Cover Image: Nightborn: Coldfire Rising

Nightborn: Coldfire Rising

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Nothing beats getting new books from some very talented authors, and C.S. Friedman is one of those! Another absolute classic.

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First off, I loved the Coldfire series and the Magister series from Friedman, while those two are more geared towards the fantasy aspect, Nightborn is more about the shift from sci-fi to fantasy.

The way this story weaves horror and Sci-fi together is pretty amazing.

When the fae starts to affect the earth colonists throughout their camp, there’s a sense of fear, but also something familiar about it.

I love the circle back to the way the fae respects sacrifice.

This book also includes Dominion, which I read years ago.
It’s always great to revisit Gerald Tarrant’s story and origin though. He’s still one of my favorites, a very complex reformed villain / anti-hero.

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Nightborn is a prequel to C. S. Friedman's ColdFire Trilogy. I purposely did not read over the trilogy before divulging into the book because I wanted to see how well it stands alone. It did not disappoint.

The basis of Nightborn is to introduce us to the founding of Erna by humans and their discovery of the fae. Friedman is a master of making characters seem real, giving them good back stories and diving into the colonists and the early struggles of settling on a new planet.

The story unfolds with a hint of horror. It pulled me in rather quickly, as a reader, and I must admit I started reading late in the day and finished the next morning. It's definitely one of those "cover to cover" novels.

The appearance of her most notable character in the Coldfire Trilogy late in the book throws several hints of how he came into being, and I'm sure these are indications of more stories to come. I eagerly await them.

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I just finished reading Nightborn, and it’s incredible! Well worth the wait! I found myself caught up in it, immersed—at least once—so deeply that, had my wife not been sitting next to me as I read, I would’ve let a tear roll down my face. That’s not an exaggeration or hyperbole, either. Everything about that particular scene shook me, because it was so well written that it took me back to a dark place I’d hoped never to revisit. Is that melodramatic? Absolutely. Is it also the truth? Unequivocally. The way the author’s words reached into my psyche and pulled that pain up from where I’d buried it so long ago is a testament to her gift for storytelling. She should feel very proud of almost making me cry.
While Nightborn fits perfectly in the world of the Coldfire Trilogy, it is not the world of the Hunter. Not yet. Nightborn is very close to “hard science fiction”. While there is plenty of mysticism and religious symbology, it’s still rooted in the plausible and has a certain logic to it. Nightborn is about people that are culturally familiar to us, how they discovered the fae, what that cost them, and it also offers a glimpse of what they might gain.
Now, Dominion, that’s a whole other story! Literally! It drops you right smack in the middle of a world chock-full of malevolent demons, knights with shining swords, and soul-selling sorcerers! It revolves around Gerald Tarrant, of course, but you also meet a knight of the church with an unexpected gift. Amoril, Gerald’s protégé from the Coldfire Trilogy, makes his debut and you learn more about him than expected. But to me, the most interesting character in Dominion is the Forest. Not a walking-talking character, of course, but close. Through its interactions with the other three characters—and they are interactions, not just the environment reacting to characters, make no mistake—you get a glimpse into what makes the Forest tick, and what it was like before the Hunter.
Together, the two stories are the yin-yang of Coldfire. Nightborn shows you the “science-y” side of things and how people react to something that they’re completely unprepared for, something completely unexpected and unnatural (unnatural to them, anyway!) On the other end of the spectrum, Dominion shows you both humanity’s ultimate compromise with that unknown, and its ultimate weapon in its fight against it.

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I have not previously read any of the Coldfire series, so I went into this prequel with no real idea of what I was getting myself into. The lack of knowledge wasn’t a problem; this works fine as a stand-alone. I could tell when something was being introduced that was important to the series (the casual, “oh, she called them Nightborn” or “we decided on ‘fae’” felt prophetic) but it wasn’t awkward.

