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Literature / The Obsidian Trilogy

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(Not to be confused with The Obsidian Chronicles by Lawrence Watt-Evans.)

A High Fantasy series coauthored by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The Obsidian Trilogy tells the story of a war between a coalition of races and evil Demons known as the Endarkened. The three books in the series are The Outstretched Shadow, To Light A Candle, and When Darkness Falls.

Key figures to know:

  • Kellen Tavadon: The main protagonist from the beginning of the series, Kellen starts out as the disappointing son of Armethalieh's Archmage, Lycaelon Tavadon. He is in love with Vestakia.
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  • Idalia Tavadon: Kellen's older sister, Idalia is also a Wildmage in love with the Elf Jermayan.
  • Shalkan: A snarky unicorn, Shalkan enters the story when Kellen needs help escaping Armethalieh's lands. He is practically addicted to sweets.
  • Jermayan: Jermayan begins as a garden-variety Elven Knight in the first book, who also happens to be in love with Idalia.
  • Ancaladar: In the last war against the Endarkened, most of the Dragons and their bondmates died. Ancaladar didn't, but he feels very guilty about that.
  • Vestakia: Vestakia has the misfortune of being half-Endarkened, half-human. Worse still, she's the daughter of the Prince of the Endarkened. Even worse still, she looks like an Endarkened, even to the point of little horns. On the other hand, her parentage lets her sense Endarkened and their magic. On the third hand, it does that by making her feel sick. She and Kellen are in love.
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  • Cilarnen Volpiril: Cilarnen is only a minor character in the first book. In To Light a Candle, though, we see a lot more of him.

Lackey and Mallory also released a second trilogy, called The Enduring Flame Trilogy, set in the same world, only about a thousand years later. Idalia, Kellen, Shalkan, and all the crew from the first trilogy are now distant legends/religious figures. There have been no High Mages for centuries, and the Elves have left their old cities to the humans and centaurs. Until, that is, a young Armethaliehan discovers that he is a High Mage. That means that he and his best buddy have to set off on a quest.


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The Obsidian Trilogy provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Lycaelon Tavadon is for the most part on the remote, icy side, lecturing, demanding perfection, and radiating hostile disapproval when he doesn't get it. He Banished his daughter for studying the Wild Magic and edited out all memory of her existing in the City, then Banished his son for the same reason and with a lot more ire, genuinely wanting him dead. Idalia, getting to know her little brother again, reflects angrily that Kellen is so eager for approval that if Lycaelon had shown him affection and encouragement Kellen would have been desperate to please him.
  • Affably Evil: Chired Anigrel/Anigrel Tavadon, the main human villain, is seen by most High Mages as an extraordinarily competent and loyal young Mage. In reality, he has been evil since he was a small child and is a Self-Made Orphan.
  • The Ageless: Dragons do not age. However, they can be killed and, if bonded to a mage, die when their bonded does. The Endarkened are also ageless.
  • Allergic To Good: The Endarkened and many of their minions are vulnerable to the touch of unicorns. Even their hair has an effect, one Wildmage managing to kill an Endarkened with a unicorn hair garotte. Idalia's sacrifice causes, essentially, a mass allergy attack among the Endarkened.
  • Allergic to Evil: Vestakia started suffering from this at puberty, and she rapidly learned to use the discomfort as a warning/tracking tool. Unicorns have a less directional version of this, uncomfortable in the presence of 'taint' but without her ability to pinpoint it.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Played straight for Kellen/Vestakia for most of the trilogy, and Idalia/Jermayan for at least part of it.
  • All Trolls Are Different: 'Ice-trolls', in this case. They're blue, vulnerable to sunlight and heat - which just means that their Endarkened masters have to give them talismans to protect them - with a thing for bones.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: All of the Endarkened and all of their pawns. Discussed briefly in The Outstretched Shadow, where a rumor is repeated, that an imp taken young enough and raised well might not be evil, but that's the only time. When 'orcs' or 'dark elves' are discovered, hybrids of elf and goblin, the elves immediately assume that their 'poor cousins' are inherently evil and slaughter the noncombatants, down to the infants. This is a series with Black-and-White Morality, so even toddlers immediately try to kill the heroes, but it's a bit unsettling that said heroes decide to murder them all before finding this out.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The first few unicorns to appear are dazzling white, but later Kellen meets ones that come in many different colors, including vibrant red, and realizes their coats come in the same colors as horses, but much more vibrant.
  • And Your Reward Is Infancy: Idalia, reincarnated as the daughter of the Elven Queen to be with Jermayan with a similar lifespan instead of a short human one.
  • Anyone Can Die: Of the key cast listed above only Idalia dies and it's as a willing Heroic Sacrifice late in the third book. But there are loads of supporting characters in the various armies, some of them more distinguished and personable than others, and none of them are safe.
  • As You Know: In When Darkness Falls, Cilarnen says to Kellen, "You know how the High Mages power their spells," and then proceeds to explain how they do so in detail. Kellen does indeed know (he was the one who clued Cilarnen in during the previous book), but he recognizes that this is just how Cilarnen marshals his thoughts to bring himself to the point, of how he plans to power his spells outside the City. That it handily recaps how High Magick works for the reader is a bonus.
