Monday, April 3, 2023

Nightborn: Coldfire Rising by C. S. Friedman - Review by S.E.


Nightborn: Coldfire Rising by C. S. Friedman. (DAW Books, July, 18th, 2023, 304pages).
 Cover art by Jeszika Le Vye.


Every wonder if your feelings had shape and were visible?
What if you could see your nightmares manifest as they turn 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).

Coldfire Series

  • #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 on 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!


Summary Blurbs


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.”

—from Nightborn

Weird Melee

…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.

—from Nightborn

Hypnotic Horror

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.

—from Dominion

C.S. Friedman

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,



Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Citadel of Forgotten Myths - review by S


The Citadel of Forgotten Myths by Michael Moorcock
SE rating: 4 of 5 stars

This extension to the Elric saga is okay.

New to Elric? Don't start here. Start with the Elric of Melniboné (1972).

There are three books within The Citadel of Forgotten Myths, the first two being short stories that appeared elsewhere; revised versions of these are the best parts of this. In all parts, Moonglum travels with Elric to the World Above, a parallel realm where Melnibonean ancestry persists.

Part 1: based on Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery 2010's "Red Pearls: An Elric Story"

Part 2: based on Weird Tales 349 - 85th Anniversary Issue #349 2008's "Black Petals" (Elric novella)

These both have action, wild bits of over-the-top fantastical magic, and a decent dose of expanded lore. We get to learn more about the Phoorn (dragon relatives of Meniboné too). These are five stars....

Part 3: And...the disappointing Third itself a 3-star (at best):

The third Book admittedly has a nice outline/scope with Arioch not responding when summoned, Xiombarg stirring up major trouble with Dyvim Marluc (introduced in the first stories); a cool bee-hive driven city called Karlaak that mirrors Elric's original city plays a major role.

But the delivery is terrible.

It is mostly exposition (all telling, little-to-no showing). It reads like an outline full of info dumps.

There are more exclamation marks than periods (I didn't count them, but that statement is close to being accurate). It is truly bizarre to read! Really it is! Almost comical! Eh gad!

Also, there is some forced romance? noble-blood incest? It comes across as just silly. Elric has some nice flashbacks regarding his first love Cymoril and his second (Zarozinia, who is still alive during this adventure into other worlds). Here, Elric feels like it is still "ok" to court a young, female Melnibonean noblewoman despite his genuine love for his other wives. I guess Zarozinia is cool with an open relationship, and Cymoril has long since passed. Anyway, the relationship falls flat/weird, and is not even developed well. I was reminded of Moorcock's weird, misogynistic entry for Ghor, Kin Slayer: The Saga of Genseric's Fifth Born Son.

Oh, then there is Orlando Funk. That is not a typo. Minus the "o" we have Orland_ Funk, who is one of Moorcock's heroes from his Runestaff series; this is the same dude. Moorcock loves weird cross overs.... but here Mr. Orlando comes across (at least to me, who was not aware of the character before) as a time-traveling, Floridian (i.e., from Orlando) who might as well have been wearing bell-bottom jeans. Every time I read his name, I had Bruno Mars' "uptown Funk" song trigger in my head. Orlando's presence added more silliness than it did mind-blowing plot twists.

Elric along with his companion Moonglum return, in this prequel set within the early days of Elric’s wanderings, in order to investigate the history of Melniboné and its dragons, known as the Phroon, in this exciting new addition to the Elric Saga from World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Michael Moorcock.

Elric is the estranged emperor of the Melnibonéan empire, struggling with his nature while desperately striving to move forward with his dying empire alongside the constant thirst of his soul-sucking sword, Stormbringer. Elric is on the hunt for the great Citadel of Forgotten Myths while traveling through the remnants of his empire with his tragic best friend Moonglum, as Elric seeks the answers to the nature of the phroon of The Young Kingdoms. Taking place between the first and second book in the Elric Saga, The Citadel of Forgotten Myths is perfect for longtime fans and those new to this epic fantasy series.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 3, 2023

Preview of S.E. Lindberg's "Orphan Maker" from Issue #9 of Tales from the Magician's Skull magazine

Reposting from Goodman Game's website:

Tales From the Magician’s Skull Issue 9 is now available for purchase in stores and online, and as always we’re sharing samples of every story in the issue!

