Literature / Emberverse
The Year: 1998.
The Date: March 17.
The Time: 6:15 p.m. PST.
An enormous electrical storm of unknown properties encompasses the island of Nantucket and transports it back to the bronze age. The resultant time shock causes everyone on Earth to suffer an intense migraine at the exact same moment. The far more important consequence is that any device run off of electricity, gunpowder, explosives, internal combustion or steam power ceases to function. Permanently. In a single instant, humanity has been, metaphorically, bombed back to the Stone Age.
Thus begins Dies the Fire
, the first "Novel of the Change" by S.M. Stirling
. The Novels of the Change, aka the Emberverse, concern what happens to the modern world after the island of Nantucket is hurled back through time in Island in the Sea of Time
, the other side of the Emberverse coin.
The Emberverse currently consists of two completed trilogies, a completed tetrology, and four short stories ("Something for Yew", "Ancient Ways," "A Murder In Eddsford" and "Hot Night at the Hopping Toad"). An additional trilogy is planned, taking place a generation after the end of the tetrology. There is also an officially-sanctioned fanfiction page
The first trilogy consists of:
- Dies the Fire (2004) - After the Nantucket Event, Michael Havel and the Larsson family make their way from Montana to the Larsson estate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, picking up survivors on the way, and eventually forming the mercenary outfit "The Bearkillers". Meanwhile, in Corvallis, the Oregon State University "faculty senate" rallies the city survivors to their banner, while Juniper Mackenzie and her neo-pagan "Georgian Wiccan" coven form the "Clan Mackenzie" in the hills south of Lebanon, Oregon. Finally, history professor Norman Arminger rallies the members of his local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism and the criminal element of Portland to his "Portland Protective Association", based on a feudalistic monarchy with some minor Mordorian influences. All this is accomplished amid the backdrop of billions dying as most of the world's mass food production capabilities and rapid transport fail, leaving everyone to fend for himself.
- The Protector's War (2005) - With the various factions of the Willamette Valley relatively settled, Lord Protector Arminger sets his sights on conquering the rest of the valley, something the Bearkillers, Mackenzies and Corvallans want no part of. This marks the start of the Protector's War
- A Meeting at Corvallis (2006) - The Protector's War ends, and peace finally comes to the Willamette Valley...for a time.
The second trilogy takes place 22 years after the Change, after a 12-year Time Skip
- The Sunrise Lands (2007) - Ingolf Vogeler, a traveler from Readstown, Wisconsin, arrives at Dun Juniper, the capital of the Clan Mackenzie, searching for a man known as "The Son of the Bear Who Rules," so the Wisconsinite can take him to obtain "The Sword of the Lady," after a vision he received while visiting the island of Nantucket. He is pursued by assassins from the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), a religious cult who view the Change as punishment from God. Rudi Mackenzie, son of Juniper Mackenzie and Mike Havel, long ago prophesied as "The Lady's Sword" at his naming ceremony, leads Ingolf, Mathilda Arminger (his childhood friend and heiress to the PPA throne), her vassal Odard Liu, Rudi's sisters Mary and Ritva (both Dúnedain Rangers), and Father Ignatius (a warrior-monk of the Benedictine order of Mount Angel). Together they embark on a cross-country quest to recover "The Sword of the Lady," which waits for Rudi back at Nantucket.
- The Scourge of God (2008) - The CUT gains in power, land and influence, apparently aided by otherworldly forces, threatening the entirety of the Willamette Valley and all of what used to be the United States. Meanwhile, Rudi and company make their way across the Midwest, and arrive at the Provisional Republic Of Iowa.
- The Sword of the Lady (2009) - Rudi and his companions finally arrive at Nantucket, and obtain the titular sword, as the war between the CUT and the Willamette forces takes a turn for the worse.
The next series, a tetrology
, tracks Rudi and co.'s journey back to the Willamette to complete their quest, then wraps up the war with the CUT.
- The High King of Montival (2010) - Now in possession of the Sword, Rudi - Artos - must journey back to the western lands he'd left behind, and muster from them an army to rescue his homeland. Both he and his people back home work to consolidate the newborn kingdom, should they prevail against the Cutters.
- The Tears of the Sun (2011) - The kingdom of Montival takes firmer shape under Artos's leadership, the disparate groups within drawing together to meet the CUT threat. Allies from the eastern lands, as well as from the former Canada, provide vital support. Part of the war effort includes sowing dissension in the enemy ranks, with the goal of taking the CUT's ally Boise out of the war.
- Lord of Mountains (September 2012) - The combined armies of Montival and its allies, led by Rudi with the Sword, take on the CUT invasion, and do their best to reduce the CUT influence in Boise. (The death of Martin Thurston is a significant step toward that end, but more remains to be done.) After a climactic battle in the Horse Heaven Hills, the leaders of Montival decide on a further course of action and formally unify under Rudi's leadership.
- The Given Sacrifice (September 2013)- The war against the CUT concludes and a new generation comes of age. Rudi's final fate is shown when he intervenes in a conflict between Haida raiders and a party from Japan.
The current tetrology, taking place a generation afterwards, features:
- The Golden Princess (2014)- Rudi's Mackenzie's heir, Orlaith, meets up with Nipponese princess Reiko and her band, who are fleeing the evil CUT-like force which has taken over much of Asia. As Rudi did a generation before, Reiko seeks a sacred sword which may give her and her people a chance of victory over their life-hating enemy. Orlaith, her faithful knight Heuradys d'Ath, and other children of the last tetrology's heroes join Reiko in her quest.
- The Desert and the Blade (2015): As they travel further into California (now called Westria), Crown Princess Orlaith and Prince John must elude the pursuing troops of their mother, even as they confront evil forces backed by those who seek to thwart Reiko's quest. Some faces and places from the The Change anthology make an appearance.
- Prince of Outcasts
- The Sea Peoples
A shared-world anthology set in the Emberverse, titled The Change
, was released in 2015. S.M. Stirling's short story "Hot Night at the Hopping Toad" was reprinted, and other authors included Harry Turtledove, Diana Paxson, John Barnes, Alyx Dellamonica, Jane Lindskold, Emily Mah, John Birmingham, and Walter John Williams.
Now has a Character page
in need of much love
This series provides examples of :
- Abhorrent Admirer: George Tracker, to Ritva. From the admiring way he speaks of her martial prowess as they fight one another, George is apparently a bit of an Amazon Chaser. Ritva is, to put it mildly, rather less impressed with him than he is with her.
- Action Girl: Lessee... Astrid Larsson, Eilir Mackenzie, Ritva and Mary Havel, Virginia Kane, Mathilda Arminger, Asgerd Karlsdottir. Also any girl on Mikes "A-list" by virtue of, well, making onto the A-list.
- Affably Evil: Both Norman and Sandra Arminger do a nice line in this.
- After the End: The setting of the series, once the change occurred.
- Afterlife Antechamber: Mathilda has a vision of her father, Norman Arminger, in Purgatory—having learned his lesson but still serving his penance. The Blessed Virgin Mary even drops by with the penitent's lunch!
- Alien Space Bats: Most of the characters assume that these caused the Change, lampshading it to the point of referring to the trope by name.
- All Gays Are Promiscuous: Don't tell Tiphaine d'Ath that, unless for some reason you feel the urge to die a quick and bloody death. However, Estella Maldonado and Aaron Rothman each labor gallantly to uphold this trope. As does Rigobert, at least until he's old enough to disprove Nobody Over Fifty Is Gay, at which point he settles down.
- All Hail the Great God Mickey!: The Rangers have a quasi-religious reverence for the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, considering them actual histories and swearing by the Valar. How seriously they take this varies from individual to individual.
