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Literature / The Shattered Kingdoms

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The Shattered Kingdoms is a fantasy trilogy by Evie Manieri. The books are Blood's Pride (2013), Fortune's Blight (2015), and Strife's Bane (2017).

The first book deals with a rebellion among the Shadari people against their Norlander conquerors. A Shadari faction hires an infamous mercenary known as the Mongrel (aka Meiran aka Lahlil) to lead a violent insurrection, but she's dangerously unpredictable and seems to have her own personal agenda that doesn't necessarily match anyone else's. People on both sides of the conflict find it's not as simple as Shadari versus Norlander, since a number of them have friendships and romances which cross the divide, leaving them in danger from prejudice on both sides. Both camps are split by deep political divisions and personal feuds, and most characters are keeping secrets that have a nasty habit of surfacing at the worst time.

In the second book, the focus shifts from the Shadar to Norland. Some of the Norlanders who were sympathetic to the Shadari rebellion now seek to convince the Emperor to accept Shadari independence, and another group independently makes the same trip looking for a cure to an unknown poison. However, both missions get tangled up in Norlander internal problems. The Norlanders have a religious policy of exiling anyone deemed physically impure, and a prophecy says that the survivors will return as an army of the cursed the Emperor believes that he's destined to lead the heroic defeat of this army, but other Norlanders think this is a dangerous delusion which might upset their own secret goals.

The third book returns to the Shadar, and concludes the series.

The series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Not uncommon, especially (it would appear) among Norlanders. Lahlil and Isa are particularly notable examples. It isn't universal, however Kira is noted to be decidedly indifferent to martial skills, doing the bare minimum that her culture expects.
  • Aloof Ally: The Mongrel has been hired by the Shadari rebels to lead their uprising, but although the rebellion is indeed successful, she certainly didn't work closely with her employers in the course of achieving it (to the point where they often thought she'd betrayed them). She is contemptuous towards the self-appointed rebel leader who hired her, and has no particular interest in whether he and his gang survive to see the fruits of their rebellion.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Isa agrees to have her arm amputated to stop the spread of sunlight-inflicted damage. Given that her culture shuns people with "deformities" like that, it's unsure for a while whether she'd want it done or not.
  • Blue Blood: Important to the Norlanders. Being told that the governor's family does not in fact have the (patrilineal) ancestry they thought, and that their posting to the Shadar was actually just the Emperor's way of exiling them while letting them save face, has a significant impact on Frea, the main villain of the first book. She was hoping her results would be sufficiently impressive that she would be summoned to the heart of the empire and given power, but due to her "impure" blood, that won't happen no matter how well she does. This motivates her to switch plans from a triumphant return to an invasion/coup. (Additionally, the fact that her brother Eofar knew all this and didn't tell her exacerbates internal rifts in the family).
  • Celestial Deadline: Meiran's illness, which was caused by being "blessed" by both a sun god and a moon goddess when it should have been just one of them, has a debilitating effect on her at dawn and dusk.
  • Cool Sword: Ownership of these is important to Norlanders. The swords are bound to their owners, and react to their owners' will. Earning the right to name one by beating someone in a duel is an important rite of passage.
    • In the first book, Isa, the governor's younger daughter, is determined to challenge her sister Frea for to claim a sword; Frea is disdainful.
    • In the second book, however, it's played with. A particularly old sword that the Emperor wants for reasons of symbolism and prophecy is actually less "cool" than the new ones, having been made before the technique was learned. Then, however, its lack of magic actually turns out useful when the magic of the new swords is used against them by someone who actually understands it better.
  • The Ditz: In the second book, Kira acts this part at the Norlander imperial court, being flighty, talkative, politically naive, and superficial. Some people see through it, but as she notes, it's pretty difficult to prove she's smarter than she acts, so it's still a good barrier against people trying to get anything from her.
  • Divine Parentage: The Nomas believe that their kings and queens are children of the sun god and moon goddess, respectively.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: There is an elixir which grants visions of the future, and more than one character uses it. The visions are true, but are subject to misinterpretation. Some time before the start of the main story, the Shadari priesthood committed mass suicide to prevent a future misuse of their magic - the problem being, they were mistaken about the source of their own powers, so killing themselves didn't actually prevent their magic from arising again without them.
