Literature: Firebird Trilogy
aka: Wind And Shadow
The Firebird Trilogy is a series of Space Opera
novels by Kathy Tyers. Originally a duology released in the late '80s, in 2001 the series was rewritten to incorporate Christian themes and re-released, and a third book was added. In 2011, a fourth book came out, with a fifth and final book released in 2012.
Lady Firebird Angelo is a royal wasteling, born only to ensure that the royal line of Netaia does not die out and fated to commit honorable suicide now that her eldest sister has had two children. As a skilled military pilot, Firebird is ordered into the first wave of the attack against Veroh, a planet under Federate
protection, under orders to seek honorable death in combat. Unfortunately for her plans, her mental cry of distress over the death of her wingman (and best friend) is noticed by the telepathic Special Operations officer, Brennen Caldwell, piquing his interest. He orders her captured.
While interrogating her via mind access
, he realizes that they are perfectly connatural: their brains function in the exact same way, potentially enabling them to connect far more deeply than they could with anyone who was not connatural with them. Not wanting to lose the only person perfectly connatural with him, Brennen offers Firebird Federate asylum. Firebird is thus forced to choose between her desire to live and her proud loyalty to a country that demands her death.Fusion Fire
and Crown of Fire
follow events immediately subsequent to Firebird
, whereas Wind and Shadow
focuses on the next generation, and Daystar
the generation after that.
The series includes these books:
- Fusion Fire
- Crown of Fire
- Their New Masters (short story)
- Wind and Shadow
This series provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Brennen's reaction to Phoena's torturous death, as he tries to comfort her as much as possible in her last moments.
- Alliterative Title: Fusion Fire
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The Shadows are personifications of evil. They have immense power (including the ability to teleport across planets and keep humans alive in outer space) and are, of course, dedicated to thwarting the Mighty Speaker in whatever way possible. When not possessing a human, they are Made of Evil.
- Badass Princess: Firebird, while not technically a princess because of the Netaian inheritance structure, qualifies. She had a choice between going into advanced music studies or going into the military. She chose the military, and has repeatedly demonstrated her fighting skills and courage. She also has no diplomatic skills, contrasting with Princess Classic Carradee and Politically Active Princess Phoena.
- Big Bad:
- Firebird: Phoena Angelo is the sponsor of Dr. Cleary's biological weapons research and thus the driving force behind the invasion of Veroh, which resulted in Veroh being rendered open-air uninhabitable, the disappearance of several merchant ships, the Netaian resistence against the Federacy, and the need for Brennen Caldwell and Firebird Angelo to infiltrate and partially destroy Hunter Heights, which got them both nearly killed (by Phoena) and Brennen court-marshalled and dismissed.
- Fusion Fire: Eshdeth Shirak, as the leader of the Shuhr, is the mastermind behind the Sunton massacre (utter destruction of a residential town), the attack on the Sentinel College, the deaths of the two child princesses of Netaia, Phoena's departure to the Shuhr and her imprisonment by them, Brennen's captivity after he tries to rescue Pheona on the Federacy's orders, and the plan to kill Firebird to break Brennen.
- Crown of Fire: Modabah Shirak, Eshdeth's son, takes over where his father left off. He orchestrates a number of plans within plans in an attempt to re-capture Brennen, including taking over the Netaian government from the shadows and several attempts on Firebird's life.
- Wind and Shadow: This book features two Big Bads, one for each thread of the story.
- The Shadow possessing Tamím Bar'Baror kidnaps Kiel Caldwell, thinking him the Boh-Dabarnote , in an attempt to corrupt him and causes or encourages a number of destructive events, including the destruction of the planet Three Zed.
- Jahana is the leader of the neo-Shuhr group and is a cruel but powerful woman. She is responsible for a number of deaths and disappearances and intends to take over the galaxy through a combination of reviving ancient technology, bringing the Shuhr policies of unlimited use of telepathy back into play, and posing Kinnor Caldwell as Boh-Dabar and using him as her spokesman.