- All Myths Are True: Seen to be the case with the Mackenzies' Wiccan/Celt faith in the first trilogy, and with other religions, including the familiar, the ancient, and the new, in the second. Prophecies are also presented as true and reliable.
- Alternate History: On 3/18/98, no one in the Emberverse was worrying about Y2K or the performance of their tech stocks...
- And This Is For...: In A Meeting at Corvallis, Tiphaine d'Ath delivers an epic one of these, along with a brutal beat-down, to a treacherous former member of her squad. She closes with a flourish of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
Tiphaine: That's for finking out Lady Sandra. That's for risking the princess. That's for trying to kill Rudi. That's for hurting my girl, you son of a bitch! And this is for the stupid character in that stupid fucking book!
- Angel Unaware: While none have actually shown up, the Mackenzies (who are Wiccans) they treat every visitor they have as if they are these.
- Annoying Arrows: Averted in Dies the Fire. With guns no longer working and no one wearing serious armor yet, people swiftly learn to fear someone carrying any kind of bow or crossbow.
- Anyone Can Die: Mike Havel in A Meeting in Corvallis.
- Chuck Barstow in the The Scourge of God.
- Odard Liu in The Sword of the Lady
- Astrid Larsson Loring in Tears of the Sun.
- Epona in Lord of Mountains.
- Sandra and Rudi in The Given Sacrifice.
- The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: It also brings out the worst, more often than not.
- Apocalypse How: Class 2, Planetary/Societal Collapse. About 95% of Earth's population dies off in the first few years after the Change. Most of the world's existing civilizations are destroyed during "the dying times," and are replaced by entirely different ones.
- Apocalyptic Logistics: Without industrialized farming or an efficient way to transport food from farms to population centers, a lot of people get very hungry very quickly during the dying times.
- Armor Is Useless: Averted as the world re-learns why people used to wear chain mail.
- Artificial Limbs: Will Hutton, Aaron Rothman, and Eric Larsson all use prosthetics thanks to injuries incurred in combat or by torture.
- Artistic License – Physics - It's an acceptable breach, given that it's a fantasy work, but if the laws of physics were broken the way this novel broke them, the Universe would probably end up breaking and become less an apocalyptic wasteland, and more an Eldritch Location. However, there is a mention in the original trilogy that the Change appears to be limited to Earth and its immediate surroundings - the rest of the cosmos are unaffected.
- If you like that idea, try Steven R. Boyett's "Ariel" series, Stirling's inspiration for the Change.
- The laws of the universe, or even Earth as a whole, haven't changed. The Mind is powerful and precise enough to constantly monitor the entire world, watch for people trying to use technology, and selectively suppress things just at the places and times where it's needed.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Norman Arminger, Mike Havel, and Abbot Dmwoski, for starters — given the world, for good reason. Averted with Juniper Mackenzie, who is a charismatic leader but only a fair combatant, and even more so with Sandra Arminger, who is small in stature and repeatedly described as lacking experience with weaponry.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: For Rudi and Mathilda, in Lord of Mountains.
- Badass Adorable: Ten-year-old Rudi Mackenzie is beautiful and charming. And he deals out almost as much damage to his would-be kidnappers as do his two adult bodyguards.
- Badass Creed: Clan MacKenzie's war chant:
We are the point!
We are the edge!
We are the wolves that Hecate fed!
We are the bow!
We are the shaft!
We are the bolts that Hecate cast!
- Badass Family: The Havel-Larsson clan, full stop. That includes Mike, Signe, Pam, Eric, Luanne, and all of their adult descendants that we meet by the end of the tetrology. Of the whole family, only Ken doesn't qualify — and he's in his fifties at the time of Dies the Fire, so give the guy a break.
- Badass Gay: Tiphaine d'Ath, Rigobert de Stafford.
- Badass Long Robe / Badass Preacher: Abbot-Bishop Dmwoski of Mount Angel, who leads his Warrior Monk troops both spiritually and in battle. Also Father Ignatius, though he generally does not wear his robe into combat.
- Badass Princess: Mathilda is among the most effective warriors of her kingdom, and plays important roles in some key battles.
- Banana Republic: The Kingdom of Las Esmereldas (formerly northern Ecuador), representatives of whom are first seen in The Desert and the Blade, is strongly implied to be one.
- Baseball: America's national pastime survives the Change. As a boy, Rudi plays in the Mackenzies' Little League (his team is the Dun Juniper Ravens). In The Golden Princess, Nipponese princess Reiko is pleased to see a baseball field in a Protectorate community; it's familiar to her because the game is still played in her own homeland.
- Battle Couple: Mike and Signe. Rudi and Mathilda. Aoife and Liath.
- Battle Cry: Many, including the PPA's "Haro Portland!" and "Holy Mary for Portland!", the Bearkillers' "Hakkaa paalle!" (based on the real-life battle cry "Hakkaa päälle!" of troops serving under 17th-century Swedish ruler Gustav II Adolf), Mount Angel's "Jesu-Maria!", Rudi Mackenzie's "Morrigu!", Odard Liu's "Face Gervais, face death!", Virginia Kane's "Sweetwater forever!", and the United States of Boise's "U-S-A! U-S-A!" And of course the Church Universal and Triumphant's uncanny scream of "CUT! CUT! CUT!"
- The Beard: In the homophobic PPA, Lady Delia de Stafford (lover of Lady Tiphaine d'Ath) and her gay husband Rigobert play this role for each other. They even refer to one other as "my beard" in Tears of the Sun.
- Be All My Sins Remembered: Lawrence Thurston suspended elections in Boise pending the resolution of the emergency situation. Unfortunately the emergency situation never resolved itself. By the time he was ready to start having elections again an entire generation with no firsthand experience with democracy had come into prominence, his own son, who expected to inherit his father's position, among them. Thurston did realize in the end that perhaps he had waited far too long to have a vote.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Right after the Change, Mike Havel discovers that his gun is not working. Signe says, wistfully, wouldn't it be wonderful if all guns had stopped working? Well, about that, Signe....
- Because Destiny Says So: Having been chosen by The Powers That Be, Rudi has very little choice but to lead the fight against the CUT, and unify a group of diverse peoples.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Ian Kovalevsky is one of the nicest people in the series (when he's not in a fight, that is).
- Big Bad:
- Norman Arminger in the original trilogy.
- The Prophet (head of the CUT) in the later books.
- Bigger Bad: the Malevolence, called the Ascended Masters by the CUT.
- Big Bad Wannabe: several of the petty thugs and warlords Mike Havel disposes of at the beginning of the series qualify, including the white supremacist survivalists (the first people to attack his party) and Iron Rod (who was quite effective terrorizing a convent—against the Bearkillers, not so much).
- Mary Liu, who tries to outwit the Lady Regent. Uh, yeah, good luck with that....
- Big Guy, Little Guy: Mack and his friend and boss Eddie Liu. Arguably applies to John Hordle and Alleyne Loring as well, though Alleyne is not small compared to anyone but John (or Mack).
- Bi the Way: Before taking up with her girlfriend Liath, Aoife Barstow was in love with a boy. Estella Maldonado, occasional lover of Delia the miller's daughter (before Delia became Tiphaine d'Ath's lover), admits to having a girl in "half a dozen or so" villages, and "boys in one or two."
- Blood Brothers: Eilir and Astrid. Proving that the trope isn't exclusive with romance, Rudi and Mathilda also get this.
- Boisterous Bruiser: John Hordle fits it to a T.
- Brains and Brawn: Eddie Liu (brains) and his friend/dragon Mack (brawn).
- Break Out the Museum Piece: In the first book, Juniper's friend Chuck Barstow gets the idea to raid the Eugene history museum's Living History exhibit and steal a wagon and horses during the chaos. Juniper's other friend Dennis' brother is an amateur blacksmith (who lives on Nantucket and gets flung back in time along with it), and during the escape from Corvallis, Dennis arms Juniper and himself with swords and axes his brother made for him.
