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Literature / The Blood Ladders

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Morgan Locke, a college student with a mysterious wasting disease that is slowly killing him, discovers that he is actually an elven prince who was disguised as a human. Unfortunately the elves of legend are little like the decadent, amoral monsters he subsequently meets. The first novel, An Heir to Thorns and Steel was serialized on author M.C.A. Hogarth's LiveJournal page from 2013-2014, and the whole trilogy was published in June 2015.

Tropes included in this series

  • Bargain with Heaven: The founder of the Church offered her life in exchange for stopping a demonic incursion, angels responded by imbuing her blood with magic, which has been passed on to her descendants. When Almond is killed an angel appears and offers her a choice between saving her life and freeing the elves from their curse. She chooses the latter. Later her spirit appears again and informs Morgan and Kelu that the angels threw in making genets a true-breeding species.
  • Biomanipulation: Female magic is based around the body while male magic affects the external world. Female magic is usually used for healing or transformation but it's discovered that it can be used for destructive purposes as well, and since the magic doesn't care whether the "body" in question is alive or not it proves to be one of the more effective weapons against the undead.
  • Blood Magic: Blood carries magic, and it carries sacrifice, both elven and human mages shed blood to transfer magic. Even the Church's version of communion involves slipping a drop of the priest's blood into the wine to grant protection to the congregation.
  • Changeling Tale: Of a sort, Morgan's elven mother dropped him at an orphanage, where his human parents adopted him.
  • Classical Tongue: Angel's Gift is both the language used in Church services and the common tongue of the elves. As the name suggests it was given by angels along with magic.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Church followed by humanity, it was founded by a Saint Winifred who saw humanity falling before the armies of the dead after cursing the elves and offered her life as penance for her race's sins. Instead an angel came and granted her magic. Since then the Church has secretly been training mages and spreading her blood around the population in preparation for the next battle with demons.
  • Defector from Decadence: Kemses is one of the few elves who treats his humans with some modicum of fairness, to the extent that his human lovers willingly offer their magic when he's fighting to defend them, and he tries to refuse.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Bisexuality seems to be universal for elves, and depravity describes most of the race. Though Kemses seems to be an exception to the depravity and took a brother and sister as lovers, and Morgan's sexuality is debatable.
  • Duel to the Death: Elves often use Combat by Champion as an alternative to war, and sometimes fight "line duels" where an entire family challenges in sequence. Of course, to fight to the death they need to use cutting weapons and keep a fire nearby.
  • Functional Magic: The ability to use magic is initially granted by angels, but it changes the blood ladders and becomes hereditary.
  • Gender Bender: Not that uncommon among elves apparently. Sedetnet changes sex on a lark while some of Morgan's elven guards are said to be former women (see below). And Almond and the angels change first Kelu (or Kel) and then other genets into males.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Female magic affects the body (healing, transformation, etc), male magic affects the external world (like telekinesis). An example given, to fly a man would levitate, while a woman would grow wings. And in elven society men fight while women heal.
  • Glamour: Morgan had one placed on him when he was a baby to make him look human. Unfortunately he outgrew it and its drawing on his innate magic caused his "illness".
  • Great Gazoo: Sedetnet the Sorceror. He is one of the very few elves to maintain their magic past Dissipation and as a result he's powerful enough to not need a blood flag. And he apparently makes his decisions by rolling dice, lives in a floating tower, changes sex at will, gave Suleris the spells to create genets, offers to remove Morgan's glamour if he *rolls* kidnaps the King and brings him to him, and is unaffected by the Prince gifts. In the third book he releases Amhric, opens a Door to the mainland, and leaves a blood-sealed note for Morgan saying that he's going to go summon some demons because he is the Red Prince, and it's all part of his plan to rid elvenkind of their curse and free his beloved king from his stasis.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Last, the captain of Morgan's guards, named himself thus because he somehow knew that one day he would one day fight one heroic last stand to give his prince time to escape the army of the dead. Morgan's birth mother does the same. Almond jumps in front of a sword striking at Morgan. Her selfless act calls an angel who gives her a choice between her life and Morgan's. She chooses his. As a result the immortality curse holding back Elven magic is lifted. And later the genets are saved from extinction.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The elves live on an isolated archipelago, where they were actually banished to.
