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Literature: Safehold
aka: Safe Hold
"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 battle.

It wasn't enough.

After fighting a losing war for 40 years and 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.

Eric Langhorne and Adorée Bédard, the Chief Administrator and Psychiatrist of Operation Ark, felt that it was humanity's technological hubris that had led to their destruction. In order to preserve humanity and prevent them from ever reinventing advanced technology, Langhorne and Bédard secretly brainwashed all of the colonists into thinking that they were created and placed upon the world of Safehold by God, with Langhorne, Bédard, and the rest of the Operation Ark command crew named as Archangels and executors of God's will in the gospel of the Church of God Awaiting—a gospel which prescribes the most horrific punishments for innovation and invention.

Outraged at the way the original mission plan had been ignored, Pei Shan-wei, Operation Ark's senior terraformer, rebelled against Langhorne, setting up her own colony and adhering to their original orders. However, Langhorne had grown accustomed to being worshipped as a demigod and couldn't afford the truth to get out, and so on his orders, Shan-wei and all her allies and chosen colonists were killed and branded as demons; Shan-wei herself became the local equivalent of Satan.

But Shan-wei and her allies had feared something like this from the beginning, and laid their plans carefully. At the core of their plans is Nimue Alban. Originally a soldier who died in the war with the Gbaba, she has been resurrected via the robotic body of a Personality-Integrated Cybernetic Avatar. After emerging from a long sleep, Nimue, under the identity of Merlin Athrawes, has begun to steer Safehold's medieval culture in general, and the kingdom of Charis in particular, slowly but surely towards the improvements it needs to survive—improvements the Church of God Awaiting strictly prohibits.

The Safehold 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.


This series features examples of:

  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Clyntahn claims that Siddermark had to have been planning to rebel against the Church. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have had the military strength to prevent the total takeover he launched without any warning. The same also goes for Charis—there's no way they could have survived this long if they hadn't been planning their heretical rebellion for years. Many of his other explanations for his actions/plans can come across as this as well, since the Writ's statement that "Extremism in the pursuit of godliness can never be a sin" means that everything he had done up to that point was always justified as far as he's concerned.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: The religion of the Church was created as a mash-up of various actual religions although it mostly comes off as a Crystal Dragon Jesus of Medieval Catholicism..
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Inverted. Most who learn of the "Archangels'" lies still hold God Himself in high regard.
  • Kill Sat: The orbital platforms above Safehold remain a looming threat.
  • Knight Templar: The passage in the book of Scheuler stating "Extremism in the pursuit of godliness can never be a sin" appears to be a license to act like this. The Inquisition certainly takes it as one.
  • Lensman Arms Race: As other nations try to emulate the innovations Merlin helped Charis discover.
    • Merlin wants to encourage this because forcing Charis' enemies to embrace innovation means victory for his ultimate goal of killing Safehold's technophobia.
    • By Midst Toil and Tribulation it has come full circle in that Earl Thirsk and his officers are actually starting to come up with new and innovative warship and weapon designs instead of just copying Charisian tech. Merlin now has mixed feelings about this as this development supports his long-term goal of destroying Safehold's technophobia but on the other hand its going to make winning the war more difficult for Charis.
    • Gets even more pronounced in Like A Mighty Army when Earl Thirsk and Captain General Maigwair's men come up with a breech-loading rifle design they can mass-produce that is even better than the ones Charis has issued to its army.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: When your list of characters by the second book takes ten pages, you know you've hit this.
    • As of the sixth book, the character list now occupies forty-one pages.
    • In book seven, it takes up pages 585 through 651— that's 66 pages. Given the also-growing size of the Glossary, this is beginning to avert Spoiled by the Format: there's a good half an inch of pages left, it can't be almost over yet! No, it's ending with a Cliffhanger on the next page.
    • Said character list consists of everyone in every book who speaks a line or is mentioned in the text, so some inflation of it is to be expected. That being said, it still counts. And even then, most people are only given names if they are of some importance, so there isn't as much inflation as one might think.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Plays a major part in the plot from By Schism Rent Asunder onward as the protagonists have to decide who to allow into their Inner Circle due to either how trustworthy an individual is or how they might react to the crisis of faith the truth would inevitably cause.
