"Earth is dead. Humanity is hiding. Invention, Progress, Change... are all forbidden.
It's time to change all that."
— Tagline from Off Armageddon Reef
When a spacefaring humanity discovered evidence that a hostile alien race was likely to try and annihilate them, they spent the next ten years preparing for the inevitable war.
It wasn't enough.
In the face of extinction, the human race played a last desperate gamble. They secreted a fleet away to terraform and colonize a new homeworld and prepare for Round Two. To remain hidden long enough to make sure the Gbaba wouldn't find them, those in charge of Operation Ark decided that on this new world, humanity would abandon its technology so the Gbaba couldn't track them down by their emissions.
That's when the real
trouble began.Nine hundred years later
, Terran Federation commander Nimue Alban wakes up in a robotic body called a PICA; inside a giant, strange cave, with no memory of how she got here. An AI updates her with the bad news: Ark's chief administrative staff brainwashed the colonists into forgetting everything. Technological progress was banned under punishment of painful death. Opposition was wiped out in a kinetic strike. The planet of Safehold is now stuck in Medieval Stasis
, with the universal Church of God Awaiting
suppressing most progress. The current Grand Inquisitor is a megalomaniac and control freak. The web of lies woven by Ark's chief administrator is bound to be unraveled sooner or later, and with no knowledge of the Gbaba humanity is sure to be annihilated again - this time, to the last man.
Desperate to reveal the truth and avenge the Terran Federation, Nimue allies with the small island kingdom of Charis, a nation too independent in the eyes of Church. Under the identity of a mythical warrior, a seijin
, called Merlin Athrawes, she starts to steer Safehold slowly but surely towards the improvements it needs to survive — improvements the Church strictly prohibits.
series by David Weber
consists of seven books to date: Off Armageddon Reef
, By Schism Rent Asunder
, By Heresies Distressed
, A Mighty Fortress
, How Firm a Foundation
, Midst Toil and Tribulation
, and Like a Mighty Army
. Book eight, Hell's Foundations Quiver
, is forthcoming.
Has a Wiki
all its own, and a Character Sheet
that Needs Wiki Magic Love
. For similar series, see David Drake's Belisarius Series
and S. M. Stirling's The General
This series features examples of:
open/close all folders
A to H
- Absolute Xenophobe: The Gbaba instinctively try to kill any other sentient species they find. It's possible that they do everything instinctively, and have stopped being sentient themselves.
- Accidental Truth: Clyntahn and the rest of the Group of Four claim that Charis's schism with the church as the result of a long term plan by Shan-wei worshipers in Charis to subvert the authority of the Church of God Awaiting. Considering what the church sees as demonic and the tools Merlin brings to the table...
- A God Am I: Langhorne, Bédard, and their fellow "Archangels."
- After the End: Every other human world except Safehold is presumed destroyed.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Hektor's death is surprisingly moving, as he's abruptly shot down along with his partly estranged son, and realizes that he's always loved him.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Clyntahn and the rest of his Inquisition are explicitly compared to the SS in Midst Toil and Tribulation. There's also mentions of pogroms in the Temple Lands and camps set up for Reformists caught behind enemy lines in Siddarmark to hold them until the Inquisition gets around to torturing them to death. They are routinely called "concentration camps" in Like a Mighty Army, where the Temple Loyalists start using them as forced labor to help with the war effort.
- Ancient Tradition: The Brotherhood of St. Zherneau's.
- Anti-Mutiny: Shan-wei's goal before Langhorne killed her.
- Anti-Villain: Vicar Rhobair Duchairn starts becoming this early in By Schism Rent Asunder after he starts to rediscover his faith. Though still a member of the Group of Four and still committed to the war against Charis, by By Heresies Distressed he has grown enough to warn the Wylsynns that Clyntahn must have found out about their secret organization. At the end of A Mighty Fortress, he's a full Anti-Villain. The only reason he's not moving openly against the other members of the Group of Four now is that he knows he wouldn't accomplish anything but becoming one more victim of the Inquisition without building a new political power base. And he's using his position as the Church's treasurer to make sure the Church run hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages, and schools are fully funded to take care of those affected by the war and trying to become a Good Shepherd in general.
