Literature: Chronicles of the Kencyrath aka: To Ride A Rathorn
P.C. Hodgell's own artwork depicting heroine Jame atop the Tower of Bats in the city of Tai-tastigon.
"But if I should become Regonereth, the Ivory Knife incarnate, destroying everything I touch, everything I love—well, I'll do what I was born to do, break what needs to be broken, and then break myself."
— Jame, To Ride a Rathorn
P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the KencyrathHigh Fantasy series consists of seven novels and a short story collection so far:
Dark of the Moon
To Ride a Rathorn
Bound in Blood
Sea of Time (published June 2014)
Blood and Ivory: A Tapestry (collection)
They follow Jame, a young woman of the non-human Kencyr people with an uncertain past who attracts disaster and destruction seemingly by her very existence. She's a catlike, acrobatic Action Girl with, she soon discovers, extraordinary ability in unarmed combat and dances that seem to have a hypnotic, magical effect on the watcher.At first, she takes cautious root in the great city of Tai-tastigon, where she joins the Thieves' Guild, learns more about her people, experiments with the nature of divinity, and in general finds herself during the first book, God Stalk. The second book, Dark of the Moon, sees Jame setting about finding her long-separated twin brother and their people, and along the road learning much more of what she is and her place in the long tragedy of their history. The third book, Seeker's Mask, finds Jame almost destroyed from trying to fit into the cage her people expect her to live in, and breaking out and, painfully, finding a new place, which the following books, To Ride a Rathorn, Bound in Blood, and Honor's Paradox have her taking on and learning the responsibilities and duties attached to a Military Academy and the world. There is also a short story collection, Blood and Ivory, where the short stories mainly fill in the world and its background. Several of these are now regarded as non-canonical.The series manages to be simultaneously Trope Overdosed and full of fantasy clichés and yet packed with imagination, new ideas, and twists on the ones we're used to. Hodgell tosses ideas casually into the story that could be the basis for whole novels from another author, but here are just little details of the setting. While other writers have people who perform magic, Hodgell's whole world is magical down to the core of its nature, and full of wonders to discover.While the series is sometimes incredibly gloomy, it is also, at times, hilariously funny. Both the author and her characters manage to see absurdity in even the darkest places, and Jame, always a very physical heroine, is a rich source of slapstick physical comedy as well as wry thoughts.These books have had a spotty and very drawn-out publication history and have been hard to find, leading to a small, cultish fanbase; recently, though, she's been picked up by Baen Books and the older books have been re-released, including ebook formats.Less central character-specific tropes are being moved to the character page. There is also a Wild Mass Guess page for crazy theories.
This work provides examples of:
A-Cup Angst: Jame mentions being flat-chested enough that it's clear she feels a lack. The master thief she's apprenticed to in the first book believes she's a boy the whole time—even when she strips naked to the waist in front of him. He's an old man with very poor sight, but still.
Abusive Parents: Ganth—dear lord, Ganth! Take a look at Tori and Jame and remember the only reason Jame is as well-balanced as she seems is because she got away from him early—that's right, the twin that lived in Perimal Darkling, the heart of evil, is better adjusted. Ganth's father also counts.
Probably Caldane as well, though how much he considers Graykin his son is debatable as the Kencyr attitude towards illegitimate children is that they don't have relatives. Rawneth might count as well, though she'd be more of an Abusive Grandparent towards Shade—maybe.
The scholars' and singers' academy, Mount Alban, which goes wandering the weirdingstrom in Seeker's Mask (to the delight of the bevy of scholars aboard).
Action Girl: Jame. More action than everyone else put together, it seems. (Though a number of female cadets, especially Brier Iron-Thorn, come in for their share as well.)
Alternative Calendar: An appendix to God Stalk describes the Tastigon calendar, which appears to generally be in use everywhere. The year is 360 days plus one intercalary day, the Feast of Fools, which is not counted or shown on any calendar. Weeks are ten days long, and the seasons are not of equal length; summer and winter are 120 days each, while spring and autumn are only 60 days. The Kencyr count years from their arrival on Rathillien, just over 3,000 years ago, and Kencyr years tend to be stated minus the thousand number; the current year as of the most recent book, Honor's Paradox, is shown as '64'.
Anti-Hero: Of the Type II (Disney Anti-Hero) type. Jame's strong senses of honor and right keep her solidly a heroine, but she's dark, dangerous, sometimes callous and cruel, with a scary ability for destruction.
Arc Number: Three, and multiples of three, are a recurring motif of the Kencyrath.
The Kencyr creator deity is the Three-Faced God, personifiying respectively creation (Torrigon), preservation (Argentiel) and destruction (Regonoreth).
Ominously, the ruling House Knorth has only three surviving full-blood members, literally a sign of the apocalypse.
Three races of the Kencyrath: Highborn, Kendar and Arrin-Ken.
Three objects of power: The Book Bound in Pale Leather, the Serpent-Skin Cloak and the Ivory Knife.
Three professional colleges that operate independently of the feudal structure (one doesn't, in fact, but its patronage by House Randir is a bad thing): the Scrollsmen's College, the Priests' College and the Randon College.
Multiples of three: nine (3x3) great houses whose lords comprise the High Council; nine temples to the Three-Faced God built across Rathillien; twenty-seven (3x3x3) is the age at which a highborn kencyr is a legal adult.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Or at least, the system in the Kencyr is evil, even if not all the aristocrats really are. Jame, and her twin brother Torisen to a lesser extent, are both frequently disgusted by the behavior of their own Highborn caste.
Arranged Marriage: The norm among the Highborn. Marriage contracts are often time-limited, or tell if children are expected.
Arrow Catch: Randiroc easily catches an arrow in To Ride a Rathorn—but then, he's pretty much the only living Kencyr with combat skills that can match heroine Jame's former teacher Tirandys.
Assimilation Academy: The Women's Halls at Gothregor. The girls and young women sent there are not only taught the secrets of the "Women's World", they're also taught to behave as befits a Highborn female, which means to accept that their only real purpose is being married off to further their house's ambitions. Jame doesn't take kindly or well to it; the Jaran don't send their daughters there unless the girl wants to go. The Priests' College also has this as a goal.
