Book Review: Coldfire Trilogy

I recently finished the Coldfire Trilogy, a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy by C. S. Friedman, and enjoyed it more than any series I’ve read in quite a while. In brief, the books are set on a planet recently (1200 years ago) colonized by humans that is quite similar to Earth except for one major difference — a strange force, called the Fae, is present on this planet and responds to humans by making their thoughts and emotions become (almost always unintentionally) more-or-less “real.”

One aspect I really enjoyed about this book was seeing the world premise come to life — how one major difference can create such a different world. Human civilization on this planet, called Erna, despite originating from a spaceship is not very technologically advanced — the original scientific records were destroyed and most machines and mechanizations (such as guns) could not develop because any doubt in their workings would become manifest and prevent them from working. On the other hand, religions with strong followings can become quite powerful, which is a major theme the books center around. At the same time, humans, through their dreams and beliefs, have created countless “demons” and “gods” that depend upon humans (either physically or emotionally) to sustain their existence but can become quite powerful in their own ways. Some humans have developed abilities to control the Fae to some extent, using it to their advantage, but this use is questioned by the Church and quite limited for most users.

Enter the two “protagonists” into this world, Damien Vryce and Gerald Tarrant. Damien Vryce is a warrior and priest of the Church of Human Unification with deep-seeded religious faith, but still a manipulator of the Fae to better serve his missions for his God and Church. Gerald Tarrant is a complex creature who was originally a religious, aristocratic visionary who helped found the Church and sought to have the Church utilize the Fae to improve mankind’s condition on Erna, but was then kicked out of the Church because it wished to divorce itself, and humanity, completely from the Fae, instead of using it. At least in part triggered by this schism, Gerald goes on to become a mass-murdering creature of darkness, starting by murdering his family (one of the most gruesome scenes is in the first chapter of the trilogy when this happens). Having great skill in manipulating the Fae to begin with (he is what is known as an “adept”), Gerald becomes quite powerful and nearly immortal over time, turning into something akin to a vampire, but different in some key aspects. When the books take place, Gerald has been around for about 900 years already — he, and the terror always in his wake, have become a legend and he has been given the name of “the Hunter.”

Basic plot: Damien is forced, greatly against his original wishes, to team up with the evil, yet unimaginably powerful, Gerald to defeat even greater evils.

What was fascinating to see in the progression of this trilogy was Damien’s questioning of his faith and slipping of morality — originally he would never dream of being partners with the Hunter, but was forced into the situation to solve much bigger problems, and all the while Damien repeatedly promises to destroy the Hunter (even while they worked together), though by the end of the trilogy… much has changed — Gerald, and what he is, has become an integral part of Damien’s life, and Damien is forced to confront what this means for who he is. Gerald still claims to be an adamant supporter of the Church, as he was its founder and visionary, and this often causes Damien to question his own faith and very lifestyle. Of course, it’s not all Gerald and Damien — other interesting characters come into play that are all greatly affected by the Fae, for better or worse.

Friedman does a great job of creating a fairly believable world based off of her premise. She fleshes out an alien world, with animals similar to ones on Earth, and even does this repeatedly on an ecosystem level, while explaining how the Fae is involved with it all. As you can tell, I also greatly enjoyed her portrayal of character interaction and development over the course of the trilogy. She does a good job of mixing up focus on these interactions with general interesting action/plot development as well — the books have a good pace, overall. The only negatives to it is that it does get a bit graphic at times (but Friedman is trying to make a point with all these scenes — it’s not just being graphic for being graphic’s sake), and I wish it had kept going — it ended a bit abruptly for me, and I think it could have continued on… Overall, I’d highly recommend this trilogy.

6 Responses to “Book Review: Coldfire Trilogy”

Has Friedman written anything else? I know I’ve read at least 2 books of hers a long, long, long time ago, but I can’t remember what they were. I’m thinking it may have been this trilogy…

After reading your review, I’ll have to track this series down!

Mallorn - March 19th, 2008 at 8:25 am

Friedman actually hasn’t written a whole lot of other books (and these are the only books of hers I’ve read, though I just ordered her newest one). The Coldfire Trilogy, which she wrote about a decade ago, was her first big breakthrough.

She’s also written the “The Braxi/Azea duology” (including “In Conquest Born” which I got for Andrew but he did not like). Her newest is the “The Magister Trilogy” (only the first book is out). Her only other books, which are standalones, are “The Madness Season,” “The Alien Shore,” and part of the “Vampire: The Masquerade” RPG series, a section called “The Erciyes Fragments.”

teisha - March 19th, 2008 at 9:41 am

I just wiki’d this trilogy and I recognize the cover art… I know I at least started this one. I’ll have to go back and re-read it now!

Mallorn - March 19th, 2008 at 10:38 am

I thought this was an excellent review- you expressed what the book is about, and what styles it has, without giving anything away.

I really enjoyed the trilogy, and I have an aversion to fantasy novels.

The ending even presented the reader with a dilemma I found interesting. Which is better: A world with magic, which can hurt and heal, or a world with no magic at all? Damien is presented with a nightmare in book one, where his church has triumphed and magic is unknown. Then he sees a battle field, and realizes that there is no magic to instantly heal the wounded. For someone who sees minor magic as something akin to breathing, it was quite traumatizing to him. Neat books!

Paradoxdruid - March 19th, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Well, even though historically I haven’t enjoyed fantasy novels, there are a few I’ve read recently that I really liked.

After reading your review, I’ll have to add this trilogy to my list!

ShortSpeedFreak - March 20th, 2008 at 4:03 am

I haven’t read this trilogy, but Andrew & Teisha have mentioned it to me for so long that it now needs to rise to the top of my summer reading list (that is, the list of what I can read when I’m not scrambling to keep up with grad school reading!) I have often thought, in the course of my 54-year life, that technology is a kind of ‘magic’ or ‘dreams can come true’ aspect of human existence — we learn to do things technologically (advance medicine, control reproduction via birth control, build better bombs, program video games, invent cell phones, etc), and the things that mankind ‘wants’ take on a life of their own and subsequently shape human society in a way that might not have originally been intended or foreseen. I have thought that technology is helping to ‘shape’ human society in a way that represents both its best dreams and worst nightmares, and provides a physical manifestation of the human spirit that is not necessarily recognized in advance of its manifestation. (I guess one of the reasons why something like the loss of the super-orbital manned space flight program is so very sad to me, even though I realize that ‘robotic’ flights are much more practical. Landing on the moon in 1969 is something that everyone from my generation will remember as long as they live — I remember my mom saying that when she was young, she could imagine that we might go to the moon within her lifetime, but she never imagined that it would be telecast live on everyone’s tv. A manifestation of technology like that — landing on the moon, and letting everyone see it — is a dream come true in many ways… and excites other dreams….)

Meg - March 21st, 2008 at 9:10 am

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