- In areas where they have survived, the Amish are now highly-valued technical experts.
- Brick Joke: When Delia bears her third child, her partner Tiphaine says, quite firmly, that she thinks three children are enough. Though she loves babies, Delia meekly acquiesces to this. A book later, we find out she's pregnant again — and it cannot possibly be by accident, as Delia and her husband never have sex; all of their children are engendered via turkey-baster. Hey, Tiphaine, we know you're the one who wears the pants in the outside world, but who is it who wears them in your relationship?
- The British Empire: Not only did the Royal Family, SAS and other remnants of British society manage to survive the initial chaos. they managed to eventually rebuild "Greater Britain" as a hybrid Medieval-Victorian-Postmodern state. Though not before "Mad King Charlie" tried to turn it into a Renaissance Fair.
- It's also mentioned that they're back to setting up colonies such as Prince Edward Island as well as building outposts across former Western Europe.
- Brown Note: I...see...you
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
- Astrid believes that the Lord of the Rings stories are actual histories. But she's a kick-ass fighter and wilderness scout and also has both the charisma and organizational ability to turn her delusion into an actual organization and quasi-religion.
- Norman Arminger is a former SCA dork, uses Sauron's Mordor banner as his flag, and is probably more than a bit crazy himself. With how he is numerically the most effective leader immediately post-Change and willing & able to kill almost anyone hand-to-hand, no one under him really has much to say about it...
- In-universe, Lawrence Thurston is regarded as one for his insistence upon restoring the United States (an idea seen as completely impractical by just about every other leader on the continent). However, he does manage to preserve at least the state of Idaho as a coherent political entity (in part by keeping the pre-Change state legislature intact), build a post-Change army (along the lines of the Roman legions) from the remnants of the US military in the area, and overall is one of the more effective and humane leaders in the series. Of course he had to die...
- Butch Lesbian: Tiphaine D'Ath
- Camp Gay: Aaron Rothman. Mike Havel suspects that Aaron is deliberately camp in reaction to the puritanical attitudes of many post-Change societies.
- Cannibal Larder: Dies the Fire has several of these. Most of the cannibal bands that arose after the end of the world keep live prisoners in them as well (best way to keep the meat fresh).
- Celibate Hero: Father Ignatius.
- The Chessmaster: Sandra Arminger. Oh dear Lord, Sandra Arminger. Signe Havel also shows some aptitude for this. Mary Liu attempts it, but isn't quite smart enough, especially not for going against Sandra.
- The Chosen One: Rudi Mackenzie. Duh.
- Church Militant: an apt description of the Mormon church in New Deseret. Given they have the CUT for neighbors, it's understandable.
- The CUT itself definitely qualifies.
- The Benedictine Monks of Mt. Angel.
- Clock Punk: Especially in the third trilogy. Bicycle-powered trains anyone?
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Norman Arminger is seen practicing this. (Though he doesn't need much practice, as he appears to have a considerable natural talent.)
- Coming Straight Story: When Heuradys, Delia's daughter by Rigobert (with plastic kitchenware assist) is an adult, she has to tell her mother to stop finding nice girls to set her up with , because she 'really likes boys better'. Delia, who is a Changeling more or less (having been a small child when the Change happened) and largely unfamiliar with pre-Change culture, asks her anxiously if this might be "just a phase". Rigobert and Tiphaine (who are older and remember the world before the Change) have a big laugh at the irony of the situation—but Delia stops setting her up with other girls. Heuradys, who was born twenty years after the Change, is unfamiliar with the idiom too. But she's a bit annoyed with her mother wanting her to be gay, since she's a knight of the PPA, where female knights are rare and many people just assume she's gay because she's following a typically male profession for her culture, and because both her mothers and her father are. Rigobert and Tiphaine don't care.
- Corrupt Church: The Roman Catholic Church in Portland, in the days of Lord Protector Norman Arminger, has its own "pope," burns heretics and dissenters, and supports the PPA's brutal tyranny. Its opposition includes Mount Angel and its Warrior Monk order, who believe the Catholic Church should uphold what Abbot Dmwoski calls "the best of our long tradition."
- Note that Arminger so very much wanted his own tame Pope to go along with his Norman-England fetish. Thus Pope Leo was given his own inquisition and was mainly in existence to increase the Big Bad's powerbase.
- The Church Universal and Triumphant evolves from a fringe (but relatively harmless) New Age religious sect into an all-conquering Religion of Evil with nothing but enmity toward its neighbors.
- Covers Always Lie: The covers have become notorious among the fan base for not portraying anything remotely resembling what happens in the books.
- Damsel out of Distress:
- Kidnap Mathilda (or try to), and you have an excellent chance of finding yourself facing the sharp pointy end of her sword.
- Signe does a good job of keeping her potential rapist pinned while the rescues is being made in the first book.
- Dark Action Girl: Tiphaine d'Ath and Katrina Georges.
- Days of Future Past: Several societies fulfill this trope although it also has a foot in Fantasy Counterpart Culture as supernatural elements creep in during the second trilogy. The Clan Mackenzie is based on a New Age interpretation (much against the liking of its founder) of a Celtic clan, while the Portland Protective Association was deliberately created by an SCA member as a copy of a medieval feudal society with trappings of Mordor. The oddest example are the Dúnedain Rangers, founded by a mildly insane Tolkien fangirl who has a quasi-religious reverence for his books. There are also several "Indian" tribes many of whose members have, at best, only nominal amounts of First Nations ancestry and Norrheim and Kalksthorpe, Viking-style nations founded by Asatru. Additionally, the remnants of the American military in Idaho have formed into a hybrid Roman Legion. Meanwhile, over in England, "Mad King Charlie" tries to turn what remains of his nation into something of a vast Rennaisance Faire, although his subjects draw the line at Morris dancing.
- In A Meeting at Corvallis, a graffiti in the city of that name reads: "Help! I've fallen into the RenFaire and I can't get out!"
- Corvallis itself seems to be run by the 'council of wise men' Plato recommended. Although Corvallis has retained much of the pre-Change world's customs, it's channelling Classical Greece as much as the other nations are looking toward their ancient inspirations.
- Averted, at least at first, by Lawrence Thurston's efforts in Boise—he adopted Roman military organization out of practicality, not out of any great desire to emulate the ancient past; his main focus to the end was to restore the pre-Change United States. His son Martin turned the Romanisms Up to Eleven when he sold out to the CUT.
Frederick Thurston (to an officer defecting from Martin): My father adopted these things because they were useful, not because he had some man-crush on Julius Caesar!
- Dead Guy Junior: Several. Rudi is named for Juniper's first husband, who died on the day of the Change. Nigel's late-in-life daughter Maude is named for his first wife. Ritva and Mary Havel are named for their paternal and maternal grandmothers, respectively.
- Death Equals Redemption: Martin Thurston, after he is slain with the Sword of the Lady and the influence of the Power behind the CUT is lifted.
- Democracy Is Bad: The single democracy amongst the surviving Willamette communities, Corvallis, is easily manipulated by Portland during the Protector's War, and it's notably inefficient at the best of times. Averted (so far as we know) by the Dominion of Drumheller, seen in the second trilogy. It's worth mentioning that this is an Aesop completely opposite to that expressed in the related series Island in the Sea of Time.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Rudi (and, on at least one occasion, Ignatius) versus any given High Seeker. Especially after Rudi retrieves the Sword.
- Disaster Democracy: Though other types of government are more common in the post-Change world, Corvallis and at least one of the Dominions (in what was formerly known as Canada) form their governments along these lines.
