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Literature / Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne

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The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again.

"They will not be ready to rule it until they are ready to see it burn."
Sanlitun hui'Malkeenian, Emperor of Annur

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne is an epic fantasy series set in Annur, an empire ruled by the Malkeenian imperial family, who claim divine right to rule because one of their ancestors was favoured by the gods. It also has a special operations force that rides giant birds, a multitude of rival religious sects, various rebellious minority groups, and a thought to be dead ancient race of super powered beings who nearly destroyed the world in a war with mankind.

The first book, The Emperor's Blades, opens with the mysterious murder of Emperor Sanlitun, whose three children are scattered across the empire. Kaden, the heir apparent, is studying to be a monk among the Shin, a secret and isolated order who worship the sinister Blank God. His brother Valyn is training among the Kettral, the elite squad of soldiers who ride giant birds, and preparing for a terrifying trial. And Adare, the only girl, is back at the capital, recently appointed Minister of Finance and trying to solve her father's murder with traitors at every corner.

The second book, The Providence of Fire, follows Valyn, Kaden and Adare on severely diverging paths, chased by enemies, searching for answers, on the brink of a war with the barbaric Urghal tribe and each in his or her own way trying to save Annur.

The Last Mortal Bond concludes the trilogy as the three siblings struggle to save humanity from destruction and reconcile their wildly different visions for the future of Annur.

A prequel titled Skullsworn, covering the backstory of supporting character Pyrre Lakatur, was released in April 2017.

