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Literature / Darkover

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Darkover is a series of novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley. They deal with the Lost Colony world of Cottman IV, called Darkover by the natives. The series itself spans many thousands of years of history.

The world of Darkover is a feudal society with all technology being matrix science, or laran, which are Psychic Powers enhanced by crystalline matrices. The abilities are said to be the natural talents of humans, enhanced by the matrices and historical selective breeding programs. There are also numerous non-human intelligent species on Darkover.


The novels and history of Darkover can be split into the following categories:

The Founding

A human colony ship crashes on Cottman IV and the survivors found the colony.

  • Darkover Landfall

The Ages of Chaos

Humanity of Darkover has become a feudal society with power resting with those families who have laran. Earth technology is all but lost, but matrix science has become nearly as powerful in its place. Dangerous inbreeding occurs as the families try to produce more exotic and powerful types of psychic abilities. Those with the most powerful laran serve in Towers, which power transport, send messages, and make technology for others to use, such as constructed servants and weapons.

  • Stormqueen!
  • Thunderlord (with Deborah J. Ross)

The Hundred Kingdoms

Coming at the end of the Ages of Chaos, Darkover has suffered a series of devastating wars using deadly laran weapons. Some of the gifts of laran are already starting to die out due to the effects of the breeding programs. The continent is split into dozens of small kingdoms, most still fighting. The Towers produce weapons of enormous destructive capabilities. This period ended when Varzil the Good created The Compact, which forbade anyone from using a weapon that didn't bring the user within equal risk of death.


  • Hawkmistress!
  • Two to Conquer
  • The Heirs of Hammerfell
  • The Clingfire Trilogy (with Deborah J. Ross)

Against the Terrans: The First Age

Darkover is rediscovered by the Terran Empire, and a space port is established on the planet's surface. Darkover lies along a critical trade route, so pressure is applied for the planet to join the Empire, but Darkover's government, the Comyn, resist. Matrix technology is dying out, as are the men and women who wield laran, due in large part to the breeding programs in the Ages of Chaos. The land is split into seven Domains, each ruled by one of seven major families, and all is ruled over by a king.

Many of the novels set in this age feature Terrans going native on Darkover.

  • Rediscovery (with Mercedes Lackey)
  • The Shattered Chain
  • Thendara House
  • City of Sorcery
  • The Spell Sword
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  • The Forbidden Tower
  • Star of Danger
  • Winds of Darkover

Against the Terrans: The Second Age

The pressure from the Terran Empire becomes less and less subtle, climaxing with hiring a organization known as the World Wreckers to destroy the planetary economy and assassinate the members of the local governments. The Comyn were reduced to only a few and the Telepathic Council was formed as an interim ruling body until a member of each of the seven Domains could once again take his or her seat and the Comyn council be reformed. This period's end is marked by the fall of the Terran Empire, and Darkover being left to develop on its own once again.

  • The Bloody Sun
  • The Heritage of Hastur
  • The Planet Savers
  • Sharra's Exile
  • The World Wreckers
  • Hastur Lord (with Deborah J. Ross)
  • Exile's Song (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • Shadow Matrix (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • Traitor's Sun (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • The Alton Gift (with Deborah J. Ross)
  • The Children of Kings (with Deborah J. Ross)