- Iowa managed to maintain not only democracy but its pre-Change system of government up until the third trilogy, although there are very big signs that the government is becoming functionally corrupt and a caste system (established farm families vs. descendants of refugees from the cities) is taking root. And Mike Havel's original plan for the Bearkillers was to form a democracy, but this was subverted by Signe after his death.
- Norrheim, like the Vikings they draw their inspiration from, has an Althing.
- Distressed Damsel: Signe, early in the first book. It's this experience which prompts her to Take a Level in Badass.
- Mathilda is also taken hostage at least three times during the series. Justified in that as the Protector's daughter she has high political value to her potential captors. She also becomes quite capable of rescuing herself when necessary as she gets older.
- Distressed Dude: Ingolf gets captured with alarming frequency.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: "Son of the Bear Who Rules"... "Sword of the Lady"... Where have we heard those before...
- The Dragon: For Norman Arminger, Conrad Renfrew; for his wife Sandra, Tiphaine D'Ath.
- Dung Ages: massively and deliberately averted. Although the overall tech level of the Emberverse is pre-industrial if not completely medieval, modern medicine and sanitation (and the relationship between sanitation and public health) are still well-known and widely practiced.
- Dying as Yourself: With the Sword of the Lady, Rudi can make this possible for those possessed by the Malevolence behind the CUT. He does this for Martin Thurston.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Malevolence that is controlling Sethaz and the rest of the CUT High Seekers definitely qualifies.
- Eldritch Location: The 1250 BC Nantucket that's been switched for the modern version has become... extremely temporally unstable.
- Elective Monarchy: The leadership of the Mackenzies could be described as this. "The Mackenzie" functions more like a monarch than an elected official, but the heir to that position, the tanist, is "hailed" by acclamation of the assembled Clan. The two tanists chosen by the end of the tetrology, Rudi (who resigns in favor of becoming The Good King of Montival) and Maude Loring Mackenzie, are the children of the first Mackenzie, but it is nowhere indicated that the position is necessarily hereditary.
- Word of God is that the tanist can be removed by the Clan as well, and that a talented non-relative can be groomed and positioned for the position if no sufficiently talented or willing relations exist to take up the position.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Boy, is it!
- Lampshaded in A Meeting at Corvallis, where some young fighters actually sing the song of the same name.
- Enemy Mine: Rudi invokes this when he decides to warn President-General Thurston of the Cutter ambush, and again when urging Thurston to ally with Deseret against the Cutters. (Thurston had previously refused to do so on the grounds that he was opposed to theocracies.)
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Played straight when the evil is of purely human origin: Norman and Sandra Arminger are Happily Married and love their daughter, Tiphaine d'Ath loves Delia and fights to protect her when she is threatened; Martin Thurston initially is seen to love his wife and son. Averted with those who are possessed by the Malevolence notably, post-possession Mary Liu and Martin Thurston.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Tiphaine d'Ath is by all accounts a decent suzerain to those who swear fealty to her; hates the CUT as badly as anyone else; and will not tolerate the abuse and exploitation of refugees by other nobles in the PPA during the war against the CUT.
- Several characters observe that, as bad as they are, the Cutters are still an improvement over Eaters.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Mary and Ritva Havel have each had to bounce many a lovelorn lass from their respective beds. At least once Ingolf is looking on laughing.
- Even the Guys Want Him: If he is to be believed, Rigobert was apparently such a hot guy in his high school days that even straight guys were willing to sleep with him.
- Evil Debt Collector: By The Given Sacrifice, the First National Bank of Corvallis has become notorious for these. The Dúnedain Rangers (customers of said bank) use them to collect their commissions when necessary.
- Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Though admittedly, even shamelessly, evil herself, Sandra Arminger gives Mathilda a religious and moral upbringing, and says the young woman is one of the few good things she has ever done.
- The Evils of Free Will: This is the major point of contention between the factions of the Universal Mind.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: Norman Arminger's Castle Todenangst is deliberately designed to be ominous, imposing, and intimidating.
- And yet it has a food court and the elevator (powered by a serf in the basement) plays Muzak.
- Expecting Someone Taller: An average-sized man with a giant reputation, Sam Aylward gets this reaction a lot.
- Feudal Overlord: Norman Arminger, to the PPA. Very, very deliberately.
- Fantasy Americana
- Flat-Earth Atheist: Ultimately averted. Though Sandra Arminger and Tiphaine d'Ath are presented as atheists for much of the series, both eventually realize that it's an insupportable position in a world where there is objective evidence for the existence, and influence, of deities. In Tears of the Sun, Sandra actually rejects this trope by name.
Sandra Arminger's final words: "Norman, we need to talk..."
- Flaw Exploitation: In A Meeting at Corvallis, Mike Havel identifies Arminger's central flaw, and uses it in a heroic bid to end the War of the Eye with a minimum of bloodshed.
- Foregone Conclusion: Based on Rudi's vision during the kingmaking in Lord of Mountains, we know that Orlaith and John and their siblings, as well as Reiko, Mathilda, and "Grandma Juniper," will survive at least until Orlaith undergoes the same ritual. Also, that Orlaith will not be married at the time of her crowning, since she is not accompanied during the king(queen?)making.
- Foreshadowing: In Dies the Fire, Mike is extremely concerned about the injuries or mutual death that almost always result from trying to knife-fight anyone who isn't completely incompetent. Two books later, he challenges Master Swordsman & Big Bad Norman Arminger to single combat. Both of them die.
- Epona meets her final fate in the Horse Heaven Hills, with her impending demise set up over several pages in Lord of Mountains.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: As a product of Loads and Loads of Characters, particularly evident in books 4-10. In an epic example in The Given Sacrifice, Tiphaine d'Ath senses an attack on the royal family, and she and her picked band start up the stairs to counter it. We see them reach the scene of the attack ninety pages later.
- Four-Star Badass: President-General Lawrence Thurston puts together an army and a country largely through the strength of his will. Oh yeah, and if there are any other assassins in his guard detail, he dares them to take your best shot (said while unarmed and unarmored).
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Norman Arminger started as an undistinguished history professor and SCAdian, and became one of the most successful (and brutal) despots in the post-Change world.
- Future Imperfect: Starting to crop up with the Changelings as they come of age. Although all of the main characters are well-educated, their understanding of the pre-Change world is at best theoretical and at worst, horribly flawed.
Edain (thinking to himself): Some things are just legends, like trolls and rockets.
- Rudi/Artos, and at least a few other changelings, seem to revere President Roosevelt, but are unaware that Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt were separate people.
- Later in the series, his daughter Órlaith is not only unaware that World War I and World War II were two separate conflicts, she thinks Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler were the same person.
- Gaydar: Unaffected by the failure of technology in the Emberverse. When two male Corvallan guards are made to look as if they were overcome by alcohol whilst making out, Aaron Rothman smells a set-up, as he is quite certain the guards in question are straight. When Signe Havel questions his certainty, Aaron answers archly, "Radar may not work any more, but my gaydar, I assure you, is fully functional."
- Genre Shift: The series begins as an apocalyptic disaster thriller with brutally realistic consequences of the loss of much of the US' infrastructure. In short order it evolves into medieval structures. The actual destination is the closest kin to a fantasy world one can do with Alien Space Bats.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Hallgerda of Greater Britain manipulates her mad husband and places her royal stepsons in harm's way in an effort to ensure her own children will inherit the throne. She eventually kills King Charles when he refuses to disinherit his older sons in favor of her children. Interestingly, the trope does not apply to Lady Regent Sandra of Portland. Ruthless as she can be, she is constrained by the need to avoid alienating her subjects thanks to an open-borders policy. She also sincerely loves her spouse and is devoted to her daughter.