S.E. Lindberg’s grimdark fable “Orphan Maker,” dares to ask the question ‘can a flaming be-horned skeletal revenant truly be one of the good guys, and can you trust the motives of a guy named Doctor Grave?’

Samuel Dillon’s frantic combat between otherworldly horrors sets the stage for this latest sample from the Skull’s current issue!

Be sure you don’t miss Tales From the Magician’s Skull’s undyingly cool ninth issue — out now!

Be sure to check out Tales From the Magician’s Skull Issue #9 for more tremendous sword-and-sorcery fiction!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Happy Holidays, from Orphan Maker?! Dyscrasia Fiction Emerges From the Skulll #9

S.E. Lindberg shown here in intern garb & magical holiday helm of hope +1, tickled with his being blessed with a story in Issue #9 of Tales From the Magician's Skull

Dyscrasia Fiction debuts in Tales from the Magician's Skull #9 with "Orphan Maker."

Kickstarter backers are getting their copies now, right before Xmas 2022. Pre-orders for the general public can be done at Goodman Games - Issue 9 link! Obviously, I am honored to be in the same volume as James Enge, Dave Ritzlin, Nathan Long, and others (the full table of contents is below). This publication builds on Dyscrasia Fiction 2022's appearances in DMR's Terra Incognita and Rogues in the House's Book of Blades anthology 

2022 offered a full year of writing/networking: being the Event Coordinator for the 2022 GenCon Writers Symposium & moderating several panels, debuting on the Rogues in the House Podcasts, surviving an internship for the Skull (which earned me the titles of both "the only named intern" and "intern of the year").  Heck at GenCon, in addition to hanging out with Matt John from RitH (and Deane), I even got to chill with S&S/Weird Fiction guru Jason Ray Carney (who, with Chuck Clark, edit/publish Whetstone; Issue #2 of that has a Dyscrasia Fiction entry too). 

Previous posts captured videos of the GCWS 2022 panels & podcast and more:

  1. The Skull from Tales from the Magician's Skull roams the Exhibit Hall
  2. Moderating Sorcery & Sorcery, Horror, Pulp, and Game Panels
  3. Rogues in the House Podcast (with the Skull)
  4. Conan IP Owner and the Board Game - Playing with Rogues
GenCon and Intern Translocation Mystery Reveal
Many of the GenCon events were captured in a photo recap inside Issue #9. There is also a touching side-bar farewell to the only "named intern" who found himself embroiled in other traps/opportunities (that mystery is, in truth, me evolving from being on the organizing committee for the GCWS.... to being the Chair of GCWS 2023. More to come on that early next year as the Translocation Process completes.) 

One of the best honors of getting accepted into the Skull is being blessed with interior art. You'll have to get the PDF or print for high-res versions, but Samuel Dillion and Aaron Kreader created these for "Orphan-Maker"!

Tales from the Magician's Skull #9 (click to order)


Three Festivals by James Enge 

A Tale of Morlock Ambrosius 

Kalx, brazen defender of the city, had left a trail of ruins in his wake. Morlock followed the trail until he passed the border of the city — the line that Zlynth had called the pomerium. By the time Morlock caught up to the brazen monster, Kalx was already outlined in scarlet flames, fighting a cloud of Furies. 

The Raven-Feeder’s Tower by Philip Brian Hall

The skeleton was held upright by a tall stake driven deep into the ground, to which support its spine was fixed by leather bonds. The breastplate covered bare white ribs and the helmet’s visor protected merely the empty eye-sockets of a morbidly-grinning skull. 

Blue Achernar by Tais Teng 

An Homage to Clark Ashton Smith 

Lady Magida had slept in the tombs of magicians so feared that their names had never been written down, walking into their death-dreams, leafing through their grimoires that had long ago turned to dust. When she strode through the necropolises the ghûls fled like whimpering hares.

Pawns’ Gambit by Nathan Long 

A Tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser 

The monks howled at this violation of their sacred place, and Mouser saw he had been incorrect when he had thought them all unarmed. From every sleeve sprang a dagger, and they held them high as they rushed to encircle him. 

Orphan Maker by S.E. Lindberg 

“It is her time to sacrifice,” Ingrid explained while adjusting her mother’s hair. “Ma resisted. She escaped from the Bleeding Tree.” She laughed while shrugging. “But her blood is stronger than her faith!”