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Several, notably including Jaelle n'ha Melora, Magda Lorne, Camilla n'ha Kyria, Vanessa ryn Erin and Romilly MacAran.
  • Alien Noninterference Clause: The Empire has this in theory, as worlds that want limited contact with the Empire are supposed to be respected. However, in later books, they start looking for an excuse to break the rule and force their way into Darkover, and in Traitor's Sun they finally abandon the rule (fortunately, Darkover manages to cut off all contact before the Terrans can invade).
  • Alien Sky: The Darkovan sun is a large, red star, colloquially known as the Bloody Sun. The night sky has four moons.
  • All Myths Are True: The creation myth of the house of Hastur is actually true, although the "god" was actually an alien chieri.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Darkover itself, and the numerous worlds of the Terran Empire.
  • Altar Diplomacy: In The Winds of Darkover, Brynat Scarface, who has captured Storn Castle, solidifies his claim to Storn by forcing the elder Storn daughter to marry him. In Stormqueen!, there is an attempt to resolve a Succession Crisis for Aldaran by having the two claimants — Lord Aldaran's illegitimate daughter and his nephew — marry. The attempt fails when the would-be groom tries to rape his fiancee, and her laran instinctively kills him.
  • Amazon Brigade:
    • The Sisterhood of the Sword.
    • The Renunciates, also called the Free Amazons, are less of an example, as while they are all trained to fight they don't exclusively work as soldiers. They are a guild of women warriors who reject Darkover's traditional gender roles (women can only be wives or work in a Tower). They all tend to have a Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Amplifier Artifact: Matrix crystals can greatly increase psionic abilities.
  • Appeal to Force: In theory, this is the rule for the Towers. A Keeper of a Tower sets its laws as he or she sees fit, and a new Tower can be created only by the consent of the other Towers, or by defeating any Tower who wants to challenge it in a Wizard Duel. In the modern age, all Towers are at peace and obey the laws of Arilinn Tower, but the rule is still there, which allows Damon Ridenow to create the Forbidden Tower.
  • Arc Number: In "The Horse-Tamer's Daughter," there's "one in ten." It's the proportion of individuals with psychic powers, both among the children of Hali Plain and the wild horses.
  • Arranged Marriage: Very much the norm in Darkover.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Sharra Matrix. Designed as a super-weapon, it inevitably drives its users insane. Which can lead to spaceport-scorching incidents of Playing with Fire.
  • Astral Projection: Usually into the Overworld, although sometimes used to survey the real world as well.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Dorilys of Rockraven does use her storm-control powers to save lives on a few occasions.
  • Blessed with Suck: Not all laran powers are beneficial.
    • The Elhalyn Gift is a variant form of precognition that shows its possessor all the possible futures that can come from a given action. While this might seem a useful tool for strategic planning, it is instead an awful strain on its users. Allart Hastur, who has it in full measure, observes that he cannot even walk down a staircase without seeing the possible futures in which he trips and falls to injury or death!
    • The Rockraven Gift, when possessed in full measure, enables Shock and Awe and Weather Manipulation. But the physical strain of channeling huge amounts of electromagnetic energy tends to cause neurological damage to the possessor. Dorilys has to be placed in permanent stasis after she uses her power to repel an attacking army.
    • The Hastur Gift is a downplayed example. If it's not used, it grants well over a century of life. However, using the living matrix involves Cast from Lifespan, and Regis Hastur's extensive use of the power caused him to die in his fifties.
  • Body Horror: After Lew Alton loses his hand in Heritage of Hastur, it is mentioned in the following novel, Sharra's Exile that Terran doctors tried to make it grow back (the technology used being pretty successful by then). The end result was...disturbing (when the anesthetics wore off and Lew saw the thing that had grown in the place of a hand, he screamed so much that he was unable to speak for almost a year due to the damage done to his vocal cords).
    • The incident with Lew's hand, however, was just Foreshadowing to how much the Sharra matrix had affected him, down to his DNA. During the early chapters of Sharra's Exile, he starts a relationship with Dio Ridenow, which results in a pregnancy. Later on, their child is stillborn and when Lew sees it, it is described as "a dreadfully deformed thing", not even human.
  • Body Snatcher: In The Winds of Darkover, the blind and crippled Lord Storn forcibly possesses the Terran Dan Barron so that he can get aid against the bandit who has taken his castle and his sister.
  • The Bro Code: Inverted on Darkover, played straight by Terrans. As best explained in The Forbidden Tower, sleeping with your sworn brother's wife if your own wife is unavailable for some reason is far better than sleeping with an unrelated woman.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Mikhail of Aldaran insists on his preteen daughter marrying her 20-year-old half-brother in order to solve his Heir Club for Men/Succession Crisis problem. Yes, he wants them to make a baby. And it's implied that if he wasn't impotent, he'd have been willing to commit Parental Incest to solve the problem. Even worse, both of the siblings are eventually willing to go through with it, even the brother who already has a girlfriend (who is pregnant with his child, no less).
  • Burn the Witch!: After Cleindori demonstrates that Virgin Power isn't really a requisite for her job, she and a lot of her family members and friends (all members of the Forbidden Tower included) are slaughtered. And yes, in some cases, burned (in their house).
  • Bus Crash: All the members of the Forbidden Tower, who are the protagonists of two books and appear in a couple more, are killed off-screen in a house fire (probably set by fanatics) in the years between City of Sorcery and The Bloody Sun.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Callista's dilemma in The Forbidden Tower is that she wants to have sex with her husband (see below), but has been brainwashed into being a Keeper who's not allowed to get laid, and undoing that brainwashing is extremely difficult.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The first book written for Darkover, The Sword Of Aldones, was de-canonized when Bradley wrote The Heritage of Hastur. Sharra's Exile was later written in to replace it.