  • Duality Motif: The Mongrel/Meiran/Lahlil has this going on as a result of having been mistakenly bestowed with the "blessings" of both (mutually hostile) Nomas deities. The most obvious sign is her mismatched eyes, but it is also present more subtly in her behaviours - for example, Jachad says she holds things in different hands depending on whether it's day (for the sun god) or night (for the moon goddess).
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Mongrel has an eyepatch, but she isn't missing an eye. The problem is that her two eyes are different, as a result of her supernatural illness. They both work, but they don't work well together, and she actually sees better if she only uses one at a time.
  • Emotionless Girl: Meiran/Lahlil/The Mongrel is perceived to be this in the first book, although she actually just has very good self-control (the more impressive for the fact that Norlander telepathy normally transmits emotions, making them hard to hide). It contributes to everyone's uncertainty as to what she actually wants. Her motivations are less hidden in the second book, although that might just be because readers now get substantial sections from her point-of-view (unlike the first book).
  • Empathic Weapon: The Norlanders have these, and value them greatly.
  • The Empire: The Norlanders have one, fairly recently constructed using powers obtained from Shadari magic (which helped them conquer the Shadar itself). The politics between conquerors and conquered are central to the first book.
  • The Exile: Norlanders have a religious commandment/prophecy saying that anyone who is physically impure (which they take to encompass any kind of disfigurement, permanent injury, or disability) is cursed and must be abandoned in the wilderness, where any not judged worthy of a good god's cure will join an evil god's army. In fact, there's a hidden community of surviving exiles, and those who know about it conclude that the "cursed" stuff is therefore nonsense. In fact, there's a grain of truth to the commandment, but the Norlanders have been completely misinterpreting it it's supposed to be instructions for the temporary quarantine and treatment of disease victims, not the permanent banishment of "deformed" people.
  • Famed In-Story: The Mongrel's exploits as a mercenary are quite (in)famous, hence the desire of the Shadari rebels to hire her.
  • Fiery Redhead: Jachad, to an extent. He's a lot more emotive than Meiran (especially at the start), and uses fire magic.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The setting features large flying creatures which various characters ride. One character, Isa, is notably afraid of travelling like this, having been involved in an accident as a child that cost her mother's life (and which her sister Frea blamed on her despite having caused it herself). At the end of the book, Frea's final defeat involves these creatures, with Rho jumping across from Isa's to Frea's in order to fight and Isa eventually luring Frea into leaning out too far to grab a sword, causing her to fall).
  • I Have Many Names: The mercenary woman on the covers (of the US editions, anyway) is known as the Mongrel to most of those who hire her, Lahlil to her birth family (who are Norlanders), and Meiran to her adoptive family (who are Nomas). The narration of the first book (in which she isn't usually a point-of-view character) uses all three, depending on whose point of view we're currently occupying. Some of the characters are briefly confused at hearing one name when they only know another. In the second book, though, she's more consistently referred to as Lahlil, in keeping with the shift in the action to Norland.
  • Innate Night Vision: Norlanders can see with very little light, and since they're also Weakened by the Light, they prefer things dark. This is an inconvenience for their Shadari slaves, who don't have night vision.
  • Handicapped Badass: Isa is still dangerous with a sword even after she loses an arm.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: Vrinna, captain of the guard to the Emperor of Norland, is clearly infatuated with him, and goes a long way to try to get his approval. He's not interested. Vrinna's unrequited love makes her rather hostile to the Emperor's mistress, Kira.
  • Jerkass Gods: Jachad thinks his people's two deities (a sun god and a moon goddess) are being this in relation to Meiran, who was inadvertently given to both of them for blessing and who have been "warring" over her ever since. It's the source of the illness that strikes her down every dawn and dusk, and also of her mismatched eyes.
  • Living MacGuffin: Dramash, a Shadari boy, becomes one of these for the main villain, Frea (and also, in many ways, to his own father, the rebel leader Faroth). He holds magic that was thought to have been lost with the priesthood, and this has the potential for considerable destruction. His father uses him to destroy the building he (incorrectly) thinks Frea is in, but he then rebels against his father and kills him. Before and after that, he's in Frea's possession, with various other characters trying to rescue him (although he isn't necessarily wiling to go with them).
