"We did not start this war, but we will finish it. We will take back the portals they've taken from us in their treacherous attack. We will punish the atrocities they have committed against our people. And we will insure that this 'Union of Arcana' will never again pose a threat to us, to our children, or to our grandchildren."
—Zindel chan Calirath, Emperor-Elect of Sharona
The Hell's Gate series is from David Weber and Linda Evans, and it is rather hard to describe since it has a tendency to mix up science fiction and fantasy tropes. In the books, the Union of Arcana has expanded through the portals linking parallel universes for over a century and a half. In that time, its soldiers and sorcerers have laid claim to one uninhabited parallel Earth after another, and in the process, the Union has become the most powerful, most wealthy civilization in all of human history.Then everything changes when Arcanan scouts discover a new portal and make a terrifying discovery: Arcana is not the only world that humans evolved on. There is another human civilization out there, Sharona, that has also discovered the portals and has been colonizing the multiverse. Sadly, first contact goes poorly, and the actions of a few panicky individuals result in a bloody massacre of the Sharonan survey team by the Arcanan soldiers.And Sharona is different from Arcana, for it possesses powerful and terrifying weapons that the Arcanan wizards cannot explain or duplicate — weapons called rifles, machine guns, mortars and howitzers; all roughly equivalent to early World War One era tech in Real Life. In addition, many Sharonan citizens possess extraordinary powers of the mind. Sharona is equally horrified by Arcana's magical weapons. Neither side expected this confrontation, and both sides think the other fired first. (Word of God confirms that a third advanced, pure technological civilization will eventually be added to the mix.)The first two books in the series (along with some of David Weber's other work) can be downloaded, legally and for free, here (you want the Mission of Honor files for this series). David Weber is working on two more books, with Joelle Presby replacing Linda Evans.
Tropes featured in this series:
All There in the Manual: Chava Busar mentions potentially making a large donation to Bergahl's Comforters should the future work out according to his plans. Sounds like simple bribery, except the order is properly known as Bergahl's Dagger and has officially been decommissioned for over a century, according to the glossary in Hell Hath No Fury.
A.K.A.-47: Many of Sharona's guns are modeled after real world guns and usually just chambered for a different caliber. The Ternathian Army's Model 10 is pretty much a Lee-Enfield while the Faraika machine guns are Gardner guns.
Alternate Universe: Sharona, Arcana, and all other worlds mentioned are geographically identical to Earth. The local year in Sharona is equivalent to the year 1920 in our universe (since their equivalent of the Krakatoa eruption, which was in 1883 in our universe, is mentioned as having taken place 37 years ago in Sharona).
Ambadassador: Seriously, don't fuck with the Sharonan ambassadors. One is a psychic cop who can tell when you are lying. The other is a only an ambassador part-time, he spends most of his time as an Imperial Marine!
Ass in Ambassador: Rithmar Skirvon and Uthik Dastiri, the two Arcanan ambassadors. Skirvon is a card-carrying Smug Snake who looks down on the Sharonans for not knowing anything about magic while Dastiri has real trouble controlling his temper in addition to being about as arrogant and condescending as Skirvon. Not to mention that their actual competence is questionable at best since Arcana has been a unified government for two hundred years so the actual experience of their diplomatic corps is almost literally academic.
Ancient Conspiracy: The Mythalan ruling class have one in the works with the ultimate goal of seizing control of all of Arcana. And one of its members, Nith mul Gurthak, is directly responsible for manipulating the Arcanan Army into launching a surprise attack on Sharona during the initial diplomatic talks between the two civilizations.
Badass Boast: This one, spoken by Princess Andrin Calirath near the end of the second book:
"I am the Imperial Crown Princess of Ternathia, Heir to the Winged Crown of Celaryon, daughter of the House of Calirath, descendant of Halian and Erthain the Great! My ancestors were emperors of half the world while yours were still picking lice, raiding their neighbors' sheep, and stealing their neighbors' wives. You will not presume to dictate to me who I will marry, Chava Busar!"