  • Cast from Lifespan: Regis Hastur's use of his "living matrix" 'laran' powers (as well as the Sword of Aldones) to defeat the Sharra matrix by banishing it to another plane in Sharra's Exile ends up having this effect on him. His family was well known for its members' longevity (living past 100 was definitely not unusual for the Hasturs), but he ended up dying before he was even 60 years old in Traitor's Sun.
  • Cat Folk: The Catmen.
  • The Clan: The seven major noble houses of Darkover and the numerous minor families.
  • Closet Key: Danilo for Regis (in more ways than one; he has the catalyst laran, after all) and vice versa.
  • Compelling Voice: One of the abilities tied to the Alton Gift is the Command Voice.
  • Contagious Powers: The Ardais family's laran, their hereditary psychic talent, is catalyst telepathy, the ability to awaken laran in others, often simply by living in close proximity to or interacting with their targets for long periods of time.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Cristoforo religion, which actually is a descendant of Christianity as practiced by the original colonists and which has changed considerably over thousands of years to the point where it is not directly recognizable as a Christian denomination. Adherents of this faith are unusual among Darkovans in that they disapprove of homosexual relationships. It is common for Comyn sons to be educated in Cristoforo monasteries, but actually adopting the faith is frowned upon in the higher-ranking families, who claim divine descent from the god Aldones.
  • Culture Clash: The Darkovans and the Terrans do this a lot; stories where the characters go native invariably focus on the difficulty of adapting to a different culture.
  • Death by Childbirth: This happens quite often, as it is to be expected in a society that stagnated at a medieval level. Some examples are Aliciane of Rockraven (when giving birth to Dorilys), Melora Aillard (when giving birth to Valentine), Elaine Montray (when giving birth to Marius). Also implied to have been the fate of Elorie Ardais (Dyan Ardais' half-sister, Jeff Kerwin Jr.'s wife) in between novels, but unlike in the examples mentioned before, the child did not live.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Dyan Ardais, before his redemption.
    • It's implied that this might partly be owing to Dyan never really getting over the fact that in their late teens, Kennard Alton broke his heart TWICE, first by picking a new best friend and then by going straight on Dyan. Jawdroppingly, Dyan realizes the last-mentioned while he and Kennard are actually having sex.
  • Descriptively-Named Species: The Catmen, who are human-sized humanoid cats.
  • Die or Fly: The most effective test to see if someone possesses the Alton Gift of forced rapport is to have someone who has the gift use it on the person who might have the gift. If they have it, then it will activate. But if they don't, then they probably won't survive the attempt. This is why Kennard risks doing it to Lew as a child to prove to the Comyn Council that he is a valid heir to the Alton Domain, but not his younger son Marius for whom there is no urgent need to prove he has the gift.
  • Disney Villain Death: Jaelle and Aquilara in City of Sorcery.
  • Distressed Damsel: Callista, in Spell Sword.
  • Doppelgänger: Paul Harrell, to Bard di Asturien.
    • Kathie Marshall and Linnell Lindir-Aillard.
  • Double Standard: It's complicated. In general, men and women are both free to have extramarital sex, but if a child has uncertain parentage, it's embarrassing to the woman. Also, the rules for gay marriage are different between women and men — women can simply get freemate-married (a rule established by the Renunciates), while male partners can only swear brotherhood note . Conversely, women aren't allowed to take concubines, while men are.
  • Dramatic Irony: Auster is convinced that the Terran Jeff Kerwin is somehow being used as a spy for the Terrans without his knowledge. Turns out that (a) Jeff doesn't have a Terran dad, Auster does, and (b) he was Separated at Birth from an Evil Twin, and the twin is using his psychic link to Auster to spy on the Arilinn circle.
  • Due to the Dead: In The Spell Sword, Damon regrets the dead bodies left out on the road; Ellemir consoles him with a proverb to the effect that if they are in Heaven, they cannot be grieved by it, and if they are in Hell, they have too much else to grieve for.
  • Dying Curse: A servant curses the head of the Aldaran household as she dies in Stormqueen!.
  • Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas: It's mentioned that the Darkovan idiom for "friend and brother" is strictly forbidden to Earth diplomats. Correctly pronounced it would be entirely appropriate for a speech encouraging friendship between two cultures, but spoken with the wrong inflection it can come out meaning anything from "brother" in the familial sense to "same-sex lover".
  • The Empath: The Ridenow Gift, at least in part. Many individuals possess both empathy and telepathy. Having only empathy is seen as a sort of handicap, as true telepathy is required to perform any role in a Circle except for serving as a Monitor for the health of the other participants.
  • The Empire: The Terran Empire during the Second Age.
  • Eternal English: Played straight with the Terran Empire, subverted on Darkover which speaks two different languages derived from Gaelic and Spanish.
  • Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Nobody thinks that the chieri, who are hermaphromorphic, are anything less than beautiful. However, one chieri does have to deal with a Terran man who suffers Gay Panic at the thought of having sex with her (she is female-gendered, but currently male-sexed).
  • Everyone Is Bi: Bisexuality is very much a social norm on Darkover. In fact, in many cases it is actively encouraged, especially among adolescents who are too young to marry and same-sex relationships serve to help prevent teenage pregnancies. Also, as expectation of monogamy is rather lower on Darkover due to it having originally been a Lost Colony with a small initial population, even adults who are married may have ongoing extramarital relationships with people of the same or opposite sex. Because of the age of these works, this was sharply contrasted with the Terran Empire, which reflected more mainstream American social values of the time and thus, despite the setting being in the distant future, had mid-20th Century sexual values. Terrans frequently found Darkovan sexuality more than a little discomforting.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Darkover says that Zandru has seven hells, each one colder than the one before.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness
  • Excited Episode Title!: Hawkmistress! and Stormqueen!
  • Extra Digits: The chieri and some humans descended from them have six digits (five fingers plus a thumb) on their hands.
  • Fake Wizardry: Illegal on Darkover. When Andrew Carr informs Ellemir Alton that he was shown a "vision" of her sister Callista by what he thought was a Phony Psychic in the ciy, Ellemir is shocked because on Darkover, pretending to psychic powers that one does not actually possess is a very serious crime.