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Long Stairway: The stairs of Intarra's Spear.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Kettral's smokesteel swords.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Kaden is seventeen when he inherits the throne.
  • Action Girl: The Kettral women, who are just as tough as their men counterparts, if not tougher. Pyrre.
    • Huutsuu, and all Urghul women in general.
  • Affably Evil: This seems to be il Tornja's personality, but as he is Csestriim, this is only an act, and underneath, he has no emotions whatsoever.
  • Air Jousting: An awesome scene in The Providence of Fire. When Valyn calls the bird he captured from Sami Yurl, ostensibly to escape Assare, the Flea's flyer, Chi Hoai Mi immediately attacks from above with her bird. At this point, Valyn calls Suant'ra, his own kettral, who then attacks her from above in the same way, and throws her into the valley, although later it is revealed that both she and her bird survived.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Adare eventually resumes her romance with il Tornja even after he is revealed to be a Csestriim and her father's murderer.
  • Aloof Big Sister: Adare is one to Valyn and Kaden, being older and smarter and not very impressed with the fact that her kid brother is going to be emperor without any formal training.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The plot of Tan'is (il Tornja) that first aimed to wipe out humanity, but now is about killing the gods who gave them emotions, thereby restoring them to being Csestriim (and killing a lot of them in the process).
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Adare remembers her little brothers being this way when they were kids, and wondering how much they've changed since.
  • The Anti-God: The Blank God is said to come before the current pantheon of gods and the Shin believe he's the only one worth worshipping.
  • Anyone Can Die: Oh boy, yes. Ha Lin and Pater are both set up as main characters before they're unceremoniously killed off. Not to mention, among the villains Uinian and Yurl.
    • And in the second book: Laith, Tarik Adiv and Fulton.
    • Book three ends with a bloodbath, leaving Kaden, Triste, Ran il Tornja/Tan'is, Nira and Oshi dead, as well as Balendin, who had appearently been killed in the finale of the first book, only to bounce back in The Providence of Fire.
  • Armor Is Useless: Ha Lin mocks the romanticised idea of knights wearing clunky armor and waving heavy swords and distinguishes them from the Kettral, who wear light black gear.
  • Arranged Marriage: Adare is aware that this inevitably lies in her future. Happens between Sanlitun and his wife, and Word of God says she wasn't very happy about it.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Il Tornja.
  • Ax-Crazy: Valyn in The Last Mortal Bond.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Leaches (AKA sorcerers) are seen this way by the people who reluctantly accept them.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The empire's borders are frequently attacked by the warlike Urghul from the North and the jungle tribes of the Waist from the South.
  • Bat Out of Hell: The Kettral worship Hull, the god of darkness, at a tree on which hundreds of large bats sit.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The possibly nonexistent Nevariim
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Kaden, Kaden, Kaden. For reference, see how he ruthlessly knocks out his brother and then murders Balendin after he masters the art of the vaniate, which basically turns off all emotions.
    • At the end of The Providence of Fire, Triste slaughters hundreds of people in the Dawn Palace (although it is revealed that she was in fact possessed by Ciena, the goddess of pleasure).
  • Big Bad: Ran il Tornja/Tan'is
    • Big Bad Ensemble: As of The Providence of Fire, Meshkent is another strong contender for the title.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Valyn goes to great lengths to find and protect Kaden.
  • Black Sheep: As a child, Valyn saw himself as this because he didn't have the special Elemental Eye Colors that his father and siblings did, and reacted by trying to set fire to his own eyes with a burning twig. Of course, there's no indication that anyone treated him differently for it and by the time he's an adult he seems to have gotten over it.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three main Kettral girls we see: Annick (blonde), Ha Lin (brunette) and Gwenna (redhead)
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Arguably the Csestriim, the Ishien, as well as some of the gods
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: It turns out that the Aedolian Guard is involved in the conspiracy against the royal family.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Valyn is constantly harassed by his classmates Yurl and Balendin, not to mention some of his trainers and superior officers, despite being the prince of the empire and brother to the future emperor. Justified in that a) the Kettral don't give two shits about his title and b) some of them bully him simply to prove that he won't get any special treatment for being a prince.
  • Chaste Hero: Kaden, due to being stuck in a monastery throughout his adolescence. His courtiers are eager to correct that.
  • The Chessmaster: Adare tries her best to be one, but is ultimately outmaneuvered by il Tornja. She fares better in the second book.
    • Kaden starts to grow into this role as well over the course of The Providence of Fire.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Valyn and Ha Lin, who've known each other since they started training as kids.
  • Church Militant: The Sons of Flame, a militia serving the Temple of Intarra. With their numbers in the tens of thousands, they pose a legitimate threat even to the imperial legions.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The prostitute Amie is slowly tortured to death by Balendin and Sami Yurl. This is pretty routine for Balendin, who uses the resulting emotions to fuel his powers.
    • The Ishien willingly subject themselves to torture until they're nothing more than Empty Shells. Apart from turning them into emotionless killers, this also enables some of them to use the kenta without the extensive training of the Shin monks.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Balendin destroys Gwenna's five Kettral wings effortlessly.
