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Characters / Chronicles of the Kencyrath - Kencyr Culture

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This is listing of tropes relating to Kencyr people and culture in the series Chronicles of the Kencyrath.

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    the Three People 
This and none other was her own god, the one who had taken the Three People—Arrin-ken, Kendar, Highborn—and made them one against the enemy from outside, Perimal Darkling, Father of Shadows. For thirty millennia, three thousand years on Rathillien alone, the Kencyrath had fought the long retreat from world to world, down the Chain of Creation, waiting for their god to manifest himself through them in final battle. Chosen they were and proud, but bitter, too, over long delay, and angry that, the task being set, their god had apparently left them to accomplish it alone.
  • Cat Folk: Arrin-ken look like giant cats. Highborn and Kendar are more culturally than physically feline, although they do have some night vision. But they may have looked more catlike at an earlier point in their history.
    Jame: The rest of us used to be much closer to [Arrin-ken] physically and mentally than we are now.
  • Classical Tongue: High Kens, a very formal and archaic form of the modern Kens language.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The Kencyrath have a lot of Jewish inspiration, being monotheists in a polytheist world, and having a tough, unforgiving God who cares more about obedience than faith or love. They have Temples and Books of Law and quite a bit of the whole Kabbalah-like secret knowledge in the priesthood. They're wandering tribes who don't fit in where they live, far from their long-ago-lost homeland. On the other hand, their honor code, ritual suicide, and martial arts have Japanese inspiration. The cloistering and covering-up of Highborn women is rather reminiscent of parts of Islamic history. They're monotheists, but with a God that's a trinity of three aspects, per Christianity. And those aspects, creation, preservation, and destruction, is much like Hinduism.
  • Deep Sleep: When Kencyr are seriously injured, they go into dwar sleep, a deep sleep state in which injuries heal very quickly and exhausted bodies recover much faster than with regular sleep. But it's a very helpless state—the body completely shuts down and the sleeper is not easily awakened—so you need to be somewhere where you know you'll be safe before you go into it.
  • Dream Land: Every Kencyr has a soulscape which can be accessed during sleep, regular or dwar. Shanir Healers work by determining the soulscape of the injured person and repairing damage to it.
  • Elemental Powers: The four disciplines of the Senetha and Senethar: earth-moving, water-flowing, fire-leaping and wind-blowing.
    • Fantastic Fighting Style: The Senethar appears to be a wu shu-like style with hard and soft aspects and four elemental styles.
    • Dance Battler: The Senetha, their ritual dance, is a twin to their martial arts, the Senethar, and both have the same four disciplines.
    • Magic Dance: The Senetha is a ritual dance and magically powerful; the energies of a Kencyr temple are channeled through dance, and magic can be performed thereby. Jamethiel Dream-Weaver reaped the souls of two-thirds of the Kencyr Host through dance during the Fall, and Jame shows the same level of ability.
    • Mating Dance: The Senetha can be notably sexy. Multiple times, when pairs with UST do it (Jame + Timmon, Jame + Torisen, Brier + Amberley) everyone stops and stares.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Highborn women can control conception at will, and the social structure frequently puts them in social situations where they must use this control as part of a marriage contract, either having a child or not, regardless of what they would prefer. Kendar women can do the same with other Kendar—but not with a Highborn lover, which results in a number of half-Kendar children with mixed blood. It's implied that a Highborn woman wouldn't be able to control it with a Kendar man either, but there are no known cases of it, so no one can be sure.
  • Healing Factor: Kencyr possess tremendous powers of regeneration, albeit requiring dwar sleep, a period of hibernation where one is insensate to the world. Broken bones, lost teeth, and terrible illnesses are all shaken off within days of dwar sleep. But without proper medical care, this will result in crooked bones and scarring from the body setting in place. This becomes a plot point in Seeker's Mask.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Kencyrath are obsessed with personal honor, and more than half in love with death and dying with honor.
