After murdering his father for raping his sister, Lord Blaine McFadden of Glenreith is sentenced by King Merrill of Donderath to transportation to the Penal Colony of Velant. Taking the moniker "Mick" among the prisoners and discarding all trappings of lordship, he survives his three years' hard labor in the prison and earns a measure of freedom, carving something resembling a life out of the near-frozen wilderness of Edgeland with his friends and fellow convicts Verran, Piran, Kestel, and Dawe.
Meanwhile, back home, Donderath's war with neighboring Meroven is not going well. The network of alliances between the four Ascendant Kingdoms has brought on a world war, and King Merrill's advisers worry that Edgar of Meroven means to use his mages to win the war. They're right, but Meroven's Fantastic Nuke Goes Horribly Wrong: Donderath's noble houses are obliterated (for sound military reasons), but because control over magic was itself bound to their bloodlines and castles, civilization collapses across the entire Continent and The End of the World as We Know It ensues.
And Blaine McFadden finds himself, by the fluke of his exile, the only surviving Lord of the Blood able to re-anchor the magic.
The main Ascendant Kingdoms series consists of four books:
- Ice Forged (2013)
- Reign of Ash (2014)
- War of Shadows (2015)
- Shadow and Flame (2016)
The series is available in both physical and major e-book formats. There is also a King's Convicts sub-series of e-books detailing Blaine's misadventures in Edgeland during the six-year Time Skip at the start of Ice Forged.
This book series provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Personal names in the series vary from Anglophone to Nordic to Slavic to made-up.
- After the End: A High Fantasy take on the concept, with a fairly standard Medieval European Fantasy setting reduced to warlord barbarism after the magical equivalent of a major nuclear exchange causes humanity's access to magic to be lost entirely.
- Altar Diplomacy: Actually subverted in Ice Forged: it's a setting where you'd expect this, but the network of alliances between the Ascendant Kingdoms were apparently done with pure ambassadorial diplomacy. King Merrill is married to a princess of Meroven but is at war with her father, while Merrill's ally the King of Tarrant married his daughter to the King of Vellanaj, who is allied to Meroven and using his navy to blockade Donderath.
- Apocalypse Not: Let's be fair: millions of people are probably dead both from the Great Fire attacks and the famines and chaos that follows. But it doesn't take very long for warlords to emerge and start rebuilding civilization, if only to protect themselves from the other warlords.
- Apocalypse Wow: The depiction of the Great Fire in Ice Forged. First a green ribbon of fire snakes across the sky and fireballs begin to fall like meteorites across the city of Castle Reach, then the entire ribbon comes crashing down across the city and smashes Quillarth Castle to the ground.
- Arranged Marriage: Noble marriages in the series are a mix of both these and love matches. At the start of the series Blaine is betrothed to a woman named Carensa, which is a love match, but after his banishment her father arranges for her to marry another man, whom she bears a son, regards as a friend, but doesn't love. Her husband and son end up dying in the Great Fire.
- Asshole Victim:
- Blaine's father Lord Ian McFadden had beaten Blaine and his younger brother Carr for years, but the final straw comes in the first chapter when Ian rapes their younger sister Mari; Blaine grabs a sword and runs his father through. Due to the extenuating circumstances, King Merrill commutes what should be a beheading offense to transportation to Edgeland.
- Blaine muses that most of the other murderers in Edgeland are probably either innocent, or people like him who killed one person who had it coming and aren't likely to be repeat offenders. The really nasty criminals tend to be executed instead of exiled.
- Blaine's friend-turned-Love Interest Kestel Falke is an exception to the rule, given that she's a Professional Killer (she was apparently sentenced to Velant after a hit went south). However, she informs Blaine that most of her targets were adulterous or abusive husbands. She also killed the first two guards to force themselves on her, after which nobody else dared.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Blaine gets two coronations at the end of Shadow and Flame. One takes place in the crypts below Castle Reach after the final battle, and is meant to magically anchor Blaine, the founder of a new dynasty, to the lineage of warrior-kings of Donderath. It involves a steel crown placed on his head by the shade of King Merrill himself. The second is his public coronation, with a golden crown.
