When True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman
At the end of Black Sun Rising, Reverend Damien Vryce, the devout warrior priest, discovered the source of the evil that is infecting his country — it lies across the ocean where there exists another continent that humans are aware of but know nothing about. In the past, several expeditions have been sent to explore it, but none has returned. Damien knows he should report to his church’s patriarch, but he’s afraid the patriarch will forbid him to go, so Damien ignores the man and instead boards a ship to cross the ocean. He is again reluctantly teaming up with Gerald Tarrant, the evil undead sorcerer who used to be considered a prophet until his fall from grace.
Damien despises what Gerald has become, but they have a common enemy and there’s no way Damien can succeed without the help of Gerald’s unholy power. Damien has begun to fear for his own soul because he’s using evil to fight evil. He is not sure whether the end justifies the means and he is worried about blurring the line between good and evil. He’s also not sure how far he should go to protect himself. Is it greedy to want to kill others to save your own life? Can you consider saving yourself to be working for God because then you’ll be alive to serve God?
When Damien and Gerald arrive on the other continent, they find a country that at first seems ideal — the citizens appear happy, prosperous, and full of faith. They’re more technologically advanced and they seem to have tamed the wild fae that wreak havoc in Damien’s land. But soon Damien and Gerald discover that something sinister is going on. They don’t know exactly what it is, or who they can trust in this foreign land, but they know they have to travel to a distant part of the continent to get answers. There are many hardships along the way and even Gerald is frightened by what they encounter. Then things get worse when Damien suddenly isn’t sure if he can even trust Gerald anymore. Is it possible that Gerald is actually allied with the demons that are trying to eradicate humanity?
The strengths of When True Night Falls are the same as those of the previous book, Black Sun Rising. Friedman’s style is engaging and Damien’s personal ethical struggles make for compelling reading. Friedman talks deeply and intelligently about the power of faith, sacrifice, repentance, and forgiveness. Most fascinating is how she portrays Gerald Tarrant as utterly evil, yet gives him just enough humanity to make the reader long to seem him redeemed. In When True Night Falls, we learn why Gerald sacrificed his soul and I think many readers will understand his reasoning and sympathize with him. (I did.) Gerald is completely aware that he can repent and be forgiven, but he also knows that his repentance would be false because he’s not sorry for what he did. Gerald Tarrant has got to be one of the most tragic “heroes” in fantasy literature.
The main weakness of When True Night Falls, at least in my opinion, is that it’s much too long. Like the first book, it’s a fantasy quest involving all the familiar elements — lots of travelling, fighting, hiding, fleeing, etc. There are earthquakes, crevasses, desserts, oceans, cliffs, volcanoes, and all sorts of other hostile landscapes. This just goes on way too long and makes some parts of the book feel like a 1980s epic fantasy quest. (Though a particularly well written and intelligent 1980s epic fantasy quest.) If the number of pages detailing the traveling had been cut by a third, When True Night Falls would have been a better book. The ending is exciting and touching, though it’s a little annoying that it’s clear that another quest will be needed to wrap things up.
I read the audio version (26 hours long!) narrated by R.C. Bray. I have enjoyed his performance so far. In this second installment he distinguishes the speech of a couple of the new characters by giving them an unnatural cadence, making them emphasize the wrong words in a sentence. I’ve heard this technique used before and I wish narrators wouldn’t do it. I think it’s unappealing and distracting — it sounds like computer-generated speech. If the narrator has run out of voices, I’m perfectly able to rely on context cues from the text to understand who is speaking (after all, that’s what we do when we read in print). Other than this issue with a couple of minor characters, Bray’s performance was very good.