    Arribek sen Tenzi: The race best known in Rathillien for a certain—ah—inflexibility in matters concerning honor
    • Blind Obedience: Obedience to your lord is one of the cornerstones of Kencyr honor.
    • Seppuku: The Kencyrath have a tradition of suicide with a specialized suicide knife called the White Knife. It is a honorable death.
      • Cyanide Pill: The White Knife
      • Death Equals Redemption: In Kencyr honor, no matter what you did, an honorable death can redeem you.
        Bane: An honorable death wipes away all stains.
    • Will Not Tell a Lie: One of the cornerstones of the Kencyr brand of honor. Calling someone a liar is a mortal insult, and if a Kencyr lies, even for a good cause, suicide or finding a quick death in battle are the only ways to redeem oneself. Singers and diplomats are awarded the privilege of the Lawful Lie, however.
      • Exact Words: Of course, plenty of characters find ways to deceive without technically lying.
        How much a Kencyr could get away with by simply not telling a direct lie. "It might be… perhaps… it seems…" G’ah. The bland smile, the easy evasion—was that all that honor had come to mean to her people?
  • Lineage Comes from the Father (Zigzagged): The Kendar are matrilineal and trace descent through the mother's line. Highborn are patrilineal and mostly trace descent through the father's line. But while Highborn children are part of their father's house, they often have some allegiance to their mother's house as well, so that's considered worth making note of. Korey is half-Caineron; Demoth is half-Ardeth; Kirien and Kallystine are half-Randir.
  • Long-Lived: Their lifespans are about 150% that of humans.
  • Mercy Kill/I Cannot Self-Terminate: After a battle, it is the duty of a high-ranking Highborn officer to follow his empathic link to any Kendar he has bound, culling the fatally wounded. A Kencyr who could commit suicide themselves in such a situation would do so, but if they are unable to, they are assisted.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The Kencyrath are never explicitly called elves, but they fit a lot of the normal qualities, especially the Highborn: an ancient race with long life, mystical powers, a special purpose, etc. (And some of them have the arrogance to match!)
  • Planet Looters/Invading Refugees: They have lived on a whole string of other worlds since their homeworld was lost to the Perimal Darkling. The Merikit, whose land they stole, see them as thieves, and the other native inhabitants, who weren't so personally wronged by them, see them more like unwanted roommates.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Kencyrath in general
    • Private Military Contractors: Because the Riverland is too poor to support the Kencyr nation as a whole survives on the earnings of its warriors as hired mercenaries.
  • Psychic Link: The Kendar have a basic need to be bound to a Highborn. The link allows a Highborn to find and feel the health of the Kendar, but also makes the Kendar susceptible to the emotions of the Highborn. It is easily abused, and is by many Highborn.
  • Red Baron: Epithets are common among the Kencyr, and are chosen by others, not the bearer. It is possible to have more than one epithet, though this is uncommon.
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy: Kencyr history is petty much just a long string of these. The Fall, the Kithorn massacre, the Knorth Massacre, the White Hills, Urakarn… And that's not even counting that they've fought and lost on every world they've ever lived on.
  • Soul Jar: Kencyr can ask certain Shanir to hold their soul for them. The primary reason one would perform such an act is to allow a newly-soulless warrior to commit dishonorable acts without actually being responsible for them in the afterlife, as his soul had nothing to do with them, and he is expected to commit suicide as penance when his soul is restored (or to be physically killed by the sinless soul and sinful body mutually annihilating). As a secondary effect, it makes the Highborn very very hard to kill.
    Dally: Speaking of souls, don't the Kencyrs equate them with the shadow too?
    Jame: More or less. With us, though, both are more… uh… detachable. Some of the Highborn and, I think, all of the Arrin-ken, have the ability to carry other Kencyrs' souls. The only advantage this seems to have, though, is that a man who has voluntarily given his soul into someone else's charge is very hard to kill.
    Dally: That sounds desirable, anyway.
    Jame: Not always. We like to keep death as an option.
  • Variant Chess: Gen, a strategy game they play at Tentir.