"Chunika/Chanaka s'hari, Halian. Sho warak." Translated, it means "I am your son/daughter, Halian. I remember," and it is a reference to the Calirath ancestor Halian, a Ternathian Emperor who died leading his army in defense of large group of allies despite knowing he would die. His philosophy was that it takes only 20 years to make an emperor, but 20 centuries to make an empire the world can trust. Anytime a Calirath says this, they are about to make a Heroic Sacrifice, and they're not letting anyone talk them out of it.
"It's the motto of his House, Regiment-Captain. 'I Stand Between.' I stand between evil and its victims, between darkness and light. I stand between right and wrong. I stand between my people and their enemies... and between the people I am sworn to protect and death. There's a reason men and women have followed Caliraths straight into the fire for thousands of years, Regiment-Captain, and we—you and I—have been honored to see precisely what that reason is."
Badass Family: As you can probably guess by the above paragraphs, screwing around with the Caliraths is definitely not a good idea.
BFG: Sharonans have some pretty impressive firearms. The slide-action shotgun which uses 9mm shot is a great example.
Big Badass Battle Sequence: Hell Hath No Fury ends with the first major battle between Sharonan and Aracanan military forces of about equal size. It is suitably bloody and epic.
A person with the Calirath Talent can also get a special kind of vision with much more clarity and detail - the problem being that it's a vision of their own death.
Breath Weapon: The Arcanan dragons have three kinds: "red" dragons use fireballs that are ideal for destroying wooden structures or hitting exposed infantry. "Black" dragons use lightning, which moves at, well, lightning-fast speeds but hits a very small area, primarily intended for air-to-air combat against other dragons. "Yellow" dragons breathe clouds of poisonous gases, used to hit fortified enemy infantry and to strafe wide areas, but is extremely short-ranged. The Arcanan "infantry-dragons" and "field-dragons" are actually weaponized versions of these designed to emulate the dragons' breath weapons using crystalline tubes and spell ammunition.
Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Arcanan unicorns, which are quite freaky looking beasts. They have a single horn and are roughly the same size and shape as a horse; the similarities to conventional unicorns end there. They are black, with disproportionately long legs, powerful hindquarters, and ears like a bobcat, and possess a mouthful of long tusks and sharp, carnivorous teeth.
Closest Thing We Got: There aren't any Sharonan diplomats in the area so when the Aracanans want to negotiate a military officer who is the son of an earl fills in (using a cover story that he's a mid-level diplomat who happened to be visiting family in the area).
Cluster F-Bomb: In the backstory, Magister Halathyn's resignation from Mythal Falls academy is one of these.
Cool Old Guy: Magister Halathyn vos Dulainah, unusually so for a Mythalan mage.
Culture Clash: Between the Sharonans and Arcanans, of course, but even moreso within the Arcanan Union between the Proud Warrior Race Andarans, the caste-based magocracy of Mythal and the democratic Ransarans.
Curb-Stomp Battle: First the Sharonan Portal Authority troops reprisal attack on Charlie Company's base camp followed by the Aracanan aerial assault on the Sharonan portal forts.
Death from Above: Sharonan artillery has proven to be damnably effective against the Arcanans.
Dirty Coward: Commander of Fifty Garlath, whose cowardice and tendency to panic ultimately trigger the initial skirmish that starts the war.
Door Stopper: We are talking about David Weber here. In fact, Hell Hath No Fury was originally supposed to be part of Hell's Gate but the publisher demanded they be broken down into two books.
Easy Logistics: subverted, the difficulties of moving and maintaining large military forces across the vast distances are discussed at length. It's implied that Sharona has the advantage because of their psychic equivalent of radio and telephones (their governments knew of the initial contact and bloodbath within days of it happening, the Arcanan government only gets the initial dispatch months later at the end of the second book after a major war has started). Also, Jathamar makes an observation concerning the cargo capacity and superior power to weight ratio of Sharonan trains and ships to their Arcanan counterparts.
