A historical fantasy series by Canadian author Fiona Patton (partner of Tanya Huff), focusing largely on the semidivine royal family of an alternate version of medieval Britain. Due to this, it contains a great many Religion and Royalty tropes.The island kingdom of Branion is ruled by the DeMarian royal line, whose founder Braniana conquered the realm roughly 900 years before the first novel takes place. She also became the first Vessel of the Living Flame, an elemental being worshiped as a god, which has affected her descendants to the point that they all have fiery eyes that denote their divine right and power. The other three elemental powers are also worshiped, to a lesser extent, and are called the Holy Triarchy, so that the worshipers themselves are called Triarchs. The Flame also powers Seers. A rival faith, Essussiatism, also features prominently and is basically an ersatz Catholicism. The series follows 400 years of Branion history, as the monarchs strive to master their birthright. This is more difficult than it sounds, as having a fire god inside you is not good for your sanity.Notably, the society is sexually loose and has no gender restrictions, to the extent that there is a Guild of (samesex)Companions and the sovereign's title ("Aristok") is unisex.There are four books, written in reverse chronological order:
The Granite Shield (1999) - 100 years prior to that, the Aristoks have been Essusiate apostates for several generations, until a Triarch woman from the principality of Gwyneth seduces the latest Vessel of the Living Flame, has his firstborn son, and raises him to overthrow his father and return the realm to the Triarchy.
The Golden Sword (2000) - And 150 years prior to that, Camden DeKathrine is devoted to the aspect of Wind but is forced by family tradition to become a knight serving the Flame instead. Disillusioned, he joins a heresy that threatens to destroy the realm.
Angst Nuke: Anyone touched by the Flame's power may be affected and in some cases killed by the Vessel's own trauma. In extreme cases, the entire kingdom is effectively knocked off its feet.
Animal Motif: Every noble family has a heraldic animal. Animals also represent specific countries, religions and concepts within vision.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Largely depends on the plot, as the protagonists are often nobles as well. One particularly ambitious family, the DeSandra clan, constantly shifts its loyalties and provides villains in every book until the Crown gets fed up and slaughters them. In Book 3, the generally egalitarian people of Gwyneth are pitted against the arrogant nobility of Branion; zigzagged by the fact that Gwyneth is trying to put its own candidate on the Branion throne.
Assassin: The Assassin's Guild, also known as the Cousins - although there are some independent ones as well.
Assassin Outclassin': Happens occasionally, though not usually to members of the Assassin's Guild. Quindara actively dares rebels to try and kill her.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: The Aristok's coronation ceremony (which can be combined with a wedding) has some pagan elements, like walking through a courtyard wearing nothing but mistletoe, and taking a drug that causes a prophetic vision.
Badass Princess: So many it's quicker to list the subversions: Book1!Kassandra (just a squire), Flairalynne (a royal bastard), Isolde (royal by marriage) and Llewellynne (daughter of an independent, elected Prince).
Battle Aura: Appears as white or red light (depending on religion) around a faith's Champions. Not necessarily controllable, but intimidating and awe-inspiring. Often causes a Battle Halting Duel which may be mirrored by an overhead Animal Battle Aura.
Battle Couple: Demnor and Isolde, Llewellynne and Tuedwur, and Fay and Hamlin. Averted when Demnor orders Isolde to stay home because she's pregnant, and played with by Kelahnus and Florence, who are contracted to other people but practice free love.
Blessed with Suck: The royal family's divine status, full stop. Insanity is just a start to the drawbacks. They have to control the awesome powers of the Living Flame — and if they can't, it will destroy them and quite possibly anything and anyone around them at the time.
Boxed Crook: Two traitors in Book 2 are offered their lives in exchange for a Heel-Face Turn; Livy in Book 3 spends 18 years trying her best to get out of the box.
Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: Subverted in Book 3 when the Triarctic Shield Knights, traditional royal bodyguards outlawed by their Essusiate ruler, cross the border to Gwyneth to protect his Triarctic bastard.
Capital Letters Are Magic: Any noun or pronoun used to refer to the Gods is always capitalized. Even the genderless Living Flame is described as It.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Happens frequently, and is a major part of Book 2. The five-year-old ruler judges traitors (ordering one to eat worms as a punishment), and talks an entire roomful of knights into supporting her by offhandedly threatening them with her divine powers.
