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A six-book fantasy series by Garth Nix concerning two groups of people living in a world of complete darkness, thanks to the Veil, a powerful black shadow that envelops the entire planet and blocks out the sun: the Chosen, a group of light-manipulating magicians who live in a multicolored Castle and believe themselves to be superior to everybody, and the Icecarls, a warrior race eking out an existence on the endless Ice beneath the Castle. The two do not mix (indeed, the Chosen do not even realize the Icecarls exist), but are thrust together when an ancient war between the the people of the Dark World and the spirit realm of Aenir threatens to flare up once again.

The books follow Tal Graile-Rerem, a young boy of the Orange Order of the Chosen, and Milla of the Far-Raiders, an Icecarl girl in training to become a Shield Maiden, as extenuating circumstances force them to rely on and trust one another and they attempt to unravel the ancient secrets surrounding the Castle and the war against Aenir, so long ago.

The books are:

  1. The Fall
  2. Castle
  3. Aenir
  4. Above The Veil
  5. Into Battle
  6. The Violet Keystone

The series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Milla
  • Amazon Brigade: The Shield Maidens of the Icecarls. Although male Icecarl warriors do exist (referred to as Sword Thanes), they are quite rare and generally operate on their own, rather than in groups like the Shield Maidens. (Well, if you want to get technical all non-Crone Icecarls are warriors. Shield Maidens and Sword Thanes are professional warriors).
  • Anime Hair: Tal ends up with a green stripe in his hair thanks to a near escape from a monster in Aenir.
  • Another Dimension: Aenir. Sometimes referred to as the "Spirit World"; a dangerous land full of powerful magic where nothing is as it seems.
  • Anti-Hero: Crow. Type 4 on the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes.
  • Badass Normal: Most non-Crone Icecarls (not Milla, ultimately, as she learns to use sunstone magic starting in the second book), Crow.
  • The Berserker: Do not get in the way of Jarek when the red mist comes over him. Human or Spiritshadow, he will kill you.
  • Big Good: Tal thinks that the Empress is this. It turns out she's just a pawn for Sharrakor, actually helped free him from his imprisonment, and isn't a particularly pleasant or talented person on top of that. She gets killed off unceremoniously. The closest thing to an actual Big Good is probably Ebbitt.
  • Blood Oath: The Icecarls like to seal pacts in this way, and do so by making a triangular cut on each person's wrist and having them mix their blood. Some overlap with Blood Brothers: as it is this kind of oath that ultimately is keeping Milla from killing Tal: "We have shared too much blood."
  • Bond Creatures: Spiritshadows and Shadowguards. Several characters point out the Unfortunate Implications of the practice.
  • Cave Mouth: The Cavernmouths, Aenirean monsters disguised as caves which reach out and devour people with their jaws. You can even see their tonsils.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The corpse Tal and Milla find in the heating tunnels turns out to be the previous emperor. The sunstone he was carrying is the Violet Keystone.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Tal takes over as Emperor of the Chosen at the end of the series.
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Ebbitt
    • Adras has his moments.
    • Lokar while imprisoned in the Red Keystone also has her moments; being trapped perpetually in a tiny crystal with no one to talk to but a spiritshadow can apparently make you a little... odd.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: The Chosen society use their Sunstones (capable of generating light) for just about everything, ranging from throwing around rays of destructive light in battle, to creating Hard Light structures, to healing wounds, to simple etiquette and courtesy (woe betide anyone who is bathed in the White Ray of Disgust, and does not give the Blue Ray of Humble Apology in return).
  • Cool Old Guy: Tal's great-uncle Ebbitt, who says and does many very strange things. However, it appears that he is Obfuscating Stupidity, and his surprisingly extensive knowledge of the Chosen and their Castle comes in very handy on many an occasion.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The seven Keystones, which power the Veil and keep the sun blocked.
  • Crapsack World: The Dark World is permanently cut off from the sun, and outside the Chosen's castle is a desolate, frozen wasteland. Turns out that saving humanity involves keeping it that way.