Although Arcanan Dragons give them much better tactical maneuverability compared to the better strategic mobility of the Sharonans. Neither side has Easy Logistics but both sides have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of the logistics they do possess.
The Empath: Sharonan Voices can also discern emotions in others, especially when they make physical contact. Also, apparently all the sapient whales and dolphins on the Sharonan homeworld are this, as their reaction to the Voice-transmitted attack on the survey crew is extremely violent.
The Empire: Uromathia for the Sharonans, and Mythala for the Arcanans.
The Emperor: There are two, the benevolent Zindel chan Calirath of Ternathia, and the more sinister Chava Busar of Uromathia. They end up in competition to become Emperor of all Sharona. Zindel wins.
Expy: Commander of Two Thousand Mayrkos Harshu, the general in charge of Arcana's strike force, has a quite a few similarities with another one of David Weber's characters, Lester Tourville, from the Honor Harrington universe. Namely both have deliberately cultivated a 'cowboy' image, both have reputations as being something of a loose cannon and both are actually smarter then they look.
Fantastic Caste System: Mythala. At the top you have the Shakira: the magic-using caste which totally dominates and controls the culture of Mythal. They are the researchers, theoreticians, etc., and control virtually all of Mythal's "white collar" occupations. Next you have the Multhari: the military caste and the second most important caste group of Mythalan society. Some members of multhari are also shakira. These normally tend to dominate the upper ranks of the Mythalan military. Lastly you have the Garthan: the non-magic users of the Mythalan culture. They make up at least eighty percent of the Mythalan population but possess only extremely circumscribed legal rights, handle all the "blue collar" work and serve as cannon fodder for the Mythalan army.
Fantastic Nuke: Arcana had these during their war over the control of the first portal they discovered. They have since been destroyed but if the war with Sharona starts going bad enough they might be tempted to bring them back. Also, it has been hinted at that Mythala might actually have a secret magical Weapons of Mass Destruction stockpile or R&D program.
The Federation: The Union of Arcana was formed from the various Arcanan nations after a magical world war over control of the first portal they discovered. Some of them were none too thrilled about being made to join. In their equivalent of the Bronze Age, Sharona was dominated by the practically globe-spanning Ternathian Empire (the oldest part of the empire is Ireland, but the traditional capital is the more central Istanbul), which despite its name fell ( and still falls) under this trope. The war with Arcana is pushing Sharona back towards this - although not all Sharonans are enthused by the prospect.
In the present of the books, Ternathia controls the British Isles, Germany, France, Hungary, Greece, Italy, and parts of Spain. At its height, it also controlled Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, India, and more territory besides.
Functional Magic: Arcana. Seems to be a combination of Inherent Gift, Rule Magic, and Force Magic.
Gatling Good: The Yerthak Pedestal Gun is a naval weapon designed to destroy torpedo boats and is a four to six barreled Gatling Cannon. These guns really manage to do a number on the dragons.
Heroic Sacrifice: Captain Janaki chan Calirath, Crown Prince of Ternathia, stays at a fortification to organize a successful defense using his precognitive Talent. However, in order to do so to maximum effectiveness, he has to perform a Death Glimpse, meaning he has to stand at the exact point where he knows he will be killed in order to get the best Glimpse of what is going to happen, and he can't move. He stays in position, relaying what he sees, right up until a gryphon kills him.
Also, the legendary Emperor Halian, who died in battle defending the city of an ally, despite having the opportunity to flee to safety.
The Calirath Talent makes it even more likely. Even the weakest members of their family have their precog work better if there's a chance their actions lead to imminent death...
Honor Before Reason: Commander of One Hundred Sir Jasak Olderhan and his father. As well as most conservative, traditionalist Andaran officers in the Union of Arcana. One Hundred Olderhan was unwilling to sack a completely incompetent subordinate, Shevan Garlath, because it would be dangerously close to a dishonorable use of his power. Furthermore, he didn't take command of the platoon when the aforementioned idiot officer was about to engage in a little Poor Communication Kills.