  • Bad is Good and Good is Bad: From the High Mages' perspective, the Wild Mages (who are good) are evil Demonworshippers. Anigrel takes that to its logical conclusion by convincing the High Mages to nearly ally themselves with the Endarkened.
  • Bat Out of Hell: The Deathwings resemble enormous white bats with wolflike faces.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Doesn't always apply to humans but much is made of unicorns and Elves being very beautiful, as are Otherfolk and dragons. Meanwhile the Endarkened's forces are almost universally described as hideous, though characters do admire the pelts of Coldwarg once separated from the beasts and made into cloaks. The very evil Endarkened consider each other beautiful, but the other characters don't seem to agree.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: One of the most important things a Wild Mage should know. While the Wild Magic won't try to intentionally screw you, it asks a price for each wish it answers, and the price depends on the difficulty of the wish. Wild Mages are warned to think carefully about what they really want/need so that they can minimize the amount of work the Wild Magic has to do which in turn, minimizes the price the Mage and anyone who's willing to share the cost has to pay.
  • BFS: The Lostlanders employ one, the murragh or steelbride, which is described as being taller than a man and as heavy as a war-axe. Like its real life equivalents, it is mentioned as being able to behead running horses and bisecting lightly-armoured men in a single swing.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The villains - the Endarkened - are irredeemably, undoubtedly evil, and aim to destroy and taint everything, all for their own pleasure. The many monsters they command are likewise entirely evil, though the heroes may feel a spark of pity that these creatures never had a choice. The heroes, on the other hand, are depicted as having no ulterior motives, fighting only to defend what is Good and to restore the balance in the world, and are shown to take no inherent pleasure in killing the Endarkened or their allies. The most selfish any of the heroes get is the pragmatic observation that if they don't pitch in and the alliance loses, everyone on the side of the 'Light' will die horribly.
    • The selfish and xenophobic Armethalians occupy the middle ground - unlike in most books by Mercedes Lackey, which reject Even Evil Has Loved Ones, the majority of Armethalians sincerely care about other Armethalians. Both sides want the Cityfolk as allies/pawns.
  • Blessed with Suck: Unicorns have trouble with the proximity of people who are not chaste, celibate virgins - meaning their companions must be not just virgins, but unmarried virgins without romantic or lustful thoughts. Just how much trouble depends on the book. Shalkan is able to accustom himself to stay only a few feet from Idalia, and a small herd with a broken-legged colt was able to approach her for healing as long as she didn't touch the colt directly. It's inconsistent later - in To Light A Candle unicorns feel pain when anywhere near non-virgins, to the point of struggling to fight against them, and can only be healed by virgin mages. In the third book unicorns have no problem at all fighting Demons, who're as debauched as they come.
    • Vestakia's Detect Evil ability manifests as a feeling of nausea and sickness that's often painful and debilitating. She learns to push through it and remain functional, but still sometimes vomits or passes out.
  • Blood Magic: The Endarkened draw their power from pain and death and so engage in torture and murder for fun and to build up their magical reserves. Anigrel regularly contacts Savilla by killing something and filling a bowl with its blood, which her image appears in.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Kellen who is a Knight-Mage, a kind of Wildmage that has incredible innate skill in combat and war learning swordfighting from Jermayan, and later, from Master Belesharon at the House of Sword and Shield.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Idalia usually talks about her father by calling him Lycaelon. Kellen, who despite himself clings to both love and hatred of him for quite some time, still usually calls him "my father".
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Or it's very hard, anyway! Kellen and Idalia are extremely taken with elves and their beauty, kindness, and the way they've perfected living, with Idalia having learned offscreen that they do still have faults as individuals and as a race. Kellen starts to pick up on the, not hauteur but gentle, pitying condescension one regards humans with and is unable to argue, because it's expressed with such sympathy and the Elf changes the subject when he protests.
  • Celibate Hero: Kellen's Mageprice for receiving Shalkan's aid in escaping the Outlaw Hunt requires him to be this for A Year and a Day.
  • The Chessmaster: Savilla, Queen of Shadow Mountain, has spent literally centuries setting up the various surviving Races Of The Light to deal with multiple no-win situations at the same time. Chired Anigrel only looks like an understudy compared to her, and indeed his gambit with Cilarnen backfires badly in the end.
  • Cool Gate: Jermayan constructs a large one to move the Elven Army across a mountain range, sacrificing all of his magic to do so. This would kill him, except that he's rescued by the Starry Hunt. He gets his magic back in a few chapters though.
  • Cool Sword: Kellen ends up with one called The Light At The Heart Of The Mountain, given to him by Belephariel. It has a waves and ocean motif and Kellen initially regards it as more like jewelry than a sword, but he falls in love the moment he draws it.
    "Her name is The Light at the Heart of the Mountain. She has always been victorious. It is said that she fought at Vel-al-Amion, but as to that, no one can say in truth. She is a thousand-year sword, forged when we knew to craft weapons of war, forged to teach the Enemy the taste of defeat and dissolution."
    He felt himself automatically settle into guard position, as if the sword were alive. His last weapon had been a good one but this was better than that. A great weapon. Ancient. Perfect. She answered to him exactly as if he and she were one being; he knew precisely where every atom of her was, even with his eyes closed. How can you bear to part with this? he thought.
