Literature / Starship's Mage
No one on this planet really knows what it means for a Hand to go to war.

Starship's Mage is a Science Fantasy Space Opera series by Glynn Stewart. The first book, Starship's Mage: Omnibus was originally published as a series of five novellas following the young mage Damien Montgomery as he goes from a nobody with no family connections to a fugitive on the run from one of the Mage-King's "roving warrior-judges" to one of the most powerful mages alive and a student of the Mage-King himself. The second and third books, Hand of Mars and Voice of Mars, follow Damien as judge, jury and executioner, as he completes regime-toppling troubleshooting missions for Mage-King and Protectorate.

The opening novellas chronicle Damien's adventures on the Blue Jay, an interstellar cargo freighter captained by David Rice, a man just principled enough to severely piss off the local crime syndicate.

Stewart has described the series as The Dresden Files meets Miles Vorkosigan, with magic taking the place of the usual hand-wave that accompanies faster-than-light travel in science fiction.

There are currently three novels in the series:
  • The Starship's Mage Omnibus (Book One) combines five novellas that were originally published separately. (2014)
  • Hand of Mars (2015)
  • Voice of Mars (2016)

Tantor Media began publishing an Audiobook adaptation of the series in 2015, narrated by Jeffrey Kafer.
  • Starship's Mage (Omnibus) (2015)
  • Hand of Mars (2015)
  • Voice of Mars (2016)

These books provide examples of:

