It’s not often that I start a book and cannot finish it. Celia Friedman’s Black Sun Rising, unfortunately, is one such book. It is unfortunate because she has such a good premise. Humanity has inhabited another planet where a dark spiritual force flowing through the earth (called the ‘fae’) gives shape to people’s nightmares, which in turn are manifested in reality and can only by controlled adepts and sorcerers. Or at least so I think. The Seeing, and Knowing, and Healing, and Working that occurs is so unclear as to render the character’s usage of the fae more than confusing.
But the lack of a well thought out system of magic is only the beginning of the book’s faults. More troublesome is characterization and character interaction. Again, I think Friedman had a good idea about how to motivate the discourse; the two main characters are opposed ideologically but must work together toward a common goal. But again, only in theory. Friedman’s execution of dialogue between the two, on top of being overwrought and subsequently unbelievable as conversation between two real humans, is chock full of forced emotions that have no prior background. So often does a character explode with emotion after a point that does not seem to warrant such an outburst. “Damn you, Tarrant! You just gave me my tea with those cold eyes of yours. How I despise such behavior!!” And so on. If the characters had been properly motivated, I could have understood such interchanges, but alas, plot too is thoroughly lacking in convincing enough ideas to move the story.
But I can—and have—read books with poor dialogue and storyline all the way to the end. What prevented me from finishing “Black Sun Rising” is the prose, or rather, lack thereof. Full of anachronisms and entirely lacking subtlety, Friedman is guilty of telling her story rather than showing it. Check the following quote:
“The portal closed by Ciani’s Working was clearly the main guest entrance. Damien and Ciani unpacked the horses while Senzei went off in search of a groom. After some moments he reappeared, a pair of lanky boys in tow. Teenagers, both of them, with the nervous uptight gestures of boys whose pubescent energies had not yet found safe outlet. They need a good night out on the town, Damien thought. Then upon reflection, he added, They need a good town.”
Do the boys go on to perform any other function? No. Does this paragraph advance the narrative? No. Why then would Friedman tell us what the main character is thinking about the stable boys? Is it humor? Hopefully not. Is it insight into the main character’s mind? He seems pretty normal. Or is it just shoddy writing? The best bet. Were this the only paragraph digressing unnecessarily from what could have been a great plot, the misstep could be forgivable. But that the whole book is full of people who are “utterly certain that…”, and things that “seem like…”, and emotions that “suddenly…”, it’s as if a high school senior edited the book. Hard to believe Friedman teaches creative writing at a university.
Suffice to say, Black Sun Rising—and I assume series—is second rate material worth your time only if you like these kinds of simplistic fantasy featuring superlative laden prose, over—and therefore—underdeveloped characters, and meager plot development to begin with. Friedman’s ambition simply does not match her skills as a writer in this book.