Over a millenium ago, Erna, a seismically active yet beautiful world was settled by colonists from far-distant Earth. But the seemingly habitable planet was fraught with perils no one could have foretold, and the colonists found themselves caught in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a terrifying natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, drawing forth a person's worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life.
Twelve centuries after fate first stranded the colonists on Erna, mankind has achieved an uneasy stalemate, and human sorcerers manipulate the fae for their own profit, little realizing that demonic forces which feed upon such efforts are rapidly gaining in strength. Now, as the hordes of the dark fae multiply, four people - Priest, Adept, Apprentice, and Sorcerer - are about to be drawn inexorably together for a mission which will force them to confront an evil beyond their imagining, in a conflict which will put not only their own lives but the very fate of humankind in jeopardy...
This book has been one that I’d been looking forward to in my SFF reading list and I was not disappointed! It has much more good/evil complexity than many of the fantasy books that were previously published (before 1991). Although it is in many ways a typical quest tale, Friedman gives it a couple of twists that distinguish it from earlier quest tales—one member of the party is undoubtedly evil and the party is looking to track down a demon-type entity which has stolen the memories of one of the party. This demon must be killed to restore her to some semblance of normality. Normally, all of the questers would be good guys (sometimes corrupted like Boromir in LOTR), but this is like inviting one the Nazgul to join you in your travels! They are not looking for an object, but for a target, bringing back a memory, not a trophy.
The world Erna, where this tale takes place, reminded me somewhat of Sheri Tepper’s world, Grass. There is a malign feeling to Erna and its inhabitants toward the humans who have settled there that felt familiar from that world. I also was reminded of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series—the settlers of Erna didn’t actually choose the planet so much as get stranded there and have to deal with the fae emanations of the new world, just as the Darkover colonists must deal with their unchosen planet. Plus, the changes to humans and the rakh of Erna made me think of Julian May’s The Many Colored Land, and the adaptations of the ship-wrecked Tanu & Firvulag on ancient Earth.
Having enjoyed all of those books, these were all good associations for me. Although most groups fulfilling a quest have to deal with the price of success, I thought this one explored the notion of “how much power at what cost” very effectively. It is, of course, the first book in a trilogy, so I didn’t expect things to wrap up neatly, but I was pleasantly surprised at how unsettling the ending was—Ciani is restored, but has been very much changed by the whole experience; the priest has to let go of his preferred outcome; the Hunter has realized his limitations. I very much look forward to continuing the series.
Book number 296 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.