    • Baron Seamount is a unique case in this. While his abilities would be incredibly useful combined with access to Owl in the short term, his status as a One-Man Industrial Revolution without access to Owl's records is far more valuable in Merlin's long term plans to get Safehold's people to embrace technological innovation. Sharleyan, at least, is very displeased about the consensus being to keep him locked out.
  • Logical Weakness: Just because the Church of God Awaiting doesn't know how the Charisians stay one step ahead of them doesn't mean they can't work out countermeasures against it, as the fourth, fifth, and sixth books demonstrate.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Charisian leadership have to be very careful about dancing around the Proscriptions. Though doing so is made much easier once Father Paityr is inducted into the Inner Circle and cheerfully helps abuse said loopholes.
  • Love at First Sight: Cayleb and Sharleyan upon their first face-to-face meeting. Played for laughs, really.
  • Ludd Was Right: Word of God says that Langhorne and Bédard genuinely believed the Gbaba were punishment for humanity's technological hubris.
  • Majorly Awesome: Lt. Commander Nimue Alban. Merlin is eventually promoted to Major.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Owl, Nimue/Merlin's AI, stubbornly sticks to literal answers for the first three books, despite its supposed learning ability. Only when it starts interacting with living Safeholdians does it improve with colloquial replies.
  • Meaningful Name: The best example is Nimue, already a name from Arthurian Legend, going by Merlin and naming Cayleb's sword Excalibur.
    • Also Athrawes is Welsh for "teacher."
  • Medieval Stasis: Strictly enforced by the Proscriptions of Jwo-Jeng.
    • In Harchong they move backwards, technologically speaking, from where the Archangels started them. This is mostly due to a preference for abusing their massive population of serfs/ slaves rather than using more efficient draft animals, because serfs are cheaper. They are Mother Church's favorite secular power.
    • Now that Charis has broken with the Church, they've broken out of this quite spectacularly. In book one, the world's tech level ranged from fifteenth to seventeenth century level. In book six, which takes place a mere six years later, Charis is introducing mid to late nineteenth century technology.
  • Mercy Kill: Samyl Wylsynn, Lainsair Svairsmahn. Both to escape the Punishment of Schueler. In Samyl's case, his brother killed him and himself so that they wouldn't reveal that Anzhelyk saved their families under torture.
    • In Midst Toil and Tribulation, this gets done en masse, to the survivors of an entire company of Siddarmarkians who fought to the finish despite impossible odds. Given that the captive Siddarmarkians' fate would otherwise have been the Punishment of Schueler, they were grateful. It should be noted that officer who ordered the Mercy Kill was aware thet he may be put to the Punishment himself for sparing them when he ordered it.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: In Off Armageddon Reef it's definitely presented as Black and White Morality with the Charisians as the good guys and the Church of God Awaiting and it's supporters as completely evil. Later books are more nuanced but with the Church forces as still far darker and no real bad guys in the Charisian Empire unless they turn traitor.
    • While we don't see it directly in the narrative, it's cleartly stated that the battered civilians on both sides of the conflict in Midst Toil and Tribulation have commited atrocities and counter atrocities, including widespread murder, torture, and rape.
  • Mundane Utility: Among the many more practical things Cayleb uses Owl for: keeping track of baseball games.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Prince Nahrmahn of Emerald. Earl Thirsk is another potential example, though that seems to be changing at least a little after his fleet got obliterated in book 1.
    • The ultimatum that Cayleb issued in Off Armageddon Reef is the biggest sticking point for Thirsk in A Mighty Fortress.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Shan-wei, all the wei. Her plan continued to develop and unfold long after she was killed.
  • My Nayme Is: All over the place, as the result of 800 years of language drift.
  • Named Weapons: Cayleb's battlesteel, eternally sharp katana that Merlin gave him is named Excalibur.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Prince Nahrmahn is far more intelligent than he lets himself be known for. Many characters are aware of this and still underestimate him.
    • Duchairn begins using this to keep Clyntahn from viewing him as a threat.
  • Obviously Evil: Earl Coris on Clyntahn: "There ought to be a law that villains shouldn't be allowed to look like stereotypical villains."
  • Oh Crap: There are many instances of this on the Temple Lands part, especially when Charis manages to produce some new weapon.