- The Good Chancellor: Father Ignatius is this to Rudi/Artos, although he is something of a Beleaguered Bureaucrat due to the lack of qualified individuals to fill out the new kingdom's civil service. When Sandra Arminger offers the services of the Protectorate's administrative professionals, the good Father refuses, knowing that it's just an invitation for her to subvert Montival to her own ends before the kingdom is even fully established.
- Gory Discretion Shot: During the Dying Time, Oregon and Idaho deal with mass starvation (some of it quite deliberate), imposition of slavery by strong-arm rule, outbreaks of the Black Death, rampant Rape, Pillage, and Burn including massacres of children, and an infestation of cannibal bands. After all that, no one believes - or recounts to the reader - the stories they are hearing from bicycle refugees from California and St.Louis.
- Whatever happened inside the Catholic Church in Bend just before the CUT were forced to abandon the city was enough to make Father Ignatius and Eric Larsson order the building burned to the ground, although the rest of their party—and the readers—are spared a look inside.
- Government Agency of Fiction: Rigobert claims to have worked for one pre-Change, a fact that made him very valuable to Norman Arminger (and subsequently allowed him to survive at least as a closeted homosexual in a deeply homophobic realm; Rigobert's sexual orientation is of less concern to Arminger than what he knows, and Arminger in the early Change years controlled the Catholic Church in Portland).
- Granola Girl: Signe, before the Change. She's a vegetarian and thinks the prospect of a world without guns is wonderful. Then she lives in that world....
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: Where do we begin...
- Finnish and Icelandic are pretty commonly used and abused.
- Irish, too. It gets to the point where it starts feeling like the entire series is written in Irish sentences followed by their English translations.
- Elvish gets used a lot by the crazed Tolkien fangirl Astrid, who takes the story's suggestion that it is based on actual history a little too literally. It's subject to Translation Convention, but Stirling still gets more mileage out of it than he needs.
- Lampshaded at least twice in The Scourge of God. Rudi says that Astrid's endless Elvish is insufferable, and Tiphaine d'Ath calls her a "pseudo-elf" later on.
- As of The Given Sacrifice Japanese, and in particular a specific regional dialect gets in on the fun.
- Handicapped Badass: Eilir, who doesn't let her deafness interfere with — well, anything. She's a kickass fighter and wilderness scout, who thanks to her mother's early training is very good at stealthy approaches.
- Eric Larsson doesn't let the loss of a hand stop him from doing much (including riding into battle).
- Happily Adopted: Chuck and Judy Barstow's children Sanjay, Aoife, and Oak, whom Chuck and Judy adopted from the group of children Chuck found abandoned on a school bus, just after the Change. Juniper speculates that before the Change "those three didn't really have parents, only people who paid the bills."
- Happily Married: Applies to many of the married couples in the series, notably including Big Bad Norman Arminger and his wife Sandra.
- Has Two Mommies: All of Delia's children to some degree, but especially her second son Diomede, whom Tiphaine d'Ath adopts as her legal heir, and her elder daughter Heuradys, who d'Ath also adopts for inheritance reasons.
- Heel–Face Turn: Tiphaine d'Ath undergoes a gradual one as the later books move on, although she frequently reminds us that Good Is Not Nice.
- Heroic Ambidexterity: Rudi McKenzie is a born warrior, which includes ambidexterity. He fights equally well with either hand, and switches whenever it would help.
- Hero of Another Story: Rudi Mackenzie and King Bjarni of Norrheim regard each other as this. They're allies against the CUT, but otherwise each is content to leave the other to his own realm. This may become subverted later on, as Eric Larsson is interested in establishing a closer relationship involving trade and information exchange with Norrheim, possibly as a means of bolstering his position (and that of the Bearkillers) within Montival in the future.
- Although the PPA is an antagonist in the first part of the series, the citizens of Walla Walla regard them as heroes, as it was an expedition from Portland that rescued the city from convicts who had taken over after escaping the nearby state prison in the aftermath of the Change.
- This trope applies to many of the people Rudi and Co. encounter in their journeys. Abbott Dortje, the new Iowa civil government (and Ingolf's brother), the Senegalese pirates, Captain Wellman, the Last Eagle and his successors, and even Justin Gruber are just a few of the people who could become (or are already) heroes to their own people. The current tetrology introduces even more, including Reiko's grandmother and father and the Loyal Men who preserved the Nipponese royal line, King John of Darwin, and the leaders of Topanga and of the Mist Hills.
- Heroes Want Redheads / Red-Headed Hero: The Mackenzies, mother and son. Redheaded Juniper, a charismatic and courageous leader, attracts a couple of heroes. Later her redheaded son Rudi is seen to be even more charismatic, and a warrior born. He draws not only the interest of the heroic Mathilda, but also the attention of a number of other females.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Mike Havel
- Only the first of many. The heroic body count has since increased to include Odard Liu and Astrid Larsson in later volumes.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Astrid Larsson and Eilir Mackenzie. Arguably Edain and Rudi, or Little John Hordle and Alleyne. In The Given Sacrifice, we see that Orlaith and Heuradys are headed this way, if they aren't there already.
- Honest Advisor: Conrad Renfrew and Sandra Arminger are the only advisors with the nerve (and the license) to tell Norman Arminger when he's wrong.
- Rudi deliberately picks Father Ignatius for the role because he's 1) smart enough to show Rudi where he's wrong and 2) tough enough to make it stick. Politically, as a Catholic priest from an order that was specifically set up to counter Portland's abuses he 'balances the ticket' with Rudi's paganism and makes Montival an easier sell to communities who had earlier resisted the PPA's encroachment.
- The Horde: The Bekwa tribes, descendants of the survivors in Quebec, have become a large, barely-united band of marauders who continually menace the outposts of civilization in northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. The only reason they show any unity at all is because the CUT has gained influence over them.
- Hurting Hero: The Last Eagle Scout, leader of the Morrowlander community in The Given Sacrifice. Already badly burned and left with one eye as a result of the plane crash that left him and his Boy Scout troop stranded in the wilderness, he struggles for the next 28 years to keep his tiny community together in the face of the CUT and other threats, taking even more injuries in the process. By the time Rudi and company meet him, he's a near-complete cripple despite being at most in his mid-forties, and grateful that someone has come to take the load. Easily the series winner for Iron Woobie status.
- I Did What I Had to Do: And how. "This is the City that Works." The Bearkillers, proto-Clan Mackenzie and other towns encountered also turn away people they can't feed in the Dying Time.
- It is actually Word of God that the biggest reason Oregon is almost uniquely inhabitable is that the PPA directly and indirectly eliminated the disorganized surplus population. In other words, what Norman does is the better outcome...
- I'm a Humanitarian: Right after the Change, groups of cannibals, called "Eaters", are one of the most common bands of survivors, particularly in larger cities. They take the place of the post-apocalyptic zombie horde in parts of the first book, but through a combination of disease and madness have largely removed themselves from events by the second book.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: Sandra wears a full-length ermine cape to the first Meeting in Corvallis. Juniper notes that it would be too heavy to carry/wear for any length of time, but Sandra's carriage pulls up as close to the exit as possible so that she won't have to walk far.
- In The Sunrise Lands, Mathilda tells the Thurston daughters that she doesn't wear her formal gowns while traveling because she wouldn't be able to ride or fight well in them.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The scout the Cutters have tracking Rudi's band is, in fact a Boy Scout — or at least, a member of a settlement based on the Boy Scouts. Oh, it's justifiable; a member of such a group would be likely to have the right skill set. It is, however, still a groaner.
- Also a case of Not So Different in that the two members of the band the scout encounters are the two who are infamous for taking the The Lord of the Rings as literal history and see themselves as revived Dúnedain. They regard the scout, who almost certainly was a Boy Scout before or during the Change, as some deluded lunatic with a lot of badges. The fact that he was nearly their equal at fighting and tracking and only lost the fight because he was outnumbered seems to just barely register with them.