  • Fantastic Racism: The trailmen and catmen, nonhuman intelligent races on Darkover, are the subject of racism from the humans. Averted with the chieri. In rare instances where a human encounters one, they will often address the chieri as "noble one". This is partly due to the perception that the chieri are "as far above humans as trailmen are below them".
  • Fantasy Gun Control: The Darkovan Compact forbids any kind of range weapon. It was developed to deal with the destructiveness of laran weaponry, but it covers guns as well.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The Darkovans practice a loose worship of a number of local gods of undefined origins. These include Aldones (the Lord of Light), Evanda (the goddess of life), Avarra (the Dark Mother of birth and death) and Zandru (god of choices, lord of good and evil and ruler of the nine hells). Sharra (the Form of Fire) is also considered to be a deity by some. Whether these gods are actual extradimensional entities or just imaginary is left open to interpretation. At least one published short story presented Zandru as manifesting in human form.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: How the colonists got to Darkover and what keeps the Terran Empire together.
  • Feudal Future: The human colonists on Darkover have developed a feudal culture and general level of technology, with rule by psychic aristocrats.
  • Filk Song: Quite a few. Crystal Silver Blue and Gold is a canon example, while Horse Tamer's Daughter is of uncertain canonicity. note 
  • Fish out of Water: Any Terran on Darkover; Andrew Carr and Jeff Kerwin are examples. Thendara House is a paired example, with Magda Lorne with the Amazons and Jaelle with the Terrans.
  • Foreign Queasine: In City of Sorcery, a character from a culture so pacifist that for fear of killing a living thing they never even eat natural food, but only synthetics, is forced to resort not only to "real" foods, but to actual meat. She can even deal with it, in the form of "just a bar, or a slice", but looking down at a wing on her plate stops her cold.
  • Forgot About His Powers: Oddly common. Many characters with laran powers often fail to use them in situations where they would have obvious value. Part of this may be due to cultural uncertainty about what is and is not acceptable outside the confines of a Tower, especially in the later ages when superstition is the norm. Terrans who know the true extent of Darkovan laran and matrix technology are often surprised at the haphazard way in which the Darkovans use it as compared to how the more technologically-minded Terrans would if they had it. Finally, no Comyn would even consider using laran to attack, due to the Compact.
  • Free-Love Future: Inside the Towers, the only rules are honesty, consent, and that the Keeper stays celibate (the specific rules for the latter depend on the era). This is a natural result of their working environment: Everyone in a matrix circle is in close telepathic communion with everyone else, so keeping each other from sensing their desires is impossible, pent-up sexual frustration can be dangerous when working with advanced laran, and a Keeper's position in the matrix relays means that holding the position while sexually active will fry the nerves.
  • Gender Bender: The chieri can alter their sex to match that of their partner.
  • Going Native: Numerous Terrans, including Magda Lorne, Andrew Carr, and Jeff Kerwin.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The alien native chieri and the humans are capable of interbreeding. It's implied that the abnormally high incidence of psychic talents on Darkover is due to people's chieri blood. Not to mention the extra fingers, and unusual eye colours (and, in many cases, sterility, or at the very least severe fertility issues).
  • Heir Club for Men: Constantly. However, the Oath of the Renunciates defies this, as a Renunciate swears "to bear children only in my time and season," and the needs of men are to have nothing to do with it.
  • Hero Antagonist: In The Forbidden Tower, Leonie Hastur is just trying to do the right thing for everyone, but her actions (while reasonable and honorable) tend to be Not Quite the Right Thing due to the extremely unusual circumstances of the novel, and that makes her the antagonist. She was responsible for screwing up Callista's sexuality (to make her better-qualified to be a Keeper), and when circumstances force Damon Ridenow to repeatedly act as a Keeper in a constant stream of emergency situations, the laws of Arilinn Tower require her to be the one who comes down on his ass.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Nearly all those with psychic talent have red hair, which means that the love interests and heroines are almost always redheads.
  • Heroic Bastard: Danilo Syrtis-Ardais is a subversion. Not of the heroic part (he's definitely that) but he's not actually Dyan Ardais' son: Dyan is as gay as it gets. He's declared Dyan's nedestro son because he has the appropriate Gift, which is good enough to make him a potential heir to Ardais domain.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Kireseth pollen, the source of the so-called "Ghost Winds", can trigger manifestation of laran, causes sexual stimulation and has other largely benign side effects. Interestingly, while it is generally depicted as more positive than negative, it is rarely used as a recreational or medicinal drug in the novels, and one Terran's attempt to export it as such is treated as villainous.
  • Human Mom, Non-Human Dad: This is the most common scenario for crossbreeds between humans and the chieri, although there are exceptions.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Many cases of this, and not just limited to the part-chieri Comyn. Some of the original human colonists manifested laran after exposure to the Kireseth pollen and starstones of Darkover. Likewise, after recontact with the Terran Empire, a surprising number of terrans also prove to have latent psychic ability.
  • I Choose to Stay: Magda and Camilla choose to join the Hidden Elf Village at the end of City of Sorcery.
  • Identical Stranger: One of the axioms of laran science is Cherillys' Law, which states that everything in the universe, except for a matrix, has an exact duplicate somewhere. This includes people. In Two To Conquer and Sharra's Exile, matrix technology is used to summon the Cherillys duplicates of specific Comyn. In both cases the doubles actually lived elsewhere in the galaxy and are shocked to find themselves "magically" transported to Darkover. In another book, a Terran who simply happens to look extremely similar to a Darkovan nobleman is kidnapped by mistake.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: A Deconstructed Trope. An issue in The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower is the fact that Damon was expelled from Arilinn Tower and at first dislikes and distrusts his own powers, but the fact is that not using them means that people are going to die. He gets over this, but only at the consequence of his first love becoming a Broken Pedestal, leading him to rebel against the rules that lock matrix workers in a Tower.