  • Action Girl: A number, most notably Julia Amiri, ex-bounty hunter and current bodyguard on a quest to keep the Hand alive even though he has no sense of self-preservation.
  • Action Girlfriend: Damien's college sweetheart was Grace McLaughlin, granddaughter of the planetary governor of Damien's homeworld and Commodore of the Sherwood Interstellar Patrol by the time he meets her again. Treating her as a Damsel in Distress would be ill-advised.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: See Assassin Outclassin'.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The aristocratic mages on Mars, especially.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Maybe not so ancient, but the Eugenicists that originally "created" the mages were already subtly manipulating lineages before they took over the Mars colonies and began overtly manipulating the population and force-breeding test subjects.
  • Arc Words: "I speak for Mars."
  • Artificial Gravity: It's expensive to bring in mages to constantly refresh gravity runes, so many ships at dock don't have extensive artificial gravity. Ships in transit often have spinning components that allow centrifugal force to pull inhabitants to the outside of the ship. Despite the fact that mages can create their own artificial gravity fields, some, like Damien, choose to float through zero gravity spaces just like the rest of the population, to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
  • Assassin Outclassin': In the third book, an enemy attempts to assassinate Grace and Damien by planting explosives in the Commodore's space-station-based office, casting the two of them into deep space. Normal mages can't survive vacuum, but Damien as a Hand of the Mage-King is powerful enough to create a shield for their air supply while Grace recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: When you need to rein in a rogue head of state, it's useful to be able to stride into their heavily-fortified base with only a small force due to your own status as a Person of Mass Destruction.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: On the other hand, you don't get to be a Hand of the Mage King without being pretty terrifying to begin with.
  • Audio Adaptation: Since the series was acquired in 2015, the Audiobook tends to be released a couple of months after the eBook and paperback versions.
  • Badass Crew: Most of the crew of the 'Blue Jay', but especially Narveer Singh.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Damien's typically quiet, polite and genuinely concerned about making sure that everyone is treated equitably in the situations he's called to unravel as Hand of the Mage-King. But if you go too far, he won't hesitate to take you down.
    Every time she saw the Hand, Amiri started to get nervous. Damien was... young, polite, and, with the Runes of Power carved into his body, an extraordinarily powerful Mage. She also knew, unlike most, that he already had a body count to make serial killers blush.
  • Captain Oblivious: Damien is painfully aware that as a "Mage by Right" rather than a "Mage by Blood," he's a step down in the aristocratic hierarchy of the mages. He is also painfully unaware of how close he is to the governing family of his planet, and he never thinks to take advantage of that. This trait of considering himself a completely unimportant person in the grand scheme of things will follow him throughout the series.
    Adamant: The third adult Rune Wright in the galaxy, personally trained in politics, magic and law by the Mage-King himself, and the man who brought down the Blue Star Syndicate. Unimportant, huh?
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Mages born to non-mage parents are relatively common in the setting, but Damien's family died in an accident, leaving him without any real connection to his home planet other than the people he met at school.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Played straight with a number of corporations on Amber and Ardennes, but averted in book two with Tomas Rickard, the CEO of an interstellar corporation. Rickard informs the Hands that the government of Ardennes has been granting exceptions to safety codes that have resulted in a huge number of civilian deaths.
    Rickard: We were on track for a zero fatal accident fiscal year. On the scale we operate, that is something to be damned proud of. And then these idiots killed two hundred and fifty-six of my people."
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Damien facing off against the Mage Enforcer in the second book, illustrating how much more powerful he's become since he left his home planet of Sherwood.
  • David vs. Goliath: The only resources that Damien has to take down a corrupt government that is perfectly willing to blow up its own cities is the resistance made up of a bunch of ex-politicians, some gear smuggled in as part of a bigger conspiracy, and the access codes that he has from being a Hand.
  • Dead Man Switch: In Hand of Mars, what the governor's right hand man uses as a final bargaining chip, when he's threatening to destroy several cities as part of his escape plan.
  • Deep Cover Agent: In Hand of Mars, Amiri infiltrates the Ardennes resistance on behalf of the Protectorate, and Leclair infiltrates the same resistance on behalf of Legatus.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Governor Vaughn in Hand of Mars is perfectly willing to destroy one of his own cities to further his political goals. That there are some lines even he won't cross is rather terrifying.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: The Eugenicists.
  • Fantasy Counter Part Culture:
    • Ardennes has elements of Quebecois culture, most noticeable by the "Quebec Reformation Catholic Church" that plays a small part in Hand of Mars. The same book also has escargot imported from France.
    • The first book contains Amber, which is a bit of a future utopia for American Libertarians. Healthcare coverage is required by the Protectorate, but in Amber, you still need to pay the toll to get to the hospital.
    • Sherwood's culture and background is largely Scottish.
  • Fantastic Racism: Played with. Anti-mage sentiment is part of the reason that Damien's intended punishment in Book One is so severe, as it's intended to show that mages can police themselves. The mages' place as an aristocratic caste is the reason that mages aren't allowed to step foot on UnArcana worlds. A more straightforward example is Mage-Commodore Cor in Hand of Mars, who considers all non-mages to be inherently inferior beings.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Mages can transport ships up to a light year in an instant, but they need to rest between jumps or risk burning themselves out—painfully and fatally. This happened to the original ship's mage on the Blue Jay, who sacrificed himself to allow the rest of the crew to escape from pirates, and setting up the action in the first book (the mage who died was a relative of "the McLaughlin," Governor of Sherwood.)
  • Feudal Future: Planetary governors report to the Protectorate of the Mage-King of Mars. The mages gave humanity access to the stars, and set themselves up as an aristocracy to avoid ever being in the position of powerless test subjects ever again. Legatus disagrees with this status quo.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first book, the Blue Jay smuggles gunships to a Legatan UnArcana world. In the second book, a Legatan agent is caught arming a revolution. It shouldn't really be a surprise that they're up to no good in the third book.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Inverted, in that many of the people Sherwood recruits for its anti-piracy defence force were accidentally recruited from the pirates and mercenaries left over after the Blue Star Syndicate collapsed at the end of book one.
  • Glass Cannon: Pre-runes of power in Book One, Damien throws a little too much magic around in a fight and has to depend heavily on the rest of the crew to get back.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kenneth McLaughlin for the Blue Jay at the beginning of the first book. Defied by Damien at the end of the first chapter by Taking A Third Option. Played straight with Singh, who dies defending the Blue Jay from a surprise attack.
  • Homage: Damien's position as Hand of the Mage-King has more than a little of the troubleshooting Imperial Auditors from the Vorkosigan Saga inspiring it... and maybe also a little bit of Darth Vader.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Stealey, although her literal iron stomach tends to filter alcohol too quickly for it to enter her bloodstream.
