Stalking the Shadow Side


Historian Bruce Catton, in one of his many books about the American Civil War, notes that civilization is a mask, and war gives permission to remove the mask and reveal the beast that always lurks beneath.  I wager that one reason post-apocalyptic stories are so enduring is that the end of the world is one of those times when you find out what you—and your neighbors—are really made of.

Ice Forged is a post-apocalyptic medieval adventure, set in the unlucky kingdom of Donderath.  A devastating war with its neighboring rival has the unexpected—and unintentional—effect of destroying the bonds that made magic a power that could be controlled by people.  Not only is the kingdom devastated by fire and storm, but the magic upon which their culture depended is now no longer controllable.  In the chaos and anarchy that follow, my characters not only find out what they’re made of, but they discover a world that is now theirs to remake.  Of course, they’re not the only ones who have ideas on what the new reality should look like—and that’s when things get interesting.

Whether you call it Catton’s “beast,” Freud’s “Id” or Jung’s “Shadow,” there’s always tension regarding the choices to be made.  Perhaps Dumbledore said it best when he talked about the choice “between what is right, and what is easy.”  Or maybe Babylon 5 was onto something in the dichotomy between the Vorlons, who asked “Who are you?” and the Shadows, who asked “What do you want?”  When there are no rules, no law and no social constraint, men (and women) either rise to be the hero, or sink to their baser nature.  Lord of the Flies is always just one catastrophic power grid failure away.

Blaine McFadden, in Ice Forged, is acquainted with his shadow side.  He killed his father, a minor lord, to stop him from abusing Blaine’s sister.  Blaine expected to die for his crime, but the king was “lenient” and sent Blaine instead to a brutal prison colony in the arctic north, a place from which no one ever returned.  Blaine survived six harsh years, first as an inmate and then as a convict-colonist, during which he learned just what he was made of and what he would do to survive. When the homeland is destroyed and magic fails, Blaine discovers he might be the only one who can restore the magic and put things right.  He’s got a choice to make.

In Donderath, there is no king, no surviving noble heirs, no army—and no magic.  Buildings that had been patched or reinforced with a bit of magic crumble, even if the wild storms and Great Fire don’t destroy them.  People and animals sicken, crops rot in the field because the men went to war and didn’t return, and the sea wall, strengthened by magic, collapses and drowns half the city.  Uncontrolled magic “storms” cause death and havoc with erratic bursts of power, spawning strange beasts that deserve the name of “monster.”  Villages are abandoned as people flee, and travelers become fair game for roving bands of brigands. The shadow side is ascendant.

Blaine and a small group of convicts return in hope of restoring the magic.  They’ve faced their shadows in the chains of Velant, but in the wreckage of their homeland, there’s a new darkness to be reckoned with.  A leaderless kingdom is the type of power vacuum that draws dangerous opportunists, some of whom like the fact that magic doesn’t work—and want to keep it that way.  And Blaine must reckon with the shadows of choices, sacrifices and temptations to see his quest through—or die trying.

I’m enjoying exploring the shadows as Ice Forged kicks off the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga series of books and Reign of Ash follows up in 2014.  And as I write, I keep in mind one more thing that Catton observed: “A certain combination of incompetence and indifference can cause almost as much suffering as the most acute malevolence.”

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