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Literature / Darkness Series

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Darkness is a series of six Doorstopper books by Harry Turtledove which covers the story of World War II from a global perspective, using Loads And Loads Of Viewpoint Characters from all the major participant nations (and Finland). The twist is that this is not the World War II we know, but the same sequence of events transposed onto a generic Low Fantasy world which has used Functional Magic to achieve industrialization. Fantastic equivalents for real weapons and technologies abound: dragons for aircraft, leviathans for submarines, behemoths for tanks...

One of the more interesting twists is that the fantasy counterpart cultures do not match up with the countries they're representing: Turtledove randomly mixed ethnicities and used languages and place names from more obscure countries. For example, the nation of Kuusamo is the equivalent of the United States, but is inhabited by Finnish-speaking East Asians. This allows the reader to take a slightly more objective view of the conflict.

In addition to this, most of the continents are in the southern hemisphere of this planet, east and west are flipped but north and south are not. This means countries which are cold in Real Life are often hot in the Darkness world and vice versa: for example, Zuwayza (Fantastic Finland) is a red hot desert country while the Land of the Ice People (Fantastic North Africa) is an icebound wasteland.

This book series contains examples of:

  • Allohistorical Allusion: Sort of, appropriately enough given Turtledove's other works. Mostly in the first book, after which the plot pretty much mirrors the real World War II.
    • Putting things in Real Life terms, this version of World War II starts when Germany peacefully marches into Austria and the equivalents of Poland, France, Spain and Scandinavia/the Netherlands declare war on Germany. Britain initially remains aloof, only joining in after its neighbor falls to Germany, and Japan is already fighting desultory brushfire wars with both America and the USSR (rather than just the latter) before the main conflict begins.
    • Japan in this setting invades Siberia shortly after Barbarossa begins, even while a half-hearted island-hopping war with America is still taking place on the ocean. Russia's final offensive of the war (the equivalent of the Manchurian invasion in August 1945) is aimed at reclaiming the lost territory.
    • One key difference in the end of the war with Japan is that in this world the capital itself is destroyed, along with the national leadership.
    • While the other kingdoms have direct World War II analogues, Jelgava is more akin to Spain during the Napoleonic French occupation.
    • A few elements from real-life World War I show up in this setting's World War II. Valmiera's initial costly attacks into Algarve falter against strong defenses, just as France's assault into Alsace-Lorraine did in August 1914, and the last Algarvians to surrender are a colonial guerilla force in distant Siaulia a month after the war's official end, just as Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his troops in German East Africa did in December 1918. An inversion is Lagoas (the Britain analogue) having joined the previous war in its final year and turning the tide for Valmiera, just as America did in France in 1917-18.
  • America Saves the Day: Largely averted; Kuusamo plays the same major role as the United States in Real Life, but it's made clear that it's the Unkerlanters (Fantastic Soviets) who do most of the fighting.
  • Anyone Can Die: Plenty of viewpoint characters die after featuring in multiple books. They are often replaced by one of their friends or comrades who we've already met in their narrative to ease the transition. (Turtledove also does this in some of his other series).
  • Boom Stick: The weapons known only as "sticks" that infantry use in lieu of guns, being a sort of mass-produced magic wand or wizard's staff that fires an energy blast when a finger is placed into the firing hole. The blasts can be attenuated by heavy rain, akin to the gunpowder in Muskets being rendered disabled should it get wet.
  • Broad Strokes: This is a fantastic version of World War II, but not everything exactly matches up, the order of events is sometimes different, and expectations are played with.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Invoked. Kaunian Vanai creates a spell which allows her to take on a Forthwegian appearance, in order to hide from the Algarvians. Her Forthwegian lover Ealstan is a bit Squicked that the spell for some reason makes her look almost exactly like his sister Conberge.
  • The Caligula: King Swemmel (Fantastic Josef Stalin), who boils his enemies in huge kettles. Oddly enough, King Mezentio (Fantastic Adolf Hitler) comes across as less crazy (but strong-willed), although he's rarely seen.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: Turtledove likes this trope; there are constant cultural comparisons between the various racial groups and countries — some fairly unpleasant. The one that sticks out is the fact that the people of baking hot Zuwayza commonly go naked except for a wide-brimmed hat and sandals. Most foreigners consider this bizarre, but the ambassador from Algarve goes native - though he still gets funny glances from the Zuwayzi as Algarvians are all circumcised.
  • Dye or Die: The Kaunians begin to do this to hide their blond hair from the Algarvians and escape being used as Human Resources. It works for a while, until the Algarvians get wise and start doing spot inspections. Later this gets supplemented with a low level illusion spell.
  • Dragon Rider: Deconstructed. While dragons are commonly used for aerial combat, they are nasty, foul-tempered, violent, and stupid creatures who have to be cruelly treated from birth in order to discourage them from killing their riders.
  • Fantastic Firearms: Instead of guns they use "sticks" that fire a burst of magic energy.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Pekka's storyline is about a magical equivalent of the Manhattan Project. It pays off in more ways than the real-life equivalent, leading to a fundamentally new form of magical power, a variety of battlefield spells to counter Algarvian murder-powered magecraft, the theoretical ability to make grandparents more youthful at the expense of their grandchildren, hints at the possibility of more general time travel, and ultimately the ability to destroy a city from hundreds of miles away. This actual Fantastic Nuke is eventually used against the capital of Gyongyos (Fantastic Japan) in a notably different strategy to that used against Japan.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The series is about a fantasy version of WWII. With Magic Missile shooting "sticks" as guns, dragons as aircraft, behemoths for tanks, leviathans for submarines, earthquake-generating spells powered by Human Sacrifice in place of airstrikes, the America-equivalent even develops a Fantastic Nuke.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Appliance: Sticks for guns, crystals for radios (these effectively being standardized, mass-produced magic wands and crystal balls respectively), egg-tossers for artillery.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Darkness series does this rather directly, but subverts it somewhat by mixing and matching cultures around — for example, the equivalent of Nazi Germany is a nation of redheads who speak Italian and display various Celtic characteristics, including a fondness for kilts.