The Necromancer and the Forgotten Hero by D.M. Ritzlin 

The wound was still fresh, but not a drop of blood escaped from it. Hyallbor wondered what sort of necro- mantical energies were sustaining him. 

The Glass Dragon by David Gullen 

Rhayder staggered grey-skinned from the mouth of a labyrinth of seventy-seven turns wielding a felling axe with a head of star-forged iron. 


The Monster Pit by Terry Olson

Enter the monster pit! Down here in the pit, we provide tabletop RPG fans with playable DCC RPG game statistics for the creatures in this issue of Tales From The Magician’s Skull.

The Skull Speaks by The Skull Himself

Edited by: Howard Andrew Jones
Cover Illustration: Sanjulian
Interior Illustrations by: Chris Arneson, Randy Broecker, Samuel Dillon, Jason Edwards, Tom Galambos, Doug Kovacs, Aaron Kreader, Brad McDevitt, and Stefan Poag

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann - Review by SE

Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann (Crossroad Press, March 16, 2018)


As reviewed on Black Gate Dec 2, 2022: 


Shattered Walls, Book 4 of Ulff Lehmann’s Light in the Dark Book series, released this November, 2022. This post reviews Book 1, Shattered Dreams, to lure dark fantasy readers into the Dark. Do you like Tolkien-esque worlds with a unique perspective, perhaps sprinkled with Grimdark battle and horror? Shattered Dreams will whet your appetite. It’s a fresh, dark spin on traditional fiction.  You’ll be thrown into a mire of fractured perspectives and nightmares, and Lehmann controls the process of refining it all with a host of characters (the cursed Drangar Ralgon stealing the limelight). You’ll enjoy this if you enjoy mysteries, brutal melee, and Elvin worlds.

Shattered Dreams Cover Blurb

Epic Fantasy filled to the brim with Grimdark Reality.

If one looks too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back. Drangar Ralgon has been avoiding the abyss’s gaze for far too long and now he turns to face it. For a hundred years the young kingdom of Danastaer has thrived in peace. Now their northern neighbor, mighty Chanastardh, has begun a cunning invasion. Thrust into events far beyond his control, the mercenary Drangar Ralgon flees his solitary life as a shepherd to evade the coming war and take responsibility for his crimes.

In Dunthiochagh, Danastaer’s oldest city, the holy warrior Kildanor uncovers the enemy’s plans for invasion. As ancient forces reach forth to shape the world once more, the sorceress Ealisaid wakes from a century of hibernation only to realize the Dunthiochagh she knew is no more. Magic, believed long gone, returns, and with it comes an elven wizard sent to recover a dangerous secret.

World Building & Puzzling Style

Multiple Perspectives: Shattered Dreams introduces readers to lots of sundered bits of information, ranging from echoes of epic warfare to the intimate mysteries of a cursed character’s plight. The fun is experiencing it clarify. Each chapter rotates points-of-view from all sorts of perspectives. The introductory prologue is a bit heavy on background; in short, a nation of mostly humans is rebuilding civilization after a series of epic conflicts (the Heir War, a war of wizards, and a demonic invasion). Dangerous relics of the past obviously resurface. Chapter one is still diversionary, with a dose of how grim elves can be and a reminder that supernatural powers are boiling under the surface of everything. Chapter 2 (which is the third section) we get introduced to our primary protagonist….

Drangar Ralgon

Drangar Ralgon is a recluse veteran haunted by his past, and he really shines as the main character. His memories and present nightmares are difficult for him to process, but as a reader you’ll be along his side trying to do just that. As soon as you get introduced to him, you’ll want to learn more about why he’s so haunted. When you learn that his past is woven with the Heir/Wizard/Demon wars…you’ll be rooting for him. It will take about 25% of the book for all the pieces to begin gelling.

Grim Take on a Familiar Milieu

Despite the familiar setting of man, demon, and elves acting as a foundation, it’s all shown in a different light. The Elves are a darker set of folk here than the tropes, many using children’s sacrificial blood to fuel magic….and we learn they also apparently ran away during the Heir and/or Wizard Wars; at first this “elven retreat” reminded me of Tolkien’s Undying Lands, but Lehmann actually shows the readers via several character’s perspectives. It’s a mysterious place, but you’ll gain access to it.

It All Coalesces

All the various perspectives and the shattered mysteries of Drangar’s past resolve in the city Dunthiochagh. You’ll be left wanting for even more though, and the series delivers.


