The Faded Sun Trilogy — Somber Sci-Fi With In-Depth World-Building

February 13th, 2024
Cover image of the post


They were the mri - tall, secretive, bound by honor and the rigid dictates of their society. For aeons this golden-skinned, golden-eyed race had provided the universe mercenary soldiers of almost unimaginable ability. But now the mri have faced an enemy unlike any other - an enemy whose only way of war is widespread destruction. These "humans" are mass fighters, creatures of the herd, and the mri have been slaughtered like animals.

Now, in the aftermath of war, the mri face extinction. It will be up to three individuals to save whatever remains of this devastated race: a warrior - one of the last survivors of his kind; a priestess of this honorable people; and a lone human - a man sworn to aid the enemy of his own kind. Can they retrace the galaxy-wide path of this nomadic race back through millennia to reclaim the ancient world which first gave them life?

The book cover below includes alt-text.

The Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cherryh. Three black-clad warriors with swords in the desert looking at something in front of them. Strange constructions and a pale moon in the background. Caption: "The epic science fiction masterwork, now available in one magnificent omnibus edition!"


I have mixed feelings about the trilogy. It was very difficult for me to get into, for reasons I'll discuss below, but I ended up enjoying it. I found the complete lack of humor... noticeable, and the language of the author often hard to comprehend. The characters, especially the alien ones were difficult to sympathize with, but the deep dive into their cultures and the world-building in general was fascinating and immersive. I ended up not rooting for any race (and actually wishing them dead, which is unlike me), though I did care about certain characters, but not as deeply as I would like to. The ending also left me kind of sad, and not in a good way.

Made-up words

I'll be honest, in the beginning I hated the book. I would have given up on it if I hadn't bought the whole trilogy. If I'd only had the first book, I would have DNFed it after the first few chapters.

The biggest struggle I had in the beginning was the language. There were lots of made-up words introduced without any context or explanation that made it impossible to understand what was going on. It made reading frustrating.

I highlighted the following sentence in the first chapter as an example: "And when the door closed, aged Pasev, kel'e'en, veteran of Nisren and Elag's first taking, pulled the as'ei from the shattered plaster and merely shrugged off the sen'anth."

Now, after reading the whole trilogy, I understand what it means. But it was the first chapter, and none of these words made sense yet. None of them were explained, and they were just thrown together like that, as if they were regular English words that the reader was supposed to know.

Don't get me wrong, I like made-up words. I think they can enhance the narrative in an SFF story. But they should be introduced in such a way that the reader can understand what they mean. Then, the reader should have enough time to get comfortable with them, while they're put in contexts that make it easy to remember their meaning. I feel like the author made it unnecessarily difficult for her readers, and I wonder how many she'd lost just because of that.

It was especially weird when in the second book, after I finally learned all those words, and how the author used different endings to signify gender, plural forms, or rank (which was unnecessary in my opinion, taking into account how many made-up words there already were, and how difficult they were to understand even without the variations in forms, which made them ten times more confusing), they were suddenly explained. And very well, too — they were introduced organically in the narrative in a simple and efficient way. I can't understand why she hadn't done it in the beginning.

Style and language

While we are on the subject of language, there are a few more things I'd like to say. First is how somber and humorless the story is. And it is fitting for the narrative, it's just that it doesn't have a single funny moment or line of dialogue or just a scene with a more lighthearted tone. It kind of works, but it was something I noticed.

Another thing is the author's particular style of description that often left me puzzled as to what happened or was described. It's poetic, melancholic and vague, and maybe it's just me, but there were many scenes where I didn't understand what actually took place until later, or at all. There were many action scenes, where I knew that something was going on, but couldn't tell for the life of me what exactly that was. Same goes for dialogue. Sometimes people discussed something, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Or a character felt a certain way, but I didn't have a clue why. That ended up being somewhat alienating for me.

At the same time, there were moments where the style worked beautifully, creating poetry in the narrative. I just feel that there was too much of it in all the wrong places. I like understanding characters and events.


This is a very slow-paced story, and that was another reason why I hated it in the beginning. Nothing was happening, and I couldn't even properly understand half of it anyway. However, sometime after the middle mark of the first book I started getting into the story, and from then on, I remained hooked.


This is one of the best things about the book. It's in-depth and immersive, and it stayed with me, as if those cultures and worlds were real. Even with all the flaws I mentioned, there is something about the story that is visceral and vivid, and the world lives on within me, which doesn't always happen.


The characters were interesting, but often unsympathetic. There was something standing in the way of me truly caring about any of them — and it's not that I didn't care at all, but I also didn't really feel a connection. Maybe it was because I didn't understand them, didn't share their values, and the ones that I could understand and agree with weren't developed or particularly important.