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: There are two Norlander/Shadari couples in the first book (and by the end, one mixed-race baby). Neither couple are married, however, because they would be subject to this trope in huge quantities. Instead, they have to have a Secret Relationship.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Meiran/Lahlil's mismatched eyes are a consequence of her illness, which originates from having been "blessed" by both Nomas deities instead of the usual one. Both eyes still work, but not when she uses both at once, so she uses an eyepatch. In conjunction with other unusual features (Norlanders are generally considered to look corpse-like anyway, and she has a mess of non-supernatural burn marks on her forearm) she is quite distinctive in her appearance.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In the second book, Vrinna (who loves the emperor) attacks Kira (the emperor's mistress), but stops just short of actual murder. Murder would have consequences but there's nothing stopping a violent beating to extract information which, with a bit of luck, might then justify a killing.
  • The Night That Never Ends: In Norland, the sun (and moon, for that matter) haven't been seen for time immemorial. The Norlanders themselves are generally Weakened by the Light, and look (to other people) rather like corpses.
  • Non P.O.V. Protagonist: In the first book, the Mongrel/Meiran/Lahlil isn't the sole protagonist, but she's probably the main character of the book (and is front and centre on the cover shown above). However, there's almost nothing from her point of view, and we instead see her mainly through the eyes of other characters. This helps preserve the uncertainty as to what she actually wants (and before it's revealed, what her origins are). In the second book, however, we get substantial sections from her point of view.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: The Mongrel makes it fairly obvious that she doesn't actually care about the Shadari rebellion. However, the obvious alternative motives (first money, then revenge) get crossed off as well, leaving just about everyone else uncertain exactly what she is in it for.
  • Offing the Offspring: The Norlander policy of abandoning the physically impure extends to children. The governor appointed to rule the Shadari had one case in his family - a daughter with burn marks on her arm. The mother, Eleana, refused to follow tradition and hid the daughter, but her husband eventually found out and applied it anyway. It was on an attempt to find and rescue her daughter that Eleana died. The daughter did not die as expected, however, and subsequently returned as the Mongrel.
  • Only in It for the Money: The Shadari rebels assume that the Mongrel is this, and expect her to take her payment in cash. In fact, she isn't interested in money - but will only reveal what she really wants after the rebellion is successful. The rebels don't like this at all, but reluctantly agree.
  • Our Vampires Are Different / Our Zombies Are Different: The Norlanders are neither vampires nor zombies, but they do have a few similarities (such as being Weakened by the Light and looking generally corpse-like). The Shadari call them Dead Ones because of it.
  • Parental Abandonment: Norlander culture believes in abandoning children who are deformed, and this happened to Lahlil (aka the Mongrel). She survives, and eventually returns. People who realise who she is tend to assume it's for revenge, but it isn't really (since the one responsible dies of illness anyway, as she knew he would). It's one of several things people incorrectly think she's motivated by.
  • Parental Substitute: Surviving the attempt to kill her by exposure, Lahlil was taken in by the Nomas people, and acquired some parental substitutes. However, some misapplied Nomas religious practices resulted in her being cursed with an illness, and she realised that at least some of them knew the source of her problem but were unwilling to admit it to her. She left, and didn't stay in touch.
  • Playing with Fire: Jachad can use fire magic, in keeping with his claimed Divine Parentage (his people consider him the child of the sun god).
  • Poor Communication Kills: Jachad accuses Meiran/Lahlil of this, saying that if she'd only trust him enough to reveal her objectives, their recent fight wouldn't have happened. She turns it around on him, letting slip that she already knew the secret he only just got around to revealing to her - she had waited for him to trust her with it, but he hadn't, so why should she have trusted him now?
  • Rebel Leader: Two or three people potentially come under this. Daryan is heir to the Shadari kingship (a fact kept secret to the Norlanders), but has a friendship and a romance which cross racial lines in a way that would be unacceptable to most Shadari if they knew, and doesn't really want the burdens of leadership anyway. Faroth, meanwhile, certainly intends to be in charge of the rebellion, but isn't particularly bright about it and is more like a gang leader than a hero. A third character, Harotha, has a significant role, but tends to manipulate and chivvy rather than lead (a fact which causes her problems when Daryan decides he doesn't want to be lead around by the nose any more).
