Reign of Ash: Who Are You When the World Ends?

By Gail Z. Martin

In Ice Forged and my new Reign of Ash, society has collapsed after a devastating war not only destroyed the ruling class and the infrastructure, but also the magic upon which the civilization relied. Along with such overwhelming loss also comes the destruction of something less tangible—all the markers by which individuals determine who they are and where they stand.

Social identity in most societies is determined by a number of markers: who one’s parents are, one’s gender and geographic location, as well as social roles, feudal obligations, nationality, religious/ethnic affiliation, profession, and for fantasy, other categories, such as the ability to do magic.

The Cataclysm that happens in Ice Forged and carries forward into Reign of Ash destroys the old order. There is no authority, no one to dole out punishment or reward. In this void, survivors must decide whether to try to recreate the old order, or remake society into something completely different. Between the war dead and those who died in the Great Fire when magic was destroyed, even the hierarchies in towns and hamlets have been uprooted. People who based identity on their role in a family or a town are left adrift.

In the case of my Ascendant Kingdoms, the king and most of the nobility have been destroyed, and inadvertently, magic along with them. Only two of the former Lords of the Blood, the nobles to whose bloodlines magic was tethered, still exist: one is an unrepentant, convicted murderer and the other is a wraith. From this, Blaine McFadden and his convict friends begin to create a network of alliances that may help them restore order and bring back magic.

What Blaine discovers is that while some seek to restore the old ways at any cost, others see opportunity in the chaos. Social class, feudal obligations, the status quo and the basis of power are all up for grabs. In this vortex, some seek to right old wrongs. Others avenge old grudges.

We forget that freedom is frightening. When all the social structures which help us regulate behaviour and which protect the majority from predators are stripped away, might makes right and most will perish in an every-man-for-himself atmosphere. The tension between community and individual, between personal and corporate identity is always at the heart of social issues, but never so much as when all of society’s structure has been stripped away.

And yet, the void begs for invention and reinvention. During the 1400s, the Black Plague killed so many people, it forced the survivors to renegotiate the bond between landowner and hireling, to revise age-old ways of utilizing land, water and other resources. In general, such an upheaval favors newcomers over the established powers. Everything is up for grabs.

As the society wrestles with big-picture chaos, don’t underestimate the personal turmoil of re-thinking gender and social roles, marriage eligibility and preferences, barter and trade rates, and personal power at every level of society.

Only in such a void could a disgraced lord return from exile to save a kingdom, raise an army, and draw together the living and undead in a bid to restore magic—or die trying.


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