    • Special mention goes to the steamboat HMS Delthak and her sister ships. They even scare the crap out of their allies.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted hardcore, but sometimes played with. There are people with the same first name, but sometimes with different spellings and/or pronunciations (e.g. Erayk and Erek).
    • One of the aversions combines this with Embarrassing First Name: Midshipman Aplyn, who is introduced in Off Armageddon Reef, shares a given name–Hektor–with the Prince of one of his kingdom's enemies.
    • A particularly unfortunate Charisian officer has the surname Clyntahn.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Merlin's reaction to a fist fight between Nimue and an insubordinate lieutenant.
  • Path of Inspiration: The original Church of God Awaiting.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Most arranged marriages, especially among the good guys, are this.
    • Cayleb and Sharleyan. Made as a cold-blooded strategic political decision, but turns out to be Love at First Sight.
    • Also happened with Prince Nahrman and his wife Ohlyvya.
    • Seems to be the case with newly betrothed Princess Irys and Hektor Alpyn-Ahrmahk. This example's played with, though; the marriage was, in part, arranged because the two were clearly attracted to each other anyway.
  • Power Perversion Potential: PICAs possess the ability to Gender Bend and are fully functional.
    • Merlin takes advantage of that "functionality" once to maintain cover in A Mighty Fortress. It's the source of some (very minor, never brought up again) Gayngst.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: From Off Armageddon Reef
    Tirian: After all, what do you think the odds are of you managing to defeat fifteen of my best?
    Merlin: Better than average.
  • Precision F-Strike: Most recently: "Oh, fuck you, Kahrnaikys! You always were a prick! And fuck Clyntahn, too!"
  • Privateer: Charis puts these to good use in early books. They start having some problems with other privateers in Midst Toul and Tribulation.
  • Properly Paranoid: Clyntahn of all people, but for all the wrong reasons. It should be noted that some characters theorize he is actually paranoid by medical definitions.
    • The Brotherhood itself is described throughout A Mighty Fortress as being "insanely cautious." But this insane level of caution is also regarded as completely justified.
  • Putting on the Reich: Merlin expressly compares the Inquisition to the SS at one point.
  • Rabble Rouser: Corisande sees an increase in these, courtesy of the Northern Conspiracy, after Charis takes over.
  • Raging Stiffie: "Oh, my God! That was why you stayed in the water! Why you were so damned careful about that towel!" (Averted afterwards, once Merlin turns off that feature.)
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Cayleb does everything in his power to avert this trope out of a combination of his decent nature and an unwillingness to give the Church more fuel for its propaganda machine. As a result, his military has very good discipline and rarely does anything dishonorable. The few times they do cros the line, the perpetrators are promptly and publicly dealt with.
    • This was the Group of Four's plan for Charis in Off Armageddon Reef, or at least the pillage and burn parts. The rape would be a side effect that they really wouldn't have bothered worrying about anyway.
    • Happens a lot, on both sides, in Midst Toil and Tribulation. That's what you get when you mix a holy war with a civil war....
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Back to back in How Firm a Foundation. Rhobair Duchairn gives the good guy version to Zahmsyn Trynair when the latter pleads with him to attend a public torture/ execution. Then it cuts to Zhaspahr Clyntahn who gives a more traditional, villainous one about Duchairn to his underling, revealing that he has a perfect understanding of what's going through Duchairn's head, how little it matters, how Hobbes Was Right, and how everything he does just plays into Clyntahn's hands. Also, at the end of the same book Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmanhk (who is 16 Safeholdian years old, or about 14 1/2 Earth years) delivers one to an Inquisitor before turning his head into Pink Mist.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Haarahld and Cayleb both are pretty understanding. Haarahld especially when his own cousin was a traitor. Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm fits this as well. Among the clergy is Paityr Wylsynn, the intendant of Charis, who is perhaps the only member of the Inquisition who can make this claim.
    • Earl Thirsk and perhaps Father Maik may also qualify, but their hands are often tied by their superiors.
  • Recycled INSPACE: The series is very similar to the Thirty Years' War, especially in religious aspect and the land war technologies introduced.
    • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, anyone?