As a stand-alone, this gripped me right away. Chapter One immediately thrusts you into a mystery to be solved, with the perfect balance of world-building and plot. The entire novel had an ominous vibe to it. Not super dark, but an undercurrent of unease with a mild sense of threat throughout. I stayed up late on several nights wanting to know what was going to happen next. This is not horror, but there are some suspenseful moments as well as descriptions of violence.

Decent character development for a novel that is not really character-driven. Dialogue is natural. Prose flows well. A lot of unanswered questions about the world-building, but I’m not mad about it. That’s to be expected with a prequel. Some interesting plot twists that are foreshadowed enough to make sense when they happen without being heavy-handed.

Overall I was impressed. I may even pick up the first book of the original series to see where things go from here.

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I have followed C.S. Friedman for many years, I love her writing. The original coldfire books were addictive, dark and wild. This book took me back to those books and didn't disappoint. We are there at the landing from Earth, living with the colonists on a planet wild, wonderful and so deeply deadly to human beings. We are there with the discovery of the Fae and the tactics used to learn to control them. I loved it, every spooky minute. The language used is deep, descriptive and beautiful. I wanted so much more and it is a nice large book. There is even a wonderful short story at the end. Well wonderful in my opinion as it is a horrifying, terror wracked run in a forest with an old friend. But yes it was fantastic. READ this book!

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4.5/5 stars! I picked up this story strictly based on its beautiful cover. It reminded me of the old Wheel of Time covers. Then I read the premise and was hooked. This prequel is an epic start to a science-fiction tale of survival. The characters are written with so much raw genuine expression that I found myself mourning their struggles alongside them. This was a really enjoyable read and I will be checking out the Coldfire Trilogy next.

I received an advance review copy for free through NetGalley, and I am leaving this review voluntarily

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This book is quite good, with the colonists struggling to build a colony on Erna, a world at the edge of the galaxy, and to adapt to life on a world quite unlike Earth. The struggle of the colonists to build a new life as their expectations have to continually shift is well laid out and carries the plot forward well. The novella Dominion is also included. Dominion follows Gerald Tarrant in a perilous forest journey, as well as Faith, a young knight abandoned by her fellows in the same forest. The transition from the world of the colonists to the world of their descendants is rather jarring, but not unexpected, given the threads laid out in Nightborn. The struggle to control the Fae runs throughout both works and is surprisingly fierce. I haven't read the trilogy, but if it is anything like Nightborn, it is certainty worth reading.

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It’s rarely rainbows and butterflies when a science fiction book tackles the colonization of a mysterious distant planet, but I did not expect things to go as wildly off the rails as they do in Nightborn: Coldfire Rising. With swift pacing and an intriguing mystery at its core, I was transfixed by this story and its unique setting.

C.S. Friedman’s lithe prose wastes no words pushing the action forward moment to moment. By explaining the seemingly supernatural entity/antagonist in scientific terms, Friedman grounds this story in a terrifying and plausible light.

Having not read the original Coldfire books, I can’t speak to how well this prequel sets up that trilogy, but it left me wanting to jump right into those books, so I’d say it’s a very effective appetizer for what’s to come.

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this was a great prequel in the Coldfire trilogy, it had everything that I was looking for in the description. The characters were what I was looking for and it worked overall with the story. C.S. Friedman has a great writing style and it was what I was hoping for. I was invested in what was going and thought the world was what I was hoping for.

“Very well.” He bowed his head. “Without further ado.” He signaled for one of his assistants to bring forward a tray with a towel laid over it, which he took and held up in front of him. “I bring you tonight’s main course, a dish I fondly call Ode to Earth.” He nodded toward his assistant, who reached up and pulled the towel off with a flourish."

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I absolutely love the <i>Coldfire</i> trilogy. Getting the ARC for <i>Nightborn</i> made my day. I’ve always wanted to know how it all went down with the neocounts. I briefly considered rereading the trilogy before this, but I got a bunch of other (boring, legal) reading to do.