  • Creative Sterility: It's said, in a line barely changed from Tolkien's Legendarium, that "The Endarkened cannot make, they can only mar". That said they're certainly capable of novel strategy. Elves can create, but their long memories and reliance on tradition means that while individual Elves are often flexible and adaptive, their government and armies tend to be rather hidebound and slow to change.
  • Cultural Posturing: Armethaliehens tend to be strongly convinced that theirs is true civilization and that even the people of the Home Farms right outside their walls, who grow their food, are backwards barbarians at best. They also call nonhumans the Lesser Races.
    • Elves are much gentler about their sense of superiority and more inclined to live and let live, but some are more tolerant of human directness than others and a mild condescension is not uncommon.
    • Then there's the Endarkened, who hold that anyone not created by He Who Is - in other words, anyone not of the Endarkened - is an abomination, at best fit to be slaves.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Once he's had his month or two of formal training in the House of Sword and Shield, Kellen versus frail, animalistic, completely unprepared Shadowed Elves is no contest. At a very early point right after slaughtering one party he encounters a larger one and the narration points out that even fourteen to one the fight is completely unbalanced and he comes out the other end without a scratch. Alas for the Elves, they have a more existential difficulty facing their degraded cousins, who are actually ready for them and able to bring their weapons to bear in future battles.
    • Greater Endarkened versus any of the Children of the Light, as shown in the disastrous attack on Stonehearth. It seems like they work so extensively through proxies more so they can lounge around in the World Without Sun then out of need to do otherwise. Between some of the most powerful magic in the setting which allows them to wreak mayhem and prevent Wildmage spells from working on them, ridiculous personal strength and apparent immunity to most weapons, Healing Factor, and Flight, a single Demon seems gleefully unchallenged by a Wildmage and a party of warriors. If Cilarnen hadn't been there to have his magic, specifically designed to be able to harm Demons, return than nothing would have been left alive. As it is he manages to reduce the marauder to a still-living charred skeleton which a human Wildmage manages to freeze in place long enough to be garotted by a rope of unicorn hair.
  • Dark Is Evil: Hello, the Endarkened? In the first book, the first sign of Endarkened influence Kellen and Jermayn see is a species of flower that should be white but is coal black and fills them with revulsion, and goblins and dueregar are dark-skinned.
    • Subverted with Ancaladar, an iridescent black dragon. Some unicorns are black as well, but none are major characters.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the good POV characters have at least one instance of it, but Shalkan takes the cake. Also, many Elves can snark it up in a pinch.
  • Deadly Upgrade: Having been banished and cut off from the mana reserves of Armethalieh, Cilarnen Volpiril (re)discovered a means of tapping the Great Elementals to fuel his High Magick. With care, luck, and far more training than he dare allow himself he may have lasted seven years without dying or burning his magegift out completely.
  • Decadent Court: Savilla's court, which is of course just how she likes it.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The only Elf that Kellen has any real conflict with is Belepharion, one of the subcommanders, who keeps trying to downplay the threat and questioning Kellen's abilities. After the Wild Magic works through Kellen and he rebukes Belepharion and challenges him to a duel, the Elf concedes stiffly and withdraws. The next time he and Kellen speak it's much more civilly and with the reasons for Belepharion's reticence laid bare and acknowledged by both of them, and Belepharion gives Kellen the spurs of a Knight and his ancestral sword, the Light At The Heart Of The Mountain.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Cilarnen has absorbed City propaganda about the proper ways to do things and the inferiority of non-humans much more thoroughly than Kellen had, so when he's first cast from the city he regards the Elf and Centaurs who saved him with horror and disgust that he carefully hides under a distant, civil mask. He's smart enough to recognize the kindness of the Centaurs who take him in and starts to thaw begrudgingly. The Demon attack on Stonehearth completes the melting process. Cilarnen remains on the prickly, superior side and never fully warms to Elves and non-City ways but he becomes more fair-minded overall.
  • Detect Evil: Vestakia's ability to sense the presence of the Endarkened, or the presence of anything that has been tainted by the Endarkened.
  • Determinator: Kellen. A Knight-Mage's key attribute is strength of will. This allows Kellen to perform feats that would be far beyond even the best Elven warrior. You could almost see this as the Knight-Mage's greatest magic power.
  • Divide and Conquer: Queen Savilla's plan to get the Elven army and its Allies to fight against Armethalieh and have the Endarkened pick off the weakened winners.
  • Door Stopper: Each book runs long. To Light A Candle, the longest of the trilogy, has 922 pages and in audiobook form takes almost thirty five hours to complete.
  • Dragon Rider: All Mages who have bonded with a Dragon; for instance, Jermayan. The bonding between a dragon and its Mage is such that not only their minds are linked, but their lives — if one dies, so does the other.
  • Elfeminate: Human characters tend to struggle to tell Elves apart at first and that includes male from female, not helped by the fact that Elves are apparently the only heroic race that has women fighting in combat and those dress like the men do while in the field. Even humans who've learned to tell struggle with older elves, as they get more androgynous with age.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Magic in this setting comes at a cost. Small things, like kindling a fire on flammable material right at hand, have a minor cost in personal energy. Larger things require some outside source to supply the power, but just using it also takes a personal energetic cost that can exhaust most mages.