Automaton Horses—averted. Hodgell became an equestrian in order to write about horses accurately, and lessons in the care and tending of horses feature fairly prominently at Tentir, especially for originally horse-phobic Jame.
Shade is a Changer. All such we've previously seen have been corrupted by Perimal Darkling. Shade, however, had Changer blood from birth, not by her own volition, and this means she is not automatically corrupted since she didn't choose it.
Torisen's powers are more neutral, but he's convinced they're bad.
Battle Cry: Each Kencyr house has its own battle-cry. The Knorth one, the house of Jame and her twin Torisen, is the cry of a rathorn, a sound which appears to (magically?) strike terror into opponents.
Bar Brawl: In Peshtar near the beginning of Dark of the Moon.
Bee Bee Gun: In To Ride a Rathorn, Jame and Gari jointly kill someone with a swarm of bees, summoned by his Shanir power and guided into the victim's mouth and down their throat by Jame.
Being Tortured Makes You Evil: The Dark Judge, an Arrin-ken who was badly tortured. Subverted in that it is still an enemy of the torturer, instead it went mad and nihilistic.
The Berserker: Harn. Jame's father Ganth. Marc inverts it, by faking berserker fits so he can avoid having to fight.
Bifauxnen: Jame is constantly mistaken for a boy. Her one feminine feature is long hair, but it's normally hidden under a cap. She's flat chested and skinny and doesn't eat enough. She's also officially or legally regarded as male a bunch of times. She gets mistaken constantly for her twin brother, too.
Inverted in Bound in Bloodwhen Tori is mistaken a couple of times for her.
Also Kirien, who also is legally regarded as male. But in her case, only a few know she's a she.
Bear is a type 1 big guy, but with the gruff, scarred, and withdrawn traits taken to extremes.
The entire house of the Coman, and maybe Brandan as well.
Big Screwed-Up Family: Technically, the entire Kencyrath can be described as this. The Randir and the Caineron are probably the worst, being rife with corruption and in-fighting, but the Ardeth has plenty as well. The Knorth would easily qualify if they hadn't been so screwed up earlier that they near managed to destroy themselves (though they did have outside help).
Blessed with Suck: Some Shanir (God-touched, magical) powers. They almost always lead to ostracism, too.
Bane in Seeker's Mask. Primarily because possessed bodies slowly fall apart in the riding. Partly because it amuses him.
In Bound in Blood, The Burned Man rides the body of an unfortunate Merikit ceremony participant until he crumbles to ash.
Indicated to be a favorite technique of Rawneth, Matriarch of Randir. She sometimes lets go before riding her mount to death.
Bond Creatures: Although it has more to do with the ability of the human, and right place/right time. In To Ride a Rathorn Jame becomes one of "the Falconeers", a dozen or so cadets who all have bond creatures, and who are taught by The Falconer, who is himself bound to a merlin note a small breed of falcon.
Brown Note: The cry of a rathorn, and the Knorth battle-cry that's based on it, induces terror in those who hear it. The Knorth appear to be immune to it.
Cat Girl: Jame is very cat-like, although the only physical similarities are her clawed hands and her dangerous purring voice when aroused. (The fact that she has a Non-Human Sidekick hunting cat also helps.)
In the Alternate Universe story "Child of Darkness", the similarity of Kencyr to cats is played up with the use of such terms as "pack," "toms", and "kittens" (though the terms are used for people in general, not just Kencyr).
It is in fact mentioned explicitly, at one point, that the Highborn and Kendar both used to be much more like the Arrin-ken (the highly sentient, highly magical, giant black panthers that used to serve as the balance of their race) in both body and mind.
The Chosen One: Or rather three. It is implied that there have been other chosen ones earlier, but that they've been un-balanced, missing one or more of the roles.
Clucking Funny: Thanks to a hilarious chicken-chase scene in Restormir in Seeker's Mask.
Compelling Voice: A Shanir power. All Highborn can compel their bound followers, but Jame proves able to command other Highborn and powerful Shanir as well, as does Torisen. In his case, as Highlord, all the Kencyr are his bound followers. Commands can cause permanent effects, or they can "break" the person commanded if the command is degrading or dishonorable enough.
In To Ride a Rathorn, Gorbel managed to not only compel another Highborn, but the struggle caused the command to be permanent—the poor victim continuously tried to stand on his head from then on, unless he was physically restrained.
Jame does it twice, in the same book, to two different people: she tells the Randir Tempter to "Never touch me again!" and the woman is physically unable to touch her from then on even when Rawneth is riding her and has control of her body; and when she's told by a Highborn Lord to give Brier a command that she knows full well would break her (ostensibly as a training exercise), she snaps at the Lord, "Back off!" He does—literally. Right out of a third-story window. As is the case with Gorbel's victim, it's permanent: he continues to back up unless he's physically restrained.
Conflicting Loyalty—so many; after all, this is what "honor's paradox" is all about. Jame and Torisen especially seem to cause this a lot, because they are so personable as to sway many whose loyalty is to lords opposed to the Knorth. Many Randir are also torn by this—see Enemy Civil War below.
Cool Gate: Mother Ragga's house's doors open wherever in the world she chooses, sometimes very conveniently indeed.
Covers Always Lie: With Jame being repeatedly and emphatically described as a flat-chested girl in the text, one has to wonder what part of "skinny elf-girl" the latest◊ cover◊ artist◊ is having so much trouble with.
Creation Sequence: Averted with Kin-Slayer (it's forged anew off-screen), but Marc's glass-making effort has been going on for several books now.
Cryptic Background Reference: Part of the charm of Godstalk is that Jame knows much of the history of the Kencyrath and occasionally makes oblique references to it, but does not elaborate on it, presumably because she already knows it. This is slowly being expanded upon in the later books.
Dance Battler: For the Kencyr, their ritual dance, the Senetha, is a twin to their martial arts, the Senethar, and both have the same four disciplines.