- Earl Thirsk is a Worthy Opponent motivated by genuine belief in God and the Archangels and loyalty to his kingdom, and is disgusted at many of his allies' tactics. There's also the fact that his family is being "protected" by the Inquisition.
- Rainos Ahlverez is essentially Thirsk's equivalent on the battlefield, a Dohlaran commander who is endlessly frustrated at the incompetence of his Desnairian allies and is concerned above all else with the welfare of his men, determined that they not die pointlessly in battles they can't win.
- Badass Beard: Cayleb grows one in By Heresies Distressed.
- Badass Mustache: Merlin Athrawes has a Badass Beard too, but it always takes second place to his fierce mustachios.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Rhobair Duchairn in A Mighty Fortress.
So maybe what he really wants me to do is to stop trying so hard, stop being so arrogant as to think I can somehow fix a disaster on a worldwide scale. Maybe He wants me to finally accept that I need to let Him show me what do do, and then—
- Believing Their Own Lies: Pei Kau-Yung feared this was happening to Langhorne and the other "Archangels."
- Frequently remarked as one of the single-most dangerous traits of Zhaspahr Clyntahn.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Some of Clyntahn's potential targets did this in A Mighty Fortress. Hauwerd Wylsynn forced this on his brother before committing Suicide by Cop.
- Gwylym Manthyr kills one of his young midshipmen, rather than see the boy tortured in front of him and then executed in public. Also doubles as an extreme tearjerker.
- This is true for any enemy of Mother Church, especially after Clytahn had over two thousand people tortured and killed in Zion for being part of the Reformist movement within the church or merely related to them. No exceptions were made for women and children.
- Blessed with Suck: How Nimue/Merlin views her/his condition. He's superhuman and immortal, but lonely and faced with considerable self-doubt over how much he counts as a person and who he really is.
- Bolt of Divine Retribution: Safeholdians view the Rakurai, an automatic kinetic bombardment last used to kill Shan-wei, as this. It hangs over the protagonists' heads because they fear if they go too far too fast they could inadvertently trigger it on Charis. When Merlin sets up a test to see how far they can push things without triggering it, he does so as far away from civilization as possible to avoid any chance of someone seeing it and interpreting it as God's Wrath against one side or another.
- Brain Uploading: Nimue's personality and memories until just before Operation Ark are implanted in her PICA.
- Merlin does the same to Prince Nahrmahn following him being fatally wounded.
- In Like a Mighty Army Merlin builds a new PICA and uploads a new "from scratch" copy of Nimue Alban, soon named Nimue Chwaeriau.
- Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Many local Safehold animals are named after mythical creatures from Earth.
- Catch Phrase: For Merlin: "One tries." For Cayleb/Sharleyn: "Here I/We stand. I/We can do no other."
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Grand Duke Zebediah. Cayleb and Nahrmahn enter into dealings with him knowing full well he'll attempt to betray them if it looks like a better opportunity. Their response is to keep an eye on him with SNARCs while get collects enough rope to hang himself with.
- Church Militant: The Order of Schueler.
- Conflict Ball: One of the conflicts in By Schism Rent Asunder and By Heresies Distressed is the fact that Cayleb and Merlin can't tell Sharleyan anything about Merlin, because the Brotherhood is dragging its feet... ignoring the fact that they could easily have given her the "visions" story while leaving out the high-tech details. The inconsistency is highlighted by the fact that they bring Clareyk and Nahrmahn in on the "visions" on their own initiative in By Heresies Distressed.
- Though in those cases Clareyk had already begun to suspect something was up so they needed to satisfy him; while Nahrman was told about "visions" because they needed informed advice right then. Further, he was given the "vision" story immediately before the visit where Sharleyan was told everything. Still, not bringing in Sharleyan even on the "visions" is still a conflict ball, only justifiable by the fact Merlin wasn't even there for very long before they headed to Corisande, rendering visions specific to Merlin a moot point.
- Conspiracy Theorist: The Inquisition comes to the conclusion that a gunpowder barge exploding (Purely by accident) and destroying a critical canal lock had to have been done by heretic saboteurs through a mixture of paranoia and circular logic. They then use this as grounds to purge and/or relocate seventy percent of the population of the nearby town.
- Cool Ship: HMS Delthak, an improved copy of the CSS Virginia, otherwise known as the Merrimack. She and her sister ships deliver so many Oh, Crap moments that The Army of God thinks they are demonic in origin.