    • Wild Magic requires appealing to what various Wildmage characters consider "the Gods" - different Wildmages invoke different ones - and Kellen considers simply "the Wild Magic", an inhuman presence with a will and a desire to set the world right. It tasks a Wildmage with an obligation known as "Mageprice", which can be anything from helping get a cat out of a tree for a little girl to forgiving an enemy. A majority of the Mageprices incurred by the Wildmage characters in the trilogy help their efforts against Shadow Mountain somehow in the end; for example, Kellen's price for healing Jermayan is to rescue Vestakia, and she ends up essential for the triumph of good. The less the Wildmage asks for the less their Mageprice has to be in exchange.
      • A Wildmage doing a working can also ask other people to lend strength; their donations of energy can lighten the load and usually reduce the magnitude of the Mageprice, but participating may also require something of them, though that's largely abandoned after the first half of the first book. In the first one, Cormo's Healing comes at the cost of him needing to help an old lady take her cart to market whenever she needs it for a year.
    • High Magic is powered entirely by donations, without Mageprice, and without requiring the consent of those donating it. Because of the small, regular nature of these donations, though, said donors don't feel the exhaustion of those voluntarily lending their strength to a Wildmage's working. Since High Mages can also link with each other and share in the workings, they only feel the strain of working magic when they're doing something very big. The main downsides, for a High Mage, is that they have to learn and abide by much more elaborate rituals and use many more props than the others and must study to get anywhere, and their culture is harshly repressive.
      • War Magic, which High Magic descended from, is powered by magic granted by elemental or otherplanar allies. This is potent but not good for the mage, who'll burn out inside of a decade of regular use unless and until they can switch sources.
    • Dragon Magic is taken from a dragon and is available only to a mage who's bonded with one. This is repeatedly stated to be unlimited but clearly isn't, as creating a portal that can allow an army to go from one side of a mountain range to another permanently drains Jermayan's magic and keeps him from working any more... until he's hit by Idalia's World-Healing Wave and it comes back. Still, it does skip over some of the restrictions of other forms and allows a dragon mage to do things like make stone burn.
    • Endarkened Magic is fueled by pain and death, so they do a lot of torture and murder. The Endarkened can turn to each other or to their own creatures to generate this, but they prefer maintaining extensive slave pens and regularly raiding the World Above to stock them. Possibly because they have this reserve and thus don't have to pay personal costs, they're usually regarded as the most powerful mages in the setting, and it's not heartening that all of them have magic.
  • The Fair Folk: The Endarkened come off like this sometimes. Mages who don't like to pay the prices inherent to other forms of magic sometimes come to them instead. This only works out for the Endarkened. Interestingly, like the Fair Folk it's generally considered risky to call them by what they are. Few outsiders call them the Endarkened and may think of them as Demons but rarely use that word for fear of getting their attention. Elves call them Them and the Enemy, while Lostlanders, raided regularly by them, call them the Dark Folk.
  • Fantastic Racism: Elves can be condescending towards humans, though it's generally a condescension with a great deal of sympathy attached. They're happy enough to host Wildmages but many are stiffly polite and brusque when they finally have to call on allies to cross onto their lands. Meanwhile, Armethalieh outright considers nonhumans to be 'Lesser Races', flawed versions of humanity created as examples, and only the kindest Armethaliehans are even ready to extend enough compassion to outsiders to decide that they can't help being barbarians and should be protected from anything at all. Then there's the Endarkened, of course.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: Fauns are maybe the most common of the Otherfolk and can speak but are not civilized.
  • Field Promotion: Kellen's in for a lot of these.
  • Fish out of Water: Cilarnen Volpiril, the quintessential Armethaliehan student of High Magic, when pushed into the midst of Wildmages and 'Lesser Races' that he'd been taught to despise and fear all his life.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: The author Perulan, who Kellen befriended while on an errand from the Wild Magic, helps foment his discontent with the City and to have serious problems with the High Mages, as well as to start thinking about the world beyond Armethalieh. Lycaelon then has him murdered. Kellen barely thinks about him in passing after he's exiled, never so much as wondering what he would have thought about the outside world.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: In-universe example: when Cilarnen is scrying upon a small farming village under attack by Demons, one of them looks directly at him through his scrying glyph. Cilarnen is badly affected enough to (try to) vomit his guts out in response.
  • Friendless Background: Kellen in Armethalieh at the beginning, as is common with Mercedes Lackey's writing. Cilarnen to a lesser extent. His peers are less hostile to him but he counts allies rather than friends, until he gets manipulated into joining a conspiracy.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Spider: The Crystal Spiders encountered in To Light A Candle, who immediately come and rescue Idalia from a duergar, then start sharing intelligence about the Shadowed Elves. Conveniently, they're white and glow in various other colors.
  • Friend to All Children: Kellen is good with human and elven children and quite cheered by spending time with them. At the same time, he manages to convince himself that young Shadowed Elves are not children, so he doesn't feel bad for slaughtering them on sight.
  • Functional Magic: At least four distinct systems.
    • High Magic is the magic used by the High Mages of Armethalieh. It's part Inherent Gift, part Force Magic, and part very strict Rule Magic.
    • Outside of Armethalieh, most human magic users use Wild Magic. This system is primarily Theurgy, with a certain element of Wild Magic. Certain Wildmages are also Knight-Mages, which makes them about the best tacticians/warriors in the world.
    • The antagonists, the Endarkened, are all mages, using a system that is essentially Force Magic by way of Black Magic.
