The Madness Season

Mea culpa: Although C. S. Friedman's Cold Fire and Magisters trilogies rank among my all-time favorite speculative fiction reads, other than This Alien Shore I had yet to read In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, or The Wilding. I have owned the first two for well over two decades, so it's not as though I never had the opportunity to read them. Unlike fantasy works, science fiction titles often don't age very well and I was afraid that it would be the case with these novels.

And yet, as a big Friedman fan, I had to remedy that sad state of affairs. Hence, after much debate, I elected to give The Madness Season a shot. And I'm glad I did for, even twenty-eight years after it was originally published, this book was a satisfying read that definitely deserves more attention.

Here's the blurb:

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.

A shapeshifter/vampire science fiction novel! How could I resist? Themes such as freedom, assimilation, individuality, free will, and more are explored in the aftermath of Earth's conquest at the hands of hive-mind aliens. This work was written by a younger C. S. Friedman, one that had yet to reach the maturity and the control of her craft that allowed her to come up with a genre classic like Black Sun Rising and its sequels. Still, the author writes with an assurance that already showed a lot of promise. There are various concepts and ideas that form the backdrop of The Madness Season, and overall Friedman managed to rise to the occasion and came up with a superior stand-alone story. I particularly enjoyed the alienness of the Tyr and the Marra. I also liked how the author played with the vampire/shapeshifter concept and how Daetrin's true nature might be the only thing that could save mankind.

Daetrin is the main protagonist of this novel. Centuries old, he has buried his secret so deep that his true nature now eludes him. It was quite interesting to discover more about his past lives through the timefugues flashback scenes and how he found a way to live a more or less normal life until the Tyr came. Three hundred years have passed since the conquest and Daetrin is now the only living being on Earth who remembers what life used to be like on the planet. The man is a terribly flawed character, which made it a pleasure to follow him. The second main perspective is that of Kiri the Marra, a decidedly fascinating lifeform that plays an important role throughout The Madness Season. There are a few other points of view, but Daetrin and Kiri take center stage throughout.

There are certainly pacing issues in various portions of the tale. The book suffered from a slow start and it took a while for readers to understand exactly what Daetrin truly was. It also took some time for the drifting Marra losing her memories to really come into her own. Inevitably, both Daetrin and Kiri's plotlines converged, but even then it remained unclear as to how they would work together to ultimately free humanity from the yoke of the Tyr. Such rhythm made for uneven moments that created a bit of confusion from time to time. The Madness Season was never boring, mind you, yet there's no denying that it took longer than expected for the storylines to finally come together. Perhaps it proved to be more difficult for a less experienced C. S. Friedman to streamline those aforementioned concepts and ideas into a more fluid narrative? Given the length of the book, the endgame was probably a bit rushed compared to the earlier portions of the tale. Still, it was a rousing finale that definitely closed the show with aplomb.

All in all, for all of its pacing shortcomings, The Madness Season proved to be a satisfying read. One that has aged particularly well, in my humble opinion. So if you want to get a taste of an up-and-coming Friedman, a Friedman that had yet to make a name for herself with the Coldfire trilogy, this science fiction yarn featuring a vampire in space is exactly what you should read.

A fine mix of science fiction tropes and monster lore, with an interestingly flawed protagonists and some cool aliens and settings, this is The Madness Season in a nutshell. If you're looking for an old-school title to bring on vacation this summer, this could be just what the doctor ordered!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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