1993’s When True Night Falls is the second book in C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy.
Having vanquished a Big Bad in the first volume (as explained in the lengthy mission report provided at the beginning of the novel), Damien Vryce (Warrior Priest), Hesseth (a rakh, native to the planet), and Gerald Tarrant (former Prophet of the Church for Human Unification on Erna) head East, pursuing some as yet unidentified great evil they believe resides there.
The expedition is not the first to set out from the West for the East. There have been several previous expeditions, all of which vanished without a trace. Now Damien and his allies get to find out why.
The expedition finds the East to be a land far more advanced than the West. United under its Church, the region appears to be very cautious about visitors, temporarily sequestering Damien’s party and prohibiting any direct contact with its citizens.
As the expedition discovers, while three of the previous Western voyages fell to some unknown calamity on their way East, two managed to reach their destination. They were promptly massacred. Damien’s party would have massacred as well, had it been intercepted by an Eastern warship in time.
In this world, reality responds to belief; foreigners might be destabilizing and thus better dead. Or could it be that the West is to be prevented from learning too much about the East?
The Eastern Church differs from that of the West in several ways. The most shocking, to Western eyes, is that its loftiest offices appear to be reserved for women. How odd! On closer examination, Damien and Tarrant begin to suspect that the women for whom those offices are reserved are not human. They are rakh (as previously noted, natives of this world; they are often hostile to humans).
No doubt that some dark entity is at work here. It’s up to Damien and Tarrant to uncover what exactly is going on. The only problem is, Tarrant is rather thoroughly corrupted himself. He’s this world’s analog to a vampire. He might just be swayed to change teams.
The planet on which the book is set has been settled by humans for over a thousand years, yet it is still not clear that the planet is habitable by humans over geological time scales. Humans don’t fit in this world1.
Women seem to experience consistently dismal fates in this book. The exception is Ciani, a character in the first volume, who deftly avoided catastrophe in this book by passing on the expedition. It’s a good bet that any significant women (human or not) allied to the protagonists will end up having to make heroic sacrifices.
This book is almost six hundred pages long. It would have been better at four hundred. Not only does it begin with a lengthy prolog emphasizing a point that readers of the first book would already know, but there is a very lengthy mission report detailing the events of the first novel. The author may be trying to ensure that this book can be read as a stand-alone.
Friedman’s prose is perfectly functional, although not flashy enough to distract from the book’s structural issues. Similarly, the characters are engaging enough, which means the reader will care when one of them throws themself on a plot-grenade. I could sense a potential here that was not fulfilled. Pity that this particular installment was a bit of a slog.
Uh, I liked the cover?
Sunk-cost fallacy alert: I feel I should track down the final volume, to see if indeed there’s any way for the humans to survive in an environment so responsive to their imagination and fantasies.
1: For another series about a hostile planet, see Deathworld .