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Literature / Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword

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Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword is a Russian-language fantasy novel by Nick Perumov, so far untranslated into English. It is the first novel in his Keeper of the Swords series and the larger Chronicles of the Rift cycle which also includes novels not starring the titular Keeper of the Swords, Fess.

Welcome to Mel'in, the world of interracial hatred and class oppression. The world where Humans, Dwarves and Elves hate each other's guts, where it's the sorcerers who burn their victims at stakes instead of the other way round, where The Empire is dominant, oppressive and gloomy but the emperor is not guilty of this, since he has no say in its workings. You'll like it.

The world of Mel'in is named such because of the dominant power, the Mel'in Empire. On paper, this empire is ruled by a line of emperors who become nameless upon ascension on its throne, but in reality, those emperors are merely puppets of the all-powerful Magical Orders of the Rainbow. The Orders of Arc the Red, Garam the Orange, Ugus the Yellow, Flaviz the Green, Liv the Blue, Soley the Indigo and Kutul the Violet are actually in charge. Those seven orders maintain and guard their monopoly on sorcery, catching and executing anyone who practices magic without their permission. Only scions of Human aristocracy can enroll as apprentices in these Orders, the best a lowborn Human can hope for is buying a very expensive license for common hedge wizardry, and any non-humans who try magic are exterminated as soon as possible. There's also the eighth Order, called the Order of Nerg of All and No Colors, very secretive.

Because of these Orders, the Human race possesses the most powerful magic in the world, which allowed them to dominate and conquer their enemies, the Dwarves and the Elves. The Dwarves are a subjugated and heavily taxed race, but they are at least allowed in the Empire as second class not-quite-citizens. The Elves were banished from the limits of the Empire at all, and one Elven nation known as the Danu, who resisted, was decimated and enslaved. Only one non-human race managed to negotiate peace with humans: the Freefolk, very human-like, but possessing amazing combat reflexes and exactly zilch talent for magic. They are allowed to become full Imperial subjects and even form the Emperor's elite guard.

Does this sound like an explosive situation, ready to birth a revolution? Yes, because it is one. The oppressed races prepare their hidden artifacts, the titular Swords of tremendous powers, to destroy the dominion of humanity, and the young emperor is bored with being a figurehead and is preparing to destroy the reign of mages. The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. Among all this, Fess, a member of a secret society of spies and assassins, is living a life of high adventure, unaware of his future role in the fates of both Mel'in and the neighboring world of Evial.

Tropes found in this novel:

  • Advancing Wall of Doom: The Death Rain, when it starts. It slowly moves over the north part of The Empire, obliterating humans in the process. It then continues to rain for a couple of weeks before disapppearing. The only way to survive is to take a shelter under a stone house.
  • Ancient Artifact: The eponymous blades, the Diamond Sword of the Dwarves and the Wooden Sword of the Danu Elves.
  • Anti-Magic: the Gray League knows the secret of a herbal mixture which, if burnt, produces magic-dissolving fumes. This secret becomes instrumental in dethroning the Rainbow, and later, when the pro-Imperial Rainbow remnant deciphers the recipe, a weapon against the Goat-legs.
  • Artifact of Doom: the glove that Goat-legs gave to the Emperor.
  • BFS: All three Central swords (two eponymous ones plus the Black Sword of Humankind) are this.
  • Black Swords Are Better: or worse, in this case. We have a Diamond Sword of the Dwarvenkind, the Wooden Sword of the Elvenkind and the Black Sword of Humankind. Guess which is the most powerful, destructive, dangerous and cursed.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Not only the colored wizardry of the Rainbow. The muggles also have a cloak color-coding system depending on their social class: Plain white = clergy, two or three colors = nobility and royalty, four or more = gentry, dizzying splotchy patchy madness = commoners.
  • Color-Coded Patrician: a cloak or cape of a single non-white color means a high ranking mage of the Rainbow, who is a magocrat and automatically also an aristocrat. Two colors means royalty. Three - high nobility.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Arc the Red are fire mages and militarists; Garam the Orange are healers and medics; Ugus the Yellow are specialists on sacrifice and necromancy; Kutul the Violet are necromancers too, but their specialty is breeding monsters. What do Flaviz the Green, Liv the Blue and Soley the Indigo exactly do, we are not told. If we judge by what Liv's iconic character, the sorceress Seges, does, its hat is probably politics.
  • Constructed World: One of many in Perumov's multiverse known as the Consistent. Later novels feature the world next door, Evial.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: when under the thrall of the Wooden Sword, Danu inflict those on humans they defeat.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Once Danu and Dwarves get their hands on their respective swords, their armies became unbeatable, able to smash much bigger human armies. At one point 150 (that's right: one hundred fifty) Danu utterly destroy an entire legion with just two casualties on their side.
  • Dark Fantasy: The standard fantasy races hate each others' guts. The humans hate each others' guts, and both result in catastrophic wars. The Crystal Dragon Jesus only wants to have an Apocalypse. An Eldritch Abomination with a thousand young is on the loose, and the final battle merely gives them a temporary setback. Hell, a little more and the story will infringe on the borders of Cosmic Horror.
  • Enslaved Elves: And Dwarves, and Orcs. There are free elves outside of the Empire, but they cannot compare to their former glory.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Accium. Also qualifies as Redemption Equals Death, given his role in earlier books. His sacrifice to stop a monster that heralds the end of Mel'In, when three of them wake.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Emperor and Agatha, who is a Danu.
  • Murder, Inc.: The Gray League has shades of that, assassination is one of its specialties (the other is espionage).
  • Not Quite Dead: Sylvia, and later Kitsum. The former survives a hit from Agatha with a candelabre.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Goat-Legs, servants of an Eldritch Abomination that attack Mel'in in the middle of the upheaval, hoping for an easy victory. Their master wants to leave the multiverse, and the Goat-Legs destroy any world to build a road for him to leave, Vogon style.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Kan-Torog and the rest of the Freefolk. Averted with Sidri; Dwarves are a Proud Warrior Race indeed, but Sidri isn't the typical brave one.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Used here to translate the Russian letter ь, which means a glottal stop with palatalization of the preceding consonant and a yot before the succeeding vowel. Mel'in is read as "Mel Yin", with "Mel"'s ending "l" pronounced a la French.
  • Rule of Three: when three of the ancient monsters sealed underground are awakened, Mel'In will end. Subverted by Accium sacrificing himself to kill one of those, which causes the collapse of the attacking forces.
  • Slave Collar: Agatha, a Danu girl, has to wear one for about half of the story.
  • Squishy Wizard: Rainbow wizards are good at magic, but generally bad at surviving physical attacks. A particularly glaring example after Agatha hits Sylvia with a candelabre:
    So it is easy like that? To kill the one who fought the Rainmaster and lived? Actually, it isn't. Not only is Sylvia Not Quite Dead, but she will survive a lot of other attacks later on.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian:
    • The Rainbow's rule was harsh, but at least the caravans ran on time, the races did not declare war on each other and the local Shub-Niggurath expy was not infringing on Mel'in. When their reign collapsed, on the other hand...
    • The reason why the Emperor scored an easy victory against the Rainbow is because the main forces of the wizards were away defending the world against the Goat-legs and their master, leaving only a bunch of apprentices behind. Say what you want about the Rainbow, but they are not a force for evil. The Nerg, on the other hand...