Beauty and Nightmare on an Alien World: NIGHTBORN: COLDFIRE RISING BY C. S. FRIEDMAN
What if your feelings had shape and were visible?
What if you could see your nightmares manifest as they turned on you?
C. S. Friedman has published 14 novels, including the highly acclaimed Coldfire Trilogy and the groundbreaking science fiction novel This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year -1998). Her Nightborn: Coldfire Rising novel will be published this July, 2023 by DAW Books; this post reviews an advanced review copy (preorder from the publisher).
The stunning cover art by Jeszika Le Vye evokes and extends the signature covers of the Coldfire Trilogy crafted by Michael Whelan; the trilogy was released during 1991-1995 followed by a 2012 prequel novella, Dominion. Note that a revised version of Dominion, starring the Hunter himself, is in Nightborn.
And stay tuned — Black Gate has an interview in the works with C. S. Friedman (a perfect fit for our series on Beauty in Weird Fiction).
- #0 Nightborn: Coldfire Rising 2023 (DAW, also contains Dominion)
- #0.5 Dominion 2012 novella (Tridac Publishing)
- #1 Black Sun Rising 1991 (DAW)
- #2 When True Night Falls 1993 (DAW)
- #3 Crown of Shadows 1995 (DAW)
Nightborn is Beautiful Horror Sci-Fi Infused with Ethereal Nightmares
Nightborn will hook new fans while exciting veteran Coldfire enthusiasts. The original trilogy occurs hundreds of years after humans found a way to survive on the planet Erna, whose energetic fae transform from an intangible mist into real nightmares. You’ll experience the initial colonization with Nightborn, before humans had any clue. Like Leo, Lise, and Ian (who all bring juicy, haunting memories with them) you’ll get to witness the beautiful, and horrific, wisps of fae manipulate and consume the crew. Friedman is a master at interweaving perspectives so you should expect a splendid interplay between every character’s personal trauma and that of Erna’s hungry energy.
The fae is the foundation of the Coldfire series, it is the source of lore, conflict, religion, and magic. Its various flavors ebb and flows with the moons/sun on Erna, but I won’t spoil the joy of experiencing it any further. Excerpts (below) emphasize what to expect: (1) Beautiful Nightmares (2) Weird Melee (3) Hypnotic Horror.
Expect Beauty, Nightmares, Weird Melee, and Hypnotic Horror
Already a fan of the series? Then read this to learn more lore, the origins and coining of key terms, and enjoy watching fae-worship evolve. Having Dominion bundled with Nightborn amplifies their impacts since they both are highlights of critical events (humans colonizing planet Erna and the Prophet of the Church for Human Unification dominating the Forest); the Book Blurbs serve as excellent summaries (provided below). Whereas the fae begins as nearly indescribable, supernatural energy/evil (almost Lovecraftian) in Nightborn, we learn that it can be manipulated and summoned with spells (aka Workings) in Dominion (more Dark Fantasy).
The role of personal sacrifice in how the fae responds is made poignant and breathtaking. This powerful synergy builds in Nightborn and sets up the epic prologue to Black Sun Rising (Book #1) that defines Gerald Tarrant as a fascinating, immortal protagonist. In short, be prepared to (re)read the Coldfire series!
Be Prepared to (re)Read the Coldfire Series!
A ship full of colonists arrive on a seemingly hospitable planet, only to discover that it harbors a terrifying secret. Soon the settlers find themselves caught up in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, bringing a person’s greatest fears and darkest nightmares to life.
As Colony Commander Leon Case and Chief Medic Lise Perez struggle to find a way to control the fae before more people die, other settlers have ideas of their own…and they may prove more of a threat to colony than the fae itself.
Nightborn: Coldfire Rising is a tale that blends sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, suspenseful and emotionally intense, as a handful of humans struggle to survive on an alien world that seems determined to kill them. In the end they will have to draw upon both scientific knowledge and mystical traditions to save themselves.
