Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dominion by C.S. Friedman (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read an Excerpt HERE
Order Dominion HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Barnes & Noble)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Celia S. Friedman was born in 1957 in New York city and was enamored by reading since a young age. She developed a strong affinity towards science fiction in her teens thanks to Isaac Asimov & since then has gone on to read much of it. She got her MFA from the University of Georgia, where she studied Costume Design. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and has two cats that are integral to her writing process.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Four hundred years after mankind's arrival on Erna, the undead sorcerer Gerald Tarrant travels north in search of a legend. For it is rumored there is a forest where the fae has become so powerful that it devours all who enter it, and he means to test its power.

This prequel to C. S. Friedman's bestselling Coldfire Trilogy (Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows) offers fans of the series a hint of Tarrant's secret history, while new readers will enjoy a chilling introduction to one of High Fantasy's most fascinating -- and deadly --worlds.

FORMAT/INFO: Dominion is 3o-odd pages. Narration is in the third person via Gerald Tarrant and Faith the Church Knight. There is an “about the author” section as well. Dominion is a standalone novella and is also a prequel. January 9, 2012 marked the e-book publication of Dominion by the author herself. Cover art is provided by Linda Gilbert and Casey Gordon.

ANALYSIS: Dominion is a novella by celebrated SFF writer Celia S. Friedman, it is a prequel to her seminal work that is “The Coldfire trilogy”. The first book “Black Sun Rising” was released in 1991 and captured the interest and fascination of readers worldwide with its curious mix of science fiction and fantasy. Two sequels followed at a biennial rate and the author closed of the trilogy and the story of eclectic bunch of characters found within. Liviu is also a fan of this series as is Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and it's through both their efforts that I go to know about Dominion.

Before we start I would extoll readers to read this wonderful essay about the series and its motifs by a polish fan. It has a few mild spoilers but it remarkably demonstrates why it had such an impact amongst SFF readers nearly two decades ago and why it still holds a special position in their minds/hearts. I haven’t read the trilogy but that is more due to laziness on my part rather than anything else. Also since this novella was a prequel, I thought of it as a perfect opportunity to begin my exploration of this evocative work.

The story has two protagonists namely Gerald Tarrant and Faith, the former is the first of a kind among mages, the latter the ultimate survivor of a hunting Knight force. They are polar opposites and are both drawn to a certain special forest that will test their fortitude. Gerald is drawn to it for the sole reason that it raises his curiosity by being a font of fae energy, which might have sentience. Faith on the other hand, doesn’t have an exact clue about how she has landed there. Death however stalks both of them and one misstep will be all that it takes for the forest to claim dominion over both of them.

What is so good about this novella is that even though it is on the shorter side in matters of length, it does not waste any extra space in immersing the reader in the dark world of Erna. The setting and background information is quickly given to the reader without making it all to obvious and at the same time is the introduction of the dual POV threads which fuel the story. The pace of the plot is of the express kind but it does not hamper the characterization in any way, which just shows the proficient prose utilized. Another point about the characterization is that readers will be thoroughly invested in both characters and of course it’s almost impossible not to be enamored by the Neocount whose actions, intellect & power are visible only as the tip of the iceberg. I know who the readers will most likely be rooting to achieve dominion (as was I) and that is another highlight for the novella to entrance the reader in such a small timeframe.

The novella is structured in such a way that its not hard to guess where it will end up but here’s the beauty you can’t exactly predict how it will end for both the protagonists (Obviously veteran fans of the Coldfire trilogy will know more about the fate of one of the POV characters). The twist in the end as well as the origin story of another character in the middle will be very much appreciated by pervious fans as I’m lead to believe that both plot twists are pivotal for certain events in the future trilogy. Overall this novella stands out for making it easy for fans & non-fans to get acquainted with it easily, with out losing out on the surprise factor that is often the downfall seen in most prequels due to the nature of the stories.

I don’t think I have any feedback of the dissenting kind for this story as it simply caught me off guard with its sheer excellence and it shames me to say that I haven’t yet read the Coldfire trilogy in spite of owning all the three books.

CONCLUSION: C.S Friedman’s Dominion is nothing short of a brilliant way to get new readers exposed to her seminal trilogy and other works. Do yourself a favor and read this novella if you are looking for dark fantasy and a protagonist who is quite simply the perfect embodiment of an antihero. Dominion is a must read for all fans of the darker turn of the fictional worlds, so go meet the Neocount and be prepared to amazed.

"Stories from The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Paul J. McAuley Website
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order Stories from the Quiet War HERE
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Read FBC Review of "In the Mouth of the Whale"

INTRODUCTION: I read this collection after the wonderful In the Mouth of the Whale - my top 2012 book so far and while it's very early, I am quite sure the novel will remain a top 10 as the year goes by - as I did not want to leave the superb universe of the author.

For some of the stories here, it was the 4th or 5th time I read them, some third, some second time and only Karyl's War which is newly published (hint: contains an Arab Spring reference) was for the first time; notable Quiet War milieu stories missing are Dead Men Walking and The Gardens of Saturn which are also awesome and there are 2 or 3 others excellent ones missing also (The Passenger, Assassination of Faustino Malarte...). Still for a very low price, these 5 stories offer a very good reading experience and I highly recommend them.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Stories from the Quiet War opens with a new introduction by the author explaining a bit the genesis of the milieu and of the novels, while also making the transition from the Solar System of their action, to the future and away of In the Mouth of the Whale.

Making History is the first QW story I have read in the awesome PS anthology "Futures" of 2000 and it hooked me on the milieu; this was my 4th or 5th read of this story and the first person narration of an aging history professor who is commissioned by the winning powers to write a biography of the most hated (or most heroic) leader of the Outers, the immediate post war desolation where the winners make the rules and the vanquished endure and a beautiful girl and a love stricken police commander/chief torturer were as fresh as on the first read.

Incomers is a more recent story and is set after the war in a habitat less touched by it, though its reverberations and suspicions still go on; good stuff too but less memorable than most of the rest.

Second Skin - one of several stories about the spies and saboteurs, the Earth Powers had sent in the first wave of the war before the conquest and while Dead Men Walking is the best such, this one is excellent too.

Reef - Outers science and tech on display and sense of wonder and speculations about the future; this story fits best with In the Mouth of the Whale and is another excellent one

Karyl's War - the odyssey of an Outer outsider who wants only to be left in peace to live his nomadic life, but as those memorable words say: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you". More great world building and action as well as a cautionary tale for all seasons so to speak. When history is in the making, the individual becomes a statistic...

Overall - if you have not read the author's wonderful series that starts with The Quiet War, try these stories and see if they hook you as Making History did it 11 or so years ago for me...