Sadly, this isn’t a story about Gerald Tarrant, or the rise of the Church/Matriarch/Patriarch, sorcerers, or Adepts. It’s a rather stock first colony/settler story with banal interpersonal conflict and resource issues. Instead of hostile life, or something inherently inimical to humans, Erna has a unique and magical element. <spoiler>Except there is hostile, sentient life which is briefly alluded to in the epilogue—the Rakh!—which someone wouldn’t get unless they read the trilogy.</spoiler> The characters discover this over the course of the story, but for people who have read the trilogy we already know what’s happening and how it has to end.

<b>The Characters</b>

~The Inner Circle~ (at least there’s no Feyre)

Annalise Maria Perez (Lise), from Phoenix, Arizona. Chief medical officer and sometimes narrator. She’s the first narrator but becomes something of a background character, the lone doctor who gets excited by penicillin cultures and has a blossoming relationship with Leo.

Leon Case (Leo), "Nigerian darkness" (I immediately pictured that Dave Chapelle sketch, with Rick James calling Eddie and Charlie Murphy “Brothers Darkness”), Colony Commander of the Erna migration, and main narrator. He’s kind of a dick for wanting to forget his dead son imo (his son's name was Justin Case, which, I don't know, it's an obvious pun that doesn't fit the setting). Kind of a mediocre leader too. He asks people to do things rather than order when the latter would be more appropriate. He failed to immediately establish a watch duty to make sure people didn't run around the alien planet with unknown plant and animal life which apparently 90 years of observation failed to reveal.

For someone who "...wishe[s] that he were a religious man so that he could rage at God," Leo invokes god fairly often, and not just "in vain" as people in the US do perforce of habit. I do think this ties into the dominant religion in the trilogy, but doesn't make much sense for his character.

He's a total hypocrite when it comes to <spoiler>his treatment of Dani and Angie. Dani is a chaplain, which can be secular but in this case isn't. He lets her set up a church-like area. Angie is some kind of neuroscientist who has done actual, legitimate research in occult symbology and its impact on neurological processes. Dani's Christian-lite spirituality is given free reign, but Angie's pagan-lite stuff is shut down. <spoiler>Moreover, on Erna, there is no functional difference between praying over a rosary and drawing magic circles for your citrine and amethyst to take in the moon(s)light.</spoiler> He does backpedal very quickly, even as he dismisses Angie's theories.

To be fair, Angie's arguments for her theory are specious, and not at all as objective as she portrays (though Leo readily accepts them as presented for expediency’s sake).

<i>"There is more potential in a single drop of blood from this finger than there would be in the death of a thousand deer. Because those animals mean nothing to me, while this—this is the very essence of my life."</i>

Tell that to the ALF. Mowing down deer might mean nothing to her, but personally I'd rather lose a few drops of blood than ritually sacrifice animals. She goes on to say:

<i>"But the blood of a random animal, on the other hand—that would only be meaningful to someone of such high moral standing that the act of killing shook him to his core."</i>

Cutting my finger open doesn't "shake me to my core." If that's the standard, her previous statement is incoherent.</spoiler>

Ian Casca, botanist, ginger. He really wants to be a tree. <spoiler>This guy turns out to be able to see fae (later known as an Adept (and gets a moon named after him)). To me it seems like he can see it because he desperately wants, more than anything else, to belong to Erna. But Senzei in <i>Black Sun Rising</i> also really wanted to be an Adept. So is it tied to one's desires, or something one is born with? Or both?</spoiler>

Now, Leo believes he had no choice in his treatment of <spoiler>Ian</spoiler>. <spoiler>He kills him after Ian blows up some stuff and goes out to the woods to do some true night ritual. He did have options. Like, locking him up.</spoiler> Maybe if someone had thought to include a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, or middle school guidance counselor, there would be more options.

