were the exploration of these themes, and simply the character interaction between Gerald and Damien, as one begins a long path to some small type of redemption, and the other begins to doubt some of his absolute moral views. This was exciting enough for me; understandably, moral debates may not hold the same thrall over others as they do for me, and are at least hoping for a serviceable plot to go along with it, which is very understandable.
Sorry if I've gone on and if I've been vague or presented my arguments badly (I'm very, very tired at the moment). I was going to write a bit about the world and Fridman's exploration of how the world determines the society and the people within it, but as others have pointed out, that theme is more prominent in the later books. I'm sorry to hear that a lot of you didn't like it; I certainly agree that its no masterpiece, but I think it is more interesting than your average journey fantasy. But hey, I could also just be finding things that aren't there.
Last edited by Brahm_K; November 2nd, 2006 at 12:31 AM.
Wow. Big paragraphs....
My saying that it's there to show how "mean" Gerald is is just my quaint way of talking about your religion/evil concepts. I don't disagree that the journey is used to explore those items. But is that the best way to explore those ideas? Does the journey mechanic help or hurt that exploration? I suppose the author wants to get Damien and Tarrant together for a long time without any real outside influence. I think there were probably more interesting ways to do it. I'm all for ideas. I'm not attached to plot. Some of my favorite books are long on ideas and short on plot, but if that's the case they had better be some really compelling ideas. The ideas here seemed to be sort of low-level explorations of these ideas, and without bringing anything different to the table than other similar explorations. I guess what it comes down to for me is that she's asking one or two questions:Originally Posted by Brahm_K
But to ask a few simple questions and take 600 pages to do it, without even exploring them in great detail, tells me that the author wants us to focus on the journey, as well. So there's the root of my problem with the book. If it's there for the journey, it was too boring. If it's there for the ideas, they're spread so thin over the course of the journey that they have less of an impact than would matter to me. (And I read the book quickly. It took about 3.5 days. So it's not a matter of my reading schedule artificially spreading the ideas out for me.)Originally Posted by Brahm_K
Now, this is interesting. But this is a thought experiment that you've done, yourself. It may be inspired by the book, but the book in no way leads us down this path. I'll come back to this one.Originally Posted by Brahm_K
I guess what it comes down to for me is that these changes that Damien and Tarrant are going through fit into that overly-transparent category we were talking about above. Given how absolutely black and white the cloth Gerald and Damien are cut from is, what else can the author do with them besides send them down those paths. Maybe one of the reasons it's not so powerful to me is that nothing about it is surprising. Even the moral quandaries seem very paint-by-number. "Okay. I've got the really bad former Prophet and the really devoted priest. They'll hate each other, then gradually see how the other perspective has some advantages. They'll each change some in the process, by fighting over the nature of good and evil and through necessity." For me it more comes down to lack of anything outside the box.Originally Posted by Brahm_K
It reminds me of a line from the musical Kismet. The main ckaracter is talking to Omar Khayyam (who he doesn't know is Omar) about the poem "The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on..." His comment, "What ELSE is a moving finger to do [but move on]?" I guess that sort of sums of my feelings on this book. What ELSE are these characters to do but go through these discussions and change in these ways? They're set up in such a way and put into a situation that that's pretty much all they can do, so the entirety of the journey lacks any tension, even in the moral debates.
Enough on that, back to the question posed above re charisma:
My view: People are animals. We may be rational on many levels, but underlying all of that we're still just animals. We have instincts and drives that are not controlled by our rational brain, and in many cases control our rational thought. No matter how much we dress up our society, no matter how much we may deny it, these things drive us. So when a charming (/beautiful/powerful) person comes along, regardless of what the rational mind may think about equality and fairness, we favor those qualities above their inverses. I'm not saying that these drives can't be overcome or aren't ever day, but it takes more of an effort of the civilized part of ourselves to do it.
