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Literature / Commonweal

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The Commonweal is a series of related fantasy novels by Graydon Saunders.

The Commonweal is a small, intentionally egalitarian collectivist nation-state in world otherwise full of dystopian sorcerer-kingdoms, and this is not an easy existence to sustain. The novels so far are The March North, A Succession of Bad Days, Safely You Deliver, Under One Banner, and A Mist of Grit and Splinters.

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The shining blades on Halt's animated howdah apparently cut through demons like butter
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  • Abusive Precursors: Every major sorcerer before the Foremost and the Commonweal seems to have taken it as their mission to create horrible creatures and worse diseases
  • And I Must Scream: Forcing a bound demon into a shape empty of all but pain, which seems to have been what Halt did for fun before the Commonweal
  • Animal Eye Spy: Rust keeps watch by night by borrowing the senses of nearby owls and other wildlife.
  • Animorphism: Grue's main talent flavor is shape shifting, and she routinely chooses to roam around as a unicorn. Or as a swarm of dragonflies, if it's a nice day....
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Proposed by Edgar, as a way out of the his problems with Parliament
  • Ax-Crazy: Some older second-peak independents, who had to ascend fast
  • Badass Army: The Line of the Commonweal. With the Standards, they have gone toe-to-toe even with the most powerful, continent-ruling sorcerers on the planet.
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  • Bad Boss: The Archon of Reems- his soldiers prefer to commit suicide by swallowing their tongues rather than failing him
  • Big Damn Heroes: The March North
  • Big Good: Halt, who tries very hard not to be the scariest person in every room and always fails
  • Blessed with Suck: Edgar, who has some problems with parasites and incursions from different realities
  • Boy Meets Girl: Dove and Edgar
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Inverted. Familiar names and terms (swan, spider, weeds...) are only superficially similar to what the reader thinks they mean. "Swans" in the region of the Commonweal, for example, are indeed aquatic birds... but are larger than bears, and extremely dangerous.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Members of Parliament in the Commonweal are magically bound by their oath of service. One aspect of this is enforced total honesty. At one point, to verify that this binding is functioning properly, a member of Parliament deliberately utters a falsehood. Their trousers ignite, they hastily recant, and there is much amusement among the onlookers putting out the blaze.
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  • Cavalry of the Dead: Literally: everyone who dies latched to a Standard of the Line will be necromantically preserved and still active within the Standard. Chloris and the other students are told that they'll eventually learn how to raise skeletons.
  • Celibate Hero: Edgar, until he hatches
  • Central Theme: The frailty of societal equality; and the narrow, stony road a culture must venture to maintain it. Dove says, "All the founders of the Commonweal really knew was that they weren't going to have anything like slaves and no sorcerer would rule them." This gets no argument, only a follow-up question from Halt: "Then, children, they had the same problem everything has, how does it get into the future?"
  • The Chessmaster: Halt, who has a lot of plots up her sleeve to protect the Commonweal
  • Colonel Badass: The Standard Captains of the Line, whose lives are magically bound to the Commonweal and the Standard they're assigned to.
  • Colony Drop: Attempted by the Archonate of Reems during the March North
  • Crapsack World: Everywhere outside the Commonweal; they call it "the Bad Old Days"
  • Culture Clash: What happens when people come to live in The Creeks; also, to a much greater extent when Reems soldiers promise to buy women rather than steal them.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Someone born with a sufficiently high level of innate magical talent will eventually be destroyed by that talent, unless they take radical steps — also themselves life-threatening — to channel it.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Generally the trope of all the older Independents, who by necessity are incredibly dark because of their bloodstained pasts
  • Deadpan Snarker: Halt, reporting on the fate of Reems
  • Death from Above: Line Artillery bombardments seem like the usual fate for anything attacking the Commonweal
  • Death World: Everywhere that hasn't been weeded (by dedicated weeding teams) lately, is likely to grow things like Eel-trees or, worse, the aptly named Screaming Buttweed. The latter "overwhelms your mind with raw psychic noise, paralyzing all volition. Eventually you fall over and more eventually, you rot, which helps make new weeds." Luckily for the folks of the Creeks, Halt brought with her a breed of multi-ton, fire breathing, steel-wooled sheep-things named Eustace and they quite enjoy munching almost every type of weed.
  • The Empire: Reems seems to be a straight example.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Independents, on the right edge of the main distribution
  • Fantastic Racism: Subverted; even crazy unicorns and Lovecraftean creatures from outside the universe can join the Commonweal
