Guest Post: “Chaos and Order: After the Apocalypse” by Gail Z. Martin

Shadow and FlameGail Z. Martin is an author whose books I greatly admire, from her high fantasy adventures that play out in grand imaginary worlds to her urban paranormal novels set in magical versions of our own. Ice Forged, book one of The Ascendant Kingdoms series was my first introduction to her work, so it was no small thing when last month saw the publication of the fourth and final installment, Shadow and Flame! To celebrate the epic conclusion of the series, today we’re pleased to invite Gail to the BiblioSanctum to talk about a fascinating topic–of what it means to build up kingdoms, then to shatter them again.

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by Gail Z. Martin

It’s fashionable in some circles to rail against the idea of government. Government, so the argument goes, just gets in the way and can’t do anything right. The best way to do things, so the argument goes, is through individual effort.

It’s a no-commitment, take-only-what-you-need and pay-as-you-go, a la carte approach. It sounds seductive on paper. There’s just one teensy problem.

It doesn’t work. Every time in history there’s been a blank slate or the end of the world, we realize that a functional central governing body is actually a pretty good idea.

47293-iceforgedChaos and anarchy are good for warlords and predators. Most people are neither of those, and aren’t likely to morph into them. The average person’s best bet lies in people sticking together and creating a central government that provides for the common defense and promotes the general welfare. (I borrowed that phrase from a certain famous document.)

I spend a lot of time thinking about the end of the world. I’m a fiction writer, so pondering the apocalypse is part of my job description. In my Ascendant Kingdoms (Blaine McFadden) Saga, two kingdoms are destroyed by a devastating war that also knocks out the magic upon which they rely. The only guy who might be able to fix it just got sent off to an arctic prison colony.  The fourth and final book in the series, Shadow and Flame, tackles the topic of anarchy head-on.

Chaos ensues. Warlords and wild magic arise. Crops fail, food supplies become scarce, cities become ghost towns. Bandits prey on travelers and refugees. Trade stops. The infrastructure that didn’t get blasted out of existence in the war fails with no one to maintain it. The king and nobility are dead. No one is in charge. And in that power vacuum, opportunists arise. To no surprise, they are looking out only for themselves and their followers. Blaine McFadden becomes a reluctant warlord to save his people and bring the kingdom back from ruin.

The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga is a post-apocalyptic epic fantasy in a medieval setting. We think of urban fantasy with post-apocalyptic stories, but back in the real Middle Ages, they were pretty sure they had seen end of the world in the Black Plague and the multitude of other invasions, catastrophes, natural disasters and epidemics. They knew what it was like to see leadership wiped out, armies unable to fight off the enemy, and the collapse both of civilization and of all the structures that provide law and infrastructure, with no central authority to impose order or efficiently distribute resources.

f047a-reignofashAnd yet when societies have been presented with the rugged-individualist, we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-government opportunity for individuals to go it alone, each and every time the road to rebuilding civilization came through recreating a strong government with a mandate to defend, build and protect a community, not through a loosely-organized band of loners.

Likewise, colonists and settlers who struck out for the ends of the earth planted their flags in places beyond the reach of the governing structures they recognized. This would have been the perfect opportunity to embrace chaos, yet every frontier outpost and far-flung colony that grew beyond a handful of temporary workers knew their survival depended on creating a government to maintain order and to nurture and preserve a functioning community.

See, the flaw in the ‘rugged individualist’ mindset is that it only really works if just a few people are play-acting their radical independence inside a reasonably well-functioning system. It only works for the strong and the healthy, the opportunists and the bullies. For everyone else, anarchy is a death sentence. And as an unspoken assumption, these modern-day neo-anarchists seem to still expect that without a government, the existence of hospitals and roads, infrastructure and satellites, plumbing systems and sewage, internet and medical research would continue unchanged. They’re like teens who scream at their parents to drop dead and then ask to borrow the car keys. They don’t want the rules, but they presume the benefits would still continue.

Of course, all it takes is a good look at any war zone to put the lie to that way of thinking. If anarchy was so great, people would be migrating toward it, not taking desperate measures to flee. And if government haters really wanted their rugged individualism so badly, there are plenty of no-man’s-lands they could move to—but few put their money where their mouth is.

War of ShadowsInterestingly, creating order out of chaos requires someone who functions extraordinarily well in anarchy, who then sets aside the spoils of the victor in favor of creating a government that supports lasting community instead of a winner-take-all system. It takes a hero who can operate outside the rules better than anyone else to reinstate the rules. It requires a warrior ready to set aside the sword, a warlord who renounces the idea of might-makes-right.

Blaine McFadden just might be able to do what it takes, if he survives.

Shadow and Flame, the fourth and final book in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books) is on sale now wherever books are sold.

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Gail Z. Martin is the author of Shadow and Flame (Orbit Books); The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books); Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

She is also author of Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities.  Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures. The Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, Space, Contact Light, With Great Power, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Cinched: Imagination Unbound, Realms of Imagination, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, Gaslight and Grimm, and Robots.

Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and, on Goodreads and  free excerpts on Wattpad

7 Comments on “Guest Post: “Chaos and Order: After the Apocalypse” by Gail Z. Martin”

  1. I have a copy of the Shadowed Path which I’m really looking forward to. Deadly Curiosities has also been on my list for ages – I really do want to read that one!
    Lynn 😀


  2. Pingback: New Cool Stuff! | Disquieting Visions - paranormal and fantasy realms

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