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Book Review: The Wilding By C.S. Friedman DAW books, July 2004. $24.95 cover price.
This is the latest from Ms Friedman. Since she writes a new novel every 5 to 7 years without regard to how much her fans may want one, I have held off reading this one for a year out of protest. I am sure she is properly chastised. She has published 7 other novels and one odd little novella in paperback so if you read this one and like it a lot there is a wealth of other stuff to keep you busy till her next one comes out. Ms Friedman has a day job as a set and costume designer back east somewhere and apparently is paid enough to only write when she darn well feels like it. I highly recommend The Madness Season or In Conquest Born which are both always available in paperback and are in perhaps their 20th Printing. Ms Friedman dabbles in Fantasy and has the distinction of writing the second fantasy series I ever completely finished (the first being Lord of the Rings).
The Wilding is a story of colliding cultures in a distant future universe. The bad guy Braxi are eerily familiar, some kind of blend of Islamic misogyny and very similar to the Necromongers so recently featured in The Chronicles of Riddick but predating them. I found them compellingly evil and well described, lifelike and scary. They are matched against their natural enemies the psychic, Azea, who are not all that nice either, showing signs of “end justifying the means” or “lesser of evils” explanations of why they are motivated. Thrust from these two cultures the protagonists are an outcast Braxi and newly converted psychic from the worlds of the Braxi are running from what can only be said as larger controlling forces and are seeking what might be distilled to redemption. The Braxi must bring back what turns out to be the bride for a very disturbing emperor of Braxi that seems to have the bad luck of all his consorts committing suicide promptly after he is intimate with them. The Psychic is seeking her own kind having always been taught that they were the epitome of evil and learning along the way the nature of herself and her genetics.
The action takes us through both the universes of the antagonistic forces and a twilight zone of buffer between them. The two protagonists are natural enemies but find reasons to keep each other alive in this quest. Planets, outer stations, locations of intrigue and few safe havens are all traversed in well-written action, and plausible plotting. There is an undercurrent of Byzantine politics that I found interesting and not too heavy handed or convenient for the author to dump dead end plot bits on. As usual Friedman is very well crafted and brick solid in her storytelling. It flows so very well you forget it is 3 am and you need to get some sleep. The Universe this novel exists in is dark and full of icky themes and it is hard to root for the good guys sometimes. In the end, Ms Friedman helps us examine our own thoughts about prejudice, and the value of self.
The novel works on two levels, it is action packed and a page turning rush through gigantic vistas, and on a deeper level, it is very complexly put together look at the most base of human motivations. There is no hint of arm waving pseudo psyentific lingo to make stupid stuff work, this is a story about people in a very strange place and pushed to extremes. It gets my serious recommendation. This is not a weekend read or a book for the beach, save it for a winter week when it snows too bad to go to the gym or grocery store. Call it 72.37 thumbs up out of 83.912 available thumbs.
Thank again, Steve!