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Literature / A Trial of Blood and Steel

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A Trial of Blood and Steel is a fantasy quadrilogy by Joel Shepherd, consisting of Sasha, Petrodor, Tracato and Haven. The series starts in the small village of Baerlyn highland nation of Lenayin with former princess Sashandra Lenayin training in swordwork under Kessligh Cronenverdt. Her sparring against the other villagers is interrupted by the arrival of her brother Prince Damon with a company of soldiers. A lord of a neighbouring province has been slain by another lord and the King has dispatched Damon to clear up the conflict before it spirals out of control. Things are, of course, more than they seem and from there the series spirals into a web of politics, religion and war that takes the cast across the continent.

Although the series is best classed as fantasy there is only one definitely supernatural element, with all others being at most Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, and one non-human race, the very elf-like serrin.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Serrin steel swords are much more lethal than ordinary weapons, and additionally much more durable.
  • Action Girl: Sasha and pretty much every female serrin seen.
  • Alpha Bitch: Princess Alythia, pre-Character Development.
  • Arc Words: Variations on "Would you be the first in a thousand years?" referencing the length of time since one serrin has murdered another.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Disproportionately so but not entirely. They're mostly out of touch rather than malevolent. The Civid Sein believe it anyway.
  • Badass Army: The Steels of the Saalshen Bacosh. Think Roman Legions with heavier armour and nightmarish siege weapons. In one of their first appearances they deal out a Curbstomp Battle to an army three times their size that picked the terrain and had time to set up. The Army of Lenayin is the closest to an equal they have.
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  • Badass Bookworm: The Nasi-Keth, a sect devoted to learning and spreading Serrin teachings - including multiple languages, philosophy, medicine, science, and civil engineering, but also armed and unarmed combat.
  • Barbarian Hero: In Lenayin, Sasha is comparatively well educated and cosmopolitan. By the end of the series even she has thought of herself as a barbarian warlord.
  • Death Seeker: Jaryd, after his brother's death. He does get somewhat better over time.
  • Dirty Communists: The Civid Sein in Tracato are this mixed with the French Revolution.
  • Fantastic Fighting Style: Svaalverd, a style of swordfighting invented by the serrin and focussing on balance and leverage. There's also an unarmed equivalent, but it's rarely mentioned.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Mostly averted. Lenays have shades of Scotland about them; being referred to as 'highlanders' and their accent as a 'brogue', and the Lisan Empire is probably China but we never see enough of it to be sure. The Kazeri are very Mongolian, though.
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  • Great Offscreen War: Between Lenayin and its northern neighbour Cherrovan, and the reason for Kessligh coming to Lenayin from his native Torovan. Losses were so high at all levels that he was able to go from a foreign footsoldier to Lenay Commander of Armies.
  • Princess Classic: Sofy starts out as this. She gets more world-weary and assertive over time, but never loses her fundamentally positive outlook.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Lenays all the way, as well as their neighbours and nemeses the Cherrovan.
  • Master Swordsman: Kessligh is probably the single best swordfighter in the series until he's crippled at the end of Petrodor and Sasha takes his place. Rhillian is the best among the serrin, and Jaryd is in the running for best non-svaalverd fighter.
  • Lady of War: Rhillian is a good example.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The serrinim are an elf-like race that highly values learning and reason. Fantasy Vulcans, essentially. They are apparently related closely enough to Humans for the two species to interbreed.
  • Psychic Link: The serrin did something a thousand years ago that gave almost all of them a limited version of this. As a result they have had no violent internal conflict since.
  • Rebellious Princess: Sasha qualifies, especially in the first book; even though she's technically renounced her titles, she's still related to the ruling royal family. Once she gets involved in a literal rebellion, she gets exiled by her father, however.
  • Shout-Out: What do you name your handsome swashbuckling archer? Why, Errollyn, of course.
  • The Snark Knight: Damon is a relatively mild example.
  • The Sociopath: Kiel, except that the Psychic Link shared by all serrin makes him extremely empathic to them, just not to humans. This makes him creepier, if anything.
  • Weak, but Skilled: While very strong for her size, Sasha is not a particularly tall woman, and physically outmatched by most of her opponents. Her superior svaalverd technique more than evens out the odds in swordfights, but she's at a severe disadvantage in unarmed brawls, which she therefore tries to avoid.