A six-book fantasy series by Garth Nix concerning two groups of people living in a world of complete darkness, thanks to the Veil, a powerful black shadow that envelops the entire planet and blocks out the sun: the Chosen, a group of light-manipulating magicians who live in a multicolored Castle and believe themselves to be superior to everybody, and the Icecarls, a warrior race eking out an existence on the endless Ice beneath the Castle. The two do not mix (indeed, the Chosen do not even realize the Icecarls exist), but are thrust together when an ancient war between the the people of the Dark World and the spirit realm of Aenir threatens to flare up once again.The books follow Tal Graile-Rerem, a young boy of the Orange Order of the Chosen, and Milla of the Far-Raiders, an Icecarl girl in training to become a Shield Maiden, as extenuating circumstances force them to rely on and trust one another and they attempt to unravel the ancient secrets surrounding the Castle and the war against Aenir, so long ago.The books are:
Above The Veil
The Violet Keystone
The series contains examples of:
Action Girl: Milla. Any female Icecarl, really, but Milla is by far the most prominent.
Sushin, who regains control of his own body minutes before dying and spends that time wondering exactly how he got inside Violet Tower and all torn to shreds.
Fashnek as well, who is revealed just before he dies to be a broken and pathetic man who made a Deal with the Devil with Sharrakor out of desperation and perhaps approptiately, whose life has been a living nightmare ever since.
All-Powerful Bystander: The Old Khamsoul is hinted to be the oldest and most powerful being in Aenir, but seems pretty comitted to noninterference beyond answering questions.
Amazon Brigade: The Shield Maidens of the Icecarls. Although male Icecarl warriors do exist (referred to as Sword Thanes), they are quite rare and generally operate on their own, rather than in groups like the Shield Maidens. (Well, if you want to get technical all non-Crone Icecarls are warriors. Shield Maidens and Sword Thanes are professional warriors).
Anime Hair: Tal ends up with a green stripe in his hair thanks to a near escape from a monster in Aenir.
The Archmage: Chosen Shadowlords and Icecarl Mother Crones, who both represent the highest level of power in their respective forms of magic.
Badass Normal: Most non-Crone Icecarls (not Milla, ultimately, as she learns to use sunstone magic starting in the second book), Crow.
Based on a Great Big Lie: It becomes increasingly clear as the series goes on that Tal's education was more to give him enough answers that he'd stop asking questions than to actually teach him anything useful.
Beneath the Earth: There's a massive complex of tunnels under the Castle, full of things most of the Chosen and many of the Underfolk have forgotten or never knew about. Best showcased in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books.
The Berserker: Do not get in the way of Jarek when the red mist comes over him. Human or Spiritshadow, he will kill you. He's a Wilder, which is an Icecarl term that basically means "berserker", though he's the only one to appear in person.
Big Bad: Shadowmaster Sushin. Except he's actually just a shell possessed by the realBig Bad, Sharrakor.
Big Good: Tal thinks that the Empress is this. It turns out she's just a pawn for Sharrakor, actually helped free him from his imprisonment, and isn't a particularly pleasant or talented person on top of that. She gets killed off unceremoniously. The closest thing to an actual Big Good is probably Ebbitt.
Blood Oath: The Icecarls like to seal pacts in this way, and do so by making a triangular cut on each person's wrist and having them mix their blood. Some overlap with Blood Brothers: as it is this kind of oath that ultimately is keeping Milla from killing Tal: "We have shared too much blood."
Cave Mouth: The Cavernmouths, Aenirean monsters disguised as caves which reach out and devour people with their jaws. You can even see their tonsils.
Character Development: Plenty for all the main characters. Tal learns humility and discipline; Milla learns how to think through her problems and make plans rather than charge around blindly, and Crow learns to channel his anger towards helping people and not just hate all Chosen indescriminately.
Chekhov's Gun: The corpse Tal and Milla find in the heating tunnels turns out to be the previous emperor. The sunstone he was carrying is the Violet Keystone.
A Child Shall Lead Them: Tal takes over as Emperor of the Chosen at the end of the series. Milla is made War-Chief of the Icecarls in the fourth book and retains her position to the end.
Lokar while imprisoned in the Red Keystone also has her moments; being trapped perpetually in a tiny crystal with no one to talk to but a spiritshadow can apparently make you a little... odd.