  • It's Personal: In Voice of Mars, Damien's home planet might be committing piracy and mass murder. Oh, and his college girlfriend is in charge of the force that's probably committing the attacks.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: All mages know that it's impossible to alter magic runes, and trying is tantamount to attempted mass murder (they have a tendency to explode when messed with.) Secretly, only a few people have the innate ability to see what the runes do well enough to make alterations, and that's a secret known only to the Mage-King and his inner circle.
  • Knight Templar: Legatan agents, especially the Augments who are designed to go up against mages, see themselves as agents of freedom, fighting the tyranny of the mage caste. Most of them act accordingly. But dear gods, the Legatan agent in Hand of Mars. Interestingly, his boss seems none too happy with him.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: It's almost impossible to describe the series without spoiling the ending of the first book.
  • Leave No Survivors: When the pirates in Hand of Mars realise that there's no chance of victory or escape, they begin to turn on each other (mostly due to outside forces).
  • Man Behind the Man: The Legatus Military Intelligence Directorate has ties to many of the major conflicts in the series.
  • More Expendable Than You: Amiri would like to convince Damien that, at the very least, he really doesn't need to fight armed insurgencies head-on, alone.
  • Mugging the Monster: The terrorists at the beginning of Voice of Mars think it's a good idea to take a Hand hostage.
  • Names to Run Away From: The Hand of the Mage-King of Mars.
  • Never My Fault: Governor Vaughn.
  • New Tech Is Not Cheap: Fortunately, Legatus is around to provide tech and weapons to anti-Protectorate causes. Allegedly.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Fortunately, Alaura Stealey has an iron stomach that should eliminate any poison from her system.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Generally not a good standard to apply to Hands of the Mage-King.
  • Outlaw Town: Darkport, where the Blue Jay goes to lay low from both Protectorate law and the bounty hunters that have been plaguing her crew.
    The rules of Darkport are simple. This station is run by the Falcone Family. You fuck with Falcone affairs, we kill you. You risk the atmo integrity of the station, we kill you. You break the bounty ban, we kill you. Your safety and the safety of your goods are your problem.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: All Hands of the Mage-King, but by Hand of Mars, this is especially true Damien (and presumably the Mage-King himself).
  • Poor Communication Kills: Magic allows Faster-Than-Light Travel by ship, and also allows mage-to-mage speech in specific circumstances. A significant portion of the plot of Hand of Mars revolves around gaining access to the communication hub on Ardennes in order to contact Mars. Data transfer by magic is impossible. In Voice of Mars, the lack of instant communication almost triggers a civil war.
  • Properly Paranoid: In Book One, Captain David Rice insists on bringing Damien to the surface of an UnArcana world—a place that doesn't allow mages on-planet. Singh stays on-board the Blue Jay, with power armor, just in case. The crew was able to surprise the ground-based ambush with magic, and surprise the space-based boarding attempt with a badass Sikh with heavy weapons and power armor. That preparation was the only thing that allowed the Blue Jay to escape—though not without losses.
    The best way to avoid a trap, in his experience, was to walk into it with your eyes open.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Averted by the local system government that—before a trial is even held—resolves to strip Damien of his magic for altering the runes of the ''Blue Jay''. Played straight by Alaura Stealey, the Hand of the Mage-King that is called in to hold the trial and administer the punishment, who immediately realizes that Damien must be a Rune Wright. Also played straight by the Mage-King of Mars, who acts as a mentor to Damien and uses his Hands to solve problems in the systems they're sent to, rather than just enforcing existing laws and structures. Also, surprisingly, Major Niska in Book One.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Whenever Damien is being a little too modest, other characters are likely to bring up the time that he singlehandedly cut off the head of a major crime syndicate when he was a newly-graduated Jump Mage.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Often subverted by rebellions that don't want to draw the ire of the Hands of the Mage-King. Inverted by Mage-Governor Vaughn, who tries to blame the destruction of a city on Ardennes rebels. Played straight by the Neo-Puritans in Voice of Mars.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Lori Armstrong's rebellion on Ardennes started as an opposition party that realized elections were being rigged by Mage-Governor Vaughn. The group attacks military targets and aims to back up the citizenry when it rebels against the corrupt government. Vaughn chooses to destroy the liberated city himself rather than allow it to fall to the rebels.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Mage-King personally provides orders to his Hands, sending them into volatile situations to avert civil wars and end rebellions (usually by solving the problems that caused the rebellions in the first place.)
  • Science Fantasy: Magic explicitly takes the place of the usual handwaving in Faster-Than-Light Travel.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Simultaneously inverted and played straight by Damien in Book One, when Damien takes a posting on the Blue Jay:
    • After he's turned down repeatedly for Jump Mage positions in favor of candidates with better connections than he does, he decides he's willing to risk going with the Blue Jay even though it's been blacklisted by the Sherwood government (particularly Mage-Governor McLaughlin, whose nephew was killed when the Blue Jay fled from pirates at the beginning of the book.)
    • But he finds out about the vacancy entirely because his girlfriend, Grace McLaughlin (the granddaughter of the Mage-Governor) heard that the Blue Jay was looking for a Jump Mage.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Hands speak with the authority of the Mage-King of Mars, a requirement in a setting where interstellar communication is limited. They have the ability to override planetary governors and all levels of the military. Obstructive Bureaucrats find this out the hard way.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Battle: Much of the series' action is person-to-person combat, but in Book One, Damien's creation and use of the Blue Jay's amplifier allows him to blow enemy ships to hell using magic. A much more traditional example in Voice of Mars, which brings two system militias into open combat.
  • Space Pirates: A major theme of both Book One and Voice of Mars, and also the end game of Mage-Commodore Cor's escape plan in Hand of Mars.
  • Squishy Wizard: Averted in that powerful Mages are seriously hard to kill. Played straight in that it's unfortunately rather easy for them to overdo it and kill themselves.
  • Taking You with Me: The reason that the pirates in Voice of Mars turn on each other.
  • Theme Naming: The Protectorate's deliberately long and pretentious warship names.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Damien, after he uses his abilities as a Rune Wright to inscribe a rune of power on his own skin (and follow up training), transforming from an average mage in terms of power level and combat ability into one of the most powerful mages alive. Grace, who between the first and third books moves from a junior Jump Mage into the Commodore of a system militia.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Damien's enemies, repeatedly and often terminally.
  • The Unfettered: The Legatan agent in Voice of Mars.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Mage-Governor Vaughn in Hand of Mars. And, potentially, Legatus in its attempts to overthrow the Mage caste.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Explicitly Alaura Stealey's reason for letting Damien and the crew of the Blue Jay flee from Protectorate law. Someone with Damien's Rune Wright ability could do a lot of damage as an independent power, or do a lot of good for the Protectorate. Either she's giving him enough rope to hang himself with, or she can catch up with him and hire him later.