    • Off-screen, Long Fist/Meshkent kills the Flea's flyer, Chi Hoai Mi, and her kettral, similarly.
    • In their first duel, Valyn doesn't stand a chance against il Tornja, although it helped that Adare stabbed her brother in the back.
  • Daddy's Girl: Adare, the only one of Sanlitun's kids who stays back at the capital with him and receives direct training in politics and government from him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the minor characters, with Gwenna, Laith, Akiil, Pyrre and Tan being notable mentions.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Valyn. Mostly due to her untimely murder.
  • Disney Villain Death: Balendin is shot with a crossbow bolt and goes over a cliff to a well-deserved end... of course, he doesn't actually die and returns in the next book.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sami Yurl is such an arrogant jerk that he thinks being challenged by someone warrants him beating them to a pulp in a long, drawn out and needless cruel manner.
  • Divine Parentage: Occurs somewhere along the Malkeenian line, since centuries ago the goddess Intarra was said to have had a kid with one of their ancestors.
  • The Dragon: Balendin is this to Yurl.
    • Dragon-in-Chief: Yurl acts like he's in charge, but Balendin is by far the more dangerous of the two, thanks to his magical powers.
    • However, in books two and three, Balendin does seem to be this to Long Fist/Meshkent.
  • Elemental Eye Colors: Members of the Malkeenian royal family (with the exception of Valyn) are described as having 'blazing' fiery eyes that mark them as being blessed by their patron fire goddess Intarra.
  • The Emperor: It's in the title!
  • Eye Color Change: Valyn suffers one after his encounter with the slarn king during Hull's Trial, which turns his eyes from brown to pitch black
  • Fantastic Honorifics: Emperors of Annur are addressed as Your Radiance and referred to as the Light of the Empire. Valyn's trainers and fellow cadets mockingly call him these when taunting him.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: According to Word of God, the Annurian Empire is based on Tang Dynasty China and the Shin monk philosophy on Buddhism and Daoism.
  • Fiery Redhead: Gwenna, who's red-haired, green-eyed and has an explosive temper (and a way with explosives).
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Valyn's team eventually become quite close thanks to all they go through together.
  • For Your Own Good: Sanlitun's reasoning for sending Kaden and Valyn away from home when they were little. Kaden doesn't really find out the exact reason until much later in the first book.
  • Gender Is No Object: The Kettral don't distinguish between men and women as soldiers, though this doesn't prevent sexism among individual soldiers.
    • This is the case even more with the Urghul and the Skullsworn.
  • God in Human Form: At the end of the second book, Triste is revealed to be possessed by Ciena, the goddess of pleasure. Also, Long Fist is actually Meshkent, the god of pain, masquerading as a human.
  • Harmful to Minors: Valyn's Kettral training and Kaden's Shin training are both abusive and borderline life-threatening, and they started when they were roughly between nine and ten.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: After centuries of warring against the Csestriim, the Ishien have become just as brutal and genocidal as their mortal enemies.
  • High-Class Call Girl: The Emperor is given a harem of concubines to 'fulfil his needs' when his wife can't.... something the Empress isn't too thrilled about.
  • Homophobic Hate Crime: lesbian prostitute Amie is brutally murdered.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: Sigrid sa'Karnya, the Flea's leach, makes a point of dressing beautifully and having immaculate hair, and she is one of the most powerful leaches in the trilogy.
  • King Incognito: Played with. Everyone knows Kaden's the heir to the throne, but since the Shin monks don't really care about titles or thrones, they don't really acknowledge it.
  • Knight Templar: The Ishien are an ancient order dedicated to hunting down any remaining Csestriim, and they're extremely ruthless in their methods.
  • Long Lost Sibling: Technically, Valyn, Kaden and Adare, since they haven't seen each other for eight years.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: il Tornja. Discovered by Adare right after she sleeps with him. Ouch.
  • Meaningful Name: Valyn, Kaden and Adare's names are unusually Western sounding among the more Asian names in the Malkeenian dynasty. Word of God says their mother gave them unorthodox names as a way of rebelling against the imperial family.
  • Misery Builds Character: For the three heroes, seemingly intentional on the part of their father: they need to go through hell before they're ready to rule an empire.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nearly. In The Last Mortal Bond, when Kaden rescues him from the Dead Heart, it is revealed that Rampuri Tan believes Trise and Long Fist are actually Csestriim, their possession by Ciena and Meshkent, respectively being deliberetly spread lies they are using as a tool to pit nations and the rulers of Annur against each other in their plot with il Tornja/Tan'is and Kiel to bring down humanity. Because of this, he wounds Long Fist mortally after in the village where Triste hid. He is killed by Meshkent, but Long Fist eventually succumbs to his wounds and only manages to stay in the physical world by possessing Kaden.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Il Tornja/Tan'is manipulates Adare into drafting the Accords of Union, which disband the Sons of Flame and reinstates taxation on Intarra's church. This prompts the Sons to travel in large numbers into an abandoned city in the south, where one of them reorganizes them into an army. When Adare figures out il Tornja murdered her father and has used her as a pawn all along, she escapes the capital to go to them, makes an alliance with them, and uses their military power to force him to proclaim her Emperor. Though he initially outmaneuvres her, she ultimately kills him.
  • No-Flow Portal: When Kaden goes through the kenta leading to the Ishien's base, he finds the other side flooded, shocking him out of the vaniate.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In The Providence of Fire, Valyn refuses to have the Urghul his Wing found on the steppe slaughtered when they leave them. In a few days, they capture them with a gigantic horde of their people.