  • Immortality Hurts: A suicide attempt, drained multiple times, an eight-story fall, and run through with multiple swords by people who thought he was a demon. Morgan takes a lot of punishment after he discovers he's an immortal elf.
  • Immortality Immorality: The elves are said to have been considerably nicer on average before they became immortal and needed to drain humans to use magic. No surprise the immortality and vampirism are a demonic curse.
  • Last of Her Kind: Kelu is the last of the first generation genets, despite not having set limits to their lifespan like the later ones their dependency on elf blood and attitude were a bit problematic for their masters apparently.
  • Mage Tower: Sedetnet has a floating tower, getting up to it is a tad uncomfortable.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Kemses e Sadar has been taking human lovers from the same family line for generations. And Morgan is hesitant to confess his feelings to Ivy, but when he does she reciprocates and doesn't care about the difference in lifespan.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: The first time Morgan takes opium for his condition his friends assume that his poor physique is a result of long-term abuse of the drug.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: One time Kelu attempts to feed off Morgan while disguised as a twelve-year-old girl, some people nearby mistake it for something else and beat the crap out of him.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: When demons come into the world they animate the dead around them into mindless hordes that can be stopped only by magic. The Church practices cremation for this reason.
  • One-Gender Race: All genets are female. Supposedly for aesthetic purposes but more so Suleris can keep their monopoly on production, which is by cloning with a spell that requires considerable magic and King's blood. Almond and the angels change that.
  • Our Angels Are Different: According to legend they appear in response to acts of great personal sacrifice and bestow gifts that help defend the world from demons. Such as magic.
  • Our Demons Are Different: When they are invited into the world they possess their summoners and animate an army of the dead. But fortunately they need to be invited.
  • Our Elves Are Different: They're assholes who treat humans as playthings and cattle, and their immortality extends beyond simply eternal youth and includes a potent Healing Factor, killing them requires chopping them into pieces and burning the pieces, giving them a lot in common with vampires. Unfortunately it uses more and more of their innate magic as they age.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The first generation genets, of which Kelu was the first and last, need to drink elf blood every few days in order to stay sane, Almond's generation don't need it but are sometimes given it as a reward. Elves, in turn, drain magic from humans, use genets as reservoirs of magic, and can't die without being chopped into pieces and burned.
  • Precautionary Corpse Disposal: The Church practices cremation due to a historical demonic incursion that possessed corpses. There's a new one in the third book.
  • Rightful King Returns: Amhric and Morgan are the first King and Prince known to exist in centuries, since the banishment. It's suspected that the Council killed everyone else who manifested the royal gifts in the meantime, but actually their father, King Marne, has been in stasis the whole time while the Red Prince has gone batshit insane.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The King and the Prince are defined by the magical gifts they possess, it's not necessarily hereditary, though Amhric and Morgan are the sons of King Marne, they both have access to impressive magics even after dissipation, the King can flow magic to and from the Earth, while the Prince has command of their subjects' magic. The King cannot take a life, so the Prince must protect him. And above all the King guards the world from demons.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Humanity delivered one to the elves several centuries ago when they forced them off the mainland and cursed them with immortality inspired by demons.
  • Servant Race: Genets were magically engineered as slaves, toys, and magic reservoirs. The first generation, of which Kelu is the last, were dependent on elf blood to survive and if she's any indication were somewhat rebellious. Almond's generation fixed both those "flaws" and limited their lifespan to seven years, just enough time for their masters to get bored with them.
  • Super Breeding Program: The early Church had a reputation for bacchanalian orgies, an attempt to spread Saint Winifred's blood to as much of the population as possible. Before they discovered that dripping some blood in a cup and having the congregation drink from it gave them a small bit of magic and protection from demons.
  • Vampiric Draining: Elves can drain magic from others with a touch, and since their immortality is powered by their magic they need to to use magic or recover after enough mortal wounds. It's part of the curse, intended to corrupt them. While the Prince can compel the magic away from any of his subjects for re-distribution as he sees fit.

Alternative Title(s): An Heir To Thorns And Steel