Dance Line: A very creepy one in Seeker's Mask. Most of the priest's college had been in one for days, killing many of them while they kept dancing.
Dark and Troubled Past: For Jame and to a slightly lesser extent twin brother Torisen. Both were raised in exile by an Ax-Crazy father; Jame got kicked out at age seven after showing her Shanir (God-touched) nature by developing claws; Torisen ran away at age fifteen, in fear that his father would eventually kill him (and ended up being captured and extensively tortured by savages during a war). Jame ran straight into minions of the Big Bad and was raised in his house, something she doesn't mention much.
Dream Land: Every Kencyr has a soulscape which can be accessed during sleep, regular or dwar. Jame and Tori, as twins, frequently shared each other soulscapes as children (much to Tori's chagrin and occasionally Jame's mild embarrassment, they still do). The fifth book confirms that all of the soulscapes are linked during sleep, although knowingly traveling between them is rare. Shanir Healers work by determining the soulscape of the injured person and repairing damage to it.
Easy Amnesia: Jame enters the first book at the approximate age of seventeen not remembering a thing since the time, aged seven, her father cast her out of his keep to die. However, all of the skills she learned during that time remain. Over the course of five books so far, some details of that time have floated to the surface, but most of it still remains hidden to her. It's likely that magical / supernatural reasons are behind the amnesia, and it may or may not have been deliberately caused; we are left wondering what other secrets are hidden in her past, and what might have been done to her mind.
Elemental Powers: The four native gods of Rathillien: Old Man Tishooo (wind), Mother Ragga (earth), The Burnt Man (fire), and The Eaten One (water). All of the Four were once human, but became something more. The native gods do have quite a bit of agency and sentience, but how much of it comes from their human roots is unclear.
The four disciplines of the Senetha and Senethar: earth-moving, water-flowing, fire-leaping and wind-blowing.
Ensign Newbie: Jame, Gorbel, and Timmon, in To Ride a Rathorn. Despite being the randon (officer) cadet with probably the least military knowledge in the whole school, Jame is appointed Master Ten of her house's cadets (approx 90 cadets) due to her status, and has absolutely no idea what to do, or even where to start. Gorbel has some command experience when he is put in the same position, but noone takes him seriously, since he's "obviously" there as a political statement from his father. Timmon is the most capable and experienced, but has an attitude problem: he doesn't listen to his subordinates at all, and evades all "un-fun" stuff.
The Exile: In the backstory: Ganth, and then Torisen from Ganth. Kendar, like Marc, without a lord to follow. Several women, including Rawneth, Jame, and Kallystine have been exiled from the Women's World.
The Senethar — appears to be a Wu Shu-like style with hard and soft aspects and four elemental styles
Kothifiran street fighting appears to be an analogue of Capoeira with its cartwheels and emphasis on foot strikes, as seen in Sea of Time.
Fantasy Contraception: It's mentioned offhand that Highborn women can control their fertility. However, the social structure frequently puts them in social situations where they must use this control as part of a marriage contract, either having a child or not, regardless of what they would prefer. Kendar women can do the same, but not with a Highborn lover, which results in a number of half-Kendar children with mixed blood.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Kencyr have a lot of Jewish inspiration, being monotheists in a polytheist world, and having a tough, unforgiving God who cares more about obedience than faith or love. They have Temples and Books of Law and quite a bit of the whole Kabbalah-like secret knowledge in the priesthood, and they're wandering tribes who don't fit in where they live, far from their long-ago-lost homeland. On the other hand, their honor code, ritual suicide, and martial arts have Japanese inspiration, the cloistering and covering-up of Highborn women is rather reminiscent of Islam, and their God is a Trinity of three gods in one person as per Christianity or Hinduism.
A depiction of this map in stained glass is important in Seekers Mask(Jame shatters it) and Bound in Blood(Marc learns glassworking to rebuild it). Authorial discussion suggests that in a later book the act of repairing this map brings home to Mother Ragga and other characters just how much of Rathillien has already been lost to Perimal Darkling when Ragga discovers there are parts of Rathillien she can no longer reach.
The forging of which is detailed from the author's experience as a stained-glass artist herself.
The map happens to be largely circular, but this is intentional; Perimal Darkling has swallowed up much of the world, leaving only a slice of it still free.
Fate Worse than Death / Soul Jar: The Highborn can ask another to hold their soul for them. The primary reason one would perform such an act is to allow a newly-soulless warrior to commit dishonorable acts without actually being responsible for them in the afterlife, as his soul had nothing to do with them, and he is expected to commit suicide as penance when his soul is restored (or to be physically killed by the sinless soul and sinful body mutually annihilating). As a secondary effect, it makes the Highborn very very hard to kill. When asked why it's a bad thing, Jame dryly notes that it's a good idea to allow for death as an option.
This is very graphically depicted in the death of Bane on the Mercy Seat. Normally, people on the Mercy Seat only survive so long into the flaying and dismemberment. When you can't die...
Fictional Holiday: Those generally celebrated appear to be the turning points of the seasons and the solstices, placed exactly halfway in the longer winter and summer seasons. Both the Tastigon and the Kencyr celebrate the intercalary day (see Alternative Calendar above); in Tai-tastigon it is called the Feast of Fools, and is a Saturnalia-like orgy of excess and freedom, while in Tentir, the Kencyr military academy, it is called the Day of Misrule, where the normal rules of Tentir are suspended and anyone who grabs the scarf from around a cadet's or officer's neck can command them. The Tastigon also celebrate (or fear) the Feast of Dead Gods, which occurs during the night after Autumn's Eve.
Fight Magnet: Jame. For some she is an easily underestimated target: a skinny, deceptively weak-looking girl; for some she is a freak: a female Highborn who goes with her face uncovered and isn't safely sequestered and controlled in the Women's World; for some more it's due to antipathy against her house and her brother.
Fire-Forged Friends: Jame and Gorbel, although he hides it. Even though his father wants nothing more than for Jame to be killed or ruined, he refuses to kill Jame even when she begs for it.