    • If you happen to meet a dragon you are destined to bond with (or something along those lines), you can become a Dragon Mage. Dragon Magic is part Inherent Gift, but mostly Force Magic.
  • Glamour Failure: Inverted when Kellen, Jermayan, and Shalkan first meet Vestakia; more precisely when Shalkan touches the rather demonic looking woman with his horn and she doesn't drop dead on the spot.
    • Played straight in Vestakia's backstory; her mother wore a unicorn hair charm to bed one night and her lover, on touching it, was burned and showed his true form before vanishing.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Vestakia's mother was a Wildmage, and her father, the Demon Prince Zyperis. After realizing this, her mother cast a Wild Magic spell for a solution, and was given the choice between giving the child a human appearance and demonic personality, or a demonic appearance and a human personality. She chose the latter, and Vestakia was born one of the nicest people in the series and with the ability to Detect Evil.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: As with any Mercedes Lackey heroes, the good-aligned characters are always extremely willing to give their lives in service of the cause, whether that's a lifetime of helping others or a painful death. Sometimes just being wholeheartedly willing to die is enough and the would-be sacrifice is spared. Idalia is not spared, dying to prevent Queen Savilla from sacrificing Lycaelon in order to bring He Who Is back into the world.
  • High Fantasy: This hits most of the beats. There's a lot of attention to troop movements and tactics and Kellen's leadership, but ultimately the crucial victory is accomplished by a few people.
  • Horns of Villainy: A prominent feature of the demons. Vestakia has a small pair of horns on her forehead but is heroic.
  • House Fey: They rarely appear, but the Otherfolk include tiny humanoids who very long ago sometimes used to live with humans.
  • Idiot Ball: The High Mages hold this for most of the series, only relinquishing it when the Endarkened literally walk up to the City Walls and snatch away the Archmage and their stooge. Individual High Mages may hold it for longer.
  • Imperfect Ritual: Invoked at the climax of When Darkness Falls. The Endarkened's ritual to free their god from imprisonment requires an unwilling human sacrifice. Idalia spoils it by casting a spell to have her change places with the sacrifice (her father) at the last second and dying willingly.
  • Instant Expert: Kellen's Knight-Mage powers give him an inherent advantage with combat and battle strategy in general. He's not truly instantly an expert but it takes absurdly little time for him to go from picking up a sword for the first time to being equal to or better than Elven Knights who've trained for years or decades. In his very first combat training session he impresses his teacher, and in his second nearly kills him, which carries through to his more formal training, where he's immediately better than multiple seasoned warriors and managed to fight the Old Master to a draw.
  • Insult to Rocks: A beseiged elf protests when Deathwings are compared to flying rats, because rats have useful skins, make good pets, and can be eaten in an emergency.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Cilarnen initially considers Elves and Centaurs 'it' and only slowly starts to use pronouns internally. When he encounters a Demon in human guise, the moment the Demon sheds the disguise Cilarnen starts using 'it' as it's become too horrifying to be considered 'he'.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Idalia refuses to acknowledge the mutual love between her and Jermayan, because she's inevitably going to die long before he will, and Elves mate for life.
  • Jailbait Wait: Jermayan is more than happy to wait for the newly reborn Idalia to grow up, pointing out that he's already waited several years for her (she didn't want to marry him because of the Mayfly–December Romance problem) and thought she was dead permanently.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Cilarnen is (initially) a bigoted, spoiled brat whose one redeeming quality is that he cares for Armethalieh and worries for the citizens. After he's banished he barely manages to be polite to the centaurs who take him in. Over a few moonturns their kindness wears him down, but it takes a demon attack for him to realize these are his friends and he cares about them. Cilarnen struggles more working with the Elves and Wildmages but does so out of his love for his city. He eventually completely loses Jerkass status by overcoming his prejudiced upbringing, learning to see the 'Lesser Races' as valuable equals and even admitting that Kellen has become his best friend.
  • Last Stand: It's not onscreen, but in the first book, Jermayan tells a story from the last Endarkened War about seven scouts (scouts, mind you) who held off an entire army of Demons long enough for the Allied Armies to arrive. Later in the same book, Jermayan, Shalkan, and Vestakia get to perform a mini-version of that battle.
  • Light Is Good: Played straight for the majority of the story, but subverted when the High Mages nearly ally themselves to the Endarkened because they have very cleverly renamed themselves the "Enlightened". Oh, and they dress up like good guys - actually, they're described as looking not unlike the Heralds of Valdemar, all in white and riding white horses.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Anigrel, but only in a specific way. He was a perfectly capable and devious spy and saboteur for the Endarkened, but he simply failed to see it coming when the Endarkened Queen eats him. See also What an Idiot!.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Again, Anigrel, thanks to a corrupting spell from the Endarkened Queen. She first contacted him when he was eight years old and he was instantly enthralled - so maybe it's Evil Makes You Love.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: The Endarkened.
  • Mage Species: All Endarkened are mages. Pain and death fuel their magic, and their power to kidnap people to provide it means they can spend it much more freely than most other mages.
  • The Magocracy: Armethalieh has nobles, merchants, and commoners, but unless you are a Mage, you're pretty much nothing. The Mages hold all of the high governmental positions, and most of the low ones, too.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Chired Anigrel, or Anigrel Tavadon, attained more power than any Arch-Mage despite only being the by far most junior member of the High Council.