And whether that charisma can "change" the moral views, I'm not sure of. But in the moment, they can certainly mitigate them. What that says to me about society is that, though we may want to deny these things, there are many currents running beneath "civilization" that many people don't account for. Given the correct circumstances, people lapse into very uncivil behavior, very animalistic social structures. (The Stanford Prison Study had volunteers locked into a building for two weeks, with some of them as "prisoners" and the others as "guards," with no supervision. The stories that came out of that, starting out with regular, middle-class, civil people, are horrifying, really.)
All for now, more later.
Ok, thanks for the advice Erfael. Considering I'm almost finished the book, I think I should avoid these spoilers until I'm done.
But I don't want to miss all the conversation completely, so I'll just mention a couple thoughts.
So far the thing I like most about this book is the originality of the magic system. I found the fae to be a really interesting, original concept. The idea of a reactionary force, of a planet where evolution is affected by such things as human thoughts, was something new. I also liked the idea of the fears in the human subconscious manifesting themselves into real creatures. Imagine living in a world like that! (shudders)
My biggest complaints so far are probably: A) the fact that the entire quest is based on Damien's supposed "love" for Ciani. I was believing it at first... but now that they've gone to such great lengths, for such a fleeting bit of romance, it seems a bit unrealistic. Were they ever even involved, or did it never progress beyond the flirting? I am not even sure.
B) I don't know if it's intentional or not, but I got very tired of how many times Friedman used to phrase "something that was almost a smile passed across Tarrant's lips". I swear I read that at least 10 times!
I hope to post more thoughts, and read all of yours, later this week.
Last edited by Evil Agent; November 9th, 2006 at 02:05 AM.
Yes... this is what I liked about the setting too.So far the thing I like most about this book is the originality of the magic system. I found the fae to be a really interesting, original concept. The idea of a reactionary force, of a planet where evolution is affected by such things as human thoughts, was something new. I also liked the idea of the fears in the human subconscious manifesting themselves into real creatures. Imagine living in a world like that! (shudders)
I was also bothered by the fact the Ciani functioned just a little too well for someone who had her memory/knowledge selectively leached (or is leeched the word I want here?).My biggest complaints so far are probably: A) the fact that the entire quest is based on Damien's supposed "love" for Ciani. I was believing it at first... but now that they've gone to such great lengths, for such a fleeting bit of romance, it seems a bit unrealistic. Were they ever even involved, or did it never progress beyond the flirting? I am not even sure.
There's some more I'd like to add re the themes, but my brain isn't operating on all cylinders right now. I'll come back when I can put my thoughts together in a more coherent form.
Last edited by Raule; November 4th, 2006 at 06:05 AM.
We know that he killed his family to further his own life, and constantly preys and victimises people, hence his title 'the Hunter'. Yet we still find him more 'likable' than anyone else.
I think it just comes down to how we want to percieve people, its a basic instinct to root for the 'coolest' regardless of his actions, but, Tarrant does stand out a lot, so I was instantly drwan to him, bcasuet here was litle else on offer. If it was a better drawn story, or a shorter one for that matter, with less of the ambling and rambling, which just didn't really engage with me, it would have been a better read.
However the concept of the book agreed with me, if there was perhaps less exposition and more creepy, deathlike, brain sucking sci fi scenes, I would have liked it better.
The scene I found closest to that was in the last 50 or so pages or so, right at the end when Tarrant was recuperating, and the demon Celasta brought a woman to be devoured by Gerald, I found it really bloodthristy and primal, and showed how much Tarrant was still the evil badass, shame this was isolated (apart from a few other moments), I would of liked to have seen more like this.
Well, I read the book and then felt compelled to buy the other two books in the trilogy and read them too. Looking back, I'm not quite sure why. I think I'll fall in with the concensus that the setting was cool, the story crap.
I agree - as soon as they left the city, I thought "aha! What's coming up? Yet another Epic Trek Across A Desolate Wasteland," and sure enough, that's what we got. One plus is that Friedman was at least willing to kill off Senzai, and not bring Damien and Ciani together in a happy ending. But then, that wouldn't have left space for a sequel, would it?Originally Posted by Erafel
But the setting, the magic, the Fae, the demons, even the rakh and the bad guys, were all cool. In this book, and even more in the sequels, it seems like all the effort went into the worldbuilding rather than the plotting...