Child Soldiers: Justified by the medieval milieu; the age of adulthood is sixteen. Demnor commands a rebellion and then a siege at sixteen; Quindara is knighted at fourteen; Rhys and Llewen are twelve and eleven when they fight their first battles; Flairalynne is eleven when she leads a raid; Kassandra is on the battlefield (though she doesn't fight) at five.
Church Militant: Both faiths have religious military orders. The Triarctic Flame Champions and Seer Archers use the Sight, regarded as a gift from the Flame, to fight more effectively.
Church Police: Essussiatism has actual Inquisitors, but the Triarchy has its own dungeons and heresy trials. Both have orders of Knights Templar to hunt down heretics.
Color Motif: The noble families all have two heraldic colors apiece. These don't appear to have particular significance, except possibly for the royal colors (black and dark blue). The Gods and Aspects also have associated colors, which are found in the eyes of their Avatars.
The Triarch Vessel of the Living Flame is a Christ-like (but hereditary) God in Human Form. Mass is celebrated and there is a sign of the Triarchy traced across the breast by worshipers.
Essusiatism is continental Catholicism with a white dragon in place of the Holy Spirit. Its leader, the Pontiff, rules from the equivalent of Rome. It has many saints and icons.
Elemental Powers: The Living Flame confers vaguely-defined fire powers upon Its Vessels, along with varying degrees of Psychic Powers. The other Aspects might be able to do the same, but none of them has a physical Avatar.
Everyone Is Bi: It's even possible to have a Companion and a spouse at the same time. But generally, characters who aren't married have same-sex partners.
Explained in-universe as a way of cutting down on the number of bastards. This is especially important since the Aristok's succession is determined by the Flame passing automatically to the next person in line, regardless of legitimacy, and there's only one way to skip someone.
Evil Uncle: Ellisander in Book 2. Inverted in Book 1; Demnor's great-uncle is kind and gentle, while his grandfather and mother are tyrannical and insane.
The Heretic: Found in every book. Book 3 seriously zigzags the trope - to stop heresy (the Vessel is an apostate), the Triarchs have to commit heresy (by killing the Vessel).
High-Class Call Girl: The Guild of Companions trains homosexual partners for the nobility. They also act as bodyguards and a powerful spy agency - you learn a lot of secrets between the sheets.
High Priest: Quite a few - the Hierarchpriest of Cannonshire (though this seems more of a secular position), Archpriests of the different Aspects, and the Essussiate Pontiff.
Hit So Hard The Calendar Felt It: The novels are set between 479 and 894 DR. DR apparently stands for DeMarian Rule, and 1 DR is the year Braniana DeMarian made her pact with the Living Flame and took the throne of Branion.
Istanbul Not Constantinople: Pretty much every location is named with this in mind; major countries include Gallia (France), Fenland (the Lowlands), Danelind (Denmark), Heathland (Scotland), Eireon (Ireland), and Gwyneth (Wales). Cities include Yorbourne (York), Tiberia (Rome), Halmouth (Falmouth), and Albangate (St. Albans).
Jerkass Gods: Llewen in Book 3 has good reason to think this, as he can See them playing strategy with the lives of mortals.
Junkie Prophet: Seers take dangerous and addictive potions to drop into prophetic trance, though it is also possible to do this without drugs though proximity to the Living Flame or its sacred sites.
King Bob the Nth: Seven Kassandras, five Demnors, and five Kathrines. There seems to be an Atreus, Marsellus, and Kassandra in every generation.
King Incognito: In Book 2, the Aristok leaves the palace frequently to go drinking and fighting, but everyone can tell it's him because of his eyes, and it really unnerves the barkeeps. While his daughter is on the run, her eyes are blindfolded and her hair is cut and dirtied.
Knighting: Occurs frequently. Essusiate secular orders are named for saints, while Triarctic ones are named for weapons (The Sword, Bow, etc). There are also religious orders, such as the Hounds of Essus and the Flame Champions.
Let's You and Him Fight: A notable use in The Granite Shield, when an entire continent is distracted from fighting tiny Gwyneth by an eleven-year war set off when Gwyneth assassinates the Pontiff.
A Lighter Shade of Grey: In many cases the "good" side is somewhat subjective to say the least. Certain things, like Heathland's persistent desire for independence from Branion rule, or the question of whether the Triarchy or Essusiatism is the nicer religion, are open to interpretation, with sympathetic (and unsympathetic) characters residing on both sides of conflicts.
Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Averted due to the royal family's Fireball Eyeballs, making it obvious who the father is. Has an impact in Book 3, as the Aristok keeps popping out bastards all over the country and can't hide them. The protagonist is able to take the throne because of this.