Color-Coded Wizardry: The Chosen society use their Sunstones (capable of generating light) for just about everything, ranging from throwing around rays of destructive light in battle, to creating Hard Light structures, to healing wounds, to simple etiquette and courtesy (woe betide anyone who is bathed in the White Ray of Disgust, and does not give the Blue Ray of Humble Apology in return).
Cool Old Guy: Tal's great-uncle Ebbitt, who says and does many very strange things. However, it appears that he is Obfuscating Stupidity, and his surprisingly extensive knowledge of the Chosen and their Castle comes in very handy on many an occasion.
Cosmic Keystone: The seven Keystones, which power the Veil and keep the sun blocked.
Crapsack World: The Dark World is permanently cut off from the sun, and outside the Chosen's castle is a desolate, frozen wasteland. Turns out that saving humanity involves keeping it that way.
Crystal Prison: In the fourth book, Tal and Crow find the Red Keystone; imprisoned inside of it is its guardian, Lokar.
Death Seeker/Driven to Suicide: After getting Odris bound to her, Milla gets pretty darn determined to kill herself near the middle of the series. She never gets the chance to actually do so. She willingly goes into a Dying Dream-like state which will kill her after she delivers her final message.
Jarek, a berserker Sword Thane, who was once drenched in Norworm blood, giving him blue and Nigh Invulnerable skin. Subverted: after his woman dies, he is unable to find the will to live when fighting a giant robotic bug. The fury never came.
Tal; he's just a kid with no real knowledge of what's going on a vague quest to save his family. He is blocked every turn by powerful adults and their cronies, falls thousands of feet onto a tundra he has no idea how to survive in, is forced to make a pact with a girl who really wants to kill him, is captured multiple times, beaten within an inch of his life several times, thinks he killed what few allies he has, has his shoulder dislocated a few times, finds out there is no Big Good, poisoned a few times, and in general never has a real chance to rest or eat for about a few months. He never gives up; he just keeps on moving and fighting.
Milla too; at one point she even enters a special Icecarl meditative trance that will ensure she stays alive long enough to accomplish her mission- and then die imemdiately afterwards. Or she would have if the Crones hadn't saved her.
Dies Wide Shut: Sort of. Whenever Milla thinks she's about to die, she opens her eyes wider. We find out why in an aside in Into Battle, when she gives someone a Due to the Dead by manually opening their eyes "so they might see their way ahead".
Deuteragonist: Milla, barely. We meet her half a book later than Tal, but from Castle onward she gets about equal pagetime and basically shares the role of protagonist.
Sharrakor. Even Ebbitt goes pale when hearing about him, and he's a character who is generally consistently fearless and is probably the strongest-willed of the Chosen. And that's before we find out Sharrakor's the Big Bad!
Fashnek is this as well.
Earth All Along: The pickled animals in the Seventh Tower seem to imply such.
Eccentric Mentor: Ebbitt. He's a brilliant light magician, he knows more about the Castle's secrets than pretty much all the other Chosen, and he's really, really weird.
Enemy Mine: Tal and Milla's relationship in a nutshell, at least at first. They really don't like each other for most of the series, but recognize that there are far more dangerous threats out there than each other. They gradually become, if not exactly touchy-feely, at least close allies with a powerful rapport.
Evil Chancellor: Shadowmaster Sushin. One of his many titles is even "the Dark Vizier".
Evil Is Not a Toy: The Empress and her brother freed Sharrakor from his imprisonment to help them gain domination over the other Chosen. He wound up dominating them.
Evil Overlord: Sharrakor used to be this, apparently- his Aeniran title is "Overlord", and he's certainly evil. It turns out most of the plot was set in motion by his gunning for the position again.
Fantastic Racism: The Chosen look down on everyone and everything but themselves, most notably the underfolk, Icecarls, and Spiritshadows. The Icecarls, for their part, consider the Chosen to be arrogant weaklings and the Spiritshadows dangerous demons. Nobody is entirely right or wrong in any of these perceptions.
Fate Worse Than Death: Being cast out of your clan or devoured by Wreska is seen as this by Icecarls, as the latter is a dishonour both to the clan and the convicted, while the former is to be forgotten forever, to be erased from Icecarl history. You never were an Icecarl. To a Chosen or Underfolk, being sent to the Hall of Nightmares.
Fear Is the Appropriate Response: Unlike the overconfident Milla, Tal actually understands there are occasions where running for your life is the only sensible response, and hasn't been raised in a way that makes sensible retreat shameful. Milla does, eventually, learn the value of self-preservation.