- Corrupt Church: The present day Church of God Awaiting.
- Crazy-Prepared: Madame Ahnzhelyk plans ahead - with a vengeance.
- The Archangels themselves. As noted by Doctor Mahklyn, they had to be able to give a divine explanation or justification to just about every single thing Safehold's descendants might possibly encounter to prevent the development of things like the scientific method or the very advances they wished to hold off.
- Decades before the main plot, back when he was still Crown Prince, Hektor successfully planted a double-agent inside the Inquisition. Years later, this ends up crucial to securing the safety of his children Irys and Daivyn.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The final battles of Off Armageddon Reef.
- Any swordfight involving Merlin.
- Merlin... versus alien squid-sharks!
- Pretty much the entire invasion of Corisande, which takes up most of By Heresies Distressed.
- The introduction of steam-powered ironclad gunboats in Midst Toil and Tribulation versus, well, anything.
- Nimue Chwaeriau completely destroys the sexist jerk Lieutenant Charlz Sheltyn in Like A Mighty Army after he picks a fight with her. Merlin finds the recording very entertaining.
- Defiant to the End: Surprisingly, Erayk Dynnys, combined with Doomed Moral Victor and a Facing The Bullets Final Speech.
- Hauwerd Wylsynn's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Gwylym Manthyr gets to spit in Clyntahn's face before being put to the Punishment of Schueler. Also a Dying Moment of Awesome. Merlin even has prints of the moment distributed as part of his propoganda campaign.
- Distaff Counterpart: The Sisterhood of Saint Evahlyn to the Brotherhood of Saint Zherneau.
- Door Stopper: They're thick, alright. The shortest book in the series is just short of 500 pages.
- Double Agent: Rhobair Seablanket. Book 4 reveals that he's an agent of the Inquisition. Book 5 reveals that he was planted in the Inquisition by Prince Hektor, having a very valid personal grudge against the Church.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: King Haarahld's defense of Midshipman Aplyn.
- Soldier-turned-devout-priest Hauwerd Wylsynn doesn't give the Inquisition a chance to haul information out of him through torture, so he instead chooses to die. He takes at least four armed and armored soldiers with him.
"Oh, fuck you, Kahrnaikys! You always were a prick! And fuck Clyntahn, too!"
- As mentioned above, in How Firm a Foundation: Gwylym Manthyr is the last to be tortured to death on a rack, and has had his tongue cut out so he wouldn't be able to speak in his own defense. So when Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn performs his 'cow the heretic' act before the crowd, knowing Manthyr can't speak, Manthyr finds a way. And as he dies, he gets to savor the look on the Grand Inquisitors face.
- Also doubling as a Heroic Sacrifice, Nahrmahn, upon realizing he and his wife Ohlyvya have just pulled up next to a suicide bomber driving a gunpowder-filled wagon, throws her out the other side and shields her from the ensuing explosion with his own body. Especially badass because he was in the middle of a very serious (read: distracting) conversation about an identical suicide bombing that had happened mere hours before all the way over in Tellesburg, but was still aware enough of his surroundings to notice it. And unlike some other royalty, Nahrmahn never served in the military, so he had no battlefield instincts to warn him.
- Dystopian Edict: The Proscriptions of Jwo-Jeng.
- The Eeyore: Rhobair Seablanket, Earl Coris's valet. Though that could just be the face he presents to keep Coris from suspecting that Seablanket is really one of the Inquisition's agents. Except he's not.
- The Empire: Inverted when the countries of Charis and Chisholm form an empire in By Schism Rent Asunder
- Played straight by Harchong, which has a terrible reputation for how it treats serfs (which are, more often than not, slaves in all but name). Corruption is so rampant that grafts are factored into the budget as a matter of course.
- Mother Church could also be considered The Empire. Or at least the Temple Lands and its secular rulers the Knights of the Temple Lands (who just happen to also be the leaders of the church).
- Enhance Button: Merlin mentions in book 5 that Owl doesn't have enough processing power to watch everything, so Owl just stores away the raw images (which don't show individuals) and enhances them later once they need more detail.