Meaningful Name: Rhys in book 3 — the future Aristok, his name means "King" in Welsh and, presumably, Gwynethian. Also, since noble families are named for the mothers of their founders, the royal demigod surname DeMarian may be a shout-out.
Meaningful Rename: Rhys takes a regnal name to emphasize his takeover, and picks one used by two highly successful historical rulers; the entire DeSandra family changes its name after an act of treason.
Noble Fugitive: Happens to an extent in every book, but particularly to Kassandra in Book 2, as she's on the run from traitors and assassins.
Praetorian Guard: The DeMarians have three: the common Palace Guard, the noble Knights of the Shield (who swear secular oaths to the ruler), and the Flame Champions (who swear religious oaths to the same ruler). They don't always get along. Subverted by a sizable fraction of Palace Guard who desert and follow Demnor when he becomes a Rebel Prince.
Rags to Royalty: Several cases, though more often Rags to Nobility or Knighthood.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Aristok's rescuers in Book 2 include a family of artists, a band of traveling players, and two of the traitors who killed her father.
Regent for Life: Zigzagged in Book 2, with three different regents: the immensely powerful woman who raised the previous two rulers and still wields a lot of influence; the current regent, who is the new heir's Evil Uncle and plans to kill her later; and his cousin and rival, who plans to fight him for the throne until the heir shows up at her door demanding protection and ends up fighting him for the regency instead.
Requisite Royal Regalia: Plenty, but particularly the DeMarian Plaide, won from the deposed royal family of Heathland. The Heaths, once in rebellion, go to the extreme of sending a herald into the Aristok's camp and formally demanding it back.
Rightful King Returns: Kassandra. Downplayed by Demnor, who isn't actually lost, but only his arrival home averts a civil war in the week after his ascension.
Royal Inbreeding: In The Painter Knight, several pages are devoted to explaining how an exiled member of the royal family, over the course of about 75 years, managed to tie his bloodline back into the ruling line — by marrying his cousin, having their children marry second cousins, and having their grandchildren marry third cousins — one of whom is the current monarch. His child inherits the powers of four different septs of the dynasty in one go.
Save Your Deity: Inverted repeatedly in Book 2. The Flame's own priests are unknowingly trying to return Its Vessel to the control of her Evil Uncle and one of them is The Mole, while the leader of her protectors follows Essus. He's saving someone else's deity, at the command of his own God.
She Is the King: Type 3. The sovereign of Branion is the Aristok, period, regardless of gender. Which makes sense since the first titleholder was a woman. Princes, Dukes, Knights, etc can all be female. So can the Essusiate Pontiff.
Sibling Rivalry: Between Demnor and Quindara, who refuse to call each other by name, only title. A cousinly variant between Ellisander and Terrilynne.
Theme Naming: Branions tend to have Classically-derived names (often feminized - for example, Gawaina and Lysanda). Branion Essusiates during the period of Book 3 often have French names to indicate how they are influenced by the Continent. Noble families are named for the mothers of their founders. There's also a college of Heralds with bird-themed names (Robinarden, Raventarian, etc).
Unproblematic Prostitution: The Companions, high-class, same-sex courtesans to the upper class. Their guild wields tremendous influence thanks to their ability to manipulate the politics of nations by way of their clientele. They are contracted to specific nobles, but are not expected to be monogamous, and are paid very well. It is repeatedly shown that their noble clients are frequently more in love with their Companions than with their own spouses. Quite a few Companions reciprocate, although this is actually a taboo in their guild and something they keep quiet about.
Wise Beyond Their Years: All the DeMarians, but particularly five-year-old Kassandra, who talks and acts more like eight or nine, and Flairalynne, who at eleven plans and leads a nationwide civil insurrection. Possibly justified by their divine connection; their fiery eyes give them a serious and adult gaze.
Wreathed in Flames: Happens frequently, usually in battle, religious occasions, or when the Vessel gets particularly angry. At one point, psychic trauma causes Kassandra to effectively explode; this blows one of her protectors into a tree, wrecks a nearby village, and paints the wagon she's riding in bright red.
Young Conqueror: Par for the course. Braniana ruled 63 years so must have been fairly young when she conquered Branion, and Rhys in Book 3 is a teenager when he reconquers Branion. Demnor's mother in Book 1 led a "Charge of Carnage" at the age of 14, winning a large portion of Gallia.