  • Meat Moss: The villages just outside of Armethalieh are in When Darkness Falls free prey for Demons, who rend every living thing until every surface is coated with something that resembles this.
  • Missing Mom: Kellen and Idalia's mother, Alance. She came from outside of the City, back in the days when it wasn't so isolationist, and was apparently happy with Lycaelon until they had a son and he started to change. Having a severe falling out with her husband, she fled the city in the night. Idalia speculates that she was a Wildmage. Unfortunately, she doesn't actually appear again and her fate is unknown.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: High Magick and Wild Magic, for the most part. Kellen starts out as a High Magick student but isn't very good at it. He has more luck with Wild Magic but isn't as good at it as his sister, since his true talent is as a rare action-oriented subset of Wildmage, Knight-Mage.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The only reason the Alliance ended up with a High Mage on their side - and High Magic is one of the very few things that works well on Demons - is because Anigrel elected to use one of his patsies as a living booby trap for Kellen Tavadon.
  • No Body Left Behind: With the exceptions of coldwarg and Shadowed Elves, most of the Endarkened's creatures start to decay very quickly after being killed, usually smelling bad too. One character complains that slain Deathwings stink horribly no matter what they do, so the creatures 'strike at us even in death'.
  • Orcus on His Throne: In the first two books POV sections of Queen Savilla, and most of Zyperis, mostly entail lounging around in the World Without Sun, scrying on and discussing plans for their proxies to move against the Children of the Light, and gloating while being generally depraved and tormenting captives and disfavored members of their court.
  • Our Faeries Are Different: The Otherfolk is the general category for various peoples who non-mages often can't see, including fauns, dryads, air sprites, and selkies. Benign and shy, they mostly avoid humans and keep to communities of Otherfolk, and are vulnerable to the Endarkened. After the first book they don't appear a whole lot.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Centaurs are the first of the nonhuman heroic races to appear and are very similar to the rustic humans they often harmoniously share farming villages and small towns with. Households that have both humans and Centaurs have high tables for the Centaurs to eat at and put the humans on extra-tall stools. Centaurs keep horses to pull ploughs and carry heavy burdens. Some have skill in archery but battlewise more focus is placed on swordsmanship, though only their men fight. They have no inherent magic of their own, but there's a single Centaur Wildmage who can't really cast spells but has "Knowings" and "Tasks". None depicted are evil or even worse than a minor bully who mends his ways when taught a lesson. Some are flirtatious towards human allies in a teasing, consensual way.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Over ten thousand years before the trilogy the Elves used to live brief, warlike lives and were often powerful mages, but they made a deal with higher powers to shut He Who Is out of the world by sacrificing most of their magic. In return they were granted peace and long lives. They usually live up to a thousand years (in peaceful times), and use that time to make living into an art. They are almost always perfect in whatever they do. Elf-made dishes, clothes, weapons, horses, fortresses - even mines, all better than anything humans can make. They make up for this awesomeness with a very, very convoluted system of politeness, considering questions and any sort of directness as extremely rude and only appropriate when time is short. While the more enlightened ones accept that other races won't understand everything, they all still try to train that formality into their allies. These elves all look very similar, too. To the untrained eye, except for the very old and the very young they're all alike as twins.
    • Different Elf cities also have markedly different cultures. Ysterialpoerin is so grandly, extravagantly formal and poetic that other Elves can struggle talking to them, and the workarounds Kellen's picked up to be able to ask questions without asking questions are still too abrupt and rude for them. One of his friends explains it as similar to Armethalieh as a rigidly structured place with a heavy reliance on tradition - it's just that unlike the City of his birth, people who don't like living in Ysterialpoerin can leave it and others who find it wonderful and meaningful can move there, which boggles Kellen's mind.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The Endarkened are Big Red Devils - Greater Endarkened are winged, Lesser Endarkened have hooved feet, both have red or black scales or skin, Horns of Villainy, claws, barbed tails, a very classic demon look. They can appear in other guises, are always powerful mages using Blood Magic, tend to be uncomfortably horny, worship their creator He Who Is, and live in a place that's not quite of the same world as most of the story. There is a line that after the Elves heard humans call them 'Demons' and explained what they meant, the Elves agreed that it fit, even if the Endarkened aren't truly and exactly that. The Endarkened are burned by contact with unicorn hair and killed by the touch of a living unicorn's horn.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Goblins are squat, bug-eyed humanoids which spit Hollywood Acid, swim through solid stone, and are so unintelligent and focused on consuming flesh that a horde will stop to devour its own slain mid-battle.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: These could be counted as orcs or as drow. They're called "Shadowed Elves" by the heroes and Goblin Elves by the Endarkened, and are the barely-sapient descendants of Elven prisoners from the last war, mixed with Goblins and Lesser Endarkened. Physically weaker than their cousins, they're maggot-pale, dislike light, have bulging eyes, and their muzzles of needle-like teeth restrict them to their own language, which sounds like barking. All of them were exterminated by the Elves and their allies, as part of the Endarkened Evil Plan.