Fire Purifies: Fire is one of the few reliable ways to kill corrupted beings like Haunts and Changers, and usually the most practical. Also, until the body of a Kendar or Highborn is burned, their spirit is bound to the world although we find in books three and four that the blood in death banners bind those Highborn and Kendar so immortalized, until the death banner itself is burnt.
Five Races: The five sentient races on Rathillien fit this trope pretty well:
Stout (Dwarf)—The Kendar (not small, but otherwise they fit the archetype closely).
Fairy (Smaller Elf)—The Arrin-ken fit the 'most magical' part of this stereotype; they're sentient big cats who communicate telepathically and have extremely long lifespans.
Mundane (Human)—The native people of Rathillien.
High Men (Taller Elf or Human)—The Highborn, who are gracile, charismatic, long-lived, prone to magical abilities, and believe themselves superior to everyone else.
Cute (Hobbit/Moogle/Gnome etc)—The Builders (we don't know much about them, since they were already extinct before the story opens, but they were certainly hobbit-sized, and the evidence Jame found in their city suggests they liked parties ... and the crystals she gave to Caineron seem to have been intended as a practical joke).
Fluffy the Terrible: Played with, when Jame tries to find a name for her blood-bound rathorn colt (a carnivorous and deadly armored unicorn, basically). She suggests "Snowball" and "Buttercup" for the element of surprise, but he prefers "Death's-head".
Freakiness Shame: Jame's claws, which are a major source of shame for her and most Highborn.
Genre Shift: The first book, God Stalk, reads as Low Fantasy, and the larger High Fantasy plot only really starts to be noticeable in the second book, Dark of the Moon. Some readers didn't like the change.
Have You Seen My God?: At the beginning of the series, the Kencyrath have not heard anything from their God in thousands of years, but it's implied that this is not the first time this has happened.
Healing Factor: The Kencyr possess tremendous powers of regeneration, albeit requiring dwar sleep, a period of hibernation where one is insensate to the world. Broken bones, lost teeth, and terrible illnesses are all shaken off within days of dwar sleep. Without proper medical care, this will result in crooked bones and scarring from the body setting in place. This becomes a plot point in Seeker's Mask.
The Hecate Sisters: The pommel of the Ivory Knife has three faces on it, Maiden, Mother and Crone. Jame sees herself in the Maiden and her mother in the Mother, and sometimes in the Crone.
Hellish Horse: Rathorns are carnivorous armored unicorns matching many of these tropes, being fanged, double-horned (nose and forehead), red-eyed, and armored with ivory-like plates on head, neck, chest and forelegs. The armor plates continue to grow as long as the rathorn is alive, so the really old ones are also in constant pain and likely to smother in their own armor. They are notorious man-killers with really bad tempers, and are generally some combination of black and white, from all-black to all-white or various combinations.
Hero-Worshipper: Lyra, of Jame. Lyra's a sheltered and spoiled girl from a rich family, and Jame is absolutely the coolest person she's ever met. She begins to regard Jame as the "sister of her choice", and as the Cool Big Sis in many respects. Lyra starts to grow a backbone and a sense of responsibility by trying to emulate Jame.
Though she still comes across as quite lacking in wits, as when she appears in Bound In Bloodand ends up eating half of a letter Jame would dearly have loved to have kept, as a misplaced gesture of discretion.
Setting: Check. Rathillien and the Chain of Creation are most definitely not our world, although there are parallels; Tai-tastigon, for instance, has obvious inspirations both in the real world and in pre-existing fantasy fiction. On the other hand, the world has hidden depths, and the Kencyr certainly do.
Scale: Check. Suitably epic, even though it's seen from a human scale with very few viewpoint characters. The doings of nations, the fulfilling of ancient prophecies, gods walking the earth (or at least the avatars of them), the possible last great battle between order and chaos—it's all here.
Great evil: Check. Perimal Darkling is a corrupting influence inimical to life as we know it, so definitely. Gerridon and the Changers are a slightly more human-scale set of bad guys.
Methods: Cautious Check. While we're nowhere near the end of the series, the Kencyr cannot defeat their ancient enemy through force of arms. Something bigger and wilder has to happen, involving both their triune God manifest in physical avatars and possibly the ancient, wild powers of Rathillien as well.
Functional Magic: Check, though some magical things are more innately magical than acts of magic. The Shanir talents of the Kencyr and the magical practices of native Rathillien both qualify.
Well, there is the 'Defeat Perimal Darkling' Quest, however in order for that to happen the Three-Faces-of-God need to manifest, and in order for that to happen the three meant to manifest need to go through some character development, and in order for that to happen smaller personal quests need to happen...so everything that happens is working on that prophecy we read in book one.
Honor Before Reason: The Highborn are very obsessed with personal honor. Accusing a Highborn of lying is likely get you killed. Of course, the more villainous of the Highborn have learned exactly how to use the letter of the law rather than the spirit.
The Kendar are in a somewhat worse position of physically and mentally needing a highborn master.
Horsing Around: Jame's bound rathorn, Death's-head, is very prone to this; he likes to challenge Jame and show that he isn't subservient, even if he's bound to her.
Human Mom, Non-human Dad: Graykin, with a human mother and Caldane, a highborn, as father. Kenan, Lord Randir, with a highborn mother and a changer as father.
I Am Not My Father: This is a motivation and a source of conflict for many of the Tentir cadets, and others:
Timmon, after he learns the truth about his father rather than the lies he's always been told.
Torisen, who is very determined to not be his father, but worries that he might turn into him.
Shade, with her Changer blood, is determined to do right yet worried that it leaves her cursed, Fallen.
Gorbel, whose earliest memory is his father killing his mother.
Jame herself, in her determination to be a force for good and not a tool for Gerridon like her mother.
"If I had a piece of chalk, I could work it out on a wall, if I had a wall."
Immortality Immorality: Gerridon selling his people out to Perimal Darkling, the Big Bad, for immortal life is a pretty classic version of this trope. He wipes out two-thirds of his people, mostly so their souls can be harvested to keep him alive ...