Instant Messenger Pigeon: Justified, the messenger birds are super-fast, can be set to any destination, and are quite unlikely to be intercepted. They're not pigeons though, they're giant humming birds enhanced by powerful magic to be perfect for their role. And they do move at finite speed, which is Arcana's major disadvantage against their opponents (who must make do with mundane technology instead magic, but do have telepaths).
The Kingdom: Ternathia is this for Sharona: a generally benevolent monarchy that is ancient and very powerful.
Living Lie Detector: Sharonan Sifters are literally this, being able to tell whether any spoken statement is the truth or a lie.
Magitek: Arcana has a variety of magically powered analogs to modern technological devices. For example, they have a magic crystal that functions very much like a personal computer - which they even call a PC (personal crystal). Many Arcanans are shocked at the notion that any civilization without magic is even possible, and are dismissive of the Sharonans as primitive and backwards, not realizing the advantages of Sharonan mechanical engineering, technology, and Psychic Powers.
More Dakka: The Sharonan Faraika I is a crank-operated, twin-barreled, .40-caliber machine gun. Its bigger and nastier brother, the Faraika II, is a crank-operated, twin-barreled, .54-caliber machine gun. The Yerthak Pedestal Guns, a naval weapon designed to destroy torpedo boats and hastily converted by the Fort Salby garrison into makeshift anti-aircraft guns, are four to six barreled Gatling Cannons that comes in one-point-five-inch and two-point-five-inch calibers capable of firing shrapnel rounds, high-explosive or solid ammunition. The Arcanans come to hate all three.
The Multiverse: A large part of the premise of the series, which begins when two civilizations meet after decades or centuries of exploring the naturally-occurring portals with no previous human contact.
No Flow Portal: Averted. At least one portal connects two points that are very disparate in terms of altitude and while the situation stabilizes eventually you can still see where the initial gale scoured part of the area down to the bedrock and circumstances still conspire to produce rather impressive winds under certain conditions.
Oh Crap: David Weber seems to love writing Oh Crap momements. Some examples in the series include:
The Arcanans first introduction to Sharonan firearms at Fallen Timbers followed by the Sharonans being introduced to Arcanan magical artillery.
Hadrign Thalmayr has a real good Oh Crap moment when Hulmok Arthag rode up to his portal fort and demanded the return of Shaylar. This is quickly followed by the Arcanans first introduction to Sharonan artillery (which can shoot through a Portal, fire at targets miles away and can fire over defensive walls, all things that Arcanan weapons can't do) and machine guns.
The Sharonans first reaction to Arcanan dragons. Quickly followed by the dragon riders when they realize that Sharonan machine gun and artillery fire can easily kill their precious dragons (they had never considered ground fire to be a serious threat before).
The Arcanans have a pretty impressive one when they run headlong into Janaki's defenses around Fort Salby, since none of them had any idea that Precogs existed, let alone the Calirath dynasty's Glimpses. Thus they had no idea that Janaki would set up to counter their attacks before they launched them.
And, of course, both Sharona and Arcana's reaction when they realize that they aren't the only human civilization in The Multiverse.
Organic Technology: Since it has the magical equivalent of genetic engineering Aracana tends to create new animals or modify existing ones to fill the role typically reserved in fiction for machines. Specifically dragons that function as troop transports and gunships, griffins that function as attack drones, unicorns and big mean homing hummingbirds for message delivery.
Our Dragons Are Different: Arcana used a magical equivalent of genetic engineering to create them from large lizards, though the originals were used primarily as transports by the Ransarans. The Mythalans modified them for war, making them smaller, faster, and more vicious, and added a magical Breath Weapon to the design - lightning for air-to-air combat, fire for air-to-ground strikes, and poison gas for anti-personnel. A modified hybrid version is used as a tactical transport: big enough to carry troops like a helicopter, but able to breathe fire or lightning to support ground troops. The dragons are also bred to have a "cockpit" area on the back where the pilot operated the dragon from, and a spell "chip" is implanted in the dragon that prevents it from using its breath weaponry unless the pilot authorizes it. This chip is also linked to the pilot's helmet, allowing the pilot to see through the dragon's eyes, and mark targets to fire at like a modern HUD. Also, dragons are sensitive to the psychic powers of Voices, and battle and battle/transport hybrids will attack them if they're trying to communicate. Transports seem to be more docile and actually like Voices.