  • Inhumanly Beautiful Race: The chieri are universally perceived as this by Darkovan and Terran humans.
  • Interspecies Romance: The origin of the strong psychic powers, and also used in The World Wreckers.
  • It's Okay If It's You: Regis Hastur has a thing for Danilo Syrtis, who is very reluctant due to a major case of homophobia (preferring to maintain their current relationship) until Regis finally manages to get him into bed, after which he does an abrupt 180 and becomes quite possessive; it's implied that Danilo is ONLY interested in Regis to the exclusion of any other potential relationship. Also, a variant between Damon Ridenow and Andrew Carr, who are married to twin sisters. After some initial misunderstandings, Andrew and Damon have sex as part of a foursome.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Thendara House. While the Terran woman Magda Lorne is training as a Renunciate, she gets into a sword fight with several men. After one of them realizes that he's outmatched and tries to surrender, Magda continues attacking him and almost kills him. She had gone into a berserk state and didn't realize he was surrendering.
  • Kissing Cousins: Almost every single freaking relationship on Darkover that doesn't involve an alien species or a Terran is a case of cousins marrying (and many of these cases actually involve double first cousins). Part of this is due to an obsession among the Comyn with arranged marriages for political purposes and/or the breeding of laran powers.
  • Lady Land: The City of Sorcery.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Ellemir, who loves children and very much wants her own, finds it very difficult to carry a child to term, eventually only having one surviving child. Her twin sister Callista, who is not especially interested, has no trouble at all. The result is a bunch of children running around the estate who all call Ellemir "Mama," regardless of their biological parentage. (IIRC, even some children not born to Ellemir, Callista, or either's husband do this. She just mothers any child in range.)
  • Long-Lived: The Hasturs often live well over a hundred years.
  • Lost Colony: The original colony ship having gone off course through space and time, the Terran Empire was surprised to discover that Darkover was inhabited by humans.
  • Lost Technology: Matrix technology from the Ages of Chaos. Some of it is still lying around in the Towers, or in less-accessible places like the sacred Rhu Fead at Hali. Darkovans from the era of contact with the Terran Empire have a superstitious fear of this stuff (justifiable, as many of these things are weapons of mass destruction) and if they know where it is, they usually have little idea of what it is or how to operate it. This blows up (literally) in the case of the Sharra Matrix.
  • Love Is in the Air: The Ghost Winds spread kireseth pollen, which has this effect among others.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: In The Forbidden Tower, it is said that Dezi's father might be one of oh, six guys his mother slept with the night he was conceived. None of them will claim him as his own, which royally pisses him off.
    • It is mentioned one of those guys did have the intention of claiming him as his son, but unfortunately didn't live long enough to go through with it.
  • Mandatory Motherhood:
    • And how. Not only can nobody conceive of such a thing as a child being unwanted, Darkover used to have breeding programs for laran. The Comyn still insists on everyone having as many kids as possible with other Comyn (at a time in the past, it was forbidden for one woman to have more than two children by the same man: a Darkovan woman a little patronizingly explains to an Earthwoman the concept of "genetic pool"). Camilla of Darkover Landfall and Rohana of the Renunciate trilogy particularly were not thrilled to have lots of kids.
    • This attitude is of course a legacy of the Landfall era when it was vital for all fertile females to have as many children as they could manage by several different fathers to establish a sufficiently large and varied gene pool to guarantee the survival of our species on Darkover.
    • The Sisterhood of the Sword, and its descendant the Order of the Renunciates, was formed in part to defy this trope, as well as Heir Club for Men and Stay in the Kitchen. The Oath of the Renunciates includes a vow "to bear children only in my time and season."
  • Mage Tower: Laran workers segregate themselves from the public in the Towers.
  • Magic from Technology: Matrix technology, which can produce effects that are "magic" for all practical intents and purposes.
  • The Magic Goes Away: After the Ages of Chaos end, due to the Compact and the increasing superstition toward matrix technology, the technological knowledge of laran takes a few steps backwards. Furthermore, with the end of the Super Breeding Program and the uniform adoption of Arilinn Tower's laws (which keep the most powerful laran users out of the marriage pool), the power of laran declines, and many Gifts either are forgotten (such as the nature of the Hastur Gift) or go extinct (like the Rockraven Gift).
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: "Matrix Mechanics", a "non-causative" science developed on Darkover through the harnessing of laran and the use of matrix crystals. It is potentially capable of violating generally accepted laws of physics, which makes the Terrans covet it greatly even though they cannot make it work without telepaths. At its peak during the Ages of Chaos the Darkovans had developed it to the point where they had potentially planet-shattering weapons. But most of the knowledge of this has been forgotten.
  • The Magocracy:
    • The planet is ruled by a king and seven noble houses, and the heir to those positions must have laran. Subversion: those who actually specialize in the use of laran are supposed to stay in the Towers and out of government.
    • The Telepathic Council is a purer example, since the requirement is to have laran potential, but Comyn ancestry is not required.
  • Marital Rape License: A weird almost-subversion of it comes up in The Forbidden Tower. Ex-Keeper Callista has been so brainwashed into virginity that she can't physically touch her husband without freaking out. At one point she suggests that he just knock her out and have sex with her because then her reflexes won't go off and kill him for trying. Andrew is horrified at the idea of this, but his brother-in-law is all, "Well, that could work."
  • Matriarchy: While Darkover as a whole is extremely patriarchal, women head the Aillard Domain.
  • May–December Romance: Actually not done on Darkover, or at least marrying someone not of your generation isn't, because they might very well BE your father. Any relationship falling under this trope that eventually happens will be considered quite squicky by Darkovan standards.