    • The scene where Gray Harbor confronts Duke Tirian in the first book bears a strong resemblance to the description of Howard Clinkscales confronting Jared Mayhew in Honor of the Queen. In both cases, upon discovering that the cousin of the current monarch is a traitor, one of said monarch's advisors confronts the traitor, who admits his treason and tries to recruit the advisor.
  • Red Herring: More than a few Chekhovs Guns have gone unfired. The first book had both Hektor and Narhmahn potentially plotting to kill Merlin, but nothing came of either instance. Clyntahn put the Circle of Reformists plotting against him to a horrible end. Nahrman's overly indulgent diet and the associated health risks were mentioned repeatedly. Princess Irys' vow of revenge against Cayleb was cast aside throughout How Firm a Foundation and Midst Toil and Tribulation.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Cayleb loves to use this to maximum effect, to the occasional consternation of Merlin.
    • Cayleb is nothing compared to Madame Ahnzhelyk. In fact, Cayleb's reaction to her smuggling over two hundred potential Inquisition victims to safety in Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn's own smuggling boats is described as "almost reverent." Admiral Rock Point wants to marry her based on her reputation alone.
  • Remember The Alamo: Remember King Haahrald!
  • Rescue Introduction: How Merlin Athrawes introduced himself to then Crown Prince Cayleb in the first book.
  • Restraining Bolt: Autonomous PICAs are normally only able to remain active for ten days. This feature had to be hacked out of Nimue's PICA so it could perform the task needed of it, and doing so damaged the PICA's data port, so the PICA has to learn everything the old-fashioned way instead of just downloading it into his head.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Merlin uses two revolvers in How Firm a Foundation. Let's just say they make quite an impression. They were the first repeating firearms fired on Safehold.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Dialydd Mab's retribution against those who committed the atrocities at Sarkyn. Said revenge includes the Inquisitors who carried it out and every officer in command of the Sarkyn garrison at the time.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Ahrmahk dynasty of Charis, and a few others.
  • Ruling Couple: Cayleb and Sharleyan, who make a point of being equal co-rulers, each able to act with the full authority of their Empire on their own. Of course, it helps that Merlin's tech let's them actually confer with each other in real time, but they made this decision before they had access.
  • Saintly Church: The Church of Charis under Archbishop Maikel Staynair.
  • Satan Is Good: Played with a bit; while Shan-Wei is the Satan-analog for the Church of God Awaiting and is definitely on the side of good (not that this is known to the majority of the population), she and the other "Archangles" were never supernatural beings and are all long dead by the time the main plot starts.
    • At one point, Cayleb considers that the accusations of Shan-Wei worship made against him are pretty close to the truth - he now considers Shan-Wei someone worth venerating.
  • Shipper on Deck: Cayleb, Sharleyan, and Lady Hanth seriously discuss the merits of bringing together Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk and Princess Irys. As much for political reasons as the fact they seem to genuinely care for one another. (Incidentally, this happens while on board a ship- they are literally on deck.)
  • Shout Out:
    • Nimue's alternate identity of Merlin. She also eventually gives Cayleb a sword and names it Excalibur. Justified because her father was Welsh, which explains her own name. Weber also likes to use Safehold's naming conventions to slip in references.
    • Merlin makes several deliberate shout outs to historical events, reasoning that since he's the only one who knows the true history of Earth he might as well "crib all of the best lines." Most notable is during Off Armageddon Reef when he suggests that Prince Cayleb flies the message "Charis expects that every man will do his duty."
    • Nahrmahn Baytz is the prince of the Emerald Island. Judging from the text, he doesn't have the accent, though.
    • In A Mighty Fortress, Lock Island says "It's time we were about it", a reference to Honor Harrington's catchphrase.
    • Zhan Smolth, the star pitcher on the Tellesberg Kraken's and Rafayl Furkal, the Kraken's leadoff hitter in Off Armageddon Reef, both of whom are named after Atlanta Braves stars of the late nineties and early naughties. Considering that Weber lives in South Carolina, it's not unlikely that he's a fan.
    • Brigadier Kynt Clareyk (Kent Clark), and his second in command is named Layn (Lane)
    • Gahvyn Mahrtyn, Baron Whiteford, has a valet named Zheevys.
