In Conquest Born, published in 1986, is the first published novel by C.S. Friedman, who is now known primarily as the author of the Coldfire trilogy. This space opera was originally written as a stand-alone novel, but a sequel called The Wilding was released in 2004. The second novel takes place approximately 200 years after the events of In Conquest Born and features completely different characters so it sounds as though you do not have to read it in order to finish the story – only if you are curious about what happened to the various races of people as a whole.
The Azeans and the Braxins are involved in a never-ending war against each other. Faced with the need to adjust to life on a harsh planet, the Azeans have used genetic engineering to alter themselves accordingly and have embraced and strengthened the telepathic ability belonging to some of their kind. The Braxins have bred a race of leaders known as the Braxana, who are ruthless and untrustworthy. The Braxana have been known to break peace treaties between the two peoples and plot against their own families in order to seize power.
All Azeans have been altered to have golden skin and white hair, so when Anzha, a girl with blood red hair, is born to an Azean family, she is immediately made an outcast and denied citizenship. After watching her parents die a slow and agonizing death due to a Braxana, Anzha’s amazingly strong telepathic abilities are discovered. The Institute, the center of knowledge dedicated to teaching telepaths and researching these abilities, takes Anzha under its wing and attempts to manipulate her. Anzha only has one drive in life – taking revenge on the Braxana who murdered her parents. Thus the vendetta between Anzha and the Braxana Zatar begins.
Although there are some physical battles in this book, the plot largely focuses on political manipulation and enemies attempting to out-maneuver one another. The intelligence of the characters was refreshing and I felt that Friedman pulled this off very well. Many books that attempt to show devious people outsmarting others end up making the characters look stupid since you can see very big, obvious errors in their reasoning. This book actually made the characters look like they had brains, and I enjoyed seeing how the schemes played out.
The various races in this book were well-developed with distinct histories and beliefs. The values of the Azeans and the Braxins were so different that you could see why they continue to be at war with each other, even if the cause was long-forgotten.
Characters in this book were not black or white but gray, and I always appreciate an author who can pull off the feat of characters who are not clearly good or evil. The Azeans and Braxins both had their dark sides, yet their main representatives in the book (Anzha and Zatar) were not so despicable that you could never feel sympathy for them. I found both to be enjoyable characters, especially if you’re not in the mood to read about perfectly nice goody-two-shoes-type characters.
Although I really enjoyed this story, the politics, the characters, and the portrayal of the various races, In Conquest Born is not flawless. The beginning was slow, making the story difficult to get involved in, and at times events were a little confusing. The prose was decent enough, but the story did not always flow very well as it jumped from character to character. Sometimes it switched from third person to first person from the perspective of a character who had not been mentioned previously (and was never a point of view character again), which could be rather jarring. Also, a rather large number of typos prevented me from getting lost in the story as well as I could have.
In Conquest Born contains many ingredients for an intelligent, well-plotted novel with interesting characters and diverse races; however, it fails to mix them in a way that creates a connected story. In spite of that, I do believe it is compelling enough to make it well worth reading.