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Literature / Wind on Fire

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A modern(ish) fantasy series by William Nicholson, describing the lives of the Hath family and their quest to find their people's prophesied homeland. The trilogy of books are as follows:

  1. The Wind Singer (2000)
  2. Slaves of the Mastery (2001)
  3. Firesong (2002)

The first book is set in the walled city of Aramanth, where hierarchy is decided solely on exam results from the age of two. Twins Kestrel and Bowman Hath, after being prosecuted by the head examiner, decide to find the voice of the Wind Singer, a mysterious ancient device in the centre of Aramanth which once made people happy. However, it was stolen by an evil force called the Morah, and the city fell into its current state of harsh meritocracy.

Slaves of the Mastery opens five years later, where Aramanth is no longer ruled by exams. However, the raiders of an empire called the Mastery destroy the weakened city and take all the citizens as slaves. Kestrel is left behind, and meets the representatives of a different kingdom, who are heading to the Mastery to offer their princess in marriage. Bowman starts to awaken new powers, and the twins each plot the downfall of the enemy empire.

Firesong follows the Manth people's journey to their homeland after the Mastery is overthrown. And without giving away everything, we can say very little else.

Not to be confused with A Song of Ice and Fire.

This series contains examples of:

  • Achievement Test of Destiny: The tests that decide one's social class in Aramanth, starting from the age of two.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0-2, it's hard to tell, but from a glimpse near the end of Wind on Fire things look pretty desperate.
  • Arranged Marriage: Sisi and Ortiz. It's entirely politically motivated.
  • Badass Family: The Haths (and their adopted kin, Mumpo, Sisi, and Emperor Creoth) essentially save the world not once, not twice but three times.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted in Slaves of the Mastery; when Sissi rejects Zohon, he slashes both her cheeks, saying "I kill your beauty!"
  • Berserk Button: Try to separate Bowman and Kestrel and it won't turn out well for you. Ira Hath will defend any and all members of her family viciously. And let's not forget Pinto's Embarrassing Nickname from back in the day.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Half the cast falls victim to this trope at one point or another.
  • Break the Cutie: The first book was beautiful in its childish glory, containing a few disturbing elements. However, childhoods are shredded to pieces from the second book onward and we're looking at some serious Gorn when the Mastery seizes Aramanth, and the manaxa, and the monkey cages, and let's not forget the grand finale. Bowman goes from a timid boy lost in his sister's shadow to the destroyer of the Master's civilisation. Kestrel goes from a rebellious young girl to being the avenger, caught up in what seems like a million unending love triangles. Mumpo goes from a friendless screw-up to a masterful killer. And Sisi goes from a ditzy, sheltered princess to a stern-faced queen-in-exile.
  • Broken Aesop: Bowman, Kestrel, and their friend Mumpo spend the first book learning that if they work together, they can make things happen and nothing can hurt them. In the book's two parallel plots, the twin's father convinces downtrodden people that they need to stand up and peacefully insist on being given their rights, and their mother makes her views heard and gets the town to listen to her and consider her ideas. Then... the MacGuffin shows up and makes it all better. Or at least makes them happy for the remainder of the book.
  • Character Development: Quite a smidgen here-and-there, notably Sisi and Mumpo.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Mumpo's puppy-like adoration for Kestrel develops into something more serious as the kids reach marriageable age. It is, however, completely unrequited.
  • Completely Off-Topic Report: Done seriously in The Wind Singer. Aramanth has a series of mandatory tests by which families gain or lose status. Most of the Gray applicants (the lowest class) have failed the rigidly standardized tests many times and and expect to fail again, so Mr. Hath convinces them to ignore the questions and just write about what they do know (and in many cases are unsung experts on).
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "If you tell anything you've heard here, I'll have your tongues pulled out, and rabbits' heads pushed into your mouths, and your lips sewn up." - Princess Sisi. She later disembowels a young man with a steak knife — in self-defense, of course.
  • Clueless Chick-Magnet: Bowman — at least when it comes to Sisi. Vice versa in the Kestrel and Ortiz scenario. She's not just clueless — she's totally oblivious.
  • Cool Old Guy: Creoth and post-Mastery Albard.
  • Crapsack World: By the time of Firesong the world is falling apart. A fair amount of it seems to be literally burning thanks to wars and bandits.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Mumpo might never have taken any notice of Pinto if it weren't for Kestrel's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Decade Dissonance: The world appears to be quite out of whack technologically. Aramanth is implied to be rather technologically advanced in The Wind Singer, as does the Mastery in Slaves of the Mastery, yet the primary mode of transportation seems to be horse and carriage, with civilizations becoming ever-more ramshackle and sparse the farther out from Aramanth you go.