Fire-Forged Friends: Tal and Milla by the end, having come to recognize that while they'll never see eye to eye, their abilities and personalities complement each other and that each can trust the other under fire.
Five-Man Band: The group that ultimately goes after Sharrakor fits into this categorization.
Functional Magic: The Chosen use sunstones for Device Magic; the Icecarl Crones seem to use a kind of Force Magic, and Aenir is just chock full of Wild Magic.
Garden of Evil: The characters pass by one of these in Aenir. It's seemingly idyllic, but once you go in you can never leave.
Green Lantern Ring: A sunstone can produce a tremendous array of supernatural effects, if you know how to use it properly.
Half-Human Hybrid: Fashnek, the operator of the Hall of Nightmares, who lost a large amount of his body in an accident. To keep himself alive, he had his Spiritshadow permanently join with what remained of his body. Considered hideous and vile, an abomination... perfect for the master of nightmares.
Happiness in Slavery: Well, okay, maybe not happiness, but the Underfolk have been subservient to the Chosen for so long that most of them can't imagine life being any different. Only a very, very few actively want freedom, and the rest don't seem to be able to wrap their heads around the idea.
Headbutting Heroes: This nicely sums up Milla and Tals relationship in a oner. They will work together and even risk their lives to save each other out of a strange mix of pride, necessity and basic moral decency, but Milla actively wants to kill Tal for a good part of the series, and even Tal wants to be rid of Milla as fast as he possibly can. This calms down towards something resembling a Hero-Lancer relationship towards the end, as the two finally mature and come to an understanding with one another. Even by the end, there is still a certain frostiness between the two protagonists though.
Tal and Crow even moreso, in the fourth book. When they team up again in book six, Crow has calmed down considerably and is much more pleasant company, though that in itself weirds Tal out.
Hard Light: Light magic can create solid objects out of light.
Heroic Sacrifice: Crow when he uses cave roach poison to kill Sharrakor in human form.
Hive Mind: Sort of. The Crones are not a single consciousness, but any Crone can at any time link themselves to the entire community of Crones (or at least, any who are actively paying attention at the moment) to communicate and share information, and it's possible for the Crones to collectively speak out of one of their number, which is called the Voice (and is apparently pretty hard on the Crone in question; the usually unflappable Malen is visibly shaken after carrying the Voice).
Humanoid Abomination: Subverted in Aenir. Hazror is introduced as a horrifically powerful and evil Aeniran monstrosity who looks like a cadaverous human- but he's actually just an ancient man who essentially wears a suit made of sunstones and is very, very good at magic (though he's heavily implied to be a Serial Killer). Fortunately for Tal, once he realizes Hazror's human he also realizes that he's a Squishy Wizard.
Tal, initially, due to his Chosen upbringing teaching him that he was part of the superior race of people in the world. He gradually grows out of this, as it is repeatedly demonstrated to him that he is not as superior as he once thought.
Milla and particularly Crow start out this way as well.
La Résistance: The Freefolk, a group of Underfolk delinquents who desire to overthrow the Chosen and gain freedom for the Underfolk. Currently consists of six members, most of them children.
Leeroy Jenkins: Milla's reluctance to retreat has put herself and Tal in varying degrees of pain, from getting them hauled off by violet guardsmen to almost getting them smote off a hillside. She's considerably more tactically refined by book five. Tal, for his part, also has a habit of attempting insanely dangerous things without prompting, though he tends to only do so if there's great need (like his attempt to save his little brother.
The Spiritshadows, beings from Aenir that the Chosen bind to themselves as servants in a rite of passage. In Aenir, they take on their true forms, which are many and varied, but in the Dark World they appear as shadows, weakened in darkness and strengthened by light.
And shadowguards, the junior version, which act like children's natural shadows come to life. They're much less powerful and exist to keep Chosen kids safe... although Tal's has the opposite effect when he meets the Icecarls, since it identifies him as a hated Chosen.
The Magocracy: The Chosen rank themselves largely based on who is best with sunstones and who has the most powerful Spiritshadows. Anyone who has neither is a second-class citizen at best. The Icecarls don't really have a formalized government, but they generally look to the Crones, an order of female magic-users and sages, for leadership.
