The Braided Path is a fantasy series by Chris Wooding. It consists of three novels: The Weavers of Saramyr, The Skein of Lament and The Ascendancy Veil.
Kaiku tu Makaima is having a bad day. She's just died for the first time, only to be brought back to life by her misanthropic, shapeshifting, possibly-lesbian handmaiden, in her demon-besieged home where her family has just been killed. Not knowing who is responsible, or for what reason they died, she barely escapes with her life and swears vengeance in the name of her fallen kin. Problem is, her only lead in the mystery pits her squarely against the absolutely evil, conscience-lacking, nigh-unstoppable Weavers, an insular, male-only monastic sect that has spent the past 200 years ingraining itself into her people's culture and directing the flow of social evolution. But how can a young, fresh-faced noblewoman like Kaiku fight men with the power to control the fabric of reality itself?
The story takes place in a world that borrows heavily from Asian and Renaissance cultures. Most of the action takes place on the continent of Saramyr, where the Empire of Saramyr and its nobility have entered into an informal compact with the Weavers, who seek to seize control of the Empire while maintaining a facade of obedience and servility. In addition, the land has been struck with a mysterious blight that poisons crops, kills livestock, corrupts nature and twists children in the womb to produce Aberrants, reviled creatures who are killed without remorse upon detection. The poor and rich alike are despairing over the future of the land, and it is bleeding into conflict in major cities across Saramyr. Into this powder keg comes news that the Heir-Empress, the Empress's only daughter and heir to the throne, kept sheltered from the land for nearly a decade, is herself an Aberrant. Kaiku's journey uncovers a web of treachery and lies that will shape the fate of Saramyr for years to come.
This series contains examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Justified in-universe. Names like Lucia, Asara, Saran and Anais come from the Quraal settlers who originally landed in Saramyr over 6000 years ago, while more current names, like Tane, Kaiku, Mishani and Cailin were borne of Saramyr's own linguistic evolution. Asara takes advantage of this to remain beneath suspicion.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Weavers. This is a group who, after Weaving, lose themselves to a post-Weaving mania that can be satisfied in a variety of ways including painting or singing, but more often than not takes the form of rape, necrophilia, coprophagy, torture, cannibalism and any number of other depravities that they no longer have the conscience to inhibit. This is in addition to their overall goal of transforming the world into a barren, volcanic, mortal aspect of a god of destruction who wants to kill all the other gods and conquer existence.
- Body Horror: The Weavers' True Masks give their wearers great power while simultaneously taking everything from them, both mentally and physically. The longer a Weaver wears a Mask, the more grotesque and diseased he becomes, to the point where Vyrrch is basically melted and flabby on one side of his face, while the other is missing most of its skin, revealing parts of the skull underneath. The book's description is much, much more disgusting than this..
- The Chosen One: Deconstructed into bloody shreds. Lucia is special as you get but ten years of crushing expectations ruins her life and bargains with dark powers for victory even at the cost of many soldiers because she feels she can't let down the army as a whole, only to force her own death and die mourning how she has never been able to live her own life.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: At least two Blood Emperors (technically one Blood Emperor and another who would have been crowned Blood Emperor had he not been set on fire, fallen off a tower and pecked apart by pissed off crows); Durun and his father Mos. Their deaths are not pleasant, but it's hard to feel sympathy for them, considering what they've done in their arcs.
- Driven to Suicide: A common occurrence throughout Saramyr. Aberrant women like Kaiku, Cailin; kana-wielders who outwardly appear normal but retain Aberrant powers will often kill themselves out of shame of being Aberrant.
- The Empire: The Saramyr Empire started as an expansionist monarchy, committing genocide on the native Ugati, but once it became the only remaining power on its continent, it contented itself with maintaining its borders. Technically, though, the Empire is not quite an empire, for that matter; it functions more like a Darwinian game of Musical Chairs, where the strongest Bloods (families) are able to seize power and retain it for as long as they can fight off future usurpers. Theoretically, the Bloods act as vassals to the ruling family which rules by descent, but Saramyrrhic politics never work that way, especially not during the period covered by the books.
- Eldritch Abomination: Aricarat. The witchstones grant control over the power of creation to its servants, but slowly mutate them into horrific, inhuman monsters. The Edgefathers and Weavers count as well, acting as vassals and victims of the power of Aricarat.
- Empathic Weapon: The Weaver's Masks. Also the Red Orders' kana.
- Fantasy Gun Control: Thoroughly averted. Guns are relatively common in Saramyr.
- Have You Tried Not Being a Monster? Asara gives Kaiku what can only be described as a "coming out of the closet speech", urging her to accept her powers and be proud of them. Ends with the two of them getting hot and heavy before being interrupted by a bunch of dude who are literally armed with pitchforks and torches. 'Coming out of the closet' indeed.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Inverted and partially justified: Kaiku is more comfortable using rifles, swords are not her strong suit. None of the other main characters use swords except Asara, who only uses them once in the final book because they head into the close-quarters environment of the Forest of Xu. Tsata uses special blades adapted for close quarters combat, however, called 'kntha.'
- Karma Houdini: Asara is a selfish murderer and manipulator who gets away with everything she ever wanted.
- Mutants: What the Aberrants are. Aricarat is advancing evolution by inducing mutations of people and animals, as it tries to terraform the world.
- Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The Weavers can and will do it.
- Rapunzel Hair: Mishani, whose most distinctive appearance-related feature is her literal ankle-length hair.
- Sickbed Slaying: Happens to Chien in book two.
- Sole Survivor: Kaiku (technically); she's the only one of her family to escape death at the start of the series. Asara saved her, however, and would have died just the same if not for her abilities.