- Big Bad: In the first two books the heroes are up against a talishte lord named Pentreath Reese as a recurring villain. He's eventually convicted of various crimes by the vampires' High Council and imprisoned, but this brings his creator Thrane out of hiding, and he starts a vampire Civil War. Thrane intends to reduce all humans to subjects of vampires and to that end controls warlords from Meroven and Donderath against Blaine's forces and their allied vampires. (It's even theorized that he may have had a hand in originally sending the Great Fire, but this is never confirmed.)
- Cavalry of the Dead:
- Tormod Solveig's magical talent is necromancy, but he's one of the good guys. In addition to helping lay spirits to rest, he raises armies of the dead to fight for Blaine's alliance of warlords (which includes talishte, who are literally dead during the day).
- Blaine's younger brother Carr, who is captured by Pollard and commits suicide by cutting his wrists, turns out at the beginning of book four to be protecting his brother from the malevolent spirits of his father and the warden of Velant. His shade appears in the real world during the final battle and shields Blaine and Kestel from hostile magic.
- Cruel Mercy: Because Blaine had a damn good reason for killing his father (in addition to raping his own daughter Mari, he had beaten Blaine and his brother Carr for years), one of King Merrill's advisers convinces him to commute what should be a beheading offense to transportation. It's not much of an improvement: despite Merrill sending the prison warden a note saying he is explicitly forbidden from killing Blaine, it's only Blaine's own determination and badassery that let him survive. Downplayed in that Merrill is genuinely being merciful here, but can't simply pardon him for publicly killing a nobleman.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Talishte lord Pentreath Reese is set up as the primary villain, but is convicted of various crimes by the vampire government in book two, which brings his sire Thrane out of hiding.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Invoked in Ice Forged to break Lord Pollard's siege of Glenreith after the Cataclysm. Kestel approaches the besieging soldiers as a dancer dressed in scraps of silk, going so far as to strip to the waist to attract their attention while the others get close enough to attack. Then they do attack, and she joins in without bothering to cover up. Blaine compares her look afterward to that of a War Goddess.
- Eternal Recurrence: This is not the first time the magic has been destroyed: some of the vampires in the series are old enough to remember previous times. It was last restored four hundred years before the series begins.
- Fantastic Nuke: The Great Fire, a ribbon of green fire from the skies sent by Merovenian mages that destroys the manors of the nobles of Donderath, including Quillarth Castle, the fortress of King Merrill, killing most of them. It's left as a Riddle for the Ages whether the mages who sent the Great Fire secretly intended to destroy tame hasithara magic by killing off the remaining Lords of the Blood, or if it was an unforeseen consequence of something done for purely military reasons (although the last two books imply that Thrane, the Big Bad of the series, made Meroven do it as part of his plan to reduce humans to cattle for vampires).
- Fantasy Pantheon: Religion in the Ascendant Kingdoms is a form of polytheistic paganism. The Top God is Charrot, depicted as having a male half and a female half, and below him are his consorts Torven and Esthrane. Below them in turn are hundreds of minor location and household deities; one of the few that is named is Yadin, the capricious god of the ocean.
- The Good King: King Merrill of Donderath, for what little he appears on-page. His most notable act is at Blaine's murder trial, when he remarks that while Blaine's father was one of his strongest political and military allies, Merrill wasn't blind to his faults and therefore commutes Blaine's sentence from beheading to exile.
- Heir Club for Men: The magical anchoring in the Lords of the Blood is passed from father to firstborn son, and only to firstborn son. Because of this, over half the bloodlines died out even before the Great Fire.
- High-Class Call Girl: One half of Kestel's job before her transportation was being a courtesan.
- Ladykiller in Love: Gender Flipped with Kestel, a High-Class Call Girl with seduction magic who fell for Blaine years ago: Dawe mentions that she was up all night crying when Blaine married fellow inmate Selane in Edgeland.
- The Magic Comes Back: It technically never fully went away, but the main driver of the series is the efforts of Blaine and his friends and allies to restore magic to human control, without which humanity will never recover.
- Messianic Archetype: Blaine to some extent. It's probably not a coincidence that there are supposed to be thirteen Lords of the Blood: reference Jesus and his twelve apostles.