  • Alliterative Family/Alliterative Name: Many Highborn have letter-themed names within a house, usually the first letter of the house's name.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil (Zigzagged): There are plenty of Highborn who abuse their power at the price of the Kendar. There are also plenty of Highborn who try to good leaders and do their best to take care of their Kendar.
  • Arranged Marriage: The norm among the Highborn. Marriage contracts are usually time-limited, or tell if children are allowed or not.
  • Blue Blood: The Highborn are the lords of the Kencyrath.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Incest is quite normalized and accepted in Kencyr culture. It dates back to a time before the Fall, when people were trying to breed Shanir. It's become significantly less popular since the Fall, because a twincestuous Shanir couple caused it, but not unheard of—in the Shanir-friendly Ardeth, half-siblings Pereden and Distan were still consorts, and no one batted an eye.
    • Breeding Cult: Before the Fall, they were trying to breed the Tyr-ridan, to defeat the Perimal Darkling, and the best way to get powerful Shanir in inbreeding. After the Fall, they pretty much gave up on that, in no small part because Gerridon and Jamethiel were born of one of those inbreeding pairings.
  • Everyone Is Bi (Implied): It kind of seems like this trope is in play, but it's hard to tell. Highborn women form traditional—though top-secret—relationships with each other, and the Women's World seems to assume all women want such relationships. It could also be a case of Situational Sexuality. Given that Highborn ladies get no say in their contracts, it's hard to tell what they think of men—though at the very least, we do know that Trishien loved Ganth. As for Highborn men, most of them seem to like women, and we have at least one case of a bisexual: Depraved Bisexual Greshan.
  • Heir Club for Men (Zigzagged): At first it looks like this, but it's quickly revealed Kencyr inheritance is actually rather different. Male heirs are the norm, to the point where most people believe it's law, but it's actually not—legally, women are perfectly acceptable heirs. But people believing otherwise does make it so, to some extent. Also, Kencyr inheritance doesn't follow the "eldest son" rule—lords can choose whatever relative they want for their heir, and given their long lifespans, grandsons and great-grandsons are as common as sons.
    Kirien: There's nothing in the Law that prohibits a lady from heading a family instead of a lord. In the case of fraternal twins like the Master and the Mistress, the power even used to be shared. It's only since Jamethiel Dream-Weaver fell that so many restrictions have been put on Highborn women, and most of them are pure Custom, not Law.
  • Immune to Drugs (Downplayed): Highborn are pretty much immune to poison, and other drugs usually effect them… differently. They can consume hemlock as a sleeping-draught, for example.

the Women's World

  • Malevolent Masked Women (Zigzagged): Highborn women wear masks all the time, and Jame initially sees them—namely the matriarchs—very antagonistically. As the story goes on, though, the trope gets partially subverted as we soon see that most of them aren't actually bad people—they just stand in opposition to Jame. But the matriarchs aren't perfect either—they're morally complex, and usually some shade of light to medium gray.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Highborn women constantly wear masks. The idea is that it conceals the lady's facial expressions—emotions are very personal after all. Highborn women going barefaced is really shocking, and when Jane starts at Tentir, many of her classmates are too embarrassed to look her in the face.
  • Secret Relationship: Sister-kinship, the traditional lesbian relationships of Highborn women, which are kept absolutely secret from men.
    • Long-Distance Relationship: Because their lords can contract the ladies to whoever they want, sister-kin are often separated. To cope, they write a lot of letters to each other in their secret knot-stitch code.
    • Nonindicative Name: Sister-kin aren't sisterly by any means.note  The word was surely chosen for it's misleading nature, probably by both the ladies and the author.
    • Schoolgirl Lesbians: Sister-kinships are forged as young girls in the Womens' Halls.
  • Women's Mysteries: The Highborn women deliberately cultivate mystery and outright subterfuge within the Women's World. It has "rings of secrecy", which young women are gradually told. As far as we know so far, the highest secret is sister-kinship.