- Daystar: Piper Gambrel, along with the Shadow possessing him (a different Shadow than the above), is determined to wipe out the Sentinels. To this end, he manufacture fear and persecution of the Sentinels, forcing them all to take refuge on their sanctuary world. Once he has them thus isolated, he comes up with a way to introduce a virus which will kill them and only them, plus he has several back-up plans in place in case that fails.
- Character Title: The first book, Firebird, is named after the main character, Firebird.
- Cold-Blooded Torture:
- The dendric striker is used once on a mook who had failed his mission and once on a prisoner who the Shuhr had no more need for and wanted to make a point with.
"It causes all the central motor neurons to fire. Every muscle contracts, every synapse sparks as if it were insane. It will tear your muscles from the bones, and eventually stop your breathing . . . but it leaves sensory nerves intact to the very end."
- The worst of the Netaian execution methods fall under this, too. There's the D-wave rifles, which disrupt and then destroy nerve cells, crazing the victim with pain. Firebird's sister intended to execute her using it under vigilante "justice." And then there's lustration, which is when super-heated plates are set at the end of the prisoner's extremities and very slowly moved inwards, vaporizing flesh and bone but leaving the victim alive until the plates reach the torso. Firebird was sentenced to die via this method.
- Comes Great Responsibility: The Sentinels are well aware of the dangers their powers entail, and therefore hold themselves to a high moral standard.
- Compelling Voice: Voice control allows trained telepaths to take control of others' autonomous movement (the more powerful the telepath, the more people they can control at once; one at a time is most common), forcing them to move or stay still as the telepath desires.
- Continuity Nod: Daystar has several, including a passing mention of Firebird wearing a "gold bird pendant" which is presumably the eagle pendant Brennen's older brother gave him when they were both children and which Brennen had carried with him for years, and the fact that Tel married Esme Rogonin, whose friendship we see beginning in Crown of Fire.
- Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: Telepathic mind access provides coherent information to the accesser. This is somewhat justified, as the telepaths don't merely read the thoughts off the surface off the mind; they are actively directing what they see.
- Crapsack World: Three Zed, with its strict eugenics program culling any children who are too compassionate, gentle, friendly or fearful. The political intrigues and power struggles at the top also mean that it's rather easy to get on someone's bad side, those who aren't at the top are likely to be manipulated and used against their will for the leaders' plans (including for suicide missions), and resistance to orders means death.
- Defector from Decadence
- Firebird: Firebird, who requested asylum from the Federacy as protest against her homeworld of Netaia killing massive amounts of Verohan civilians and rendering Veroh uninhabitable.
- Crown of Fire: Terza Shirak, who left the Shuhr primarily to save the life of her daughter, but also because she had never fully agreed with their callousness towards human life.
- Double Meaning Title: Wind and Shadow refers to the main female character, Wind Haworth, and the main antagonist, who is a Shadow, as well as to the book's thematic elements: the ability of people to heal or to harm (wind, which can be beneficial or devastating) and spiritual darkness and temptation (shadow).
- The Dragon:
- Firebird: Tel Tellai is Phoena Angelo's right-hand-man. He oversees security and the day-to-day operation of their resistance group when she is busy with other matters, and personally supports her as a friend and, later, husband.
- Fusion Fire: Dru Polar is the Shuhr's strongest telepath, the head of Testing, and Brennen Caldwell's direct captor. He ran the attempts to extract the classified information from Brennen and he is the one who planned to break Brennen by forcing him to kill his own wife. Polar answers only to Eshdeth Shirak, who is the leader of the Shuhr.
- Crown of Fire: Micahel Shirak is the son of the new leader of the Shuhr and the de facto second-in-command. He helps his father carry out their various plans and orchestrates the attempts on Firebird Angelo Caldwell's life.