Outside-Context Villain: Both Arcana and Sharona are this to one another. The Arcanans are a society based on magic with their most advanced mechanical weapon being the crossbow. They run into the Sharonans who pack World War One era firearms and artillery that utterly devastates the Arcanans as well as Psychic Powers that give them an edge in communication and seeking out threats and deceptions. On the other hand, the Sharonans are entirely unprepared for enemies who wield magic, including concealable crystals that can spit lightning, magical computers and surveillance devices, and dragons.
Poor Communication Kills: Literally and figuratively. Both sides jump to violent conclusions, make badly thought-out assumptions, and commit monumental mistakes because they don't know much about each other and can't communicate. A huge one comes late in the first book, where the Arcanan ambassador Skirvon, unaware of just how important Shaylar is to Sharona, lies to the Sharonan troops and tells them she's dead. Shurkal, the country that Shaylar hails from, responds...poorly, and the rest of Sharona is only slightly less angry.
Portal Network: Naturally occurring portals link the various versions of Earth together.
Protectorate: Andaran honor codes allow an Andaran soldier to designate someone as their shardonai (roughly translated into "shielding"), which means that the person is considered part of the soldier's family and that the family and everyone subordinate to them is obligated to protect them unto death. Andarans can declare shardonai for a number of reasons, but the most common is in acknowledging that the soldier has deeply wronged the one he is now protecting. Jasak Olderhan extends this to the survivors of the survey crew in order to protect them from brutal treatment by Arcanan troops.
Proud Warrior Race: The Andarans, who are characterized by having a very complex but very stringent honor code.
Psychic Powers: A good number of Sharonan citizens are born with one or more psychic 'Talents.'
Realpolitik: Referred to as Garsulthan by a certain group of diplomats.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Male heirs of the Ternathian royal family are required to serve in the military, in fairly low-ranking positions, so that they can learn how to be a responsible commander and ruler.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Let's just say that Arcana's actions in Hell Hath No Fury pretty much ensure that Sharona isn't interested in talking to them anymore - see the page quote.
Sapient Cetaceans: The Cetaceans of Sharona have been established as having intelligence at or near human levels. Some humans are able to telepathically talk to them and they act as ambassadors trading human services (such as medical treatment) for the Cetaceans' help with things like fishing and finding oyster beds. No word yet on whither the ones in Arcana posses intelligence.
Smug Snake: Rithmar Skirvon, untrustworthy and overconfident he ends up a prisoner of war and covered in the blood and brain matter of several of his less fortunate associates.
Spider-Sense: The Caliraths, the emperors of Ternathia ( later Sharona) have this ability in their bloodline. Not all of them have it to the same degree, however.
Steam Punk: Sharona has some elements of this, their army has steam powered artillery tractors and armored personnel carriers. Odds are pretty good that steam powered tanks are going to appear sometime in the near future. The Sharonans have combustion engines, but the technology is still in it's infancy.
Superweapon Surprise: Sharonans, meet dragons, daggerstones, and combat magic. Aracanans, say hello to machine guns, cannons, and psychic nobility who can see the future.
Telepathy: Sharonan telepaths, called 'Voices', allow for an instantaneous world-wide communication net.
Teleporters and Transporters: Sharona has a teleportation network powered by psychics that can be used in extreme emergencies. Most of the time they just take the train or a cruise ship.
The Magic Versus Technology War: The entire point of the series. Both sides possess their own strengths, but what it ultimately boils down to is that Arcana has a ton of nifty tricks, special operations, sheer numbers, and strategic mobility, but Sharona has the simple, brutal advantages of superior industry, communications, and raw firepower.