  • Crystal Prison: In the fourth book, Tal and Crow find the Red Keystone; imprisoned inside of it is its guardian, Lokar.
  • Death Seeker/Driven to Suicide: After getting Odris bound to her, Milla gets pretty darn determined to kill herself near the middle of the series. She never gets the chance to actually do so. She willingly goes into a Dying Dream-like state which will kill her after she delivers her final message.
  • Demonic Possession: What Sharrakor was doing to Sushin.
  • Determinator:
    • Jarek, a berserker Sword Thane, who was once drenched in Norworm blood, giving him blue and Nigh Invulnerable skin. Subverted: after his woman dies, he is unable to find the will to live when fighting a giant robotic bug. The fury never came.
    • Tal; he's just a kid with no real knowledge of what's going on a vague quest to save his family. He is blocked every turn by powerful adults and their cronies, falls thousands of feet onto a tundra he has no idea how to survive in, is forced to make a pact with a girl who really wants to kill him, is captured multiple times, beaten within an inch of his life several times, thinks he killed what few allies he has, has his shoulder dislocated a few times, finds out there is no Big Good, poisoned a few times, and in general never has a real chance to rest or eat for about a few months. He never gives up; he just keeps on moving and fighting.
  • Deuteragonist: Milla, barely. We meet her half a book later than Tal, but from Castle onward she gets about equal pagetime and basically shares the role of protagonist.
  • The Dreaded
    • Sharrakor. Even Ebbitt goes pale when hearing about him, and he's the story's local Crazy Awesome. And that's before we find out he's the Big Bad!
    • Fashnek is this as well.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Ebbitt. He's a brilliant light magician, he knows more about the Castle's secrets than pretty much all the other Chosen, and he's really, really weird.
  • Enemy Mine: Tal and Milla's relationship in a nutshell, at least at first. They really don't like each other for most of the series, but recognize that there are far more dangerous threats out there than each other.
  • Evil Chancellor: Shadowmaster Sushin. One of his many titles is even "the Dark Vizier".
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The Empress and her brother freed Sharrakor from his imprisonment to help them gain domination over the other Chosen. He wound up dominating them.
  • Evil Overlord: Sharrakor used to be this, apparently- his Aeniran title is "Overlord", and he's certainly evil. It turns out most of the plot was set in motion by his gunning for the position again.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Chosen look down on everyone and everything but themselves, most notably the underfolk, Icecarls, and Spiritshadows. The Icecarls, for their part, consider the Chosen to be arrogant weaklings and the Spiritshadows dangerous demons. Nobody is entirely right or wrong in any of these perceptions.
  • Fat Bastard: Sushin
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Being cast out of your clan or devoured by Wreska is seen as this by Icecarls, as the latter is a dishonour both to the clan and the convicted, while the former is to be forgotten forever, to be erased from Icecarl history. You never were an Icecarl. To a Chosen or Underfolk, being sent to the Hall of Nightmares.
  • Fear Is the Appropriate Response: Unlike the overconfident Milla, Tal actually understands there are occasions where running for your life is the only sensible response, and hasn't been raised in a way that makes sensible retreat shameful. Milla does, eventually, learn the value of self-preservation.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Tal and Milla by the end, having come to recognize that while they'll never see eye to eye, their abilities and personalities complement each other and that each can trust the other under fire.
  • Five-Man Band: The group that ultimately goes after Sharrakor fits into this categorization.
  • Functional Magic: The Chosen use sunstones for Device Magic; the Icecarl Crones seem to use a kind of Force Magic, and Aenir is just chock full of Wild Magic.