  • Fantastic Nuke: Risked with Reems' Despair Weapon. Also, some of the stronger types of Hot Red shot that Line Artillery uses.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Seems to have been Halt's specialty in the past
  • Functional Magic: The Commonweal approach to learning magic
  • Gender Is No Object: Very deliberately in the Commonweal, though not so much outside of it
  • Genius Loci: The Northern Hills are a Sentient Terrane, which dislikes being walked and hates being exploited
  • Hellish Horse: Blossom's Alleged Horse, Stomp, which is red with cloven hooves, as fast as a unicorn, and eats iron nails
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: After getting repeatedly dunked on by the Commonweal, by the time of Under One Banner the new leadership in Reems summons an absolutely massive demon, who proceeds to get loose of their control and devour nearly everyone in a nation of roughly 50 million people. Then, when the remnants march towards the Commonweal, Blossom somehow eats the damn thing and jumps from merely being the Goddess of Destruction to something that rivals Halt in sheer power.
  • Hopeless War: The war against the creatures coming out of the Paingyre seems to be this
  • Horse of a Different Color: Blossom's horse, Halt's sheep, etc.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Halt, in the past; generally out of pique rather than for sustenance.
  • Implacable Man: The Captain, who can go for a month without sleeping
  • Language of Magic: At least some magical creatures' innate language is this; assertions about reality in that language have force over the material world. You have to say it right, though. Other beings can't necessarily learn the language at all, and youngsters of even the right sort of creature are like children everywhere first learning to talk: they don't necessarily get it "right." "Thou worms, thou biting things; go thou elsewhere. Be apart from me and these my people. I know they're not worms, not nematodes, it's much more an assertion of relative standing than any kind of classification. Which might be why it doesn't work, I have trouble believing I can correctly refer to arthropods as worms...."
  • Lighter and Softer: The approach of the Commonweal
  • Mad Scientist: Blossom, Grue, Halt. Most Independents seem to have a touch of this.
  • Magically Binding Contract: The "Shape of Peace" is the vast enchantment, encompassing the whole citizenry of the Commonweal, which keeps the true names of all citizens, protecting them from magical attack, and embodies the Commonweal's philosophy of government and good citizenship. All public oaths and attestations — the testimony of witnesses in court, Parliament's oath of office, et cetera — are formally part of this enchantment's workings. It's the Shape of Peace that acts to protect the Commonweal if an Independent sorcerer within it proves to be unable to obey the law.
  • Master Swordsman: The Captain, who kills 200 Reems soldiers, and whose main complaint is that he's sticky afterwards.
  • Medieval Stasis: Apparently a desired feature of whoever set up the Power
  • Mindlink Mates: Dove and Edgar
  • Mutant Draft Board: Traditional sorcerers are all recruited early in the Commonweal, via tests for the Power
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Halt, who pretended to be a giant spider to seem more friendly and approachable, and who ruled the continent for thousands of years. Most other of the twelve seem to be of the same sort.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: Inverted with Dove and Edgar, who is only human, and not a Creek
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Inverted. Crossbreeds between different human designs are much less fertile, and need magical assistance
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Captain, all independents, whose True Names are protected by the Shape of the Peace
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Everyone who dies attached to a Standard has the choice of when to move on into the hereafter, and while still lingering can continue to participate in battle.
  • Physical God: A Right-Tail Independent is nearly this
  • Purple Prose: Inverted; nearly everything is described obliquely
  • Put on a Bus: Rust, who apparently went back to the First Commonwealth
  • Religion of Evil: The Fire-Priests of Reems, who believe that immolation destroys sin
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: All the things imprisoned by Halt's name
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Quite idealistic, except about war
  • Super Soldier: The Graul, who took 300 years to design into a race of loyal, hyper-competent soldiery
  • Training the Gift of Magic: Halt's new school, in A Succession of Bad Days and Safely You Deliver
  • Title Drop: The March North is referred as such in the sequel
  • Unicorn: Deconstructed — rather than the modern fluffy-rainbows version, the Commonweal's unicorns are the old sort: wild, untameable, fearsome, anthropophagous....
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Nothing is ever explained straight out; there are no infodumps
  • War Is Hell: Especially when being eaten by demons
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Second-peak independents in general apparently are this, since the transformation process requires creating a whole new metaphysical brain, and they're hard to get right
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Independents, and ascended sorcerers in general
  • World of Badass: The Creeks live in this world

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