Review: “The Madness Season,” C.S. Friedman

Pros: Riveting!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

I know–I’m reviewing a book from the 1990s, which might seem pointless. I happened to remember that I’d only read one of C.S. Friedman’s books, and that it was amazing, so I decided to start catching up. The Madness Season reminded me of just how good sci-fi can get when it’s in the right hands.

Daetrin is a shapeshifter–his people are the basis for werewolf and vampire myths the world over. He’s trying to survive in a world where humans were conquered several centuries ago. He’s spent so much time trying to go unnoticed that he’s forgotten a great deal of what he’s capable of. After he’s discovered (and taken away from Earth), he ends up forging an unlikely connection with a Raayat, an ‘unstable’ member of the hive-mind Tyr (the ones who’ve conquered everyone). That Raayat starts to develop its own individual personality–in a moment of whimsy, Daetrin names it Frederick. While Frederick tries to learn more and more about humans, Daetrin escapes and meets one of the Marra–a shape-shifter who, at its core, is actually an energy being. It/she (Kiri) is fascinated by the concept of an ’embodied’ shape-shifter, and she starts to help Daetrin. He and a group of human scientists work tirelessly to find a way to defeat or destroy the Tyr.

 

My attempt to sum up the premise above didn’t come out entirely well. There’s so much going on in this book that I don’t know how to condense it down. The plot and characters are portrayed intimately with the perfect balance of narrative and exposition. Discoveries and epiphanies don’t bog down the narrative–they keep up with the heart-pounding pace. Most books that rely on this much revelation get bogged down at some point by exposition. Not so in The Madness Season–they’re woven into the narrative so skillfully that they add rather than detracting.

Characters have so much depth to them. From the scientists who pretend to be doing research (but are really retreading old science to keep from giving the Tyr ideas), to several individual Marra each playing their own role, to the cat-like creatures who serve as guards for the Tyr, there’s a hugely complex ecosystem in place that balances precariously on certain pieces of knowledge (or lack thereof). They change and grow over the course of the book. In particular, the relationship between Daetrin and Kiri ensnared me. The depiction showed great subtlety. Both of the characters learn so very much about themselves over the course of the book that their relationship can’t help but evolve with them.

Lest I give you the wrong impression, let me assure you that there’s also plenty of action. Bloody fights abound and many people die. It’s never gratuitous, however. It always furthers the story and the characters.

Time for me to go catch up on further books by Friedman!

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