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When the Lore is bruised and broken,Born to set the Herla free.
Shattered like a blasted tree
Then shall Herne be justly woken
The story begins with the birth of the fawn Rannoch on the night his father is murdered by the forces of Drail and Sgorr, a tyrannical pair of deer who have forbidden the yearly play of antlers that ensure a change of leadership. A prophecy surrounds Rannoch's birth: he will become the savior of the deer. If he survives the insane dystopian army in pursuit of him...
Dark, beautiful, and rich in Anyone Can Die, the story's more fantastic elements, namely the epic clash between good and evil, are firmly rooted in the nature of deer.
Not to be mistaken for the other xenofiction series about bringing fire.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Pretty much subverted; the deer are deer. Sgorr's knowledge of sharpening antlers and the like is the one real exception; Rannoch's own advanced aptitude might be justified by his Physical God excuse; see below.
- Anyone Can Die: Based on this book and others, the author seems to be freaking made of this trope. If any character does something remotely kindhearted, expect them to die... soon, horribly, and with much anguish.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: As he dies, Rannoch is called up into the clouds by Herne.
- Author Tract: When Rannoch is cared for by the humans, they drop a whole bunch of exposition about the symbolism of deer.
- Badass: Birrmagnur the reindeer, full stop. Arguably Sgorr, whose hornless status makes him a Handicapped Badass among other stags, but Brechin and several of the Outriders also count. Rannoch and his followers have their moments.
- Big Bad: Drail. Then Sgorr kills him, takes his place, and turns out to be much, much worse.
- Beware the Nice Ones: After Bracken is seriously injured, Rannoch viciously attacks the assassin that did it. He actually wounds him badly enough that despite the assassin escaping, he won't make it back to the herd.
- Bittersweet Ending: Could also be interpreted as a Downer Ending. Rannoch defeats Sgorr but loses several of his closest friends in the final battle. At the very end, his bloodline runs strong through the herd but he wanders alone and old before laying down and dying. But Herne talks to him and draws him into the clouds! That's good ... right?
- Cannot Spit It Out: If Bracken would have told Rannoch he was a changeling child about halfway through the book, it might have saved a lot of lives.
- Continuity Nod: In The Sight, Rannoch appears briefly as a vision to one of the main characters.
- Distinguishing Mark: Rannoch's oak leaf. Willow's twin sister Peppa also has a black mark on her ear that helps tell her apart from Willow.
- Dystopia: Sgorr's building one, all right.
- Empathic Healer: Rannoch.
- Enemy Mine: The wolves save the Outriders in the ending battle.
- Eye Scream: Sgorr engineers the death of an enemy deer by having him get a antler through the eye during a marking ceremony.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Rannoch gets this in spades, because even the deer are after him. Also brutally subverted when Sgorr's forces start killing all the other forest animals en masse via "The Cleansing."
- Fantasy Pantheon: Herne the forest god, and Starbuck the Folk Hero.
- Fictionary: The Herla are deer, the Lera are all other animals, a brailah is a hedgehog (and an insult), and so on.
- Five-Man Band:
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Everyone's got 'em, but Sgorr's is the most pronounced, because his invokes Eyepatch of Power.
- Heel Face Turn: When Bracken tells Rannoch that he's a changeling, he realizes the Prophecy is true. He gives himself over to fate and starts setting the last parts of the Prophecy in motion.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Bracken.
- Humans Are Bastards: A lot of the story and Rannoch's visions parallel real-life Scottish history and warfare, but the Prophecy's most outrageous line claims that Rannoch shall summon man to fight for him. It's right.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: The deer are routinely horrified and baffled by the weird ways of man. Sgorr wants to be just like them, which is what makes him so dangerous.
- Karmic Death: Sgorr is killed by the human who cared for Rannoch as a fawn, proving the last part of the Prophecy super-right.
- Mythopoeia: Starbuck's stories abound, but by the end of the book the reindeer have a story about Santa Claus.
- The Nameless: The assassin sent to kill Rannoch.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Drail and Sgorr, anyone? There's even a youth army for the fawns...
- ...that are encouraged to spy on their parents, no less! Sgorr also embarks on a "cleansing" that involves slaughtering any animal that isn't a deer.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions - In Sgorr's herd, if you haven't, you're probably dead.
- Physical God: It's heavily implied that Rannoch is the living incarnation of Herne.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Rannoch himself resists the Prophecy for about 3/4ths of the book, namely because some of the more ambiguous lines like "Sacrifice shall be his meaning" freak him out. Sgorr, on the other hand, dismisses the Prophecy outright because he's dead set on driving all superstition out of his followers.
- Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: When the Lore is bruised and battered, shattered like a blasted tree...
- Red Shirt: Sometimes it seems like even the characters who get development are this. See Anyone Can Die.
- Scenery Porn: You will live, breathe, and walk ancient Scotland.
- Shout-Out: Richard Adams's review of the book is on the back cover.
- Shown Their Work: Something fierce. The author lived in a cabin in a park for a couple of winters, watching the red deer and the wolves that populated the park the cabin was in.
- Theme Naming: Several characters (Rannoch, Brechin, Tain and Bankfoot, for example) are named after places in Scotland.
- Took a Level In Badass: Bankfoot, the previously weak, stuttering fawn. By the end of the book he's an Outrider.
- Town with a Dark Secret: The Park, and the Slave Herd.
- The Trickster: Starbuck.
- Twin Switch: Adult Willow and Peppa use this to great effect to rescue Bankfoot.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: A good bunch of the Sgorrla believe this, but not really Sgorr himself.
- The Voiceless: The Assassin, who never speaks throughout the entire book.
- Waif Prophet: Rannoch, when he's little.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Willow does this to Rannoch right before his Heel Face Turn because he won't fight to help stop Sgorr.
- Xenofiction: Eat your heart out, Bambi!
- You Can't Fight Fate: Rannoch really tries, though.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Sgorr does this to Drail.