  • Determinator: Kestrel, who often gets by on her stubborn determination alone.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Maslo Inch in The Wind Singer.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The Zars are an army of beautiful boys and girls who slaughter anything in their path with smiles on their faces.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Kestrel and Bowman. (Possibly Pinto, but she's never explicitly described as such.)
  • Eldritch Abomination: It's frustratingly difficult to tell what exactly what the Morah is but it definitely has shades of this.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Pinto despises her baby-name from the first book, Pin-Pin.
  • The Empath: Bowman can use his powers to understand people on a subconscious level and have mind-to-mind combat with other empaths such as the Master. The downside is that he is easily affected by the feelings of those around him.
  • The Empire: The Mastery is a tyrannical government that presides over the continent of Gang and has aspirations of world domination.
  • Fantastic Caste System: in The Wind Singer, Aramanth is divided into Color-Coded Castes: Grays at the bottom, then Maroons, Oranges, Scarlets, and the elites are Whites. These colors are marked on their clothes and homes and determine the kinds of jobs they can do. The Emperor wears blue.
  • The Force
  • The Good Kingdom: Gang, or at least it's implied to be (it's never seen in the trilogy).
  • Happiness in Slavery: Despite being taken from Aramanth by force and having several of their fellows brutally burned to death in cages, many of the Manth people choose to stay behind in the Mastery simply because it offers an easier, more peaceful and stable life than travelling the long journey to the Homeland with the others.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kestrel, though only her physical body; her spirit becomes one with her twin brother, Bowman, which may lead one to wonder (only in the name of practicality, of course,) just where her spirit goes when he's getting busy with the missus...
  • Hive Mind: The Zars are similar to the Cybermen and the Borg, being an evil army with a collectivist mindset and so little individuality that they are willing to march into a chasm so that their brothers can walk over their corpses to get to the other side.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Mumpo and Pinto, towards the end of Firesong.
  • I Am Legion: When Kestrel looks into the eyes of the creepy old woman that is the Morah's human form, she sees countless eyes and hears a voice in her head that says "We are the Morah; we are Legion."
  • The Load: Mumpo may have his moments in The Wind Singer, but boy does that change.
  • May–December Romance: A fairly mild version crops up in the Distant Finale.
  • Messianic Archetype: Played with: Bowman is set up to be one, but he's stopped on the threshold of actually saving the world by Kestrel, who does it in his place.
  • The Migration: In Firesong, a group of the Manth, their old home destroyed, travel across the continent to seek a prophesied homeland.
  • Mobile City: The rival cities Ombaraka and Omchaka. These are driven by sails, and whenever they cross paths they attack each other by launching smaller "land-sailers" at each other like torpedoes. Most of these intercept and destroy each other; actually scoring a hit on the other city is quite rare.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Pinto attempts this while Brainwashed and Crazy. Oritz is the hypotenuse of no less than three simultaneously overlapping love triangles. Guess what happens to him?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: By restoring the voice of the Wind Singer and cleansing the Morah's influence over Aramanth, Kestrel, Bowman, and Mumpo inadvertently condemn the city to destruction at the hands of the Mastery.
  • Rags to Royalty: Bowman, who becomes the "Bowmana of Gang" after marrying Sisi and helping her apparently reclaim her family's empire during the Time Skip between the climax and epilogue of Firesong.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Rufy Blesh
  • Settle for Sibling: Since Kestrel no longer exists in a physical form, Mumpo settles for her younger sister Pinto instead.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Princess Sisi, though she changes after the end of Slaves of the Mastery.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Maslo Inch, who's burned to death by the Mastery in the opening chapter of Slaves of the Mastery.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Just about all the main characters over the trilogy, some combat based and others gaining wisdom and maturity. Mumpo and Sisi probably have the greatest.
  • Twin Telepathy: Kestrel and Bowman have it, although it fades over long distances. Not just an empathic link, outright telepathy. It's never explained but may be something to do with the psychic potential that later leads them to become Singers.
  • Voice of the Legion: When Bowman destroys the Master he uses the power of The Morah, which is portrayed by hundreds of eyes being visible within his own.
  • Warrior Poet: Rufy again, though he was a poet first and a warrior later.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Pinto in Slaves Of The Mastery and moreso in Firesong. It's easy to forget she's seven.