They seem extremely ill-prepared for colonizing a planet, their reliance on technology being the worst of all. There is a startling lack of practical experience, from butchering animals to starting a fire. Leo has no concept of how to construct or maintain a hierarchy, creates no laws or enforcement mechanisms, and is clearly unwilling to have a leadership position (which one might imagine would disqualify him). <spoiler>Dude straight up executed a man on sight.</spoiler>

There are some other named characters who are interchangeable. Ted Carver (ecologist, serial killer name), Pravida Rakhi (xenobiologist) Danika “Dani” Lin (chaplain), Anna Jaziri (programmer), Joshua Indal (engineer), and Johnny Kanoska, (astronomer? Astrophysicist? Meteorologist?). With the exception of Dani, this “inner circle” is shunted to the background.

Tia Reyes, the first one to go, is a geologist with “wide-set eyes that tipped up at the corner like bird wings” (a cute description I guess, though the second time it's mentioned is a bit much <spoiler>They put birds on her gravestone because the wings look like her eyes?</spoiler>), and “dark honey skin.” Her motivation for being on this little jaunt is that she wanted to have children, but the population controllers/eugenicists on Earth said no. To a new planet! Her partner died in stasis, and her primary issue with this is not having his DNA for babies. But, like, IVF? A syringe? Make it work, people.

<b>The Writing</b>

It feels very 70s/80s to me, that era of sci fi, which fits I think. I do like her other work, after all. It was fine, for the most part.

There are some places I wanted more description. Like the drop pods and cargo pods are just pods, which really could be any shape, size, or color. I imagined smooth, egg-shaped things, probably because I was looking at pictures of eggplants. I don't even like eggplants.

<i>"The stress of leadership fell from him like a discarded chrysalis."</i>

This line comes up when Leo walks into his new office, which Lise turned into a seraglio or something. "Chrysalis" implies he has gone through some kind of transformation, from caterpillar to butterfly or something equivalent. Was his time as the colony commander him transforming into Lise's lover? Is being in a chrysalis normally a stressful event? It feels like she wanted to do something different with the whole “<i>x</i> fell from him like” line, but it didn’t work for me.

I don't know how I feel about the inclusion of <i>Dominion</i> as a part two. The writing is noticeably better, in my opinion, and gives us characters we care about from the trilogy. It highlighted how indifferent I was to the characters in <i>Nightborn</i>. <i>Nightborn</i> isn’t that long, and they die off in regular intervals. The tone of <i>Dominion</i> is totally different, and I think people who haven't read the trilogy will be confused by the massive time jump and characters that have no immediate connection to the people they read about for the past 300 pages.

<b>The Plot</b>

Anyone who has read <i>Black Sun Rising</i> knows what's going to go down.

<spoiler>As is pretty standard for most stories that have a ship filled with people in cryo chambers, the one that brings our protagonists to Erna is really, really far away from Earth. Dude just kept trucking. The picky ship passed on multiple less-than-ideal planets, and after a century of deliberation settled.

Once the colony ship shows up it’s immediately obvious Erna is tectonically fucked. There’s three moons, a huge volcano range plus an attendant sea of fire, frequent earthquakes, the works. Leo wakes up Lise, then eight other people, to evaluate the situation.

Things get off to a good start, for about twelve hours. Then shit gets real weird, real quick.

Leo is the main narrator, and he is entirely out of his element and unable to deal with the obstacles the colonizers face. His inner circle convenes occasionally, but they are all at a loss until Ian reports the blue fire he saw during true night. People have been dreaming about it. In response to this, the characters begin taking…drastic actions.

<spoiler>People who've read <i>Coldfire</i> know, but to be brief: Erna has a unique energy known as Fae which is extremely sensitive to human thought. Basically, it creates dreams and monsters. Like in <i>Coldfire</i> they've got a bunch of demigods and vampires walking around. So, if you're super scared something's going to happen to you—like all your bones vanishing, for a totally arbitrary example—there's a good chance it will happen.</spoiler>


I did enjoy the ending, and was a little surprised.