In the Blood: Shanir (magical) abilities are inherited, and attempts to breed them stronger have left some skeletons in the genetic closet. The Kencyr "royal" house, the Knorth, are especially badly off there, with both exceptional Shanir power and a really bad trait of inherited insanity being passed down. Torisen, in particular, is terrified that the madness infects him and that he might end up like his father. Meanwhile, one especially Blessed with Suck Shanir power they both inherit is blood-binding, which is literally in the blood; someone who consumes their blood will be bound in service to them, mind, body and soul, to death and perhaps beyond.
One would think that the propensity for sibling marriages contributes to the appearance of inherited insanity.
It is implied that it is more the power that does so. Powerful Shanir are closer to their God than thee and their god is not human in the least.
Brenwyr is also another example of a breeding gone wrong.
However in both cases, it certainly doesn't help that there are malignant entities stirring the pot.
Internal Reveal: Jame gives several in Honor's Paradox, but the most important is the last line in the book, when she reveals her full name to Tentir and thus (sooner or later) the entire Kencyr.
Invulnerable Horses: very much averted here, especially in the mounted combat at the end of Honor's Paradox; Death's-head finds attacking the opposing horses more productive than the riders; they scare more easily and provide bigger targets. Several die, almost all the others are wounded.
Kill It with Fire: About the only way to kill a Changer. Tirandys tells Jame, "Fire will kill me, if it kindles my blood. We changers scorned death, and now each one of us is his own pyre, waiting for the first spark." It is also one of the better ways to get rid of Haunts (this world's zombies).
Last of Her Kind: Jame is the last female of her house, the Knorth, since someone hired assassins to murder the rest. Since Highlords have to be pure-blooded Knorth, the only way there can be another generation is Twincest. Or maybe not; in Bound in Blood it is revealed that there's a third full-blood Knorth, double first cousin Kindrie, the son of Jamethiel's brother Gerridon and Ganth's sister Tieri.
Living Shadow: Willow is a dead little girl whose bones are found by Torisen, but her spirit is still around and casts a shadow. As it turns out, she's Marc's younger sister and he proceeds to safekeep her bones from fire so that he can keep her near to him at the cost of barring her from the afterlife.
Long Lost Sibling: Jame and Tori were separated at age 7 and don't meet again until he's in his early thirties; about ten fewer years have passed for her because she's spent time on planes of existence where time passes more slowly. They both have a lot of problems getting used to having a sibling.
The Lost Woods: Several examples. The Anarchies swallows most of a brigand band. The Weald. The heart of the wood outside Hurlen. But most of the woods in Rathillien have a smidge of it.
Lottery Of Doom: In the Merikit feast at the Spring Equinox in honor of the Eaten One, a fish carved out of rock crystal is added to the fish stew served to the residents of the Maidens' Lodge. The unlucky girl who finds it in her stew is the chosen sacrifice to the Eaten One that year.
Low Fantasy: Although the overall structure of the series is High Fantasy, God Stalk, the first book, is a Low Fantasy introduction to the heroine with a fair degree of foreshadowing of the larger plot to come. The Genre Shift in the second book alienated some readers, although many Low Fantasy traits remain, including many gray shades of morality.
Magic Dance: The Kencyr ritual dance, the Senetha, is magically powerful; the energies of a Kencyr temple are channeled through dance, and magic can be performed thereby. Jamethiel Dream-Weaver reaped the souls of two-thirds of the Kencyr Host through dance during the Fall, and Jame shows the same level of ability.
Martyrdom Culture: The Kencyr. They are more than half in love with death and dying with honor.
Meaningful Name: P.C. Hodgell has said in interviews that she often comes up with names this way, by thinking of a quality the character has and finding words to suit it, sometimes shifting them slightly to make a better name:
Bane—Very appropriate given the darkness of his nature, and what happens with his soul. He's Jame's dark shadow throughout the first novel, and some later on.
Brier Iron-thorn—appropriate given her solid strength and prickly exterior.
Mercy Kill / I Cannot Self-Terminate: After a battle, it is the duty of a high-ranking Kencyr officer to follow his empathic link to any Kendar he has bound, culling the fatally wounded. A Kencyr who could commit suicide themselves in such a situation would do so, but if they are unable to, they are assisted.
Metamorphosis: the wyrm Beauty undergoes a transformation, and Jame recognizes what it becomes.
Mind Rape: Kindrie suffers this at the hands of Rawneth. It is a large part of the training at the Priest's College at Wilden.
Mounted Combat: Jame's penultimate challenge at Tentir is mounted combat—alone against against eight enemies. Fortunately, nothing specified what she had to be mounted upon ...
Moral Myopia: Many of the Kencyr Highborn; the Ardeth are particularly noticeable in that regard, since they're not generally on the side of ill, yet are very blind to the things they do to others.
My Master, Right or Wrong: Tirandys, wholly aware of the wrong his Master does, but duty-bound to follow him. However, his honor only binds him to obey Gerridon's Exact Words; he deliberately interprets his orders in whatever way will gain his Master least advantage.
The original Jamethiel (and probably several of the other Changers, at least originally) count as well.
Averted in Dark of the Moon when the original Jamethiel decides to die and fall into the abyss rather than harm her daughter, Jame.
This trope makes up one of the important themes running through the books and referred to as "Honor's Paradox": what do you do if you are ordered to do something dishonorable? Made explicit in the opening chapter of Seeker's Mask, when Jame badly flummoxes a young instructor and her class with the tale of Jamethiel's fall from grace.
Mystical White Hair: Many Shanir, though neither Jame nor Tori is an example. Kindrie, however, is.
Monumental Theft: Jame in God Stalk, and Penari, her master in the Thieves' Guild. Neither steals for money, but for the challenge of it; she regularly steals the most worthless thing in a well-guarded place, and Penari uses the giant uncut diamond he stole in impossible circumstances, the Eye of Abarraden, as a paperweight.
