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Book Review: 'In Conquest Born'

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction to In Conquest Born

“In Conquest Born” by Celia S. Friedman is an engaging epic from start to finish. One young Braxi lord seeks to make his mark killing one of Azea’s few trans-cultural translators for the Braxi language and culture, Anzha Lyu’s father. That act propels his personal and political ambitions, while it triggers the girl’s telepathic abilities at the youngest recorded age, leading to an epic personal and cultural clash almost two centuries later.

You witness a decades long conflict that propels each to the heights of their worlds while changing both them and their societies as each seeks to take the other - and their empires - down.

Book Cover for "In Conquest Born"

Book Cover for "In Conquest Born"

About "In Conquest Born"

The two main cultures in CS Friedman’s book have been at war for millennia, in a universe where human have been scattered to the universe so long that Earth is a theoretical explanation for all the human species today. The book gives us an in depth look of both alien cultures. Braxi is sexual and libertine free for all and advanced society with slavery, unified by conquering the stars and maintained by the spoils of war.

Azea is home to a genetically engineered human species programmed for moderation and gender equality, while Anzha Lyu is a genetic throwback to an unknown ancestor. At the death of her parents, she is left to the telepathic institute for education and study. Her quest for acceptance and vengeance leads her to unlikely contacts and military.

Every chapter brings the characters personal development, progress toward their goals, revelations and action. Whether it is international intrigue on Dari, crossing the frozen wastes of another world, political drama on Braxi or internal struggles on the telepathic institute’s home world of Llornu, we gain a glimpse of diverse human societies without side-tracking from the story. Details like a random remembrance of a very alien old saying or recognition of a neuro-leash used to induce pain or kill slaves make the worlds more real than long descriptions of incredible things to make you feel like it is the future on an alien world.

The network of relationships in the book is incredible and intertwined. Braxi and Azea have intentionally become opposites of each other, to the point Azea remove the trait for facial hair from their men and changed their hair to white because the enemy’s hair is black. Yet both sides face petty internal political squabbles and conflicts of culture and ethics. Anzha Lyu is driven by vengeance for the loss of her parents, the agony she lived telepathically for their deaths and recognition for her victories in a society to which she is apart in appearance, amazing abilities, political mandates put in place to punish her parents and deliberate engineering by those who raised her. The Braxi leader Zatar seeks to reform elements of his society while building a power base that shapes the known universe. Yet he himself harbors a fatal flaw that his rival can exploit upon.

Yet they are in many ways very human. Despite two century life spans and Anzha’s great telepathic abilities, she is lonely, long-suffering and stubborn. Braxi lord, then Kaimera (political assembly leader) and then new single ruler plans so far ahead that minor characters become threads in the story throughout, creating a complete epic. While the foreshadowing hints in the book “In Conquest Born” prevent the ending from being a complete shock, I have reread it several times and only subsequently recognize hints dropped in the story that foreshadowed plot twists or later revelations.

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While the book centers on the two generals featured on the cover, there is a host of secondary characters key to the story and full of contrasts and conflicts that would be their own separate books in this universe if not for the writer’s skill at keeping prose to a minimum but maximizing information. In these contrasts are a father and son rivalry that is suitable for Shakespeare, an interracial spy who fails himself and tries to redeem those who he harmed, and a leader at the institute he who faces down the enigmas he created and loses everything he tried to improve upon. The book weaves in questions on the ethics of telepathy and social engineering and complex questions of identity when it is defined by genetics, culture and/or personal traits.

In the middle of this is a coming of age and saga of a strong female character who is brilliant, talented but flawed and suffering. Forget the bad-ass females who literally kicks ass with inhuman physical strength, speed and stamina. The central character outmaneuvers men, including the enemy’s patriarchal culture and her own, restrictive culture, politically and militarily, while still remaining a relatable character.

In short, “In Conquest Born” is an intense, self-contained book, and it is a masterpiece.

Is There a Sequel to the Book In Conquest Born?

Though "In Conquest Born" was written as a self-contained novel, it did spawn a sequel.

C. S. Friedman’s follow up book to “In Conquest Born” is “The Wilding”. “The Wilding” is set two centuries later, where all the main characters of the first are dead. That book contains more clichés, characters who make truly stupid mistakes, has a weaker plot and fails to deliver a fraction of the quality of “In Conquest Born”.

In my opinion, while "In Conquest Born" is a five star novel, the sequel "The Wilding" is hardly a three, a rushed work by an excellent author to capitalize on the readers who wished for another book as good as the first set in the same universe.

In that vein, I think you should read "In Conquest Born" as a stand alone novel and, if you love the work, move on to Celia S. Friedman's other novels.


Excerpt from "Sirat: Through the Fires of Hell" by Tamara Wilhite

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