Some books get downright strange. That doesn’t detract from their quality, it just means that I finish reading and pause and wonder what on earth I just read. But I’m smiling as I do so. That’s one way to tell a good book: regardless of what you’re thinking after you read it, you’re smiling.
The Madness Season by C.S. Friedman is one of those books. It wasn’t the first book I read by her, but it is one that I won’t be getting rid of. As interesting as I found several of the concepts in the Coldfire Trilogy, there’s just something about how those books are written that I can’t work with. And I tried so hard to reread them, but I just got stuck in prose.
Not so The Madness Season.
This book brings us to Earth some three hundred years after an alien invasion. A successful one by a species which prefers unity to diversity. A hive mind. Stop thinking about Ender’s Game, because this is quite different. Oh yes, and our main character has secrets that he’s been keeping for years, and some he’s been trying to keep from himself.
I can’t really say more than that about the story because I hate spoiling things that I feel are truly worth experiencing, and this book is definitely one of those. I find people’s recommendations to me tend to be rather hit or miss, but this one hit hard. Let’s just say that C.S. Friedman takes the time to explore thought processes, cultures, and how biological structures and instincts shape them. With three alien species explored in some depth, plus our own to compare and contrast with, it’s certainly a fascinating read.
This was only the second time I’ve read The Madness Season, but it should say something that the first was June of this year. I do not often read books multiple times within a calendar year, and when it does happen, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Firstly, a new book in the series came out. Secondly, it is just that good that I simply couldn’t wait any longer to reread it. Yes, this book is that good and it’s a shame that I have such trouble with the Coldfire Trilogy, otherwise I might have found it years earlier. The friend who recommended it did mention that she believes C.S. Friedman’s strength lies in standalone novels, and that anything more drawn out is better left untouched. Having only read five of Friedman’s books (the trilogy, The Madness Season, and In Conquest Born) and one short story (“The Dreaming Kind”, found in Catfantastic) I honestly couldn’t say if I agree or not. Only that I have no intention of purging either book (or the aforementioned anthology) from my collection.
My final thoughts on The Madness Season (for this reread at least) are that I am always left with the impression that it’s more twisted than it seems. I mean, the plot isn’t strange at all, fairly standard sci-fi in that there’s an alien invasion of Earth. We’re just a bit further down the timeline than most tellings. And exploring alien mindsets isn’t that unusual either. One of my favorite books is wholly about that.
I guess my impression comes from the climax and ending of the book. But, like I said, no spoilers. You’ll have to read it for yourself and decide whether or not you think it’s twisted.