Major Injury Underreaction: At the climax of the third book, Milla runs Sushin through on her sword. He laughs it off, and when the sword is removed he doesn't even bleed. Because Sharrakor's presence in his body is keeping him alive and healthy no matter what happens to him.
The Man Behind the Man: Sushin appears to be the Big Bad till Sharrakor is revealed to not bound to the empress and plans to destroy the Veil and begin a new war between Aenir and the Dark World.
Milla seems a little too eager to kill Tal in their first meetings.
Icecarls in general kill first ask questions later. Crones are the exception to that rule.
Tal begins to think this near the end of the series after all he has been through.
No Eye in Magic: You have to be able to see a sunstone in order to make it do anything more complex than glow; as a result, a blind person can't learn to do light magic and someone who is blinded loses the ability if they had it. This is a major phobia for the Chosen as a result, and Tal freaks when Sushin blinds him temporarily.
No Indoor Voice: Adras and Odris. Storm Shepherds' normal voices sound like thunderclaps, so even if they're whispering, it sounds quite loud to humans.
Non-Indicative Name: Though many Crones are old women, not all of them are; Malen is a Crone who is only a year or two older than Tal and Milla, though she's explicitly stated to be the youngest.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: Sushin is initially introduced as a jerkass high-ranking Chosen who has it in for Tal's family over an old grudge with Tal's father. Each successive book has him take (or rather, reveal), a further level in badass, culminating in the double-whammy reveals in books three and four that he's some sort of nonhuman who can laugh off taking a sword through the chest and is the Empress's Evil Chancellor.
Not So Stoic: When she's first introduced, Malen comes across as totally unflappable and wise and serene beyond her years, which annoys the Hot Blooded Milla to no end. However, as the fifth and sixth books progress, Malen's inexperience and the resulting cracks in her emotional armor show through, and she becomes much more open with the other characters.
The Omniscient: Several beings are mentioned that have access to functionally infinite knowledge; the Codex and the Old Khamsoul both put in personal appearances; the Hollow Oracle does not.
Not So Omniscient After All: But the Khamsoul won't answer Tal when he asks who originally started the war between the Dark World and Aenir. From the way it frames its refusal, though, it might be that the Khamsoul doesn't know, or might be that it simply considers the question irrelevant as neither side was blameless.
One-Winged Angel: Inverted. The shapeshifting Sharrakor uses his physically impressive dragon form as a default, and rather than turning into something even worse, at the climax he's forced into a much weaker humanoid form.
Overly-Long Name: The Kurshken seem fond of these, but have the courtesy to offer alternate names for non-Kurshken to use.
Quorr Quorr Quorr Quorr Quorr Jak-Quorr Jareskk Yazeqicka ("Yazeq"): "Come, you must be tired. You may rest in our guest roro, or as you may wish to call it: roroqquolleckechahen."
Ebbitt: "I'll say 'roro'..."
Our Dragons Are Different: Sharrakor. Though he's not actually a dragon, "just" a shapeshifter who likes to use that form. His true form is never specified; it could be nothing, or any one of a number of forms.
Our Monsters Are Weird: There's some damn bizarre things in Aenir. Two prominent characters are Storm Shepherds, powerful giants of cloud and lightning who—as Tal realises—make very powerful Spiritshadows. And they're among the more normal creatures. The really weird ones include Hugthings, rectangles of turf that leap up and squeeze you to death, and Cavernmouths, which are caves that eat you.
The Power of the Sun: Sunstones. Spiritshadows also require light to become powerful; light from any source will do, butsunlight works best which is why Sharrakor wants to bring down the Veil.
Prophet Eyes: Mother Crones have solid white eyes. Other Crones also have weird things going on with their eyes as well; apprentice Crones have abnormally bright blue eyes, while regular Crones have faintly glowing silver ones.
Proud Warrior Race Girl: Milla, so very very much. Actually, a lot of the Icecarls could be described as such, but Milla is by far the most prominent.
Punch Clock Villain: Ethar, captain of the Empress's guards. Their respective positions mean she has to do whatever Sushin tells her to, but it's also plain that she's an honorable woman who dislikes many of the things she's forced to do. And in the end, she's killed off for outliving her usefulness.
Puppet King: The Empress and her brother, the Light Vizier, are really nothing more than powerless figureheads for Sharrakor.
Purple Is Powerful: Violet is the highest class of the Chosen, and the color of the most powerful magic.