- Epic Fail: The Church of God Awaiting's attack on Charis in book one. Mind you, they had no way of accounting for Merlin's satellite recon abilities, and little of accounting for the new artillery, but the people planning the thing didn't even understand how naval warfare normally worked, and didn't account for the weather, the limitations of ships designed for coastal waters, and the effects of wear and tear on the ships. And neither did several officers that were put in command of the fleets.
- Eternal English: Averted. Nimue has to learn Safeholdian English before she can venture out among them. Also, many names have changed in spelling and/or pronunciation over the near millennium of Safehold's history.
- Exponential Plot Delay: Seems to be heading this way as of the fourth book, thanks to the cast list increasing faster than characters are killed off. Even major characters like Nahrmahn can go hundreds of pages without an appearance.
- Expy: The entire planet of Safehold is one for the planet Pardal from the third book of Weber's Empire from the Ashes series, written 11 years earlier.
- A technophobe theocracy that rules over many small, divided kingdoms? Check. Engineered to hide from a threat which nearly wiped out humanity? Check. Treats its precursors as angels or demons? Check. Holds itself together by a communication advantage via semaphore towers, acting as the world's creditor with money from tithes, and the threat of brutal inquisition & purges? Check. A revolt initiated by a kingdom the church hierarchy is already wary of because of its physical distance from the church capital and reputation for (relative) inventiveness? Check. Inability to use advanced technology to penetrate said church capital because it contains advanced sensors? Check. The highest members of the church hierarchy are decadent and corrupt? Check.
- It looks like Weber wrote Safehold to further explore the concept behind Pardal and find out how such a world would really work. Or at least try it again on a bigger scale and getting into more detail.
- The Gbaba are also an Expy for the Achultanni (also from Empire from the Ashes), in that they are a xenocidal alien race who periodically wipe out all other sentient life they can find.
- Weber has said he wrote the aforementioned book mostly because he didn't have time to make it a full series back then. (Weber has a bit of a problem with juggling too many epic series at once)
- The Federation: The Terran Federation is implied to be this in the backstory. Back when it still existed anyway.
- Five Man Band: Charis' upper leadership. Later the "inner circle."
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Charis as England and Emerald as Ireland are only a couple of examples.
- Thanks to the relationship between them and Charis, Corisande may be a better fit for Ireland, especially considering the resentment they have for Charis after being conquered.
- Harchong, from what little we know, seems to be based on medieval China. Among other things, they invented gunpowder and have a corner on silk. They are also notorious for their gigantic bureaucracy.
- Siddarmark has some similarities to the United States, especially as of Midst Toil and Tribulation. Specifically it can be compared to Civil War era America. Also the fact that it's the first and only Republic on Safehold.
- Raven's Land and the Raven Lords who live there are Scotland and the Scots, respectively.
- Friendly Sniper: Sergeant Edvard Wystahn is a good country lad and a really nice guy; he helps out his comrades in learning to read or with words of reassurance or comfort as they need it. He also has no problem putting a bullet through an enemy officer's head from under cover at 500 yards.
- Fun with Acronyms: Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar (PICA)
- Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communication platforms (SNARC)
- Neural Education and Training machines (NEAT)
- Game Changer: This is the main role of Merlin Athrawes. By Giving Radio to the Romans Merlin strives to break the planet Safehold's enforced Medieval Stasis. Approximately every other book features the Church of God Awaiting and its forces getting hammered by the Empire of Charis due to various innovations that were brought in thanks to Merlin's influence. Starting with farther-ranged and more accurate artillery in the first book and introducing ironclad warships in the most recent.
- On a more individual scale, Merlin had been acting alone in this plan for the first book and a half. The Game Changer to this strategy was the revelation midway through the second book that there were others who knew the history he did, enabling him to bring more people in on his ultimate plan.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: No time travel involved, but otherwise Nimue's situation fits perfectly.
- God Guise: Langhorne's group used their technology to fake their various Archangel abilities, and also meticulously craft their own holy book.
- Good Is Not Soft: The Charisan leaders often have to make decisions in this vein. Most prominently when facing defeated enemies and forcing them to surrender. They'll often try to negotiate a relatively peaceful surrender with any prisoners treated honorably, and threaten that there won't be any prisoners if that surrender is refused or betrayed. To date, no enemy commander has tried to call their bluff (mostly because they realize while speaking face to face with the Charisan commander in question that it isn't a bluff).