    • An example of this is Erminie and Rascard of Hammerfell— he's a 40something duke whose only son has just gotten killed, she's an 18-year-old who grew up at Hammerfell and was in love with his son. When the two of them are the only ones left around and Rascard has to come up with another heir, he proposes to her. Her uncle objects to the idea, but Erminie would rather stay with the one person left and home that she knows. And the marriage is as happy as can be expected given the uh, circumstances and duration.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: This is a significant part of why humans and the chieri do not have long-term relationships, even though they can and do interbreed.
  • Mental Fusion: Circles of telepaths do this, usually in conjunction with matrix crystals, in order to achieve effects far beyond what any individual psychic could accomplish.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: Darkover (Cottman IV) has a lack of metals compared to most Earth-type planets. The novel Darkover Landfall said that the planet didn't have a nickel/iron core, that the rock was low in metallic ores and that metals were very rare. One of the jobs of the Towers is to psychically locate and bring up what metals there are.
  • Mind over Manners: After the time of Varzil the Good, those with telepathic gifts are expected to be extremely conscientious with their powers. Those with the Alton Gift are held to particularly high standards.
  • Mind over Matter: Telekinesis is one of the expressions of laran. Very few humans can manifest this kind of power without the aid of matrix crystals. However, a group of "laran"-gifted humans working with a powerful enough (usually artificial) matrix can level entire cities.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Lew and Marius Alton get a lot of grief for having a Terran mother.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bard di Asturien gets a big one after being forced to live through the experiences of the women he's raped.
  • My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: The Forbidden Tower operates on a mixture of this and simple Appeal to Force, with an additional dose of making it up as they go along. For example, they override the laws against unregulated matrix use when Damon declares himself a Keeper (who is expressly allowed to make the rules for his own Tower, even if all the conventional towers obey Arilinn's laws), enforce that by challenging Arilinn to a Wizard Duel Trial by Combat under centuries-old rules, and prevent Callista from being forced into being separated from Andrew afterward by getting her pregnant (since a woman can't be unwillingly separated from the father of her child). This is also deconstructed in The Bloody Sun, since while the Forbidden Tower's actions were ultimately proven legal, religious fanatics with a penchant for burning witches aren't concerned with the specifics of the law.
  • Nom de Mom: On taking oath, a Renunciate forsakes the surname of father or husband, instead using her mother's given name as a surname of sorts; e.g., Magda Lorne becomes Margali n'ha Ysabet (Magda, daughter of Elizabeth).
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Bard's laran enables him to force a woman to want him sexually (they're not happy about it afterwards), and this is something he cites frequently.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Compact forbids the use of any non-melee weapons. When it's broken, the results are usually a bad thing.
  • Older Is Better: While the Compact did end the wars of the Ages of Chaos, it also caused an upsurge in superstition about matrix technology, and part of the reason for the Compact's adoption was the destruction of Hali Tower by matrix weapons. As a consequence, later matrix devices are considerably less advanced than those from ancient times.
  • One Steve Limit: Totally averted. The same first names are used over and over and over for generations. And one book had multiple Davids.
  • One-Word Title: Darkover is the name of the series, and is one word. Also a Portmantitle, being a compound of Dark and Over, and an example of The Place, being the name of the world that the stories are set around.
  • Operator Incompatibility:
    • In The Heritage of Hastur, the Sword of Hastur is protected by two force fields. Only a telepath can pass through the first one, but only a non-telepath can pass through the second one.
    • Noted in The Forbidden Tower: Terrans, who are usually right-handed, often have trouble using implements designed by/for Darkovans, who are usually left-handed.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Jeff Kerwin Jr. grows up in the Terran Empire with no idea that the blue stone he's always worn is the matrix of his Keeper mother Cleindori; when he finally comes back to Darkover, the Comyn identify him through the matrix.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The chieri, of the Space Elf variety.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: On Darkover women commonly wear their hair in butterfly clips so as not to expose the nape of the neck, which would be indecent.
  • No Periods, Period: In Hawkmistress!, Romilly's menstruation is a big problem while she's disguised as a boy.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Cottman IV.
  • The Place: The One-Word Title's the name of the world that the stories are set around. Also a Portmantitle, being a compound of Dark and Over, and an example of The Place, being the name of the world that the stories are set around.
  • Planetary Romance: Although nominally Science Fiction, any of the novels set before the rediscovery are indistinguishable from fantasy.
  • Playing with Fire: Using the Sharra Matrix. The Terrans learn to appreciate the merits of the Compact when Kadarin and Thyra summon the Form of Fire and use it to destroy the Terran spaceport at Caer Donn.
  • Polyamory: Oddly enough, this seems to crop up in places. Due to breeding issues, it used to be far more acceptable to have children by various men. Particularly notable is the social custom of it being okay for a wife's sister to sleep with her husband should she be unable to do so.
    • Ellemir, Callista, Andrew, and Damon seem to have fallen into a polyamorous foursome by the end of The Forbidden Tower
    • Regis Hastur seems to have this going on with his wife Linnea and his paxman Danilo.
  • Portmantitle: The series's One-Word Title is a compound of Dark and Over. Also, Darkover's the name of the world that the stories are set around.
  • Power Crystal: Matrix crystals (aka "starstones"), which amplify psychic powers.
  • The Power of Love: In Two to Conquer, this redeems both protagonists. Also in The Forbidden Tower this is what allows Damon, Ellemir Callista and Andrew to defeat Leonie Hastur and the Circle of Arilinn Tower in a battle in the Overworld, forcing Leonie to accept Damon's Circle as having the right to exist.