Naked People Are Funny: The whole sequence in Dark of the Moon in which Jame escapes the bad guys stark naked and comes across Graykin and then Lyra in the empty palace of Karkinaroth. It's funny precisely because Jame is so blasé about her nudity and the others so bothered by it; even more so because what bothers Lyra the most is that Jame, who she recognizes immediately as a full-blooded Highborn woman, is not wearing a mask as custom dictates. So she gives Jame a mask and then they sit talking and eating with Jame otherwise naked.
Nay-Theist: Jame. This is largely what drives her experiments with divinity in God Stalk, to satisfy her curiosity—since she lacks reverence for the deities, she is able to study them clinically.
Honestly, most of the Kencyrath are like this. They respect and to an extent revere their god, but like the thing? Not in a million years.
Near-Rape Experience: Ganth, with his seven-year-old daughter. One of the things that finally pushes him over the edge to total Ax-Crazy-ness.
Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Jame often defeats armed foes bare-handed and is initially not keen on blades at all. Later, she develops more of a taste for them and wears a knife-fighter's jacket and boot knife. She still does not like swords, until Bound in Blood, when she finds a bladed weapon she can think of as extensions of her own claws.
Ninja: The Shadow Guild assassins, who are definitely notHighly-Visible Ninja, literally; they tattoo their bodies including their eyeballs with the juice of the invisible mere plant, which makes them invisible themselves once it is completed. Initiates wear clothing made from the fibers of the same plant.
Non-Human Sidekick: Jorin, Jame's blind ounce (a medium-sized spotted big cat) is pretty much her only constant companion. Sometimes he's useful, sometimes he needs to be rescued, and sometimes he's comic relief. It's likely that Death's Head will take on a similar role as well (albeit requiring less in the way of rescuing). Jame and Jorin share limited sensory input—he's aware of what she sees, she can sometimes sense what he hears or smells.
Also, the Wolver Yce for Tori in the fourth and fifth books, and the wyrm "Beauty" for a Darkling Changer and, judging from Bound in Blood, potentially Graykin in the future.
No Periods, Period: In four novels covering several years of Jame's life, absolutely no mention. Justified in that Highborn women are able to control conception at will, and possibly the entire menstrual and reproductive cycle; thus, there may be no periods because Jame doesn't have them. Another possibility is that she's not physically mature enough yet; she showed no interest in or sexual attraction to anyone until the fourth novel, and while she's about twenty or twenty-one, she's not considered adult until she's twenty-seven; Kencyr Highborn live long and mature slowly.
In chapter 3, part 2 of Seeker's Mask, a Caineron captain comments on a bloodied piece of cloth that Jame held as "That time of month, is it?"
In Bound in Blood, the fifth book, a Kendar woman is shown with menstrual bleeding.
Oh My Gods!: Lots of fantastic god-invoking exclamations from the Kencyr. Common ones in the series are "God's teeth!" (or, once, "God's teeth and toenails!"), referring to the natural armament of Regonereth, That-Which-Destroys, the third aspect of their God. "Trinity!" is one of Jame's favorites, too, referring to all aspects of their triune God.
One-Hit Kill: The Ivory Knife is the holy artifact of Destruction, and instantly kills with the merest scratch. Jame carries this for a large portion of books 2 and 3.
Our Elves Are Better: The Kencyrath are never explicitly called elves, but they fit a lot of the normal qualities, especially the Highborn, an ancient race with long life, mystical powers, a special purpose, etc. (And some of them have the arrogance to match!)
Our Werewolves Are Different: The Wolvers are not humans that take wolf form, but wolves that take human form. They are born in the form of a wolf and develop the ability to take human form later in childhood. Also see Humanity Ensues, kinda.
Our Vampires Are Different: The changers are never described as vampires but follow a lot of vampire tropes. They are created by sex, it seems, by coupling with vile, corrupted creatures of Perimal Darkling, the crawling, infectious chaos. The Darkling influence in them gives them long life, and the ability to shape-shift, both to mimic other humans and to take on a bat-like flying form. They become dependent on blood for energy, and have superhuman speed and toughness. They shun sunlight to a degree but can endure it, but fire is fatal to them, since their corrupted blood is intensely flammable. A vampirish trait is also seen in some Shanir (God-touched) Kencyr; Randiroc, for instance, can only consume blood, milk and honey, and the latter hurts his teeth.
Our Zombies Are Different: The Haunts, dead reanimated by Perimal Darkling, are pretty standard zombies: dying unburned in the Haunted Lands turns you into one, as does being bitten if the infection kills you. Singer Ashe, however, becomes a haunt through an infected bite and carries on as if nothing happened, although with insight into the world of the dead. And then we get a zombie salmon...
Jame's absent mother nearly soul-ripped her when they finally met, and committed suicide to avoid doing so. Her father first came close to raping her, and then drove her off, nearly killed her, and did kill her nanny Winter when her shanir traits expressed themselves.
Torisen also had a Missing Mom, and then his father apparently tried to blood-bound him. He did manage to inject a malignant piece of his soul into Torisen.
Kindrie's mother died at or close after his birth, and he was believed to be a bastard, in a society where that is a major stigma. In reality, there were a legitimate marriage-contract for his birth, but his father was the Big Bad of the entire series.
Nightshade has a half-changer for a father.
Timmon's father was a traitor and known for his womanising ways (that bordered or were mind-rape). His mother is extremely status-conscious and domineering.
Person of Mass Destruction: What Jame is to some degree already, and definitely what she appears to be fated to become. Jamethiel was also one when she reaped the souls of the Kencyr for her consort, Gerridon.
Planet of Hats: More like "Family of Hats", in that the different houses all seem to have particular stereotypes and personalities associated with them. Justified because the reigning Lord and/or Matriarch seems to stamp his or her personality to an extent onto all of their followers (and there are definitely exceptions).