  • Floral Theme Naming: More than half of them have plant names.
  • Gender Is No Object: While Highborn women are quite cloistered, Kendar are remarkably gender-equal, with men and women serving together in the Host.
  • Ronin: Kendar who lose their lord become yondri-gon, or yondri for short—"threshold dwellers". Other houses may then take them in, but even after years—or with the Caineron, generations—they don't always offer to bind them.
  • Servant Race: The Kendar are the warriors and craftsmen of the Kencyrath, and live under their Highborn lords. They weren't originally like this, but their god made them this way.



Kencyr religion

    Three Faced God 

the Three Faced God

  • Ethnic God: The Kencyrath are their god's chosen people. As in the Three Faced God took the Three People—at the time, three separate races—and bound them together into the Kencyrath.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Probably the most charitable interpretation of the Three-Faced God, which could also be seen as a Neglectful Precursor, a Jerkass God, or even a (relatively benevolent) Eldritch Abomination. In any event, it doesn't seem to expect its followers to like it, so long as they get the job done.
  • Have You Seen My God?: At the beginning of the series, the Kencyrath have not heard anything from their God in thousands of years, but it's implied that this is not the first time this has happened. It at very least seems like their god as abandoned them.
    Jame: [W]e haven't even been on speaking terms for the last twenty thousand years or so.
  • Jerkass God: The Kencyr definitely think so.

    Kencyr religion 
  • The Chosen One (Variation): A Power Trio, the Chosen Three, the Tyr-ridan, three prophesied Shanir, each aligned with one of the three aspects of God. When all three aspects of the god are present at once, the final battle with Perimal Darkling is supposed to occur.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: Kencyr are pointedly monotheists, but with a God that's a trinity of three aspects, per Christianity. Those three aspects are creation, preservation, and destruction, much like Hinduism.
  • Nay-Theist: The Kencyrath respect and to an extent revere their god, but like the thing? Not in a million years.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Kencyr dead are not free until all of their body is burned.

    Objects of Power 

the Book Bound in Pale Leather

  • Genuine Human Hide: The Book Bound With Pale Leather is made from Kencyr skin.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore (with a bit of Great Big Book of Everything): The Book Bound in Pale Leather was given to the Kencyr by their God, but it, like the God, is not entirely nice. Reading it is likely fatal, and copying it killed a priest after only a few pages.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: It contains Master Runes for doing all kinds of things, including transport to the next world in the chain. Jame reads entirely too much of it for her own good, and uses Master Runes to set a blizzard on fire, among other things.

the Ivory Knife

  • The Hecate Sisters: The pommel of the Ivory Knife has three faces on it, Maiden, Mother and Crone. Jame sees herself in the Maiden and her mother in the Mother, and Brenwyr in the Crone.
  • One-Hit Kill: The Ivory Knife is the holy artifact of Destruction, and instantly kills with the merest scratch.

the Serpent-skin Cloak



    Scrollsmen's College 

the Scrollsmen's College at Mount Alban

The Scrollsmen's College is located at the Mount Alban keep, right across the river from the Jaran's Valantir, and is the heart of academia in the Kencyrath
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Mount Alban's scholars often fall somewhere around this trope.
  • Academy of Adventure: The college goes wandering the weirdingstrom in Seeker's Mask, to the delight of the bevy of scholars aboard.
  • Mr. Exposition: All scholars have an area of expertise, and they enjoy showing it off at relevant moments.
  • Warrior Poet: Many of the scholars are retired randon.

    Women's Halls 

the Women's Halls at Gothregor

The Women's Halls, part school, part the home of the Council of Matriarchs, is located within the walls of Gothregor.
  • Assimilation Academy: Girls and young women sent there are not only taught the secrets of the "Women's World", they're also taught to behave as befits a Highborn female, which means to accept that their only real purpose is being married off to further their house's ambitions.
  • School of Seduction (Implied): What with teaching the girls how to "please their future consorts."

    Priests' College 

the Priests' College at Wilden

The Priests' College is located at Wilden, underground.