- In-universe, Delia uses a series of dreadful puns to get the attention of Tiphaine d'Ath.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Name-checked in Jared Tillman's word-for-word opinion when he sees the black-clad warriors of Reiko's band. Nonetheless averted, as these particular warriors are far from Gratuitous Ninja, being thoroughly justified in-story.
- Lady of War: Signe Larsson, Tiphaine D'Ath, Astrid Larsson, Orlaith Arminger Mackenzie, Heuradys d'Ath — Astrid and Heuradys are perhaps particularly sterling examples, as they both place emphasis on style.
- The Lancer: Sam Aylward, for one.
- His son, Edain to Rudi as well. Edain later takes on the same role for Mathilda.
- In the third generation, Heuradys is this to Orlaith.
- Les Yay: In-universe. For a time, close friends Astrid and Eilir are rumored to be lovers. They find the rumor "inexpressibly funny."
- Eddie Liu asks "Have you found the Ring of Power in her Crack of Doom yet?"
- Lipstick Lesbian: Delia, Tiphaine's lover.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Boy howdy! Especially in books 4-10, which feature members of three generations in the chronology of the story. A partial list of point of view characters (please note that this is not a comprehensive list of significant characters) includes Rudi Mackenzie, Mathilda Arminger, Ingolf Vogeler, Mary and Ritva Havel, Edain Aylward Mackenzie, Odard Lui, Father Ignatius, Fred Thurston, Tiphaine d'Ath, Juniper Mackenzie, Sandra Arminger, Chuck Barstow, Astrid Larsson, Ian Kovalevsky, Asgerd Karlsdottir, Lioncel de Stafford, Huon and Yseult Lui, and Orlaith Arminger Mackenzie. Sometimes results in Four Lines, All Waiting. The roster is pared down sharply in the current tetrology, which focuses almost entirely on members of the youngest generation of characters.
- Magical Native American: Several are seen. Played straight in that all myths and religious traditions are equally valid (and have real, demonstrable power) in the Emberverse. Subverted in that the surviving Native Americans use as much pre-Change technology as possible...down to a group of Sioux having a portable medical laboratory with their encampment and their chief (a pre-Change university graduate) being just as aware of the implications of the situation as any other successful leader in this setting.
- The Magic Comes Back: Hinted at in the first trilogy, full blown in later works.
- Magic Knight: Father Ignatius. Rudi even more so.
- Man in a Kilt: Kilts are everyday and ceremonial wear for the Clan Mackenzie. They're often considered Fanservice in-universe, especially when worn by fit and attractive men such as Rudi and Edain.
- Discussed in the short story 'Something for Yew', a mystery set in post-Change England. A murder victim found in a dockside warehouse is determined to be a member of Clan Mackenzie by the fact that he was wearing a kilt for everyday work, whereas actual Scots post-Change save their kilts for formal dress.
- Manly Gay: Rigobert, Delia's husband and father (via turkey baster) of her four children.
- Masters of the Sword: Rudi Mackenzie, Tiphaine d'Ath, Norman Arminger, Pamela Larsson
- Meaningful Name: For some reason, ''Artos'' leaps to mind....
- There's also Kaur and Singh of Vogeler's Villians.
- Men of Sherwood: The Dúnedain Rangers are extremely skilled but really aren't a large enough faction to shift the balance of power (or for that matter take on a large, organized opponent). Curiously, despite a lot of similarities, the Robin Hood mythos never took hold among them. The Morrowlander Pack is also similarly situated, but without the Rangers' advantage of nearby strong allies until they join Montival.
- A Million Is a Statistic: In High King of Montival, Rudi's party is exploring the long-abandoned CN Tower in Toronto when they discover the skeletons of a woman (apparently a suicide) and her cat. Though they live in a world in which billions died at the time of the Change, they are powerfully moved by the evidence of these particular deaths. Rudi is quite aware of the nature of their response, and of this trope.
- The Mole: Kuttner
- Also, Alex, Odard Liu's manservant who sells out Rudi's party to the CUT as part of Mary Liu's failed power grab.
- Morally Bankrupt Banker: Professor Tom Turner of the Corvallis Economics Faculty will take the best deal for himself even if it means throwing his city under the wagon. He is also using refugees as sweatshop labor and engaging in war profiteering. This all bites him in the ass during negotiations to set up the Kingdom of Montival in Lord of Mountains and to decide whether to continue to pursue the CUT into Montana after the enemy's field army was destroyed. When Turner asserts that Corvallis is a democracy and cannot accept a monarch, Sandra Arminger produces a document signed by Turner stating his willingness to subjugate Corvallis to the PPA during the Protector's War, thus destroying Turner's credibility at the negotiating table generally and with the rest of the Corvallis delegation specifically.
- Nemean Skinning: Michael Havel, Lord Bear of the Bearkillers, wears the head of the bear that earned him and the outfit their names on his helmet. Subverts the trope by making Havel nearly get killed by the bear, and tanning is done by specialists off-page.
- Further subverted by Havel being totally against the idea in the first place (thinks it's too hokey), until he realizes it will serve the purpose of something for his people to rally behind.
- No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Averted. Bicycles become a popular mode of transportation after the Change, even being used by armies going into battle.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: horribly averted, as most celebrities were harmed (and probably killed and eaten, too). Of the ones we actually hear about in the story, the British royal family has been put through the ringer with Queen Elizabeth II dying, Prince Charles taking the throne at the point of insanity, and Prince William being sent on a one-way trip in a leaky museum piece.
- The leader of the CUT immediately after the Change is heavily implied to be the Unabomber (or at least a very thinly-veiled Expy of him).
- We are told that Pope John Paul II elected to remain in the Vatican to confront an angry mob rather than be evacuated by the Swiss Guards with the College of Cardinals. He did not live long. His successor (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as in Real Life) lives to the beginning of the second trilogy, which would make him about 95 years old at the time. Badass Grandpa indeed!
- The skeletal remains of a "computer magnate" (implied to be Bill Gates) were discovered in his mansion in Washington state during a PPA salvage expedition.
- We learn in The Golden Princess that a CUT-like cult has spread in North Korea, using Kim Jong Il and his family as its agents.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Dr. Aaron Rothman begs to differ — and thinks you look quite fetchingly butch with that little scar on your chin.
- Rigobert as of The Given Sacrifice has reached that milestone as well...not that age has slowed him down in the tiniest.
- Non-Action Guy: At over 60, he's not much use at hand-to-hand combat, but Ken Larsson is the husband of one Action Girl (Pam), the father of two more (Signe and Astrid) plus a young Bad Ass (Eric), and the father-in-law of Lord Bear himself. He's also the Bearkillers' premier engineer and one of Lord Bear's most trusted advisers.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Epona to Rudi; Garbh to Edain.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Inverted in many places, as many societies (Clan Mackenzie, PPA, Norrheim, Indian tribes, ranches) went back to old fashions.
- Played straight with Corvallis, Boise, and the surviving urban centers of the Midwest.
- Greater Britain meanwhile is mishmash of Medieval, Victorian and Modern-ish attire.
- Averted by Mount Angel, as Catholic priests and monks have dressed the same way for hundreds of years and probably weren't likely to alter their basic attire any time soon anyway, Change or not.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: Less-equipped and less-principled groups in the wake of the Change survive by killing and eating stragglers. And once they've started, it's not likely the proper societies will welcome them with open arms. On occasion these "Eater" societies reform on their own and remain outcasts, but more likely than not, they end up slaughtered by the more civilized groups or eating one another to extinction.