- Wind and Shadow: This book does not have a Dragon; instead, it has a major Big Bad and a lesser one.
- Daystar: Colonel Zeimsky is Piper Gambrel's crony, creating the means to destroy the Sentinel's telepathic abilities and working to apply that "cure" to all the Sentinels. He is the scientist to Gambrel's religious bent and enables Gambrel's plans against the Sentinels to move forward. Zeimsky and Gambrel have a somewhat unusual relationship as Big Bad and Dragon, as they are frequently in conflict with each other and Zeimsky resents his subordinate role, feeling that he should be Gambrel's equal.
- Emotion Suppression: The telepaths can block their own emotions, allowing them greater control over their feelings. They can also block others' emotions, but the Sentinel's codes forbid doing so, so only the Shuhr use that aspect of their abilities.
- The Empath: All trained telepaths automatically sense the emotions of everyone around them, unless they shield themselves.
- The End of the World as We Know It: In Daystar, the Federacy fears that Boh-Dabar's coming will lead to either a complete Sentinel uprising or the complete destruction of the entire galaxy via supernova stars. At the end of the book, the world is destroyed, but it is then remade in perfection, with all those who chose Life being brought into the new world.
- Enfant Terrible: Phoena was a wastling until the age of six, when her sister Lintess died. Firebird privately suspected that Phoena had murdered their sister, but could never prove it.
- Evil Counterpart Race: The Shuhr are originally presented as such, in comparison to the Sentinels. Brennen even remarks once that the Shuhr provide a prime example of what the Sentinels would be like if not for the Sentinel's strictly enforced self-imposed moral and ethical codes. However, the trope is played with in the earlier books, as we see both Face Heel Turns and a Heel-Face Turn, and ultimately subverted in Wind and Shadow, where it is shown that only the upper level of the Shuhr were despicable, with the rest of the people being normal.
- Evil Is Burning Hot: The evil visible within Firebird's mind manifests as black flames.
- Tiala Caldwell, of Mary, as she is the virgin mother of the promised Word to Come (Boh-Dabar), who will restore his people. The previous book in the series established her as faith-filled and devoted to the Eternal Speaker, paralleling Mary's best-known trait of faith.
- Tavkel Caldwell, of Jesus, as he is the Boh-Dabar, living expression of the Eternal Speaker, who comes to take darkness from all people and remake and restore the world to perfection. He lived a perfect life and died to bring spiritual renewal and redemption to all.
- Kinnor Caldwell, of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead in front of his relatives to show Boh-Dabar's power and authority over death.
- Subverted with Kiel Caldwell, who does not, in the end, become an Expy of Caiaphas. He begins to head down the path of opposition to Boh-Dabar, trying to turn people from Boh-Dabar, but he realizes his mistake, repents, becomes a follower of Boh-Dabar himself, and tries to undo the damage he had done.
- Fake Memories: A not infrequent tactic of the Shuhr, usually combined with Laser-Guided Amnesia.
- False Flag Operation: The Shuhr had one in the works to turn the Federacy against the Sentinels in Crown of Fire.
- Family Theme Naming: The Angelo family has traditionally been named after Netaian birds.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: People travel from planet to planet by "jumping" into Slip Space.
- The Federation: The Federacy, an association of twenty-three planets across the Whorl (which is a star-rich region of a galaxy).
- Heel-Face Turn: Tel Tellai, slowly over the course of the second book, turning from blind adherence to Phoena Angelo and aristocratic Netaian ideas about who is worthy to live to a genuinely nice guy who wants to work to reform the moral failings in the Netaian system.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each of the first four books' names are based off of the main female character's name: Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire with Firebird; and Wind and Shadow with Wind Haworth. The fifth book, Daystar, is named after both a ship and an epithet of Boh-Dabar, who is a major character.
- Icy Blue Eyes: Brennen has eyes which are described as a penetrating, icy blue; this reflects both his telepathic powers and his exceptional ability to control his own emotions (a power related to the telepathy), which gives him an aloof air.
