Pros: Fantastic characters and constant striving
Rating: 5 out of 5
I realize that C.S. Friedman’s In Conquest Born has been around for quite some time and isn’t in any way a ‘new’ book. I read it first a very long time ago, and when I found it last week I realized I wanted to read it again, to see if it measured up to my memory of it. In short, it did.
Anzha is an incredibly powerful telepath who was permanently damaged by the horrific death of her parents right in front of her. She developed a deep and dangerous hatred of the Braxana, who arranged that death. While the Azeans–Anzha’s people–hold telepathy as one of their greatest gifts, the Braxana kill any child who displays psychic tendencies. The two races have been at war nearly as long as anyone can remember. Anzha, however, is a throwback to some odd race–instead of the light hair and bronzed skin of an Azean, or the pale skin and black hair of the Braxana, she has light skin and blood-red hair. The Azeans believe this is tied to how powerful a telepath she is, and they set her up to wander, hoping she’ll find the race whose heritage she shows. Meanwhile, Zatar, a powerful Braxana, manipulates both members of his own race and others in order to fulfill his ambitions and his need to protect his people. Anzha and Zatar use the war that surrounds them as their personal battleground, gradually coming to focus on each other rather than entire races.
I absolutely LOVE the characters in In Conquest Born. They have so many layers, some of which aren’t even revealed until close to the end. The characters are full of life: ambition, desire, fear, and hatred so strong it takes on a life of its own. Even the side characters reveal surprising depths. I always wanted to know more, and secrets came to light with great regularity.
The pacing is fantastic. I sat on the edge of my seat wanting to know how everything would come out. And while the ending was satisfying, I found it difficult to set the book aside. It has the gleam of a military SF novel, but its focus is on the wonderful characters. I need to track down more of Friedman’s books if this is any example of her work. I went into this hoping to find out that the wonderful book I read twenty or so years ago still looked brilliant with an adult eye, and I loved it every bit as much as I did then. I so rarely re-read books, but this one was worth the effort. The characters constantly strive–for life, for pleasure, for recognition, and mostly, for hate. They’re larger than life; their emotions are larger than life. Friedman does a fantastic job of making that work for her. Even characters who vanish for large parts of the book end up feeling fully fleshed-out, and they never feel like a deus ex machina since they were set up earlier. They help to keep the world feeling real and busy and full of life. The ways in which they’re treated by Zatar or Anzha says so much about those two characters as well.
The world-building is wonderful. We have two such different races in the Azeans and the Braxana, and yet you can feel the underlying shared human similarities. Both Anzha and Zatar are unusual members of their races in one way or another, which just brings out the racial issues so much more clearly. I would love to read more books set in this universe.
I set out to find out if the book was as good as I remembered, and frankly, it exceeded my expectations.