Averted, though not for lack of trying. Because all the Knorth women were killed off before he was born, Tori has not had any advisors to guide him through the treacherous shoals of Women's Mysteries. A particular case in point has to do with the ransom of the death-banner (and also the soul) of Aerulan to the Brandan house. Tori did not want to accept the money Brandan offered, not wanting to profit by Aerulan's death. However, he did not understand (for there was no one to tell him) that refusal to do so would dishonor Aerulan (by saying she has no value) in the eyes of those who love her. (Such as Brenwyr, the curse-flinging maledict.) This ends up resulting in Jame getting cursed by Brenwyr and a lot of unnecessary strife and ill will.
In Bound in Blood, the crop failure caused by the volcanic eruption in To Ride a Rathorn forces Tori to relent so that his people do not starve—though not before another misunderstanding results in Brenwyr cursing him. Fortunately, it seems Tori is more or less curse-proof—though his clothing isn't.
Power Trio: Torisen, Kindrie and Jame are becoming this, as the Tyr-ridan, the avatar of the Kencyr triune god:
Proud Warrior Race: The Kencyr in general; in fact, the Kencyr nation as a whole survives on the earnings of its warriors as hired mercenaries.
Psychic Link: The Kendar have a basic need to be bound to a Highborn. The link allows a Highborn to find and feel the health of the Kendar, but also makes the Kendar susceptible to the emotions of the Highborn. It is easily abused, and is by many Highborn.
Rape as Backstory: Ganth, Jame and Tori's father, at the hands of his older brother. Since the rape involved shanir binding, this is why Ganth was so phobic of shanir that he cast Jame out for showing the traits and installed a distrust of shanir in Tori.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Marc embarked on a wholesale slaughter of the local Merrikit tribe after returning to find that everyone else in the keep he lived in were killed, except perhaps for his sister Willow (her corpse was found much later). He does manage to get into some standard of normalcy by his own, but by then he had already damaged Merrikit-Kencyrath relations severely.
Roof Hopping: with echos of Le Parkour, this is Jame's favorite way of getting around Tai-tastigon. Incredibly physically able, with a dancer's physique and an expert level of martial arts training, Jame's quite up to the task.
There's a gang, the Cloudies, who are reputed to live their entire lives from birth to death without setting foot on the streets. Jame's master manages to do Roof Hopping in places where roofs no longer exist.
The Scapegoat: Drie was whipped to punish Timmon during their childhood, as a literal "whipping boy". This is taken directly from European history; princes could not be punished by their tutors, so instead they were raised with a boy of more common blood who would be then punished in their stead, in the hope that friendship and empathy would encourage the prince to behave.
Series Continuity Error: Rawneth is Kenan, Lord Randir's grandmother in Seeker's Mask and his mother in To Ride a Rathorn.
Given that the author has stated she has a profound dislike of rereading her older works, for a story this complicated and written over so long a period it is only surprising there are not more continuity errors.
Sexier Alter Ego: Jame's tavern dancer persona in God Stalk, "the B'tyrr". The Senetha costume she wears is quite revealing, for one thing, and the the dances incorporate seductive (and potentially soul-ripping) magic.
The Shadow Knows: Shadows show the state of a person's soul. Someone who has lost their soul will cast no shadow, and changers' shadows are very deformed.
Shape Shifter: The Changers can shift their forms at will, and can take on the appearance of a specific human, especially if they drink their blood or otherwise ingest the substance of the target. They are a product of Perimal Darkling and servants of Gerridon, although some of them plot his overthrow.
Ship Sinking: Marc and Brier, in Bound in Blood, possibly in response to fan speculation after they were seen being close in To Ride a Rathorn.
Shotgun Wedding: Jame and Prid, though not for the normal reasons; Prid isn't pregnant and Jame (as a girl) can't be a father. Rather, it's to save Prid from dishonor until Hatch finishes his year as the Earth Wife's Favorite and can marry her.
Shout-Out: to Dr. Venkman's famous line in Ghostbusters, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"; in this case, it's "Rathorns and Whinno-hir, living together ..."
Silk Hiding Steel: Kinzi Keen-Eyed, the last Knorth Matriarch, and her granddaughter Aerulan.
Sorcerous Overlord: Gerridon and Rawneth, the Witch of Wilden. Interesting, because both Big Bads of the series fits the same trope.
The Squad: Jame acquires one in Seeker's Mask. It's then made permanent when she enrolls at Tentir in To Ride a Rathorn.
The Stars Are Going Out: This will be the sign that the primal chaos of Perimal Darkling has broken the barriers holding it back from yet another world.
The Starscream: Several of the Changers make it clear they don't like Gerridon at all, for a variety of reasons. Most that are like this have the very logical fear he'll try to consume them to prolong his immortality after his supply of mortal souls runs out, and try to overthrow him traditionally. Tirandys is a somewhat more complex one, as he isn't openly treacherous and is acting from his sense of honor. Ironically, it's this same sense of honor that makes Gerridon trust him more than any of the others- the Master seems to know that his underling has no love for him, but also knows he'll never go against a direct order.
Sweet Polly Oliver: Kirien, the Jaran Lordan, is the heir of the Jaran in a culture where most women are deeply sequestered and controlled. Since she doesn't dress in traditional women's clothing, most people around her assume she is a man.
Talking in Your Dreams: Jame and Torisen frequently interact and talk with each other in their dreams. This is especially the case when one of them is knocked out, or someone else interferes with their dreams.
Tap on the Head / Hard Head: Jame gets whacked around the head and knocked unconscious multiple times per novel without lasting damage due to her race's Healing Factor and her thick head of hair. However, she does suffer ill effects in God Stalk when she's hit with an iron-shod club.
A Taste of the Lash: Drie, Timmon's half-brother, was treated as a literal whipping boy during Timmon's childhood. When Timmon's mother Distan wished to punish him, she would have Drie beaten in front of him. Aden, the Ardeth war-leader, attempts to do this again when he shows up at Tentir, and Timmon breaks his whip.
Alphabetical Theme Naming: Most of the Highborn seem to have letter-themed names within each House, such as a lot of G-names in the Knorth.
Floral Theme Naming: Female Kendar almost universally have plant-based names, such as Rue and Brier.