- Irony: Dru Polar is defeated by the exact same ability/technique he was trying to create to increase his own power.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: In several varieties.
- The Shuhr can induce this in their victims, so that the victim doesn't remember the less pleasant aspects of their treatment.
- The Sentinel Special Ops forces have a learned trigger which will cause them to forget any and all sensitive information they might know. (This overlaps with Psychic Block Defense.)
- Living Lie Detector: Brennen, and presumably most of the upper-level Shuhr, via their telepathic powers.
- Made of Evil: The Shadows gain their name from their appearance (when not possessing a human): they are dark, nearly invisible, representing the fact that they are evil given form. Unlike many other forms of this, they are insubstantial and thus unkillable, although they can be kept at bay by prayer.
- Manchurian Agent: Devair Burkenhamn, courtesy of the Shuhr altering his mind.
- Mindlink Mates: Pair bonding, the natural outcome of sex for the telepathic races, creates a mental link between the partners. The breaking of such a bond (generally only possible by death) sends the surviving member into Bereavement Shock, as they have literally lost a part of themselves. The Shuhr have found a way to avoid bonding, allowing them to have sex without commitment. The Sentinels marry whomever they are compatible with (and only those they are compatible with—a pair bond between incompatible people causes both parties excruciating pain for the rest of their lives, as pair bonds are only breakable by death).
- Mind Over Manners: The Sentinels have detailed limits (to the point of having a manual) on how they are allowed to use these powers. These limits are enforced by the Sentinel community, for two reasons: 1) Most Sentinels truly want to behave ethically; the limits provide fairly sound guidance as to what uses of their power are and are not ethical. 2) The limits and their enforcement are the boundary preventing a generally mistrustful public from panicking and deciding to wipe out all the Sentinels.
- Mind over Matter: Most telepaths can move objects remotely; the stronger the overall abilities, the larger the object that can be moved. Being able to move objects the size of books or guns is common; the strongest telepaths can move large boulders. The most powerful telekinesis-capable telepaths can even control their own rate of fall.
- The Namesake: Fusion Fire refers to the enormous burst of energy created by reverse-polarity (telepathic) fusion, a technique which is first seen about halfway through that book and first used successfully during the climax.
- Pardon My Klingon: Shef'th!
- Politically Active Princess: Phoena Angelo is very politically active. After the Federacy takes over Netaia, she heads the resistance group and spearheads research into a biological Weapon of Mass Destruction capable of wiping out an entire planet, which she intends to use to threaten the Federacy into withdrawing. She contrasts with her Princess Classic older sister, Carradee, and her Badass Princess younger sister, Firebird.
- Pride: pride is both Brennen's and Firebird's main failing, one that drives the plots of the second and third books. In the second book, Brennen faces losing most of his extraordinary abilities and learns that his worth is not dependent on what he can do. In the third book, Firebird struggles to let others help her and to not get detrimentally caught up in her royal heritage.
- Princess Classic: Carradee Angelo is gentle, honorable, sweet, and rather uninterested in politics. Unfortunately for her, as eldest, she is the heir to the throne, which leads to her being thrust into ruling before she is truly ready for it. She contrasts with Phoena, who is a Politically Active Princess, and Firebird, who is a Badass Princess.
- Psychic-Assisted Suicide: When they're not interested in playing with their victims, the Shuhr often resort to this to remove those who are no longer of use to them.
- Psychic Block Defense: All telepaths have three forms of this:
- A basic mind shield that blocks out the emotional signals of those around them.
- A shield that keeps their own emotions under control.
- A shield that prevents other telepaths from entering their mind, unless the other telepath is strong enough to break through the shield.
- Psychic Powers: This is the defining feature of the Sentinels and the Shuhr/Mikuhran. Their powers were gained through genetic modification. Specific abilities include Telepathy (with or without permission), sensing the emotions of everyone around them, moving objects remotely, Compelling Voice, Emotion Suppression, Psychic Block Defenses, pain suppression, and controlling what others perceive. See the individual trope entries for more detail.