There is indeed more of the Patriarch in the last book, and quite a nice section on Damien's feelings towards the church in the second, but it would have been nice to see a bit more exploration of the more philosophical questions raised, rather than pages and pages of travelogue.
I might be imagining things, but the concept of the fae being responsive to human fears and subconscious thoughts reminded me of C J Cherryh's Rider at the Gate or even Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover. But Friedman certainly did a good job with the fae/human / rakh/ demon relationships.
On Tarrant - I have to say that I just found him a bit irritating. The whole honour-bound to help Ciani just seemed like a really transparent plot device to bring him together with Damien, and it seemed fairly obvious that what we were going to get would be a slow "turning to the light" throughout the series. Like Gildor I liked the scene at the end, and in fact, I'd go so far as to say that Tarrant was far more interesting on his own, reflecting on his own nature, than in forced interaction with Damien....
I think the journey was a pretty necessary way of allowing for the character development of Tarrant and Damien. I don't think that dynamic could have worked in any other setting at this point; if Damien had been anywhere else but the wilderness at this point, he realistically would have simply turned Tarrant in to the Patriarch. The journey in this book (and indeed, in the next book, though it is slightly more interesting in that one) allows realistic bonds to grow between Damien and Tarrant so that Tarrant can interact in the enviornment of a society later on without him simply being burnt at the stake immediately.
I guess I can't say much here besides "to each his own." I thought the ideas were explored interestingly, mainly because I was fascinated with both Damien and Tarrant and thought that they were characterized very well. Because of this, the journey aspect was not as tedious for me as it might have been for others.But to ask a few simple questions and take 600 pages to do it, without even exploring them in great detail, tells me that the author wants us to focus on the journey, as well. So there's the root of my problem with the book. If it's there for the journey, it was too boring. If it's there for the ideas, they're spread so thin over the course of the journey that they have less of an impact than would matter to me. (And I read the book quickly. It took about 3.5 days. So it's not a matter of my reading schedule artificially spreading the ideas out for me.)
I think its slightly more complicated than you're making it out to be. I would first like to say that I do think that it is slightly outside the box, especially in the fantasy genre (especially journey epic fantasy). There really are few well done anti-heroes in the journey genre who were supposed to identify with (though there are some, Thomas Covenant as the prime example), and while the results of the journey may seem kind of predictable, I find that the way Fridman did it (ie: By making Damien and Tarrant such good characters) to be compelling. In examining how a man like the Neocount could turn into a man like the Hunter, I think Fridman goes beyond and adds a depth to the "he good, he bad, they interact and change!" thing.I guess what it comes down to for me is that these changes that Damien and Tarrant are going through fit into that overly-transparent category we were talking about above. Given how absolutely black and white the cloth Gerald and Damien are cut from is, what else can the author do with them besides send them down those paths. Maybe one of the reasons it's not so powerful to me is that nothing about it is surprising. Even the moral quandaries seem very paint-by-number. "Okay. I've got the really bad former Prophet and the really devoted priest. They'll hate each other, then gradually see how the other perspective has some advantages. They'll each change some in the process, by fighting over the nature of good and evil and through necessity." For me it more comes down to lack of anything outside the box.
Re the charisma issues: I agree with your views. However, I think that this is more than a thought experiment on my part as a result of reading the book, and a central part of the novel itself. Damien in a sense is changed as a result of the charisma of Tarrant, not because of the merits of sucking out people's fears and being evil. It is Tarrant's charisma that undermines Damien's "civilized" and religious views, not Tarrant's views themself. At least thats what I got out of it.
Well, I finally finished the book the other night. I feel like I'm becoming a slower reader, as time goes by. And for some reason I just can't stand skimming a book. So I read every word of this one, though I wished at times that I could indeed skim.
First of all, I want to say that everyone's comments and posts have been interesting and enlightening.