Whether you’re just discovering the Coldfire universe through this prequel or returning to it as a classic favorite, Nightborn: Coldfire Rising is the perfect entry point to this unique, genre-blending space fantasy epic.
Four hundred years after mankind’s arrival on Erna, the undead sorcerer Gerald Tarrant travels north in search of a legend. For it is rumored there is a forest where the fae has become so powerful that it devours all who enter it, and he means to test its power.
A dose of Enigmatic Fae
Light was rising now, as if flowing forth from the earth: a strange blue glow, dim in illumination but intense in color. There were currents visible in it now, and as the light intensified waves became visible; they seemed to pulse across the ground in time to the pounding of Ian’s heart. It was as if the entire field was a vast luminescent lake, and he was part of it. The sight of it was mesmerizing enough, but the sensation— the sensation!— was like nothing he had ever felt before…
“I was looking out at the land beyond the camp, when a strange light seemed to rise up from the ground. A blue glow that rippled in waves over the grass, like water. There were visible currents, and in a few places it looked like they were flowing around invisible obstacles. It was . . .” He drew in a deep breath. Beautiful. Terrifying. “Otherworldly.”
…A large beast was atop the table— twice the size of a man, at least— and it was unlike any creature Leo had ever seen. Its head was rat-like but its torso reptilian, and black spider legs jutted out on both sides. Its tail had the diamond patterning of a snake, with a long stinger at the end. A dark and viscous fluid dripped from that stinger, and when the tail whipped toward a nearby colonist—who quickly jumped out of the way—drops of it splattered across the table.
All this Leo saw in an instant, and then he was running towards it, Lise following close behind. What he was going to do when he reached it, he had no clue.
People were screaming and running in the other direction, and one of them almost knocked him over. A few people were simply frozen, and they stared at the beast in horrified helplessness as it grabbed Tom Bennet by the neck and shook him from side to side like a dishrag. Several others had pulled out their guns, and Leo did so as well…
As the creature turned towards him [Steve] thrust the black rod into its chest—deep, deep into the hellish flesh. Whether he hit a vital organ was anyone’s guess, but he must have stabbed something important, because the creature howled in pain and rage, and stopped trying to attack people. It began to draw in on itself, legs curling up against its chest like those of a dying insect, neck and tail pulling back into its body, a grotesque contortion. It began to shrink—no, dissolve—features running down its face in rivulets, legs melting like wax, all of it sinking into a pool of undefined flesh that was taking on a strange blue light… he watched in horrified fascination as the blue light grew stronger, the flesh lost all definition—and then suddenly it was all gone. Only Tom’s body remained, so mangled that it hardly looked human.
But at last her fragile will gave way. She slashed downward toward her left arm with the knife— fiercely, awkwardly— cutting deep into her own flesh. Bright red blood gushed out of the wound, splashing down into the tankard. A small moan of misery escaped the mother’s lips, and Tarrant could see the father tremble as he fought to break free of the Binding, but from the girl herself there was no sound, only a delicious admixture of resignation and terror, as refreshing to him as the blood itself.
An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogy, This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998), In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy, and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing. She lives in Virginia, and can be contacted via her website, www.csfriedman.com.
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction.” He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group and an intern for Tales from the Magician’s Skull magazine. As for crafting stories, he has contributed six entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series, has an entry in Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in Whetstone, Swords & Sorcery online magazine, Rogues In the House Podcast’s A Book of Blades, DMR’s Terra Incognita, and the 9th issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.
One of my favorite one-off science fiction stories is The Madness Season. I’ve read it multiple times and I just love it to bits. I read This Alien Shore and In Conquest Born many, many moons ago as well and remember enjoying them. I need to revisit those. One of great writers of speculative fiction.
Nice. I devoured the Coldfire and Magister series. Highly recommended, of course. I have not read the ones you enjoyed yet!