  • Precursors: The chieri reveal that they are the dying remnants of what was once a galaxy-spanning race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • Psychic Powers: Laran.
  • Psycho Electro: Dorilys of Rockraven, the titular Stormqueen!, who's been known to kill people accidentally. She's a Spoiled Brat because who can stand up against her?
  • Puberty Superpower: Laran generally awakens in puberty, though there are exceptions. Frequently this is accompanied by an illness known as "threshold sickness", which can occasionally be fatal.
  • The Quest: the plot of City of Sorcery features a quest to find a Hidden Elf Village.
  • Regent for Life: To the extent that anyone rules Darkover, it's not the Elhalyn kings, but the Hastur hereditary regents.
  • Reincarnation Romance: It's implied that Mikhail and Marguerida are this, to the point of going back in time and being mistaken for a thwarted couple named Mikhailangelo and Margarethe.
  • Reset Button: Exile's Song largely ignores the important evolution of Darkovan society and politics that had been clearly established in previous books. Gradual rapprochement between Darkover and the Terran Empire is no longer happening or desirable, and Regis Hastur's Telepathic Council is disbanded to make way for the return of the Comyn. In Traitor's Sun, the Terran Empire leaves and this is described as a very positive thing.
  • Residual Self-Image: The form a person takes in the Overworld is based almost completely on the way they picture themselves. It may not even be human in form.
  • Retcon: The author later stated that the FTL accident that sent the colony ship off-course also sent it through time, accounting for the disparity between the long Darkovan history and the much shorter history of the Terran Empire.
  • Royally Screwed Up: The Elhalyn line, who are the royalty of the Comyn, got the short end of the genetic stick and produced a lot of idiots and madmen. This led to a permanent Regency.
  • Salt the Earth: Bonewater dust, one of the pre-Compact laran weapons, essentially makes land radioactive for decades.
  • Science Fantasy: Is laran sorcery, or just matrix mechanics? Well, objectively it's the latter, but it's sufficiently advanced to most people that it's the former. Many of the novels show laran in a mystical and spiritual light even as Tower workers discuss their jobs in technical terminology. And then the Lost Technology of the Sharra Matrix, and its counterpart the Sword of Aldones, are both portrayed as manifest deities rather than simply ancient machines gone haywire.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: In the earlier novels, the Terran Empire's culture was very similar to that of the early 1980s. She got better.
  • Screw Yourself: In Two to Conquer, the protagonist meets up with an identical duplicate of himself. And then, well, squick.
  • Seers: The Aldaran and Elhalyn Gifts.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: "The Horse-Tamer's Daughter" climaxes in the Daughter's struggle to keep herself, the people and horses of Hali Plain free of the "wizards" who will take the place over and bring her into their ranks. At the end, she defeats the Domain wizards and secures Hali's freedom, but only by establishing herself as the Keeper of Hali Tower.
    I'm just the horse-tamer's daughter, but they love me for my power. They've made of me what I feared to be: the Keeper of Hali Tower!
  • Settling the Frontier: the original colonists in Darkover Landfall.
  • Sex Slave: The riyachiyas in Stormqueen.
  • Shout-Out: One of the main families of nobles is called the "Hasturs". There is a minor family of nobles called the "Alars". There is a place called Carcosa. There is also a lake called "Lake Hali", which is misty. According to The Other Wiki, this was a deliberate shout-out to Robert W. Chambers' book The King in Yellow (which also inspired parts of the Cthulhu Mythos).
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality:
    • In the Terran Empire, Men Are More Equal. Theoretically, men have equal status to women, but a woman is still an appendage of her husband (including being tagged with his name), and a female secret agent who gets married to a local man will be deactivated immediately, while this is not true for males.
    • In the Dry-Towns, women are property.
    • Among the Comyn, it depends on the era. During the Ages of Chaos, women don't have it much better than they do in the Dry-Towns, with sexual slavery, breeding programs and social constraints, combined with the fact that laran is mostly men's work (especially the all-important role of Keeper), keeping women in service of men. Later, changes in laran practice make women rather than men into the leaders of the matrix towers, and the creation of the Order of the Renunciates allows women to claim equal status with men if they choose to. While men still lead most of the Domains, by the time Darkover separates from the Terran Empire again, women have roughly equal opportunities to men.
  • Sobriquet Sex Switch: In Hawkmistress. When Romilly MacAran's father refuses her an education and orders her into an Arranged Marriage with an older man, she takes the name Rumal and runs away from home while dressing as a boy.
  • Society Marches On: The social and sexual values of the Terran Empire are very blatantly those of 1970's-80's America despite this being an interstellar society thousands of years in the future. Married women take their husband's names, men tend to predominate and homosexuals are mostly closeted. Darkover's fantasy culture, often used for contrast, is presented as more restrictive in some ways (the role of women) and progressive in others (acceptance of homosexuality). But to present-day readers some aspects that seemed progressive at the time, such as Darkovan women (but not men) being able to take each other in freemate marriage, may actually come across as retro, especially to readers living where things like same-sex marriages in general are legal. Likewise, the Terran Empire as a whole often looks visibly dated.
  • Space Amish: The Darkovans are very leery of Terran technology, although in fairness their metal-poor planet would require that they become dependent on imports were they to adopt it to any significant degree.
  • Space Elves: The chieri. Borderline Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, and used to be spread throughout the galaxy, but now in retirement.
  • Split Personality: Dr. Jason Allison of The Planet-Savers was raised by Darkovan trailmen before returning to the Terrans to become a cold, xenophobic doctor who entirely repressed his childhood experiences; his "Jay" personality, warmer and more impulsive, has those memories but none of Jason's medical and scientific training.