There are too many exclamation points; Lehmann’s writing is solid and need not rely on them. Also, I grew strangely attached to a squirrel character; I liked its setup as much as Drangar Ralgon’s, but without spoiling, I do not expect any more focus on it-who-had-a-bright-future (sigh). The strength of Shattered Dreams is its deep world-building, but its epic-ness can be challenging too. I’m not a linguist, but its nomenclature for places & characters resonant vibes from Welsh/Irish/British (another potential Tolkien vibe); however, the abundance of consonants, length of words, and the fact that most start with B, C, or D made it challenging for me to get a feel for the place (or I got confused about who/what I was being referred to). This list provides some of the key players/places:

Human Elements

  • Drangar Ralgon (mysterious protagonist, with roots in the city …
  • Dunthiochagh (the oldest city in the nation of Danastaer)
  • Jesgar Garinad (spy within Dunthiochagh)
  • Cumaill Duasonh, Baron of Higher Cherkont and Boughaighr (with a cousin named Braigh)
  • Urgraith Mireynh, High General of the armies of Chanastardh
  • Church of Eanaigh

Elf, Demon, More-than-Human:

  • Kildanor, Chosen of Lesganagh (Sun and War God); the Chosen are humans who live a long time…unless butchered.
  • Ealisaid (Phoenix Wizardess; a Lainthraght/Lightbringer)
  • Priests of Jainagath (Deathmasks, have extending lives due to their worship/allegiance)
  • Lloreanthoran (an elf)
  • Danachamain had opened the Scales-cursed gates long ago

Expect more in Ulff Lehmann’s Light in the Dark Series

Browsing the blurbs of the subsequent books, we learn the whole series coalesces around Drangar Ralgon journey, which is most welcome:

  1. Shattered Dreams (Light in the Dark Book 1) Mar 16, 2018
  2. Shattered Hopes (Light in the Dark Book 2) Aug 25, 2018
  3. Shattered Fears (Light in the Dark Book 3) Sep 3, 2019
  4. Shattered Walls (Light in the Dark Book 4) Nov 2022

About Ulff Lehmann

German-born but English writing author, Ulff Lehmann, was raised reading, almost any and everything, from the classic Greek to Roman to Germanic myths to more appropriate fiction for children his age. Initially devouring books in his native language, he switched to reading English books during a year-long stay in the USA as a foreign exchange student.

In the years since, he has lost count of the books he has read, unwilling to dig into the depths of his collection. An avid fantasy reader, he grew dissatisfied with the constant lack of technological evolution in many a fantasy world, and finally, when push came to shove, he began to realize not only his potential as a storyteller but also his vision of a mythical yet realistic world in which to settle the tale in he had been developing for 20 years.


Saturday, November 26, 2022

2022 Holiday Card

Happy Holidays 2022!

Heidi resurrected the Holiday Card tradition last year with her deer illustration. This year she comes through again. This one evolved from inspirations for making a linoleum print.  She uses Procreate on an iPad.  Watch the "Making of" this card in a 30-second timelapse video:

Watch Heidi illustrate at warp speed!

Connor is starting to co-op for his Environmental Engineering degree at the University of Cincinnati (he'll be working with the Army Corp. of Engineers in Louisville, KY after the holidays). This past Fall, Erin landed a role at Procter & Gamble in Mason, OH, where she's applying her user-experience/media-communications background toward making Power BI dashboards; turns out, some of her managers and coworkers have been receiving versions of our Holiday Cards since ~1999, and some have the "goofy" family pictures I included (sorry, Erin). So... lesson learned. No family pictures this year. :)

Wishing everyone a peaceful 2023!

Check out the last 20+ cards here on our other website.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Barczak 2022 - Mystics in Norman

Fellow Perseid Press author Tom Barczak and I built a relationship in 2014 when I interviewed him about his Evarun series. Since, we've shared a table of contents in several anthologies, most recently Mystics in Hell.

Every November I visit Norman for the Institute of Applied Surfactant Research consortium annual meeting and seek out Tom before the meeting starts; I have a blogger tag/label dedicated to our visits. 

We share a common muse to create Dark Fantasy experiences via mixed media (art, prose). I purchased one of his sketches on a prior visit. This round, he graced with an orc drawn with conté sticks.  Thanks Tom for the friendship, discussion, and the art!