Tentir, the Randon College

  • Academy of Adventure
  • Military Academy: To become a randon, one has to go through Tentir.
  • Tightrope Walking: Kendar often has a great fear of heights. Tentir makes use of that, by having the cadets ropewalk in order to learn how to control their fear and their bodies, and as a test.
  • Chucking Chalk: The strategy instructor at Tentir has a wooden fist. He has a tendency to detach and throw it at dozing cadets. Later exaggerated, when he dismisses a class where half are mildly concussed for inattention.
  • Public Bathhouse Scene: When the Tentir kids go swimming at the swimming hole, they're all naked. Jame and Timmon take the opportunity to check each other out.
  • Capture the Flag: The Winter War has some variations, but it's very similar to capture the flag.

  • Fantastic Honorifics: Randon get the title "Ran". And a sargent (a non-commissioned officer) is "Sar".
  • Fantastic Rank System: Among the randon, there are various levels of command. The smallest unit is a ten-command; the leader is called Ten and the second-in-command is called Five. Next, there's one-hundred commands, made up of 10 ten-commands, with a one-hundred commander leading them.
  • The Squad: Ten-commands are the smallest unit in the Kencyr military.


  • Blessed with Suck: You could say they're "blessed", since they're closer to their god… but the Kencyr really hate their god.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Called "Shanir" or "the Old Blood", which is a fairly literal description of where the powers come from.
  • Fantastic Racism: Shanir face a lot of prejudice in modern Kencyr culture. While the narrative never wavers on the point that Shanir should be treated better, it becomes more nuanced over time. Jame—and thus the reader—comes to see that it's not as simple as "they're being mean to us." Shanir have very real powers, and power corrupts. When Shanir use their powers for ill—and they most certainly do—non-Shanir have very little they can do to protect themselves. The prejudice against Shanir is born of a long history of Shanir using their powers to commit autocracies, from dancing our people's souls to raping your brother.
  • Hide Your Otherness: Fairly standard procedure for Shanir—things like white-haired Shanir dyeing their hair some other color.
  • Magic Is Evil: Ever since the Fall, the Kencyrath have adopted this attitude toward Shanir. Not so much that magic is evil, but that people with extreme powers can't be trusted.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Shanir traits are largely genetic. You need at least some Highborn blood to be Shanir, but there are plenty of mostly-Kendar whose little bit of Highborn blood is enough. On the flip side, there have been times in Kencyr history when they've purposely breed incestuously in order to produce powerful Highborn Shanir. This has had some nasty side effects—for example, the Knorth have lots of Shanir, but they also have a tendency to go mad.

    Shanir traits 
These are specific Shanir traits that some, but not all, have. However, if someone has one Shanir trait, it's likely that they'll have others.
  • Blood Magic: Blood-binding, in which one person gets power over another by ingesting some of their blood.
  • Bond Creatures: Perhaps the most common Shanir trait, people generally bond with an animal they've had experiences with, although sometimes it can be weirder. These bonds can be strengthened by and developed, both on purpose or with time.
  • Compelling Voice: Generally Highborn can compel their bound followers. But there's also the Voice of Command is a powerful trait that one can use to command other Highborn and powerful Shanir as well. Commands can cause permanent effects, or they can "break" the person commanded if the command is degrading or dishonorable enough—Kibben, a minor Highborn, continuously tried to stand on his head from then on, and Corrudin, another Highborn, continues to back up unless he's physically restrained.
  • Mystical White Hair: White hair itself has no magical powers, but it always accompanied other Shanir powers. As it's one of the few physical indicators, it is very classically Shanir.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Berserkers are Shanir who sometimes "flare"—when someone mashes their Berserk Button, they can cause considerable damage. This manifests itself in different ways, from The Berserker to Tranquil Fury.
  • Wolverine Claws: Arrin-thari, like Jame and Bear have claws instead of nails on the hands and sometimes feet. (Jane has retractable claws on her hands; Bear has fixed talons on both hands and feet.) Steel-clawed gauntlets allow non-clawed Kencyr warriors to fight in the Arrin-thar style as well.

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