- Not So Different: Averted in The Scourge of God. Rudi Mackenzie is describing Chuck Barstow's actions at the time of the Change, including survival-motivated fighting, deception, and theft (see Break Out the Museum Piece, above). Odard Liu, thinking of his own brutal sire's actions at that time, is about to invoke this trope, with a side of Our Parents Only Did What They Had To Do. Rudi shuts him down by pointing out one more thing Chuck Barstow felt he "had to do": rescue and take in a group of stranded schoolchildren (including his son Oak, whom Odard knows personally), something that Eddie Liu would certainly never have considered.
- Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: Corvallis's contentious Faculty Senate is sometimes shown this way. The Protectorate manipulates their politics in an effort to keep Corvallis from entering the War of the Eye. Nice try.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: In his first encounter with Norman Arminger, Mike Havel takes advantage of the fact that Arminger thinks of him as a stupid jarhead.
- Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Inverted. In the years following the Change, many people will go on and on about all the fantastic processed foods that are no onger available when everyone is reduced to eating natural, home-grown food.
- Open Secret: The Portland Protective Association is in practice (and originally, in law) a Roman Catholic kingdom, practicing a fairly conservative version of that faith. The Baroness (later Grand Constable later Marshall) Tiphaine d'Ath is gay and in a monogamous relationship with Delia de Stafford, wife of the equally-gay Rigobert. Everybody except their confessors is quite aware of the true nature of Tiphaine and Delia's, and Delia and Rigobert's, relationships, but the attitudes of the kingdom prohibit any public acknowledgement.
- Our Founder: After the Change several notable individuals or groups are recognised for successfully rebuilding society, the early books mainly focus on three. Mike Haval of The Bear Killers, Juniper Mackenzie of The Clan Mackenzie, and Norman Arminger of the PPA. Of these three it should be noted that only Arminger actually set out to build a kingdom to rule over, Mike and Juniper were just good,charismatic people who fell into the job and were more than a little uncomfortable with the hero worship that followed.
- President Action: President-General Lawrence Thurston of Boise (see Four-Star Badass, above).
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Attempted by an entire battalion during the siege and fall of Boise by pretending to be a loyal reinforcing unit; averted when a member of the gate guard recognizes personally the commander of the unit (which had previously defected to Montival and was known to have done so) and sounds the alarm.
- Patronymic: A common form of identifier in some cultures Rudi's band encounters in their trek across the continent, including the Southsiders (e.g., "Jake sunna Jake"), Canadian neo-savages the London Bunch (Dik Tomskid), and the Norrheimers (Bjarni Erickson). The Norrheimers seem to be the only ones who also use this naming convention for women, whose surnames end with "dottir" rather than the masculine "son" (Asgerd Karlsdottir).
- Pet the Dog: Tiphaine d'Ath with regard to her page (and later squire) Lioncel—when appropriate, of course.
- Pragmatic Villainy: A specialty of Sandra Arminger's, especially in the first trilogy. For example, when the PPA are holding nine-year-old Rudi captive, she keeps her husband Norman from killing him not because she has any problems with cold-blooded murder (she's ordered a number of assassinations herself), but because she thinks that suborning Rudi would be a more effective means of bringing the Mackenzies under control.
- Private Military Contractors: How the Bearkillers make their living on the march from the Idaho backcountry to their eventual home. Mike even refers to the Bearkillers as condottieri (a free company of mercenaries) more than once. There is however a strong helping of We Help the Helpless involved, as the Bearkillers will rescue a party in distress and won't take more than their client can afford to part with in payment.
- Queer People Are Funny: Played straight by Aaron Rothman, the closest any character comes in the series to being comedy relief (although he may be doing it deliberately, as noted elsewhere). Averted by Tiphaine and Delia, who are better developed as characters and whose relationship (and the implications it has for them socially and politically) is explored more seriously. Rigobert de Stafford's sense of humor is very well-developed but more subtle and most definitely does not make people take him any less seriously. Estella Maldonado (who makes her final appearance in Lord of Mountains) was not developed as well as the series' other gay characters; most (but not all) of the time when she was shown it was in a purely professional context. The one time Estella did demonstrate a sense of humor was in delivering a verbal smackdown to a CUT follower in her party, making her more of a Snark Knight than Camp Gay.
- The Quest: A lot of characters, especially the aforementioned Tolkien fangirl comment on the auspiciousness of the fact that Rudi's journey will take him across the land to find a mythical sword and that he will have nine members in his group.
- Rain of Arrows: combat strategy of the Mackenzie archers.
- Religion Is Magic
- Religion of Evil: The Church Universal and Triumphant edges on Path of Inspiration, but the fact that they're pretty openly out for world conquest and the way they keep followers in line by freaking them out with aural Alien Geometries plunks them in this category. Not to mention that they turn out to be a front for Eldritch Abominations that want to reduce the universe to nothing.
- Retired Badass: Tiphaine d'Ath has reached her mid-forties in The Given Sacrifice and while still very effective as a combatant, her reflexes are beginning to slow down just as old social and political grudges are starting to manifest themselves in the form of personal challenges. Mathilda and Rudi name her Marshal of Montival's armies, essentially a desk job consisting of staff planning duties for a skeleton force. The appointment places her under their direct protection, much to her consternation.
- Rooting for the Empire: In-Universe. The PPA base their society around Mordor and Sauron, of all things.
- Boise makes the shift from trying to establish itself as a successor to the United States to replicating the Roman Empire outright after President-General Thurston is assassinated.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Many. Norman Arminger, Mike Havel, and Astrid Larsson are war leaders; the multitalented Juniper Mackenzie is a bard, a high priestess, an expert weaver, and a pretty decent archer. Mathilda Arminger and Rudi Mackenzie, the heirs apparent, undertake the quest for the sword in the second trilogy, and fight in combat repeatedly.
- 'Mad' King Charles of Greater Britain, despite having been groomed to be a figurehead his entire life, proves invaluable in organizing the survivors on the Isle of Wight. His expertise in organic farming (Prince Charles in Real Life is an expert on the topic) in particular helps to ensure Greater Britain's survival. Unfortunately some of the decisions he had to make left him a broken man, easily manipulated by Hallgerda and her retinue.
- Although Lawrence Thurston would vehemently object to being called a 'royal' he did have near-absolute control over most of the state of Idaho from just after the Change until his son Martin assassinated him. An Army officer pre-Change, he reorganized the state government (but kept the legislature intact, although he suspended elections) and built Boise's military practically from scratch into one of the most feared fighting forces on the continent. He also sponsored research into the cause and effects of the Change, helped reorganize the civilian economy to adapt to the Change, and like many other leaders who arose during the Change kept civilization alive through sheer force of will.
- Scarily Competent Tracker: Ritva and Mary are followed by an uncannily competent scout and Scout! in The Sunrise Lands; they later describe him as having trailed them across the type of terrain over which it would be difficult to find traces of a full team pulling a cart. Along with his people, the Morrowlander Pack, he becomes an ally against the CUT in The Given Sacrifice.
- Scary Black Man: Played With. Will Hutton; Lawrence, Martin, and Frederick Thurston; and the 'Moorish' (actually Senegalese) corsairs. They're all black and all very imposing individuals, but to survive and succeed in the Emberverse one has to be a pretty scary individual when it counts. Racism seems to have died in the Change, with race seldom if ever discussed by the main characters after the first trilogy (although it does figure prominently there, with Will being rescued by Mike Havel from white supremacists who were torturing him to death in the first volume). The Thurstons aren't even described as black until met in person in the second trilogy.
- Schizo Tech: the survivors post-Change implement useable technology from all eras, from the Stone Age to the 19th and 20th centuries (among other things, knowledge of modern medicine and sanitation proves very helpful).
- Secret Police: employed by several of the post-Change nations:
- The Iowa State Police has evolved into such an agency. This is a rare case where the secret police are on the side of the good guys, as they're the ones who verify Rudi's claims about the CUT even as the cult is trying to subvert Iowa's leadership. Probably a minor case of No Celebrities Were Harmed, as making the actual Iowa State Police look evil when the rest of the state government survived more or less intact probably wasn't the author's goal.