Thieves' Guild: Tai-tastigon is in many respects Lankhmar, although even weirder. In fact, Marc and Jame are deliberately set up to be equivalent to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (albeit more so in the original short story, included in Blood and Ivory, that was later reworked into a chapter of God Stalk).
Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: Adric, Lord Ardeth starts mistaking his grandson, Timmon, for his son (and Timmon's father) Pereden, in a sign that senility may be catching up with him. His warleader, Aden Smooth-face, does the same thing, mistaking Timmon for Pereden, and Jame for Timmon's mother, Distan; again, it is a sign of losing his mind.
Tightrope Walking: Jame has excellent balance and training in Le Parkour, and frequently ropewalks. The Kendar companions, however, often has a great fear of heights despite having great balance. The officer academy of Tentir makes use of that, by having the cadets ropewalk in order to learn how to control their fear and their bodies, and as a test.
Timmy in a Well: Jame wakes up to find Shade's bound swamp adder, Addy, in bed with her, and works out that Shade must be in trouble. Shade is, in fact, literally down a well. However, Shade did not expect rescue; she sent Addy to Jame to keep her safe.
God Stalk—In Chapter 13: Three Pyres: "And she sensed that they were increasingly aware of her, the god-stalker and theocide, in their midst."
Dark of the Moon: In Chapter 7: A Rage of Rathorns: "She remembered how frightened she had been as a child during the dark of the moon."
Seeker's Mask—In Chapter 6: "Trapped behind a seeker's mask, searching for a name that would let her survive among her own people, how could she even defend herself, much less someone dependent on her?"
To Ride a Rathorn—In Chapter 5: ''A Length of Rope": "The Kendar had a phrase: to ride a rathorn."
Bound in Blood—Near the beginning of Chapter 13: A Day in the Life. Singer Ashe says "Aye. Bound in blood ... free neither to come nor to go."
Honor's Paradox—The paradox inherent in the Kencyr definition of honor is mentioned several times. (In short, disobedience is dishonorable, but what if the order is to perform a dishonorable act? The rules have no exceptions, leaving the Kencyr in such a situation caught between two different dishonorable acts and thus without escape except, perhaps, for suicide.)
Tome of Eldritch Lore (with a bit of Great Big Book of Everything): The Book Bound in Pale Leather was given to the Kencyr by their God, but it, like the God, is not entirely nice. Reading it is likely fatal, and copying it killed a priest after only a few pages. It contains Master Runes for doing all kinds of things, including transport to the next world in the chain. Jame reads entirely too much of it for her own good, and uses Master Runes to set a blizzard on fire, among other things.
Truce Zone: The town of Peshtar, gateway to the Blue Pass, allows both brigands and the caravans they prey upon to trade there and enforces the truce by only letting one group in at a time.
Twincest: Gerridon and Jamethiel. Also potentially Jame and Tori. The sexual tension between Jame and her twin brother Torisen grows in Honor's Paradox. The idea of being her brother's consort clearly arouses her at one point. Later, the two of them dance together and obvious, magical sexual power builds between them.
Shanir powers were historically bred for by pairing close relatives, especially twins.
Twin Telepathy: Jame and Tori, mostly in dreams but to a lesser extent in the waking world.
Tyrant Takes the Helm: Aden's brief reign as the temporary Commandant of Tentir.* Unstoppable Rage: Those with Shanir blood, and especially Nemeses, are prone to "Berserker flares"—when someone mashes their Berserk Button, or entirely unintentionally, they can cause considerable damage. This manifests itself in different ways. Harn is a classic Berserker. Brenwyr is prone to cursing in fits of anger; Jame usually enters a state of Tranquil Fury that she nonetheless cannot entirely control and is often profoundly glad when someone snaps her out of.
Unicorn: But different; the rathorns are carnivorous, two-horned armored unicorns that are known man-eaters.
Virgin Sacrifice: A Merikit maiden is sacrificed to the Eaten One at the Spring Equinox every year. If the sacrifice is accepted, she never returns; whether that means death or another fate is uncertain.
Waif-Fu: Jame is a slight girl who can go toe-to-toe against or best everyone she comes up against. Twelve years training under an undead, 3000-year old martial arts master might have something to do with that.
Walking Disaster Area: Jame, of course. She breaks stuff. Big stuff, like buildings, sometimes. Deities. Without meaning to. Given that she is an avatar of the destruction aspect of the Three Faced God, this isn't that surprising.
Water Is Air: though only in sacred space, it seems. Jame and Prid find themselves able to breathe underwater in the presence of the Eaten One.
When Trees Attack: The willow tree in To Ride a Rathorn. The very same tree pops up again from time to time over the next few books. In The Sea of Time, Tori finally gets fed up with problems caused by hunting it and decrees that it shall no longer be hunted as long as it is on Knorth lands.
White Stallion: Death's-head is a white rathorn stallion, and Jame riding such a beast into battle is definitely this trope. In a twist on the trope, her other mount, the whinno-hir Bel-tairi, is a white mare, but still fulfills the requirements of the trope.
Will Not Tell a Lie: one of the cornerstones of the Kencyr brand of honor. Calling someone a liar is a mortal insult, and if a Kencyr lies, even for a good cause, suicide or finding a quick death in battle are the only ways to redeem oneself. Of course, the less moral characters find ways to deceive without technically lying. Singers and diplomats are awarded the privilege of the Lawful Lie, however.
Wolverine Claws: Jame and some other Shanir ("natural Arrin-thari") have claws instead of nails on the hands and sometimes feet. Examples are Jame (who has retractable claws on her hands), and Bear (who has fixed talons on both hands and feet). Steel-clawed gauntlets allow non-clawed Kencyr warriors to fight in the Arrin-thar style as well. Kallystine also uses a razor-ring.
Women's Mysteries: The Highborn women deliberately cultivate mystery and outright subterfuge within the "Women's World". Jame, of course, quickly wreaks havoc due to her lack of proper behavior and her habit of accidentally learning deep secrets.
In Bound in Blood, the Merikit are shown to have their own version of Women's Mysteries; it turns out that chief Chingetai only rules at the sufferance of his wife ("wyfe").