  • Green Lantern Ring: A sunstone can produce a tremendous array of supernatural effects, if you know how to use it properly.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Fashnek, the operator of the Hall of Nightmares, who lost a large amount of his body in an accident. To keep himself alive, he had his Spiritshadow permanently join with what remained of his body. Considered hideous and vile, an abomination... perfect for the master of nightmares.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Well, okay, maybe not happiness, but the Underfolk have been subservient to the Chosen for so long that most of them can't imagine life being any different. Only a very, very few actively want freedom, and the rest don't seem to be able to wrap their heads around the idea.
  • Headbutting Heroes: This nicely sums up Milla and Tals relationship in a oner. They will work together and even risk their lives to save each other out of a strange mix of pride, necessity and basic moral decency, but Milla actively wants to kill Tal for a good part of the series, and even Tal wants to be rid of Milla as fast as he possibly can. This calms down towards something resembling a Hero-Lancer relationship towards the end, as the two finally mature and come to an understanding with one another. Even by the end, there is still a certain frostiness between the two protagonists though.
  • Hard Light: Light magic can create solid objects out of light.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Crow when he uses cave roach poison to kill Sharrakor in human form.
  • Hero of Another Story: Jarek gives off this vibe.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Icecarl society has a society of warrior women called Shield Maidens, headed by Shield Mothers to whom they look for protection. For spiritual and political guidance they look to the society of Crones.
  • La Résistance: The Freefolk, a group of Underfolk delinquents who desire to overthrow the Chosen and gain freedom for the Underfolk. Currently consists of six members, most of them children.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Milla's reluctance to retreat has put herself and Tal in varying degrees of pain, from getting them hauled off by violet guardsmen to almost getting them smote off a hillside. She's considerably more tactically refined by book five. Tal, for his part, also has a habit of attempting insanely dangerous things without prompting, though he tends to only do so if there's great need (like his attempt to save his little brother.
  • Light'Em Up: The powers of the Chosen.
  • Living Shadow:
    • The Spiritshadows, beings from Aenir that the Chosen bind to themselves as servants in a rite of passage. In Aenir, they take on their true forms, which are many and varied, but in the Dark World they appear as shadows, weakened in darkness and strengthened by light.
    • And shadowguards, the junior version, which act like children's natural shadows come to life. They're much less powerful and exist to keep Chosen kids safe... although Tal's has the opposite effect when he meets the Icecarls, since it identifies him as a hated Chosen.
  • The Magocracy: The Chosen rank themselves largely based on who is best with sunstones and who has the most powerful Spiritshadows. Anyone who has neither is a second-class citizen at best. The Icecarls don't really have a formalized government, but they generally look to the Crones, an order of female magic-users and sages, for leadership.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Sushin appears to be the Big Bad till Sharrakor is revealed to not bound to the empress and plans to destroy the Veil and begin a new war between Aenir and the Dark World.
  • Magical Foreign Words: There is an ancient language that's magical, but is never addressed plot wise.
  • Magic Knight: Milla eventually becomes this, albeit very reluctantly.
  • Mind Rape: The purpose of the Hall of Nightmares. A Fate Worse Than Death for Chosen and Underfolk. Doesn't really work on Icecarls or Tal when he is in it
  • Murder Is the Best Solution:
    • Milla seems a little too eager to kill Tal in their first meetings.
    • Icecarls in general kill first ask questions later. Crones are the exception to that rule.
    • Tal begins to think this near the end of the series after all he has been through.
  • No Indoor Voice: Adras and Odris. Storm Shepherds' normal voices sound like thunderclaps, so even if they're whispering, it sounds quite loud to humans.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Ebbitts eccentricity hides a sharp and creative mind.
  • One-Winged Angel: Inverted. The shapeshifting Sharrakor uses his physically impressive dragon form as a default, and rather than turning into something even worse, at the climax he's forced into a much weaker humanoid form.
  • Overly Long Name: The Kurshken seem fond of these, but have the courtesy to offer alternate names for non-Kurshken to use.