  • Precursors: The Elves have the oldest civilization and were once much more violent and conquest-minded than they are by this trilogy.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Virtually every Elf with any degree of power over others. They're formal and strange and expect Kellen to follow their customs as best he can. In the second book he contrives to ask King Andoreniel to allow a population of embattled non-Wildmages to cross Elven lands and settle somewhere safer, freeing up their warriors and mages to help, and forgets to run this past the army's general Redhelwar first. Going around his commanding officer ruffles feathers, as does the suggestion itself as the Elves consider their borders inviolate and are clearly pained at the idea. But they're also all reasonable enough people to understand why Kellen did both and manage to move on.
  • Reincarnation: Idalia's Mageprice for a great work of Wild Magic in the first book proves to be Heroic Sacrifice of herself to ruin the Endarkened Queen's final rite, which required an unwilling sacrifice. But whatever force rules the Wild Magic isn't cruel: at the end of the trilogy she's reincarnated as the newborn daughter of the Queen of the Elves, solving the Mayfly–December Romance problem between her and Jermayan as well.
  • Released to Elsewhere: Banishment from Armethalieh ostensibly means you have one night to leave the City's lands and never come back, and if you loiter, the stone golem hounds called the Outlaw Hunt will escort you out. In reality, it's (nearly) impossible to reach the border before dawn, and when you don't, the Hunt tears you to pieces. It was not always this way; sixteen years ago Armethalieh didn't claim nearly as much territory and it was more possible to leave.
  • Secret Police: As paranoia among the Mages increases in the second and third books, Anigrel forms two secret police forces, the Magewardens and the Commons Wardens, to find suspected Wildmage/Elven saboteurs. All as a part of his Evil Plan.
  • Self-Made Orphan: After the Great War a thousand years ago, Savilla killed her father and became Queen. She is forever aware that her son and lover Zyperis desires to do the same to her. Savilla's pawn Anigrel, at her instigation, leeched away the life of his own father as well.
  • Separated by the Wall: Kellen cannot "express his feelings" to Vestakia, because that would violate a Mageprice (magical agreement). And then Shalkan would be reluctantly forced to castrate him.
  • Shed the Family Name: Idalia doesn't go by her family name at all, and Kellen largely doesn't. Wildmages and Elves address them as "Idalia Wildmage" and "Kellen Knight-mage".
  • The Short War: The war against Endarkened forces and against the Endarkened themselves barely lasts longer than the winter - the instigating incident was during the first snowfall, and the final battle was marked by flowers starting to bloom, though mop-up efforts stretched things out a few months more. This is much shorter than the great war a thousand years ago, which took most of a century, and doesn't bear nearly as many casualties. Good thing, too, because of the heroic races who survived the previous war at all, none of them have recovered back to their pre-war numbers after a thousand years.
  • Smug Snake: The High Mages (particularly the Council Mages and the Archmage) and the Endarkened.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Unicorns are stealthy, even to Knight-Mage senses, and Shalkan takes delight in sneaking up behind Kellen to say hello.
  • Sweet Tooth: Shalkan, who frequently demands honey-cakes (or generally any kind of confection) from Kellen.
  • Technical Virgin: Subverted in Shadow. Idalia explains to Kellen that her Mageprice for turning herself into an eagle to escape the Outlaw Hunt was for her to find a mate and raise a clutch of chicks before she would be allowed to resume human form. Later Kellen thinks that Shalkan avoids touching her because she's secretly evil, but this sets Idalia and Shalkan into gales of laughter. Idalia explains it's because she's not a virgin, and yes, brother dearest, having sex as an eagle counts.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Kellen, when he finds out that he's a Knight-Mage.
  • To the Pain: To the Endarkened, torture is the highest form of art, and it's a rare scene of Savilla or Zyperis that makes no mention of it. When their magic is spawned out of pain, that's only to be expected, though.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Specific foods rarely come up, but Elves, High Mages, and Lost Lands Wildmages are all very fond of tea. The kind of tea preferred is hotly contested. Most elven teas are herbal and served at every occasion, especially in the army; talk of every aspect of tea is a mandatory part of conversation with them. Cilarnen detests the elven blends and declares that they taste of 'boiled grass' but is able to bond with some Elves by disparaging the tea the Lost Landers drink, which involves goat butter.
  • Unequal Rites: High Magick vs. Wild Magic
  • Unicorn: Unicorns in this setting are pony-sized, luminous, can neutralize both poison and magic with their horns, and have the power of speech. They are somewhat repulsed by the presence of any non-unicorn who is not a virgin (and yes, having sex while transformed counts) and extremely repulsed with any contact with anyone who is evil. They're also very stealthy and quite dangerous in a fight. The isolationist elves allow free passage into their territory only to Wild Mages and unicorns, the latter of whom sometimes bond with virgin elves.
  • The Unpronounceable: Many of the Elven cities, if not unpronounceable, are at least a mouthful. Try "Ysterialpoerin", for instance.
  • Unicorns Prefer Virgins: Kellen summons a unicorn, Shalkan, to help him escape the territory of Armathalieh. Shalkan informs him that the mage-price for his help is to remain both celibate and chaste for a year and a day. Unicorns explicitly cannot touch humanoids who are not virgins: Shalkan can't touch Kellen's long-lost sister Idalia because her own mage-price to escape Armathalieh while shapeshifted into an eagle was to hatch and raise a clutch of chicks, which involved mating with a male eagle.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Particularly between Kellen and Vestakia.
  • Vancian Magic: Some High Magick spells can be rendered into cantrips: cast mostly in advance and activated at need with a keyword. Since High Magick normally takes a while, this is practically required for combat spells like Lightning.