  • Not So Stoic: Annick spends much of the first book an ice-cold stoic who never shows emotion. When her lesbian lover Amie's brutal death is brought up, she loses the mask. She also snaps when one of her comrades indicates Amie enjoyed sleeping with him for money.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Ran il Tornja, the charming military leader who ends up being regent until the emperor returns. Of course, he is revealed to be a Csestriim plotting to destroy humanity.
  • Offing the Offspring: The Csestriim attempted to do this when their children started evolving.... into humans. Thus kicking off a centuries long war.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Hull (god of darkness) and Intarra (goddess of fire) are the two gods most often invoked. But the colourful pantheon of gods does give rise to some interesting curses, such as 'Kent-kissing' (after Meshkent, god of pain) and 'Shael-spawned (after Ananshael, god of death).
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Only those who are free of emotion or gods may pass through a kenta. Anything or anyone else that attempts to pass through ceases to exist.
  • Our Mages Are Different: Magic is known as 'kenning', and only practiced by 'leeches' - who are ostracised and mistrusted at best, and hanged to death at worst - who draw on a 'well' or a source of magic that's individual to each leech, such as iron or stone.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The events of the series are kicked off by the death of the emperor.
  • Politically-Active Princess: Adare. It comes with being a minister as well as a princess.
  • Portal Network: The kenta serve as this, with each one connected to a hub island.
  • Posthumous Character: Emperor Sanlitun
  • Praetorian Guard: The Aedolian Guard, elite bodyguards to the Emperor and his family.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Kaden's not exactly thrilled about ruling, since he's been living in a monastery for eight years and has no idea "how" to rule.
  • Rightful King Returns: Well, he's on his way....
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • Valyn goes one against Yurl for killing Ha Lin. In The Last Mortal Bond, he tries to kill Balendin, who was also complicit, but Annick gets to him first.
    • Adare's entire storyline in the first book is comprised of one against Uinian, who she believes murdered her father.
    • When she succeeds, though, she learns from her father's letter to her that the real murderer is il Tornja/Tan'is. She escapes the Dawn Palace and travels south, taking control of Uinian's disbanded militia to wrest Annur from him, but as soon as she arrives at the capital, Tarik Adiv convinces her that il Tornja is needed to defeat the Urghul invasion. Valyn also finds out the truth, which prompts him to side with the Urghul and ride south to kill il Tornja. When he meets Adare in Aats-Kyl, she tells him to wait until after the battle of Andt-Kyl, but by the time he then tries to kill him after the victory of the Annurians, Adare has seen his tactical genius and decides he is irreplacable, which leads to her stabbing Valyn as he fights il Tornja, who then blinds him and throws him off the tower where the fight took place. To defeat the Urghul, she forgives il Tornja for Sanlitun's murder and bears him a son. Il Tornja then holds that son hostage and forces her to help his plans. So when Valyn, who survived his fall from the tower, returns to Annur to finally duel il Tornja at the top of Intarra's Spear, she again intervenes... only to stab il Tornja with a poisoned hairpin.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Sanlitun is described as being very active in politics and the military, Adare is finance minister, and Valyn is serving as a soldier. Kaden....makes pots.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Adare and Valyn, culminating with Adare nearly killing Valyn at the end of book two.
    • Adare (self-declared Emperor) and Kaden (leader of the newly created Republic)
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: The three are complete opposites in the way they've been raised to approach things - Adare as a politician, Valyn as a soldier and Kaden as a pacifist monk.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Emperor Sanlitun's plot to let himself be killed but informs his daughter, whom he elevates to a position of power in his will, about the identity of his murderer, while sending his most loyal guards to protect Valyn and hiring a Skullsworn to see Kaden safely back to Annur.
  • Title Drop:
    • Book one: Not word for word, but in Emperor Salitun's letter to Adare, he calls the three protagonists his 'blades'.
    • Book two: As she stands on top of the tower in Andt-Kyl and watches the bloody aftermath of the defeat il Tornja inflicted on Balendin's Urghul army, lamenting on having killed (or nearly killed, though she only finds out later) Valyn, Adare thinks: "...forgiveness lay far from the providence of fire."
  • Training from Hell: Both Valyn and Kaden undergo in, in very different circumstances and environments.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: In Providence Of Fire, a lightning bolt strikes Adare, killing many nearby her but only knocking her out. When she awakens, she's naked in bed with Lehav nearby who explains they had to cut off her clothes since the lightning seared it to her skin in places, which prompts her to survey her body and notice she's now covered in intricate lightning scars.
  • Warrior Prince: Valyn, who's been training to be a soldier.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Adare and il Tornja
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: The Csestriim race's reaction to their (now human) children experiencing emotions like love, hate and fear.
  • Xenomorph Xerox: The Slarn King that Valyn faces in his trial stands in for the Alien Queen. Huge progenitor of monsters, pitch black, Eyeless Face, deadly paralytic venom, has a slimy egg-filled lair...
  • You Killed My Father: Adare's motivation for her hatred of the priest Uinian and her determination to take him down. However, the end of the first book reveals that it wasn't Uninian who killed Sanlitun, but il Tornja, the man who helped Adare condemn him. And who also happens to be her lover.