 Quorr Quorr Quorr Quorr Quorr Jak-Quorr Jareskk Yazeqicka ("Yazeq"): "Come, you must be tired. You may rest in our guest roro, or as you may wish to call it: roroqquolleckechahen."

Ebbitt: "I'll say 'roro'..."

  • Our Dragons Are Different: Sharrakor. Though he's not actually a dragon, "just" a shapeshifter who likes to use that form. His true form is a mind-drill.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: There's some damn bizarre things in Aenir. Two prominent characters are Storm Shepherds, powerful giants of cloud and lightning who--as Tal realises--make very powerful Spiritshadows. And they're among the more normal creatures. The really weird ones include Hugthings, rectangles of turf that leap up and squeeze you to death, and Cavernmouths, which are caves that eat you.
  • Proud Warrior Race Girl: Milla, so very very much. Actually, a lot of the Icecarls could be described as such, but Milla is by far the most prominent.
  • Rainbow Motif: The Chosen have eight castes: one for each of the seven colors, with Violet at the top, plus a colorless "Underfolk" caste at the bottom for the servants.
  • Room 101: The Hall of Nightmares, the worst punishment a Chosen can receive: trapped in a neverending nightmare as a form of interrogation and torture. Those who come out alive are mentally scarred for the rest of their lives. Ironically, the machine used to produce these nightmares was originally created to help dispell nightmares.
  • Royal Blood: Averted. Tal becomes emperor not because of his ancestry, but because he mastered the Violet Keystone.
  • Scaled Up: Sharrakor, who reveals his true form as a shadow-dragon when he leaves his host body.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Sharrakor. He was released decades before the series began by the Empress.
  • Single Biome Planet: The Dark World is one large tundra, and nothing else. Justified because, true to its name, it doesn't get any sunlight. At all.
  • Smug Snake: Sushin, who is cunning but too petty and hedonistic to be a true Magnificent Bastard. Of course it turns out that the "Sushin" the reader sees is just a facade put on by Sharrakor.
  • Strange Salute: The Icecarls have a few. To say nothing of the Chosen's many Sunstone-based social customs.
  • Took a Level In Badass:
    • Tal starts the series as a novice at using most sunstone magic, not knowing any combat magics. By the end, he is one of if not the most proficient users of sunstone magic. From a physical abilities stand point, he would go to bed for a week from minor burns at the story's start; by the end, getting his shoulder dislocated, burned, and other burns and bruises, combined with hours of constant sunstone use, does not distract him from his fight. He even comes to the point of being able to kill a suffering royal guard in cold blood with a point blank shot (something even Crow admitted not having the balls to do) and singlehandedly escaping the nightmare chamber by defeating the warden in a mind battle before killing his shadow minions.
    • Milla gets one when she picks up the Talon of Danir, and another when she shows the ability to use light magic at a higher level than the Chosen soldiers.
  • Torture Technician: Variation. Fashnek tortures the mind, not the body.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Sushin is constantly munching on shrimp.
  • Trigger Happy: Tal begins to get like this towards the end due to strain, almost snapping off a red ray of destruction at Crow when he was (uncharacteristically) giving light out of respect. To be fair this was an unheard of gesture from Crow, and last time they met, Crow made a very good attempt at killing Tal.
  • True Companions: What Tal and Milla eventually grow into: neither of them can call the other a friend, and they spent most of the series with a healthy distaste for one another, with Milla frequently desiring nothing more than to fight and kill Tal, and Tal thinking her a violent, if brave, barbarian whom he should ditch at the first opportunity. However, circumstances keep conspiring such that the two need each other, and in the end, a bond of trust develops. See also Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Tal's little brother is used to lure Tal into a trap. Tal escapes this one, but then proceeds to get tricked again, this time using his mother. He is caught this time, to almost disastrous effect.
  • Villain Ball: If Sharrakor had just let Tal have a sunstone he would have won because Tal would never have had to do anything that he did to save his family and in turn the world.
  • The Voiceless: Inkie.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting:
    • Sharrakor, greatest of the Spiritshadows and the only one who has a name, can take many different forms. He generally remains in the form of a massive dragon, because Everything Is Better With Dragons, but he can also assume human form or the form of a Mind Drill, which is capable of Mind Control.
    • Shadowguards, the lesser spiritshadows bound to children, also have this capacity, but no matter what shape they take they're still very weak.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Spiritshadows.