It would have worked better for me if it hadn't been the first two weeks after arrival, but instead the first few months or the first year. We do see the murmurings of factionalism, but it's minor and restricted to a handful of characters. Two weeks isn't really enough to form cults or establish practices. This is the very insular beginning of Erna, and given the appendment of <i>Dominion</i> (which is a 600 year time skip), I think the story would have been served better by a broader view.

There are so many stories about first colonies, and what sets this apart is Erna and <spoiler>the fae</spoiler>. But we get so little of the characters actively interacting with <spoiler>the fae</spoiler> and learning how to live on Erna, because, again, it's only the first <i>two weeks</i> of their lives. There isn't any mystery to it because I've already read the trilogy. <spoiler>Show us the rise of the One God, show us cults formed around faeborn, let Ian be an ideologue (why was the moon named after him?!).</spoiler>

<b>The Worldbuilding</b>

I'll preface this by saying <i>Nightborn</i> isn't hard scifi. It isn't about that. It's about Erna, and the colonizers' relationship with their new home. It's a total trip, and the uniqueness of Erna is one reason why I love the Coldfire trilogy. That and Gerald.

You could construe some issues as the fae and the planet/moons/Core influencing each other, rather than the latter being the genesis of the former. Who knows.

I'm not a huge fan of the implied racial essentialism. Ethnic diversity doesn't necessarily correlate with genetic diversity, and the ten people woken up are chosen (apparently) based on their ethnic diversity. The book doesn’t consider whether any of them are gay, ace, infertile, disinterested in having children, etc. 30 years ago this would have made more sense, but in 2023 I expect more than diversity based on skin color. (Wasn’t Damien suspiciously into Gerald? Dude was <i>obsessed</i>.) Later a non-het relationship is referred to, and it's made clear everyone got on board knowing they'd be expected to procreate.

<i>"There was a need in him that no words could express, and she answered it in kind, offering comfort in the way that women had done since the beginning of time." </i> - It's so…dated. I can't take something like this seriously, especially when <spoiler>this is taking place right next to a dead person. To make it worse, they go into a closet to have sex, still near the dead person!</spoiler> They've been on this planet all of two weeks, come on.

The way skin color is described is passé. Things like wood (mahogany, ebony), food (honey, chocolate, mocha) (all examples from this book), and other objects have often been used to describe POC in an almost (if not explicitly) fetishistic way. Lines like:

<i>"...the soft ivory skin which seemed doubly pale as his dark fingers stroked her cheek."</i>

Not that it's necessarily <i>wrong</i> to be into skin color contrast, but our world—and the world these characters left—has something of a history with exoticism.

And it gets worse. Maybe as a biracial person I'm particularly sensitive to this; if someone called me a "mocha baby" or "white chocolate" or some shit, I would be pissed.

<i>"Mocha babies, she’d said in Orientation, when they talked about combining their genes in the first wave of newborns. We’ll make beautiful mocha babies together."</i> - no.

I think sensitivity readers are iffy (no community is monolithic, ymmv, etc) and kind of a scam, but in this case it wouldn’t have been remiss.

DNA is mentioned a lot. I'm not sure what kind of DNA samples these people have and how they would be used to create genetic diversity. Is it like eggs and sperm? Do they have the equipment to store those things long term, much less utilize them? Why can't we just say "sperm"? Are they implanting extracted DNA into ova? I don't know. It's vague.

<i>"(1)On the screen was a magnified view of one of the rivers on the main continent, showing where it emptied into the sea. (2) On any other planet he would have considered the land just upriver of that an ideal settlement site, with easy access to both fresh water and transportation. (3) But the largest moon had just passed over that spot followed by a second moon roughly the same size as Earth’s, and their combined gravity had prompted a tidal wave that rushed upriver in a foaming torrent."</i>

(1) It's called a delta. I think it would have worked better with the proper term plus a description.