- Boise has the Natpols (National Police; originally an FBI-equivalent but later on becomes a secret police organ after the elder Thurston's death).
- The Inquisition run by Pope Leo served this role for Norman Arminger. Arguably, Tiphaine d'Ath in her role as Grand Constable fulfills the trope, as she is frequently called upon by Sandra to make certain individuals 'disappear'. The PPA also maintains a secret prison facility (location generally unknown) for high-value prisoners (this is where Mary Liu ends up after her failed power play against Sandra Arminger).
- The CUT High Seekers fill the role for areas under the cult's control.
- Sentient Cosmic Force: The Change was caused by what's best described as the Universal Mind having an argument with itself and reaching the least bad compromise. Mind you this least bad option resulted in the worldwide collapse of civilization and the deaths of billions.
- Single-Minded Twins: Ritva and Mary Havel begin very much like this, though they develop/display more distinct personalities in the course of the second trilogy.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Iron Rod, a minor villain (seriously, he's only around a few chapters) in Dies the Fire that's essentially a glorified gang leader that thinks he's hot stuff just because he's running roughshod over a number of farmers before the Bearkillers show up. Once they do show up he doesn't last very long.
- Smug Snake: Norman Arminger, Duke Iron Rod, Piotr Stavarov, Eddie Liu
- The Southpaw: Rudi Mackenzie, after his right arm is wounded to the point he can't use it as well as he used to.
- Storming the Castle: Happens a few times, although both sides dread the thought of having to do so.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Suspected at first of being responsible for the Change. It turns out that the responsible party is several levels beyond that...
- Summon Bigger Fish: The only viable strategy for the Topangans to hold off the Chatsworth Lancers in The Desert and the Blade. Orlaith is able to bring Topanga and later Chatsworth into Montival by showing how much force the kingdom is able to muster. That her expedition was ''not'' authorized by the Lady Regent is entirely coincidental.
- Sword of Plot Advancement: The Sword of the Lady reveals all truths, brings the influence of the good parts of the Mind into the world, and also can chop clean through anything from a gnarled tree trunk to an airborne hair. It also acts as a Universal Translator for any language, including invented languages such as the Elvish used by the Rangers (it even fills in gaps in grammar and syntax which neither Tolkien nor the Dúnedain addressed) and languages presumed extinct, like Japanese, encountered by Rudi and company at the end of The Given Sacrifice
- Teenage Wasteland: Averted by the Morrowlanders, surviving members of a Boy Scout troop left stranded after a plane crash in Yellowstone National Park after the Change. They managed with minimal adult assistance to form a well-organized, functioning society and are able to keep the CUT out of their territory (albeit with a few nasty deals they try their hardest to avoid). Lack of manpower, along with knowing the CUT for what they are, makes joining Montival a very attractive proposition to them.
- Played straight to varying degrees by the various Eater bands and other bands of marauders who survived, particularly in the larger cities.
- They Call Him Sword: The first title Rudi ever receives is "Sword of the Lady," which is given to him by the Powers at his Wiccanning. Once he retrieves the actual weapon of that name, however, the title is usually used for it, rather than him.
Ingolf: Let me get this straight — you're the Sword, and the sword is the Sword?
- This Is Reality: A lot of the early conversations between Mike and Astrid are variations on this theme.
- Token Evil Teammate: Sandra Arminger, amongst the founders of the High Kingdom of Montival. None of the other leaders trust her any farther than they could throw John Hordle — wise of them, as even though she is sincere in her desire to make the High Kingdom a viable entity (helps that her own daughter will be High Queen and her grandchildren will form the subsequent dynasty), she is never above seeking the PPA's advantage. Her political acumen and her extensive information network make her a very effective ally all the same, as does the fact that she will make sure the dirty work, such as blackmail or assassination, is taken care of.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Tiphaine d'Ath and Delia de Stafford. Tiphaine is the toughest woman — arguably the toughest person — in the Protectorate, dresses in male garb (usually a big no-no in that realm), wears her hair in a pageboy and would wear it shorter if she could, and doesn't like children. Her lover Delia is a complete creampuff, an expert weaver and needlewoman who never dresses in anything less than the height of feminine fashion, wears her hair long and lush, and loves babies. Naturally, they're inseparable.
- Too Dumb to Live: Jon Wooton in "A Murder in Eddsford". He tried to build a nuclear powered steam engine without wearing protective material, thus dying of radiation poisoning.
- Also Astrid in the first book, who thinks that provoking a bear is a smart thing to do. After the bear is dealt with Mike rightly chews her out.
- Trilogy Creep: The seven books of the second generation of the series were originally meant to be just three.
- True Companions: The members of the Quest for the Sword rely on one another completely, and form bonds they will retain all their lives. The core group of the second Quest (Reiko's quest) show signs of forging similar connections.
- Unholy Matrimony: Probably best exampled by a quote:
Signe Larsson-Havel: My husband was a good man.
Sandra Arminger: Mine was a monster. But don't think for a second that I loved mine any less than you loved yours.
- Villainous Valour: Whether outnumbered and pursued by the Mackenzies, surrounded by Astrid and friends, or betrayed by a member of her own band, Dark Action Girl Tiphaine d'Ath earns her victories with remarkable skill, ingenuity, and courage. She's not a particularly likable person, and her objectives are often other than admirable, but her wit and her grit are outstanding.
- The Virus: And if you think the CUT is chilling on general principle, you should see what happens when its influence is suddenly removed...
- Warrior Monk: The local monastery becomes an order of these after the change. Lampshaded frequently, in that they draw comparisons with the Shaolin and other martial orders and lament that they cannot spend more time simply studying and praying.
- Don't forget the Buddhist Monks in the Valley of the Sun where the party winters to heal Rudi's shoulder after he sustained a nasty evil arrow wound. The monks also train the party so as they all Take a Level in Badass.
- Warrior Prince: Rudi Mackenzie. Also the brothers Thurston, though their father might dispute that description! Also Prince William of Greater Britain, whom Nigel encounters during a battle early in the series.
- Weddings for Everyone: The first trilogy ends with a massive handfasting ceremony whose participants include a number of the central characters.
- What the Romans Have Done for Us: The Portland Protective Association was established by Norman Arminger as a brutal,warmongering despotism directly responsible for a lot of deaths. However, later in the series it's generally conceded in-universe that Arminger's actions actually saved the lives of many in Portland (and certainly saved the city as a city), and forged a strong kingdom that would go on to play a vital role in the creation and survival of Montival.
- Woman in Black: Tiphaine d'Ath.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: the Change has forced a return to the Age of Sail, seen as early as the first trilogy (where we meet Prince William in command of the Cutty Sark—impressed into the Royal Navy despite being a decrepit museum piece—on what appears to be a suicide mission arranged by Hallgerda).
- The World Is Not Ready: NOTE: The following spoiler explains the origin behind The Change. Do not read further if you want this to remain a mystery until the end of the sixth book. The Change was caused by the Powers That Be (see above) because humanity was showing more and more irresponsibility with its current technology levels. The god(s) decided the best course of action was a "do-over" in order for humanity to mature more as a species before inheriting their tech. This is why we were bombed back into medieval times, rather than having history wiped clean. The idea was to learn from the first time through, so we were better prepared for the next time.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: In Dies the Fire, street gang members take advantage of the collapse in law enforcement to loot electronics and jewelry stores. Norman Arminger, a history professor, organizes other manpower and secures food and water supplies. Norman becomes a Dark Lord styled king in all but name. The gang members wind up working for him - or else.
- Writer on Board / Author Filibuster : To varying degrees, though relatively low. That's S. M. Stirling for ya...