  • Straw Misogynist: The Terran men as well as the Darkovans, and institutionally as well as individually. (In a galaxy-spanning Terran Empire of three thousand years in the future — one in which men and women are repeatedly asserted to be equal in every way — when Jane Smith marries John Doe, she is automatically designated not only with his surname, but with his full name: not "Smith, Jane", not "Doe, Jane", but "Doe, Mrs. John".)
  • Stronger Than They Look: The chieri are tall, slender and graceful elf-like beings. They are also more than capable of killing a human just by pushing too hard.
  • Succession Crisis: There is one happening, or at the very least mentioned, in pretty much every novel.
  • Sue Donym: In one story, girl Romilly ran away from home. When asked for her name then, she starts "Rom-", coughs, thinks for a moment about using her brother's name, then answers "Rumal".
  • Super Breeding Program: The Comyn were big on this during the Ages of Chaos, as they tried to produce more powerful psychics and develop specialized powers. It acquired something of a stigma as a result. Subverted in modern Darkover, where arranged marriages are still the norm for the Comyn and ensuring that children have laran is considered important. But many such marriages are more politically practical than genetically prudent, as excessive incest has had the opposite of the desired effect. Many Comyn suffer physical and/or mental disorders and laran powers have declined considerably. Especially since females with the strongest laran were encouraged to lives as celibate Keepers.
  • Supernatural Elite: The Comyn are seen as this.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: As a legacy of the Super Breeding Program, each major Comyn lineage (and some minor ones) has a particular Gift, as well as the general potential to use laran. Possessing the appropriate Gift has, on more than one occasion, been used as proof of lineage, as when Danilo Syrtis was declared Dyan Ardais' nedestro son because he possessed the Ardais Gift of catalyst telepathy.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: Subverted in Hawkmistress!, where Orain has feelings for Romilly when she is dressed as a boy. However, it turns out Orain is actually gay and he is repulsed when he discovers Romilly's true gender.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Romilly in Hawkmistress and Camilla in "To Keep the Oath".
  • Tangled Family Tree: There may very well be readers locked in asylums writing on the wall in crayon trying to figure it out. Basically any character who is a Comyn is related to every other Comyn due to centuries of repetitive inbreeding. Ironically, all the Comyn traditionally claim descent from one pairing: Hastur and Cassilda. New "relatives" pop out of the woodwork regularly. Even MZB herself sometimes seemed to have trouble keeping track of who was descended from who.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The chieri.
  • Telepathy: Generally considered to be the most crucial of all Psychic Powers, as without it the individual cannot fully participate in a Circle or operate most matrix technology. Both non-psychics and psychics who lack telepathy are thus disadvantaged in Comyn society.
  • Teleportation: During the height of their power, the Towers could send people and objects through the giant artificial matrices from one tower to another instantaneously. The chieri and some very powerful human psychics can teleport on their own.
  • Time Travel: If someone using Astral Projection reaches the correct level of the Overworld then it becomes possible to visit other time periods. Physical travel through time is also possible, but considerably more difficult.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Melitta and Allira Storn of The Winds of Darkover. It turns out to be extremely fortunate for their family that Melitta preferred climbing and riding over her sister's more conventionally ladylike pursuits. Also Romilly and Mallina MacAran of Hawkmistress. Romilly prefers working with animals, while her sister is interested mostly in clothes and boys.
  • Training the Gift of Psionics: "An untrained telepath is a danger to themselves and everyone around them." is something of a cultural axiom in Darkovan society. Other laran powers besides telepathy can be similarly dangerous, or simply unhealthy to their possessor, if left untrained. There is also a huge difference between what a skilled psychic can do and what an untrained one can, especially with a matrix.
  • Truce Zone: Forest fires are a great danger on Darkover, and an absolute truce is maintained by those working on the fire-lines. There is a story told of a man who met and killed his father's sworn enemy there, and was cut to pieces by his own brothers for it.
  • Twin Switch: An inherent part of Bard and his dad's plan to bring Paul into their lives is so that they can do this. It gets interesting when Bard's gone, Paul gets nabbed and forced to become king of Asturiens and marry Melisendra. Fortunately it turns out that Bard doesn't want Melisendra for himself, and neither of them want to be king.
  • Twin Telepathy: With twins, one will have a large portion of laran, and the other little. However, twins are always telepathically linked regardless of how little talent the one has.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy:
    • Bard and Paul give this a go with a random woman, and then give Twincest a shot...
    • The polygamous foursome of the Forbidden Tower includes two twin sisters, and the four of them sanctify their Tower with a group sex session.
  • The Un Favourite: Mikhail Lanart-Alton's parents pretty much can't stand him ever since he got tapped to be his uncle's heir.
  • The Wall Around the World: Literally called this, it is the global-spanning glacier that surrounds the only habitable continent.
  • Weather Manipulation: Some very powerful psychics can do this to varying degrees. Dorilys of Rockraven can unleash devastating storms, but the price is her sanity. Leonie Hastur can also do this to a lesser extent, but without the self-harm, probably due to her training as a Keeper.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: The central conflict is between the good Darkovans and well-meaning, sympathetic Terrans who happen to be opposed to the Darkovan way of life. Individuals range all over the morality scale, but the series prefers nuanced villains.
  • Wizard Duel:
    • In The Forbidden Tower, Arilinn and the Forbidden Tower fight a Reality Warper battle in the overworld after Damon challenges Leonie's right to issue orders to him.
    • In "The Horse-Tamer's Daughter," the climax is a matrix battle between the "wizards" of the Domains and the Horse-Tamer's Daughter and her circle of psychic wild horses.
  • Virgin Power: Female Keepers, the most powerful of laran workers, have to keep their channels free of sexual impulses during heavy laran work or risk serious injury (men are simply sexually impotent while serving in this position). During the First Age of recontact, this was enforced for women by keeping them virginal or even making them sexless via surgery.


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