It's not pure magic vs. tech, though, given that the Sharonans have psychic gifts, which can be seen as a substitute for magic in some ways. Weber's promised third faction, an entirely tech-based one, will, however, make it a true magic vs. technology war.
Too Dumb to Live: Actually may be the Arcanan hat. Almost everything done by the Arcanan military seems designed to provoke the Sharonans into an all out blood feud. The examples include Arcanan officer Shevan Garlath, whose stupidity promptly leads to the first Arcanan/Sharonan bloodbath. The only good thing about it is Garlath managed to get his ass killed in said bloodbath. Hadrign Thalmayr also counts when he antagonizes Sharonan cavalryman Hulmok Arthag after he trots up to Thalmyr's base under a flag of truce despite having no idea how many Sharonan troops are in the area or what Sharonan weapons and technology are really capable of. Then there was the little ordeal about attacking during the opening peace talks. No wonder Sharona is all geared up to kick their ass.
Uthik Dastiri, literally. After taking part in the Arcanan assassination attempt at the negotiations at Fallen Timbers he says ""We're diplomats, even barbarians like you ought to understand what that means!" to a Sharonan officer who is pointing a Hand Cannon at his head. It doesn't end well for Dastiri.
Skirvon also makes an incredibly stupid mistake when he opens negotiations by outright lying to the Sharonan troops and telling them that Shaylar died. Aside from that boxing in his options, he knew full well that Shaylar is the daughter of a Sharonan ambassador and thus connected to Sharonan government. Though in his defense, he didn't realize that Shaylar was pretty much a celebrity in Sharona and that this "confirmation" of her death would cause the entire country of Shurkal to flip the fuck out and declare oaths of blood vengance.
Unstoppable Rage: When Emperor Zindel learns that Janaki died defending Salby, he is suitably furious when he calls for Sharona to go to total war footing. Then Emperor Chava Busar tries to enforce the unification rules by making Zindel's daughter marry one of his sons. Zindel's response, in an open, public Conclave with thousands of dignitaries in attendance is to verbally rip him a new one.
Unwitting Pawn: The entire Arcanan expeditionary force in Hell Hath No Fury was dispatched solely so that mul Gurthak could use the ensuing war with Sharona to discredit Jasak Olderhan and thus hurt his father's position as head of the Arcanan military to allow Mythalan officers to take over. In addition, Gurthak was fully aware that Neshok was a complete sociopath who would gleefully torture and murder prisoners of war and spread doctored propaganda that would cause other Arcana troops to do the same, and Gurthak assigned him to the expeditionary force solely to enrage the Sharonans when they found out as well as discredit Andaran officers in general.
Vestigial Empire: The Ternathian Empire was previously a massive empire spreading across most of the planet of Sharona. Unlike most examples of this trope, the empire was not established out of a desire for expansion but instead to secure their borders against lawless brigands and organized raiders - and every time the new borders were stabilized, more cross-border raiders and brigands appeared, forcing the empire to expand to destroy them as well. Ternathia eventually withdrew from many of its outer territories when they became too expensive to maintain control of, turning them over to local governments in an orderly, controlled contraction of their borders.
Warrior Prince: His Grand Highness, Platoon-Captain Janaki chan Calirath of the Ternathian Imperial Marines, Crown Prince of the Ternathian Empire.
Wizarding School: A couple of Arcanan examples are mentioned in the books. First you have Mythal Falls Academy, the oldest and most prestigious magical research and teaching Academy in Arcana. Next you have the Garth Showma Institute, established by Magister Halathyn vos Dulainah at the site of Showma Falls in New Arcana. It is the second largest magical academy anywhere and its prestige is rapidly overtaking that of the Mythal Falls Academy.
You Shall Not Pass: Janaki chan Calirath is determined to stop the Arcanan advance dead in its tracks at Fort Salby; no matter the cost. This is, in fact, pretty much the Calirath motto, and they have made a tradition out of standing between their enemies and those who need protecting.