    • Keeper of the Seal of the Kingdom of Charis, Baron White Church, Paityr Sellyrs.
    • From By Heresies Distressed we have a Chisholmian delegate to the committee to set up the Imperial Parliament: Sir Paitryk Mahknee
    • Several of the various fiefs are shout outs as well: the Earldom of Gray Harbor, the Barony of White Castle, the Barony of Green Mountain, the Duchy of Halbrook Hollow
    • Corisandan resistance member Paitryk Hainree (Patrick Henry).
    • The titles of the fourth and fifth books (A Mighty Fortress and How Firm a Foundation) are also the titles of Protestant hymns.
    • The titles of the second, third, and sixth books (By Schism Rent Asunder, By Heresies Distressed, and Midst Toil and Tribulation) are from the lyrics to the hymn "The Church's One Foundation" by Samuel J. Stone.
    • Like a Mighty Army gets its title from "Onward Christian Soldiers".
    • Bishop Maikel Staynair's words declaring the schism with the Church of God Awaiting by the newly founded Church of Charis: "Here we will stand, for we can do no other..." are a shout-out to Martin Luther's famous statement at the Diet of Worms: "Here I stand; I can do no other." This phrase is quoted a number of times, usually credited to Cayleb.
    • There's a Babylon 5 reference in How Firm a Foundation: "There're good men enough standing behind me. And you're standing in front of me. If you want to survive this night, Colonel, be somewhere else. Now."
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Delivered to Zhaspahr Clyntahn by Allayn Maigwair of all people.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Sharleyan, full stop. She's a skilled diplomat, a dedicated ruler, and a caring wife and mother. She's also perfectly willing and capable of helping her armsmen shoot a horde of attacking fanatics and later continuing to sentence traitors to death after getting shot by an assassin. The bullet didn't penetrate her armored clothing, but it did crack a couple of ribs.
  • Sinister Minister: Quite a few, but Grand Inquisitor Zhaspar Clyntahn is the standout.
  • Space Age Stasis: The Gbaba are suspected to be stuck in this, with evidence suggesting next to no technological advancement for hundreds or thousands of years. Unfortunately they're so advanced and numerous that they don't need any.
  • Space Amish: Though the folk of Safehold aren't aware of it.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Clyntahn objects to Irys' wedding by sending a suicide bomber to the reception. Irys and Hector survive, two hundred innocent bystanders don't.
  • Succession Crisis: The dispute over the Earldom of Hanth in the first book, which is resolved by bribery rather than any actual examination of the evidence presented by the two claimants.
  • Suicide Attack: Project Rakurai, using gunpowder-filled wagons as terrorist bombs.
  • Suicide by Cop: How Hauwerd Wylsynn chooses to go out.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: The SNARCs give the protagonists an unbeatable ability to spy on their enemies. The only times it's ever failed them is when there's simply so much information that something gets lost in the shuffle, when dealing with agents acting on their own that they had no prior idea of, or when the planning is done within the Temple itself where Merlin doesn't dare send remotes for fear of setting off an alarm.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Nimue is the most effective cross-dresser in history. It helps that she can actually change physical sex as many times as she needs with her PICA.
  • Technically a Smile: As in some of Weber's other works, this trope appears a lot.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Bonus points for taking the time to point out that the wielder hadn't been in any sort of combat in decades, the knife wasn't very fit for throwing, and the thrower was just coming off a drinking binge. He still nails the shot.
  • Theme Naming: With the intention of provoking an Oh Crap moment with Clyntahn, Charis has decided to name the lead ships of its new class of ocean-going ironclad battlecruisers after people Clytahn had killed.
  • Title Drop: Guess where a major naval battle takes place in Off Armageddon Reef.
    • More obliquely in A Mighty Fortress, when Cayleb recalls his ancestor's words that the walls of Charis' fortress are its wooden ships.
      • This, itself, is a Shout-Out to 2nd President of the United States John Adams (Especially considering that the man who said it was King Zhan II), who said that the wooden walls of the navy were his country's first line of defense.
      • Which itself might have been a Shout-Out to the Oracle of the Wooden Wall, where the Oracle of Delphi supposedly told Athens to "look to your wooden wall" for protection, and Themistocles decided that the wooden wall meant Athens' fleet.