(2) Ok. I'm not sure what kind of transport they're contemplating. Are there suitable trees? Are any of the frozen people shipwrights? Does their spaceship have the right tools? Glue? Tar? Canvas for sails? Anyone who knows how to make fabric?

(3) That isn't really how tides work. High tide doesn't happen exactly when the moon (or moons) is right overhead. From the description it sounds like the moons are in the same orbit. I'm not sure if that could work. The moons would be acting on each other, right? I think they would have long since collided; moons are just too big.

Proximity to a river isn't necessary for water. They didn't check for aquifers?

It's odd to me that they are unable to find any reason for the ship stalling for 90 years. It's a machine, with programming and processing and records of what it does. Wouldn't every step of its algorithmic deliberations be recorded? Even with something like "error" or "invalid input"? The characters could puzzle over that. What we get is:

<i>"Maybe Tia was right, and <b>the ship just wanted</b> to observe the patterns of seismic activity for a while. There was no way to know."</i>

It's a ship. It doesn't “want” anything. All of its "desires" would be programmed by someone.

These characters are technologically savvy, and I don't think this baffled attitude comports with their expertise. But, like, I'm already accepting a bunch of habitable Earth-like planets being within an achievable distance from earth, and cryonics, etc.

<i>"They hadn’t trained for earthquakes in Orientation, because they hadn’t expected to settle on a planet where they were a major problem."</i> - Why not? They're a major problem on Earth, after all. One dude from Montana is just chillin during one while people are losing their shit.

I know the world building has to be congruous with the original trilogy, and the original trilogy is much more fantasy than science fiction, with a theocracy. But:

<i>"The chaplain was the closest thing they had to a professional counselor."</i> - Why isn't there a psychologist? A pharmacologist? They got a sculptor/3D printer which, fine, art is important, but I feel like managing mental health is a little bit more important given the circumstances.

How was their food preserved? Erna is 20,000 light years from Earth, which is still inside the bright part of the Milky Way. They'd have to be about 40,000 light years from Earth to be at the luminous edge, and since the ships weren't traveling at light speed (it isn't mentioned in the text, at least) that would take a couple million years I think, if we're being generous. The distance gets mixed up in the book. In chapters 1, 6, and 12 it's 20,000, in chapter 5 it's 40,000. This <i>is</i> an ARC, so hopefully this is fixed later.

These people go out, gather things to eat, and proceed to do zero testing to make sure it's safe. I feel like that would be the first thing to look at for people suspecting mass hallucination/hysteria. Something in the water, you know? They accept the existence of <spoiler>the fae</spoiler> <i>very</i> quickly.

It's mentioned several times that the colonizers were vetted for mental stability before they left. They start breaking down almost immediately, which I found pretty amusing.


Not sure what else to call this, and I hope these are just products of reading an uncorrected ARC.

The inconsistency in how far from Earth they are. In some places it's 20,000 light years, in others 40,000. It ought to be the latter.

In chapter 8 it says Joshua came up with the term "true night." But Joshua is the engineer (not sure what kind). It was actually Johnny, the astro-whatever dude, who came up with it in chapter 5.


Well, I was excited to read it, I read it right away, and now I’m disappointed. I don’t think <i>Coldfire</i> needed a settlement story. The characters have no connection to the events in the trilogy, which takes place 1200 years in the future where their names and the events in <i>Nightborn</i> have been lost to time. The strange experiences in <i>Nightborn</i> are taken for granted by the modern inhabitants of Erna. Since I know what happens to them, which one can glean from Almea’s idle thoughts in <i>Black Sun Rising</i>’s prologue, I was never really concerned for the characters, nor did I get attached to them. Questions I had from the trilogy were not answered.

I don’t think this works well as a prequel to the trilogy, and I don’t think it works alone as the story of a first colony when there are so many other works which have explored that same topic. From the beginning and through to the end, the story is watching the characters hamfistedly figuring out what I already knew going into this. Maybe people who haven’t read the trilogy would find something new here, but I would say read the trilogy instead.

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