Now I'll give my thoughts on the book. Sorry if this is a long post:
-As I said before, my favorite aspect was the original magic system. The fae was very intriguing, particularly in the way that it manifested unconscious fears, or affected the evolution of a race. I think some of it could have been explained a little more however (for example, at first I thought all the fae came from the earth, released by earthquakes... But what, exactly, is the tidal fae and the dark fae?!? Is it earth fae being affected by other forces, like the moons, or is it fae coming from a totally different source?)
-As Erfael said, I think the first chunk of the book started out very strong. I liked when they were in the city of Jaggonath, and I enjoyed the character of the Patriarch. I liked that I didn't really know where the story was going. Once they embarked on the quest, I began to feel a bit nervous. And sure enough, the plot really took a turn for the worse. More on that later.
-The world building was pretty good, with the potential for more exploration of the history and backstory of the planet. I liked the rakh as well, and enjoyed how they were more animalistic than humans. I also liked the mouldy, pierced, underground rakh.
-Friedman managed to create a nice cast of very likeable, and sympathetic characters. Not all authors can pull this off, and I often find myself hating certain characters that I am supposed to like. However, I truly did like the entire fellowship. Tarrant, of course, was the most interesting; I really like Brahm_K's comments about his charisma. That got me thinking, why exactly was Tarrant likeable? I guess it truly is the fact that he was charismatic, good looking, "cool", ultra powerful, and a "bad-ass". Interesting implications here.
-I agree with JJ_99uk; some of the strongest points in the story were Senzei's death, and the lack of a happy ending for Damien and Ciani.
-At first when Ciani lost her memories, she seemed unable to even function. But before long she almost seemed as good as new. I guess this was because Tarrant was helping her re-learn some of her skills. But I think the way Friedman handled the whole "stolen memories" thing was a bit sloppy. I am still unclear on what exactly Ciani lost. Was it only her adept abilities? Or was it more? Did she lose her memories of her romance with Damien??? This last question nagged me through the whole book. Just how much did she remember?
-I agree that the quest is the biggest problem with this book. Sure, the quest serves to provide a setting for the character interaction and character development. And despite being the biggest fantasy cliche, I still enjoy a good quest. But this quest had several problems with it:
It was too long, but that alone is not the worst thing. The worst thing is, it was too long, but also way too boring and way too easy! When they were preparing to embark, it sounded so much harder: crossing some mysterious and dangerous canopy, into a very hostile and unknown land, to confront a completely unknown enemy. But then, we get this:
They traveled... traveled some more... traveled some more. Crossed the Canopy (this part was cool). Meet the rakh. Befriend the rakk (too easily). Travel some more... travel some more. Meet the underground rakh, befriend the underground rakh. Travel some more (underground). THEN, walk right into the enemy's fortress, and destroy her within a couple paragraphs! Way too easy, way too boring. In a word, the quest was weak. This was, in my opinon, the books biggest flaw; and it's a glaring one.
-There were a few other awkward things, such as the Fire. What was the point of this, in the end? Some powerful springbolts, and the rest was completely lost and wasted?!?!? I guess it served to tempt Senzei, which was actually good. But still... the Fire just confused me.
-I did not like how much talk there was about packing supplies (they made whole lists of useful supplies), but we never really heard what they were. Every time they lost or abandoned horses, Friedman mentioned that they saved the most valuable of the supplies. She did this several times, but without ever explaining what any of the supplies were. This just seemed like unnecessary, even amateurish writing.
I have a lot of complaints, I guess. But overall I wouldn't say it was a bad book. I enjoyed it for the most part, but got really bored towards the end. However, I own both sequels and will probably read them. But I'm not sure when; I don't feel any burning desire to read them right away.
I bought these books because they were recommended to me many times, on this site, as good "dark" fantasy. I wish it had been a bit darker, such as the forrays through the Forest (some of the best moments). But I still give credit to Friedman for trying to do something new with the quest genre. I'm just still undecided on how well she succeeded.
(PS: What/where exactly was this Black Sun that Senzei saw in his vision? Did I miss something? Or is this explained in later volumes?)
Last edited by Evil Agent; November 9th, 2006 at 02:55 AM.