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Jachad is King of the Nomas, but the Nomas seem to have a rather more relaxed view about kingship than other cultures, and he has no problem heading off into a warzone on his own to take care of things. (Of course, he has his magic.)
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Faroth and his revolutionaries don't pay much attention to nuance, and just want to kill all the Norlanders without regard to the fact that some of them are sympathetic (and also without regard to the fact that some innocent Shadari die too). Faroth also treats the revolution as if it were his personal property, and won't let anyone else have a leadership role (especially not Daryan). Harotha explicitly describes Faroth's group as a gang rather than the band of good people she'd hoped for.
  • Secret Relationship: Two of them appear in the first book. In both cases, it's because they cross boundaries between Norlander (conquorer) and Shadari (conquered), which would be met with hostility by both sides. Harotha has a particular problem, since she's a Shadari who is pregnant with the child of a Norlander lord. She pretends the father is another Shadari man, but doesn't expect this to last once the child is born.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Jachid and his mother have been keeping the source of Meiran's illness secret from her, but in reality, she has known it for a long time. She understood why they didn't want to tell her, but still expected them to eventually trust her enough to do so. They didn't, and she left. When they meet again, Meiran is unwilling to clue Jachid in on her plan, which confuses and upsets him - he doesn't realise that its because she knows about his own lack of openness.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: If Emperor Gannon hadn't opened the tomb of the first Norlander monarch so as to find a weapon against the cursed, the disease that is the actual basis for belief in the cursed wouldn't have been released again.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The Norlander governor of the Shadar had four children. One was abandoned as a child because of a physical "deformity" resulting from an accident. The other three have decidedly rocky relationships. Eofar, the only son, doesn't actually like the power-and-glory focus of his culture very much, and clashes with his sister Frea, who likes those things just fine and considers Eofar to be weak. The youngest daughter, Isa, (initially) wants to a proper Norlander, which gives her a measure of conflict with both (since Eofar tries to dissuade her and Frea is the person her culture says she has to beat to prove herself worthy). The situation is not helped by the secrets they keep from each other - Eofar knows that Frea's dreams of a glorious homecoming are impossible but doesn't say so; Frea inadvertently caused the death of their mother in order to prevent the rescue of the abandoned daughter, then blamed the accident on Isa; and Isa was accidentally the cause of the abandonment (and also knows Frea's secret but has been pretending not to). And then the abandoned daughter, Lahlil, turns out to be a) not dead; and b) rather dangerous.
  • Suicide Pact: Before the start of the story proper, the Shadari priesthood all commit suicide by jumping of the roof of their temple as the Norlanders invade. People tend to assume that the suicide had something to do with the invasion, but it was actually a response to a vision of the future. The priests foresaw that someone using their powers would somehow cause massive harm, and to eliminate the possibility, decided to kill themselves and take their knowledge with them. It didn't work, because the priests were wrong about where their powers came from. They thought their rituals granted magic to the worthy, but in fact, the rituals were just an obscured means of identifying people who were always going to develop magic anyway. Thus, killing themselves didn't stop someone else coming to the same powers without them - as does indeed happen.
  • Telepathy: Norlanders speak telepathically (although not, it seems, at any significantly greater distance than normal speech allows). Their telepathy can convey emotional states as well as actual words. The Shadari are unable to use telepathy, and can't hear what the Norlanders say (although some Norlander characters express suspicion that the Shadari are just faking this inability so that they can eavesdrop).
  • Unwanted Rescue: The first times people try to rescue the boy Dramash from Frea, they're surprised to find that he doesn't want to go - he likes her, and thinks he's going to become a soldier for her. He eventually realises that she's not a nice person, however.
  • Weakened by the Light: Norlanders don't do well in sunlight, and so go around at night (which is aided by their having Innate Night Vision). Isa's arm is sufficiently damaged by exposure that in order to prevent the resulting poison from spreading, it has to be amputated (an especially big thing given Norlander prejudices about deformity and Isa's own aspirations as a warrior). Norlander weakness to light doesn't seem to be insurmountable, however - Lahlil (aka Meiran, aka the Mongrel) tolerates it well enough, apparently as a result of having been raised and fed by a Shadari woman.