    • Also done for the purpose of irony as the fantastic equivalent of Jews are described as being fair and blond (the Nazis' espoused "Aryan ideal") and implied to be the remnants of the equivalent of the Roman Empire (which Nazi Germany took many motifs from). Furthermore, the Algarvians are circumcised.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Once you've figured out who's who, you know who's going to lose—although not everything is exactly like our World War II.
  • Functional Magic:
    • Rule Magic - magic can be studied like physics and obeys two fundamental laws (the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion) the Manhattan Project equivalent is based on investigating the fundamental relationship between these two laws, discovered by a small group of theoretical physicists, and the realisation that this understanding can yield a new source of magical energy.
    • Device Magic - "sticks" are magical devices used instead of guns, "eggs" hold a magical charge and are used instead of bombs and artillery shells, "crystals" are used for audio and video communication
    • Black Magic - life energy is a potent form of magical power, and the Nazi-analogue Algarvians start their Holocaust-analogue by using the energy of sacrificed Kaunian prisoners to power battlefield spells the first time they employ murder on such a scale, half the mages on the planet wake up screaming.
  • Human Resources: The Algarvians' Holocaust-powered superweapon, which uses mass human sacrifice in what is implied to be a Deal with the Devil, or rather the Powers Below.
    • After the Algarvians start using this murder-powered magic against Unkerlant, King Swemmel of Unkerlant wastes no time at all ordering the murder of Unkerlanter peasants and convicts to power similar magic. No other nation is willing to sink to this level.
    • Gyongyos begins utilizing the same dark magic as Kuusaman forces fight their way closer to the Gyonyosian homeland. However, the human 'fuel' in this case are willing (or peer-pressured) volunteers, mirroring Japan's kamikaze pilots.
  • The Laws of Magic: At least two of them, including the Law Of Contagion.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Like all Turtledove's fantasy settings, this one runs on two basic rules of magic—the "Law of Similarity" (two visually similar things are magically connected) and the "Law of Contagion" (two things that have touched are magically connected). Research magicians find a new universal principle connecting the two laws, which allows them to make a Fantastic Nuke.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Mezentio is Hitler, Swemmel is Stalin, etc.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Most countries' people seem to follow roughly the same dualistic religion, and swear by "Powers above!" and "Powers below!" The Gyongyosians, being the odd one out, instead worship the stars, and swear by them. The Ice People are the only ones whose religion actually mentions 'gods' and they are considered backwards and primitive by everyone else.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They're considered rather stupid creatures that 'pilots' have to beat with crops to get them to cooperate. Fortunately for military use dragons really like fighting, but they seem unlikely to form the basis of a civilian air service in the future.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: The Zuwayzi have no nudity taboo due to the heat of their homeland leading them to mostly go naked except for a wide-brimmed hat and sandals.
  • People of Hair Colour: Used extensively; hair colour, along with clothing (kilts vs trousers vs tunics) is the main racial identifier. Algarvic (Fantastic Germanic) peoples like the Algarvians, Sibians and Lagoans (Fantastic Germans, Danes/Norwegians and British) have red hair and wear kilts. Kaunian (Romance and Jewish) peoples like the Jelgavans, Valmierans and the Kaunians of Forthweg (Spaniards, French and Jews of Poland) have blond hair and wear trousers. The 'Slavic' peoples of Unkerlant, Forthweg and Grelz (Russia, Poland and Ukraine) have brown hair and wear tunics.
  • The Plot Reaper: When Pekka and Fernao, both major characters from the beginning, finally meet at the series' halfway point, they slowly start to fall in love with each other; Pekka is married, but both she and her husband Leino are being kept in total isolation with their colleagues working on separate top secret projects. Meanwhile, Leino's shagging one of his coworkers (who aside from her looks really has nothing going for her) with far fewer reservations. This could have created a very complicated and messy situation when everyone met, but instead Turtledove kills Leino and his lover at the beginning of the last book. Somewhat played with as news of Leino's death (but not his affair, as she never finds out about that) initially makes Pekka feel enormously guilty and break off her relationship with Fernao, though eventually they get back together and get married.
  • Rock Beats Laser: The Algarvians are able to conquer Sibiu in a surprise attack by using a fleet of 'primitive' sailing ships which aren't often used for military operations anymore; everyone assumes that an invasion fleet would be made up of magical ley line-using floating ships, which can be magically tracked.
  • Unobtainium: Cinnabar is a vital mineral in the diet of dragons, so naturally several countries try to capture sources of it. An analogue for the oil reserves of North Africa and the Caucasus.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Dragons and other war creatures are painted in the colours of the countries' flags or military uniforms: for example, Algarve uses red, white and green, Kuusamo uses sky-blue and sea-green, and Unkerlant uses rock-grey.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: The Gyongyosians (Fantastic Japanese) have a taboo about eating goat meat. The Zuwayzans (Fantastic Finns) wear little to no clothing due to the heat of their country. Individual members of the Ice People (Fantastic North Africans) have particular fetish animals whose meat they will not eat. Algarvians are all circumcised at the age of fourteen, which the other nations find to be a strange practice.