- Good Shepherd: Maikel Staynair and Paityr Wylsynn. Ducharin is making an effort to become one of these.
- Archbishop Zhasyn Cahnyr of Glacierheart.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: Although all of Safehold writes modern English and speaks a slightly shifted version of it, the multicultural founders borrowed foreign terms like seijin (Japanese for holy person) and rakurai and used names from Asia for both places and people.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?: Slightly subverted, since Duke Tirian really wouldn't have hurt his father-in-law given any other alternative.
- Played completely straight in How Firm a Foundation when Urvyn Mahndrayn, Baron Seamount's assistant, tells his cousin, Trai Sahlavahn, at the Hairatha powder mill about 45 tons of missing gunpowder. Trai is actually responsible for this and stabs him in the back when they go to check it out. Minutes later the entire powder mill explodes.
- Heel-Face Turn: Prince Nahrmahn in By Schism Rent Asunder.
- King Gorjah of Tarot is planning one in A Mighty Fortress. He does so, though we haven't heard much from him since. But we do see Tarotian commanders in the Imperial Charisian Navy, so the integration seems to be going rather well.
- Corisande as a whole makes one, though it takes a while. They grow to accept the Church of Charis and tolerate the Empire of Charis's rule. As of Midst Toil and Tribulation, Prince Daivyn has decided to swear fealty and make Corisande an official and equal member of the Empire.
- Heel Face Door Slam: Poor Hektor and his son.
- In the fourth book, we get several members of the clergy who don't like how corrupt the Group Of Four has become. Most of them are subjected to the cruel torture/execution of the Punishment of Shueler. Oh, and so are the clergy's families... including the women and children.
- He Knows Too Much: A constant danger for the Inner Circle. Every time they bring someone new in they run the risk that person may not react as they hope and will betray them. Thus, each character we see informed about it from about the fourth book onward also gets a warning of what they'd have to do in case of such a betrayal.
- A specific instance also occurs in By Heresies Distressed when Merlin arrives at the scene of Sharleyan's attempted assassination. Merlin kills every enemy present because they absolutely cannot be allowed to realize Merlin was in Charis when he was supposed to be in Corisande.
- Also, in Midst Toil and Tribulation, Merlin has to slaughter a bunch of civilians (who are manning legit wartime targets) to make absolutely certain that his plan works and that the HMS Delthak doesn't get trapped in the canals. He doesn't mention this to anyone beforehand (even afterwards, the only person who is confirmed to have learned about it is Nahrmahn) and suffers some serious Heroic BSOD, both during and after.
- The Heretic: Everyone who isn't a pure Temple Loyalist, including not only the Church of Charis but also the Reformists. Even the Loyalist Charisians who emigrated to escape their kingdom's heresy are given the label thanks to association.
- Heroic Sacrifice: King Haarahld becomes a martyr via this.
- The original Nimue Alban is also noted as one. She had herself transferred from one of the ships going to Safehold to one of the ships sacrificing itself to let them escape in order to set up the plan.
- Narhmahn saves his wife from an assassin's bomb by throwing himself on top of her.
- One archbishop along with two others throw themselves on a grenade-wearing suicide bomber at a mass in book 5, saving the crowd.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: In How Firm A Foundation, rather than lay low, Madame Ahnzhelyk assumes a false identity in Siddarmark and openly lives the high society life.
- This is also how several Wylsynns, including Paityr, hid the Key, which is described in the book as a suitable size and shape for a paperweight.
- High-Class Call Girl: Madame Ahnzhelyk Phonda and her girls.
- Hold Your Hippogriffs: Wyverns are the subject of a number of bird related sayings, which is a bit odd as they still have Terran birds, like chickens.
- Hufflepuff House: Trellheim, which is mentioned once or twice as being inhabited, and Raven's Land, which forms the land border of the country of Chisholm, which is only noted in the world map.
- Raven's Land has gotten an upgrade as of Midst Toil and Tribulation.
- Hypocrite: The Group of Four decides to wipe Charis off the map in the first book, claiming the handful of innovations they've recently made were heretical. Failing that, they proceed to implement as many of those innovations as they can in an effort to destroy them. They claim that the Charisian versions of the innovations are powered by black magic, while the Church has managed to get the same effect without demonic help.
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