- Never Found the Body: When Blaine returns to Glenreith in Ice Forged the other McFaddens tell him that his former fiancee Carensa's husband and son were killed when the Great Fire struck the family manor, but Carensa's body was never found. She was rescued by her mage mentor Vigus Quintrel and reappears near the end of book two.
- Omniglot: Carensa's main magical talent is the ability to translate text and speech.
- Our Vampires Are Different: They prefer the term "talishte", but they're essentially classical Bram Stoker vampires in most respects (a favorite of the author). They don't seem to require human blood specifically, they can compel mortals but only one at a time, staking is an immobilizing wound but not an instantly fatal one if the vampire is old enough (decapitation or crushing the head, however, is), and they burn easily and are incinerated instantly by sunlight. The talishte notably fight on both sides in the series: Lord Penhallow and the Wraith Lord (the ghost of a vampire and the only other Lord of the Blood still around, though without a body he doesn't count as far as the magic is concerned) want Blaine and his friends to succeed, preferring order in human civilization for self-interested reasons, while Pentreath Reese wants to stop the magic from returning so that talishte can rule.
- Penal Colony: Edgeland is geographically Iceland but culturally Australia. If an inmate survives their first three years working hard labor in the ruby mines of Velant, they earn a Ticket of Leave that permits them to leave the prison, set up a homestead in the colony itself, and find gainful employment. They still Can't Go Home Again. It's notably a place where the guards are worse than the inmates: the really heinous civilian criminals tend to be executed rather than transported, whereas the guards are mainly soldiers who were given a choice between Velant or the hangman.
- Pragmatic Hero: Nobody in the series shies away from Dirty Business: frequently prisoners of war who refuse to pledge fealty and whom no one can afford to keep alive are summarily executed.
- Professional Killers: The other half of Kestel's job before her transportation was being an assassin.
- Rape as Backstory: Because the guards at Velant are usually people who were a hair away from being prisoners there themselves, it's common for female inmates to get raped repeatedly by the guards. What sets Kestel apart is that the first two guards to force themselves on her turned up dead later, due to her prowess as an assassin.
- Reluctant Hero: During his exile, Blaine did his best to forget that he was ever a nobleman, but as "Mick", he gets a reputation in Edgeland as a good man, deft at settling disputes and not to be trifled with unnecessarily. After the colonists revolt against Warden Prokief and the guards when the magic fails, he reluctantly accepts a new role as a member of the town council, then rises to the challenge of returning home to become a warlord in Donderath and restore the magic, and is ultimately crowned king of the restored Kingdom of Donderath.
- Second Love: Kestel is actually Blaine's third: he was madly in love with Carensa but did his best to forget her in Edgeland and eventually married a fellow inmate, who then died of fever.
- Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Blaine runs his father through for raping his sister Mari in the first three pages of Ice Forged. He also mentions that most of the other murderers in Edgeland are either innocent, or people like him who killed one person who had it coming and weren't planning on repeating it (the really nasty ones usually get executed instead of exiled). Kestel, an assassin, is an exception, but she mentions once that many of her victims were philandering and/or abusive husbands.
- Utility Magic: Part of what causes The End of the World as We Know It is that most people have a little bit of magic and became reliant on it. They used magic to keep food from spoiling or drive away locusts, and buildings and seawalls reinforced with magic to cover construction errors and corner-cutting often collapsed when the magic was lost. Some people are less handicapped than others: Blaine's magic just made him a slightly better swordsman and Verran's better at picking locks, which they compensate for by practicing more.
- Wife-Basher Basher: In Edgeland, Blaine uses death threats to stop a man from forcing a woman into marriage, pointing out that he killed the man who dishonored his sister (leaving out that it was their father). In general he does not like people who mistreat women. Meanwhile, Kestel states that most of her targets in her assassin career were adulterous or abusive husbands.
- Wild Magic: Called visithara by mages, as opposed to human-controlled hasithara. Without the anchors of the Lords of the Blood and their manors, hasithara is entirely replaced by uncontrollable visithara, which causes magic storms that do tremendous and frequently bizarre damage (such as causing a man to disappear into an inch-deep puddle and exploding livestock) and summon monsters from other worlds. Even a partial restoration of hasithara isn't sufficient: though magic storms decrease, what spells can be cast become prone to Magic Misfire.