  • Villainous Incest: Savilla and her son Zyperis in a big way. There are a few insinuations that Savilla and her own father had been similarly entangled too.
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Savilla and Zyperis again.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Kellen's Mageprice for Shalkan getting him clear of the Outlaw Hunt in Shadow, on pain of castration. This causes a problem when he falls in love with Vestakia, though it thankfully isn't permanent, running for A Year and a Day.
  • War Is Hell: The Demons lay waste to vast swathes of land, killing thousands, if not millions, of beings. It's not fun for Kellen, or Jermayan, or anyone else... okay, the Demons themselves and their pets/lackeys are having a great time.
  • We Have Become Complacent: The elves spent the last thousand years licking their wounds and basking in peace, still training some of their own for war but not actually fighting. Consequently they are reluctant to see a clear and present threat, and resort to the tactics of the last war when at last they do.
  • We Have Reserves: The Endarkened do. The Allies don't.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Kellen and Cilarnen both have elements of this to start with.
    • Except that for Kellen, it's more of a "You suck, son."
  • The Wild Hunt:
    • The Starry Hunt, summoned by Idalia in the third book. They're FULL OF STARS! And also badass.
    • The Outlaw Hunt is a rather more mundane version, being a great pack of animate stone dog statues. Also rather sadistic as fleeing to safety beyond the lands of Armethalieh (and thus beyond their reach) really is not an option despite the official claims that it is exile.
  • Wild Magic: A fundamental part of the world. Wild Magic is essentially the consciousness of all life in the world, and works to ensure as much life survives as possible. Using Wild Magic is essentially a series of bargains; whenever it does something for you, you have to do something for it in return; what that something is isn't revealed until you cast the spell, and is rarely if ever the same twice. For instance, a spell to heal a minor injury may cost "Plant twelve acorns" one day, and "Travel in this direction until you find something to help, then help it" the next. The costs are extremely variable, but are always, always fair.
  • Winter Warfare: The difficulty of this on every level is thoroughly addressed.
  • Working-Class People Are Morons: Most Armethaliehans are spectacularly uneducated about the world beyond the City Walls. This may not be the perfect trope, because most of the Mages don't know diddley, either.
  • World-Healing Wave: Idalia's Heroic Sacrifice which spoils Savilla's ritual to return the God of Evil to the world releases a great rush of power which kills many demons outright, weakens most of the rest, allows Kellen to kill Prince Zyperis in one blow, restores Jermayan's power (allowing him to kill Savilla), refills the reserves of magic in Armethaliah, and, more slowly, heals the forest of the damage from the Final Battle, causing new growth to sprout in the course of minutes to days. It's also stated that for the first time... well, ever, the Flower Forests, remnnants of the world as it had been before the first war with the Endarkened, are starting to spread.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Everybody! The Endarkened delight in it, of course. The Elves are also prepared to exterminate all the Shadowed Elves, infants included, without even checking to see if they're Always Chaotic Evil first, but are emotionally upset by it. Kellen insists after the first time he kills some that young Shadowed Elves aren't children and therefore he's not a baby-murderer and quickly stops feeling bad about it.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Lycaelon wanted a son that he could mould into the perfect aristocratic High Mage. Instead, he got Kellen, who hated his lessons in High Magic and preferred wandering around the more squalid areas of the city.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The Endarkened placed enclaves of Shadowed Elves under Elven territory, and let them be discovered. Kellen instantly saw what this was—a tactic to drain Elf resources and distract them from whatever else the Endarkened were doing, while the Endarkened themselves sat safe—but also that this was not something that could be ignored.
  • A Year and a Day: The length of Kellen's Vow of Celibacy in exchange for Shalkan's help escaping the Armethaliehan lands. This period covers most of the trilogy, only running its course in the final chapter.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Iletel the Elf potter explains Armethalieh's issues as stemming from the shortsightedness of humans, who "have no time to dream, to plan, no time for Art" and are too short-lived to care about others, except for the most magnanimous who can try to look after their fellows within their lifetimes. Much as Kellen resents the High Mages, he protests that not all humans are like that and is assured that Wildmages like him are some of the rare few who can look beyond themselves and to be commended. Kellen's not really comfortable with this and ultimately rejects it.
  • You Are in Command Now: Shortly before the final battle near Armethalieh, Redhelwar, the Elven General in command of the Allied Army, transfers total command of the army to Kellen.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Idalia, Kellen, and Cilarnen after their Banishing, though Idalia and Cilarnen come back anyway.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Queen Savilla does this all the time, in particularly gruesome and painful ways. Examples of her victims are the poor Endarkened noble with whom she had an affair with and Anigrel after he delivers Lycaelon Tavadon to her. She also planned to do this to Prince Zyperis. Fortunately for him, he was killed relatively quickly before Savilla got a chance to have her way with him.
  • You're Not My Father: While he hung on to mingled love and hatred of Lycaelon for some time, in the end Kellen regards a chastened, repentent Lycaelon with absolutely no feeling for or against him.
  • Zerg Rush: The Endarkened themselves are each extremely difficult to fight, but many of their creatures are weaker than Elven Knights, Goblins and Shadowed Elves in particular. These creatures are numerous but quite fragile and largely effective because of poison, propensity for traps and ambushes, and sheer numbers.

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