The Madness Season – C.S. Friedman

About the Book
Friedman’s ( In Conquest Born ) exceptionally imaginative, compelling science fiction novel leaps ahead to the 24th century. For hundreds of years, Earth has suffered under the yoke of alien conquerors: the dreaded Tyr, a reptilian race in which all individuality is submerged into a single, overarching consciousness. Determined to keep humanity cowed, the Tyr have culled from the captive population the most intelligent, the most curious, the most likely to foment rebellion, and banished them from Earth. As the memory of freedom recedes, humanity sinks into a lethargic subservience. Daetrin, the hero of this tale, is a vampire–not a monster, however, but a man, nearly immortal, who embodies the vanished virtues of a once-sovereign Earth. When his existence is exposed by the Tyr, who are appalled to find a human who witnessed the Conquest, they immediately ship him offworld. Thus begins a journey of self-discovery as Daetrin is forced by adversity to come to grips with the long-suppressed side of his nature and to confront the ancient horror of a bloody heritage.

496 pages (paperback)
Publication date: October 3, 1990
Published by DAW
Author’s website
It’s no secret that C.S. Friedman is one of my favorite authors. I love how comfortable she is in the moral gray zone with characters and situations in her work. Her books tend to be brain candy for me. Thus, since I have read her fantasy stuff, I decided it was time for me to take a journey into the older Friedman releases and, specifically, some of her science fiction works. After much deliberation (which was really more like playing a mental game of Rock, Paper, Scissors) I decided to give The Madness Season a shot. Despite how hard I tried not to, I couldn’t quite avoid comparing the older Friedman with her newer works. Therefore, this review will probably read a bit differently than my typical stuff. 
First, dear reader, let me give you some context. Friedman’s well known Coldfire Trilogy was first published in 2005. The Madness Season, her second published book, was published in 1990. Thus, there were fifteen years of growth and development for Friedman between The Madness Season, and the trilogy that many people know her for. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is important for me to note in a review. A reader can’t expect the same maturity and development from The Madness Season as they can from her newer fantasy works, and doing so would probably diminish the enjoyment a reader would gain from reading this book.
That being said, The Madness Season is a really interesting mix of science fiction and old school monster lore. Despite the fact that this is, at its most base level, a book about a vampire in space, that shouldn’t turn people off. Friedman’s spin on the vampire himself keeps the typical and tired monster incredibly unique to the point where the vampire definition most of us probably assign to these characters really isn’t that applicable.
Her spin on the vampire is good reference for the rest of the book. There are some very old ideas in The Madness Season which Friedman shines a new light on. While The Madness Season is an interesting blend of old and new, some of the typical tropes are rather tired and never quite recover no matter how much Friedman tries to revive them. This gives the book an awkward balance between new and refreshing, and old and exhausted.
Despite that, Friedman’s prose never falters. Her writing quickly eases into a comfortable cadence. She’s descriptive without being overbearing and, though this book is filled with unique cultures and peoples, she doesn’t need to flood the pages with strange and made up words to lend it a sense of foreign. In fact, it’s Friedman’s writing style that is one of the things I have always loved about her and it was refreshing to see that time has only more finely honed her obvious natural talent for the written word.
The plot is another point that is awkwardly balanced in The Madness Season. The start is rather slow, but once Friedman reaches her pace it picks up quickly and remains at a nice clip until the end. At this point, however, too many conclusions are drawn too quickly for the book to feel like it has reached it’s natural conclusion. Despite that, the plot is engrossing, thought provoking and easy enough to follow to be enjoyable for the reader who is willing to tame those slow waters at the beginning and sort out a rather uncomfortably paced ending.

It’s hard for me to read any of Friedman’s books without looking for a Gerrald Terrant style antihero. However, you won’t really find one here. It does an injustice to The Madness Season to compare her characterization here with her more recent books. This is where the yet-to-be ripened author really shines through. Her characters are easy to relate to, enjoyable to read about, and their motives are very understandable. However, I couldn’t ever quite find that blissful shade of gray I have come to associate with Friedman. It was an itch that just wasn’t scratched. 
That being said, this book was more of an enjoyable read than the brain candy Friedman’s recent works have been for me. The plot does take some work getting immersed in, and some readers may find that this book takes dedication to read, but it’s worth it. The story is enjoyable. The characters are likeable and Friedman’s writing is, as always, wonderful. The Madness Season is awkwardly balanced between an unwieldy paced plot, and a few too many old ideas that never quite developed into anything incredibly unique. Yet between those two poles is an engrossing plot, and a unique spin on an old monster myth. While it’s obvious that the maturity and depth of her later works is missing, it’s still an enjoyable read. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see the journey an author makes from her early days to her current state.
3.5/5 stars

5 Responses

  • Brenda

    I haven't read anything by Friedman yet. I do have Black Sun Rising checked out from the library, but I'm not sure I'll get to it before I have to return it. With your good recommendation of the author, I'll have to try hard.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I hope you like it. I love that trilogy, but some people don't. Personally, Gerrald Terrant from that trilogy is one of my absolute favorite characters in fantasy. LOVE him.

  • Jamie (Mithril Wisdom)

    I've only read the first in the Magister Trilogy, but I did really enjoy her writing style. I'm not sure if her scifi will grip me as much, but will definitely keep an eye out for it. Thanks 😀

  • Dan Jones

    Uh, The Coldfire Trilogy consists of three books published in the early '90s: Black Sun Rising (1991), When True Night Falls (1993), Crown of Shadows (1995). It immediately followed The Madness Season, not fifteen years later.

    I also think you're judging Friedman's vampire-based hero in the contexts of the current vampire craze where the mythos has been streted to and even beyond the breaking point in every conceivable direction. At the time it was published, The Madness Season was highly original and took the vampire legend in entirely new directions.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    Thanks for the correction on the publishing dates. The website I was looking at (I believe it was Amazon) had the date I listed above as the date Coldfire was released, which was obviously wrong…or there was a rerelease or something that affected the original publication date.

    I will also admit that yes, I am letting the modern and exhausted vampire etc to color how I am judging this book, which is unfair to the book overall, and I do thank you for pointing that out. It does obviously taint my review and I should have been more up front about that.

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