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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.


The Obsidian Trilogy provides examples of:

  • 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. 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.
  • 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 smallest children. This is a series with Black-and-White Morality, so they're right.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Both sides want them 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 scene. 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 only a virgin actually touched the colt, but later unicorns struggle to fight non-virginal enemies and can't be healed except by virgins. Later still they have no problem at all fighting very non-virginal demons.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 who has a compatible personality (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.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Idalia, to prevent Queen Savilla from sacrificing Lycaelon in order to bring He Who Is back into the world.
  • Horns of Villainy: A prominent feature of the demons. Vestakia has a small pair of horns on her forehead but is heroic.
  • Human Mom Nonhuman Dad: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, only barely managing to be polite to the centaurs who take him in. After 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. It may be the other way around, though.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: The Endarkened.
  • 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.
  • 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, since his true talent is as a Knight-Mage.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The only reason the Alliance ended up with a High Mage on their side 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'.
  • 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.
  • 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: Whether they're closer to orcs or drow, they're called "Shadowed Elves", 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Smug Snake: The High Mages (particularly the Council Mages and the Archmage) and the Endarkened.
  • Spot of Tea: Elves, High Mages, and Lost Lands Wildmages all quite like tea, though 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.
  • 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.
  • Unequal Rites: High Magick vs. Wild Magic
  • Unicorn: Unicorns in this setting are pony-sized, luminous, 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 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.


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