- Psychic Static: The only way for a non-telepath to defeat a telepathic attempt to access their mind, usually in the form of concentrating on something uninteresting and irrelevant, such as boot heels.
- Racial Remnant: The planet Ehret was destroyed by civil war. Two groups fled the conflict. One group settled on an already populated planet and integrated into the existing structure, while still passing down Ehretan culture; they became the Sentinels. The other group settled on a previously barren world, creating a new culture that became known as the Shuhr (and later the Mikuhrans).
- Sacred Language: The Sentinels use Ehretan for their holy ceremonies, and one of their holy books is forbidden from being translated out of Ehretan. The point of that prohibition was to keep the most important prophecies out of the hands of the Shuhr, but it turned out that the Shuhr still spoke Ehretan as their primary language.
- Samus is a Girl: Brennen initially assumes Firebird is a man, simply because she was a pilot in the attack phalanx of the Netaian invasion force. His assumption is corrected after she is captured.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: At the end of Firebird, Firebird realizes that a small Netaian fortress, Hunter Heights, was not destroyed by the Federates and that Phoena has likely holed up there to complete the research on and building of Cleary's Weapon of Mass Destruction. She alerts Brennen to this possibility, and they report it to Tierna Coll, one of the Council members. Brennen offers to investigate himself and stresses that time is off the essence, but Coll orders him to stay put, wanting to investigate through diplomatic means first so as not to irritate the Netaian nobles. Yet Firebird has stressed that if it's not investigated now, it may be too late. So Brennen has to decide: does he obey orders, risk the deployment of a devastating weapon, and keep his career safe, or does he break explicit orders, potentially save millions of lives, and face possible court martial? He chooses the latter—a choice that is justified when he discovers a lab with a nearly completed warhead underneath Hunter Heights.
- Sharpened to a Single Atom: Crystaces have an edge a single atom thick.
- Spare to the Throne: Wastelings exist solely so that there's a child to inherit even if the older children die.
- The Stars Are Going Out: At the end of Daystar, just before the universe is remade, the stars go dark across the galaxy.
- Succession Crisis: The Coper Rebellion of Netaia started when a group of young disinherited nobles and royals tried to take over the government, backed by popular support. After a bloody war, the established government won, and the Wasteling tradition of Netaia was created in an attempt to avert any similar crises, by limiting the number of heirs the Queen and nobles have and killing off the aunts and uncles of the next generation of heirs so they can't try to steal the throne from their younger nieces or nephews.
- Technicolor Fire: The flames surrounding Firebird's ayin complex burn black, reflecting the fact that they are a literalization of personal sin/evil.
- Telepathy: The telepaths can speak telepathically to each other or to non-telepaths (although non-telepaths cannot respond) and can read minds (with or without permission).
- Tongue-Tied: When Brennen tells Firebird about the prophecy his family is under, he first has to set up a mental block that prevents her from ever revealing the information she is about to learn to anyone else.
- Uterine Replicator: The Shuhr use this technology to create their children, rendering pregnancy all but obsolete in the central regions of Three Zed.
- Wham Episode: Despite the sheer number of Foregone Conclusions inherent in the premise, Daystar still pulls off a cosmic-scale wham at the end when the entire universe is unmade and then re-made in perfection.
- You Have Failed Me: Mook Arac Nahazh was in charge of the watch-link over The Mole who died under mysterious circumstances. The consequence? Being tortured to death.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once their sibling's line of succession has been secured, wastelings are required to commit suicide, as their entire purpose is to make sure their family line continues. This is referenced in the ritual phrase used to order wasteling's to their deaths:
<Insert Name Here>, you are to be praised for your service to Netaia. On behalf of the Electorate, I thank you. But your service to this council has ended.