    • Similarly in How Firm a Foundation, Cayleb talks about how he wants Charis to be a refuge from persecution and a foundation for human freedom and dignity — one firm enough to weather any storm.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Allayn Maigwair has grown up at the end of In Midst Toil and Tribulation.
    • Hektor Aplyn-Armahk goes from a midshipman with a very minor role in book one, to leading his own company while still in his teens.
  • Turbulent Priest: Maikel Staynair, Samyl & Hauwerd Wylsynn, and other members of the Circle.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Merlin flat-out wonders if Haarahld and Cayleb have some genetic defect affecting their "fight or flight" instincts as they both fail to flip out when he does something obviously high-tech. Justified in the case of Haarahld.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: On Safehold, friendship is defined as being able to freely insult one another. Merlin himself is deeply grateful for having people who are comfortable enough with him to give him grief.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Merlin speaks to Sharleyan in Nimue's voice in the opening scene of A Mighty Fortress.
  • War Is Hell: Acknowledged in every battle, but especially in Midst Toil and Tribulation with the religiously inspired civil war in Siddermark, following the Sword of Schueler.
  • We Have Reserves: In Midst Toil and Tribulation, the Army of God eventually resort to a human wave attack when the Bishop decides that he has to take a fortified position now, before the Charisian armies can get any closer.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Zhaspar Clyntahn is especially dangerous because he has himself convinced that he's merely this.
    • Also Merlin himself, who is, for all intents and purposes, helping along war that will kill millions in order to bring humanity back to its old technological level as quickly as possible. Unlike others on this list, he at least struggles with it.
      • In order to help along war that will kill billions, to hopefully wipe out the Gbaba.
    • Also, Word of God says that Langhorne and Bedard honestly believed that locking Safehold in Medieval Stasis permanently would ensure humanity's survival.
  • Wham Episode
    • Book 2: The Order of St. Zherneau.
    • Book 5: Paityr Wylsynn's revelation.
  • Wham Line: "That's why I'm speaking to you about it... Ahbraim." Aivah to Merlin, book seven.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fraudulent Earl of Hanth, who had a major storyline in Off Armageddon Reef, and was last seen heading to Zion in By Schism Rent Asunder in order to be "the only legitimate Charisian noble to declare for the Church" has vanished completely. No mention of a ship sinking, of being killed simply for being a Charisian, or of making it there either to be tortured by the Inquisition, or to actually be part of their plans. We don't even know if they just ignored him or not.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: Self-inflicted for Merlin. While everyone who learns the truth about Merlin is convinced that he's a living person, Merlin entertains constant doubt about his identity, and the reader is frequently reminded that he doesn't have a real heart when he feels strong emotions.
  • Willfully Weak: Merlin usually keeps governors in place to keep from betraying his superhuman nature too obviously, he removes them in emergencies when massive carnage is called for.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: A significant factor in the propaganda battle between the Empire and the Church. The Charisians have done their best to restrict their propaganda to provable facts, regardless of whether anyone will believe them or not. On at least two occasions (Ahnzhelyk's files regarding Church corruption and the murders of vicars within Zion itself), Charisian leadership chose not to publish anything because they only have copies and not the original evidence (in the case of the former) and because there's an off-chance of Clyntahn's pulling a fast one and can disprove their claims (in the case of the latter).
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Sharleyan.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The Charisian navy after Merlin's innovations take hold.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Merlin on several instances after and during combat, thanks to his PICA body and battlesteel sword. Especially near the end of Midst Toil and Tribulation.
  • Worth It: Said by Merlin after his prank on Sharleyan at the start of A Mighty Fortress.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Earl of Thirsk is consistently said by the Charsian characters to be the single most dangerous commander the enemy has. He proves them correct, too.
    • More importantly, the only reason they don't have him assassinated is because he actually tries to treat his prisoners of war honorably.
  • Year Zero: Initially Creation, but in How Firm a Foundation Merlin notes that the end of Shan-wei's rebellion became the new Year Zero by which the "Years of God" are counted.

Out of the DarkMilitary Science-FictionStarfire
R.U.R.Science Fiction LiteratureThe Saga of Seven Suns
The Scavenger TrilogyLiterature of the 2000sThe Saga of Darren Shan

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