Rainbow Motif: The Chosen have eight social classes: one for each of the seven colors, with Violet at the top, plus a colorless "Underfolk" caste at the bottom for the servants.
Room 101: The Hall of Nightmares, the worst punishment a Chosen can receive: trapped in a neverending nightmare as a form of interrogation and torture. Those who come out alive are mentally scarred for the rest of their lives. Ironically, the machine used to produce these nightmares was originally created to help dispell nightmares.
Royal Blood: Averted. Tal becomes emperor not because of his ancestry, but because he mastered the Violet Keystone.
Shapeshifter Default Form: The shapeshifting Sharrakor normally prefers to look like a dragon, but can also turn into a humanoid form and a mind drill, and possibly others. It's unclear which, if any, is his actual form.
Single-Biome Planet: The Dark World is one large tundra, and nothing else. Justified because, true to its name, it doesn't get any sunlight. At all.
Smug Snake: Sushin, who is cunning but too petty and hedonistic to be a true Magnificent Bastard. Of course it turns out that the "Sushin" the reader sees is just a facade put on by Sharrakor.
Squishy Wizard: Most Chosen, apart from the Empress's guards; Tal starts out as one but gets tougher across the series. Crones also usually stay out of direct combat, though they're only squishy by the standards of a Proud Warrior Race.
Strange Salute: The Icecarls have a few. To say nothing of the Chosen's many Sunstone-based social customs.
Sword and Sorcerer: Tal and Milla start out as the "fighter and Glass Cannon" version of this one. The line gets blurred as the series goes on and Tal gets better at fighting, and Milla better at magic.
The Not-Love Interest: Tal and Milla never develop attraction or romantic feelings for each other, even though their relationship is the emotional core of the series and they're both reasonably attractive teenagers of about the same age. Apart from once acknowledging that he thinks Milla is pretty (and admitting that he hadn't really given it much thought before) the idea is never raised by Tal, and never at all by Milla.
Tal starts the series as a novice at using most sunstone magic, not knowing any combat magics. By the end, he is one of if not the most proficient users of sunstone magic. From a physical abilities stand point, he would go to bed for a week from minor burns at the story's start; by the end, getting his shoulder dislocated, burned, and other burns and bruises, combined with hours of constant sunstone use, does not distract him from his fight. He even comes to the point of being able to kill a suffering royal guardin cold blood with a point blank shot (something even Crow admitted not having the balls to do) and singlehandedly escaping the nightmare chamber by defeating the warden in a mind battle before killing his shadow minions.
Milla gets one when she picks up the Talon of Danir, and another when she shows the ability to use light magic at a higher level than the Chosen soldiers.
Trademark Favorite Food: Sushin is constantly munching on shrimp. It's unclear if this is a trait of the original Sushin or Sharrakor, or both.
Trigger Happy: Tal begins to get like this towards the end due to strain, almost snapping off a red ray of destruction at Crow when he was (uncharacteristically) giving light out of respect. To be fair this was an unheard of gesture from Crow, and last time they met, Crow made a very good attempt at killing Tal.
True Companions: What Tal and Milla eventually grow into: neither of them can call the other a friend, and they spent most of the series with a healthy distaste for one another, with Milla frequently desiring nothing more than to fight and kill Tal, and Tal thinking her a violent, if brave, barbarian whom he should ditch at the first opportunity. However, circumstances keep conspiring such that the two need each other, and in the end, a bond of trust develops. See also Vitriolic Best Buds.
Unwitting Pawn: Tal's little brother is used to lure Tal into a trap. Tal escapes this one, but then proceeds to get tricked again, this time using his mother. He is caught this time, to almost disastrous effect.
The Usurper: The Empress took the throne by violently ousting her predecessor, Mercur with a little help from Sharrakor.
Villain Ball: If Sharrakor had just let Tal have a sunstone he would have won because Tal would never have had to do anything that he did to save his family and in turn the world.
Sharrakor, greatest of the Spiritshadows and the only one who has a name, can take many different forms. He generally remains in the form of a massive dragon, because Everything Is Better With Dragons, but he can also assume human form or the form of a Mind Drill, which is capable of Mind Control.
Shadowguards, the lesser spiritshadows bound to children, also have this capacity, but no matter what shape they take they're still very weak.
Warrior Poet: Milla shows shades of this in her (comparatively rare) quieter and more reflective moments, which usually amazes Tal.