Duncan (a human) was my favorite, but there was something missing, especially in the end, when he basically became mri and had to betray humans, including the people who had been good to him. I think it should have torn him apart, should have been an incredibly difficult moral dilemma, and there were some hints that it wasn't easy for him, but not much more than that. To me personally, focusing on his internal struggles and thoughts when he made his choices would have been interesting and would have helped to connect with him more.

Aliens and immorality

There are two alien races besides humans. I think the profoundly different ways in which each race thought, perceived information and made decisions was nicely done. I enjoyed this aspect of the story. Seeing how each species analyzed the others' actions from their own perspective, which led to endless misunderstandings and terrible decisions, was fascinating.

Even though I could sympathize with the mri more than regul, who were despicable in every way, I still didn't like them much. It made sense that their (and regul's) values were alien to me, but there wasn't much of anything I could agree with, support or appreciate. However, I enjoyed getting to know those cultures and their ways of thinking. I just wish there was more about them that I could like. Not everything, not even most things, but at least a few, you know?

Even after spending lots of time with the mri and starting to care about them just because of that proximity, I couldn't get behind their final actions in the trilogy. I think what they did to the peaceful elee (another race we get introduced to at the very end that's very similar to mri) was so heartless and cruel, and no one even had a second thought about it. The mri basically brought destruction upon them and their ancient city, and got tense when they saw some of the elee getting out and wandering around, but then they were like, oh, these are just children, we're fine. Just children who are going to die because of you and who have just seen their parents die and their whole city destroyed? That reminded me that the mri only ever cared about themselves and looked down upon every other race. Because mri means 'people', and tsi'mri, which they call everyone who isn't mri, means 'not people', or less than. And honestly, in that moment, I thought fuck them.

I'd had some sympathy for them before because of the miserable state they were left in by the regul. I wanted them to survive just because genocide is wrong and having a whole race and culture disappear is always a tragedy. But after that, I thought that maybe the freaking regul, whom I hated, had been right, and the mri really deserved to die. That's why the ending, where they got another chance, did not bring any sense of satisfaction or closure, and was somewhat disappointing.

And look, the mri did what they did for survival. We had several mri POV characters, one of them who made this decision, others who executed it. If we got into their heads and saw some internal struggle there, at least a trace of doubt, maybe I could understand. People do horrible things for survival. The moral dilemma, the struggle of it is what makes such things interesting to read about. It's something that gives us food for thought. What would I do if I were them? But there was nothing — no doubt, no guilt, no sorrow. Even Duncan didn't seem to care. In the end, it felt like they didn't deserve the chance that they got, and I'd just been following heartless killers all along.


There were aspects of the book that I truly enjoyed, like the immersive world-building, the peculiarities of each race's culture, traditions and thoughts, and how it made mutual understanding impossible, some poetic moments, and how vivid the world turned out to be, staying with me.

There were aspects that I disliked, like the vagueness of the language and thoughtless introduction of made-up words that made it hard to understand, the slow start, the lack of sympathetic characters to root for, and the ending. I ended up hating both the regul and mri (who I somewhat cared about for a while), and wishing them all dead, which isn't what I usually feel about whole fictional alien races.

The trilogy also felt very much like it was written in the seventies. Not an inherently good or bad thing, but it was very clear I wasn't reading a modern book.

You might enjoy the book if you like in-depth, immersive world-building, don't mind a somber tone and like exploring alien cultures even if they are entirely unsympathetic.

You can get The Faded Sun trilogy at Kobo, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple and other bookstores, but maybe start with just book one to be sure.

The author

Currently resident in Spokane, Washington, C.J. Cherryh has won four Hugos and is one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed authors in the science fiction and fantasy field. She is the author of more than forty novels. Her hobbies include travel, photography, reef culture, Mariners baseball, and, a late passion, figure skating: she intends to compete in the adult USFSA track. She began with the modest ambition to learn to skate backwards and now is working on jumps. She sketches, occasionally, cooks fairly well, and hates house work; she loves the outdoors, animals wild and tame, is a hobbyist geologist, adores dinosaurs, and has academic specialties in Roman constitutional law and bronze age Greek ethnography. She has written science fiction since she was ten, spent ten years of her life teaching Latin and Ancient History on the high school level, before retiring to full time writing, and now does not have enough hours in the day to pursue all her interests. Her studies include planetary geology, weather systems, and natural and man-made catastrophes, civilizations, and cosmology…in fact, there's very little that doesn't interest her. A loom is gathering dust and needs rethreading, a wooden ship model awaits construction, and the cats demand their own time much more urgently. She works constantly, researches mostly on the internet, and has books stacked up and waiting to be written.

Find her on her website or Goodreads.

Featured image by ThankYouFantasyPictures.

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