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Literature / Empire of the East

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A trilogy of fantasy novels by Fred Saberhagen, set 50,000 years in Earth's future, after a devastating change in the laws of physics which unleashed demons and made most technology unusable. The books are The Broken Lands, The Black Mountains, and Changeling Earth (later re-titled Ardneh's World). They tell the story of the conflict between the titular Empire of the East and the rebellious Free Folk of the West, in particular an orphan warrior named Rolf.

The Books of Swords are a distant sequel to the trilogy.

Empire of the East provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: Mewick, Ekuman, Charmian, Som the Dead... and then we have Rolf, Sarah, and Catherine. A midway example is the Emperor John Ominor.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Demons will eat your soul if not bound by the most careful magical workings. And with the most powerful, even that may not be enough (see Orcus on His Throne).
  • Big Damn Heroes: Chup saves the armies of the West from Som the Dead and his Demon ally Lord Zapranoth in a series of awesome moments. First Chup decides to defect from the East to the West even under hopeless circumstances. Second Chup Lord Zapranoth's Soul Jar is hidden. Third Chup figures out the only way to help the West's army in time is to have his head cut off so the medical drones will rapidly transport him to the Beast-Lord for life recovery. It Makes Sense in Context. Finally, Chup destroys Lord Zapranoth "life" which wins the battle for the West.
  • Break the Haughty: This is Lady Charmian's fate when the curse she placed on her servant girl — to magically grow old and ugly whenever a man touched her romantically — is reversed at the end of the series, causing her to need her husband's touch to retain her youth and beauty. This effectively binds her to her husband, Lord Chup, since he was the only man who ever actually loved her.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": There are no horses, there are "riding-beasts". There are no mules, there are "load-beasts". But there are birds and lizards. Possibly justified in that it is 50,000 years in the future, but why have only a few animals' names been lost? Especially since some of these lost names (like the ones above) are for common domesticated animals, which humanity would have almost certainly made constant use of given the sudden enforced lack of technology.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lady Charmian can't make up her mind whose side she's really on, even her own husband's. Justified, as the whole Eastern Empire suffers from this, too.
  • Deal with a Demon: Eastern lords are expected to make one as a pledge of loyalty to the Empire. Charmian's father, Lord Ekuman, gave his two daughters to a demon. Charmian, in turn, begged the demon to take her younger sister as evidence of her own loyalty. Chup was unusual in not yet having made such a pledge.
  • Death by Irony: Som the Dead was imbued with the power to turn attacks back against his foes; trying to kill him killed you instead. This is simply because he is, in some way, already dead, but still walking around. He meets his end when Draffut mistakes him for a gravely wounded soldier and heals him.
  • Defector from Decadence: Chup leaves the back-stabbing decadence of the East and defects to the armies of West.
  • Devil, but No God: There are demons all over the place, but even the word "gods" tends to puzzle people when they hear it.
  • Dual Wielding: Western warrior Mewick does this with a short sword and a hatchet.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Lady Charmian hesitates to kill Chup when she has him at her mercy on more than one occasion, though she savored the thought of his death many times. Possibly she actually loves him. By the end of the series, it is clear that he at least loves her (though he's no longer evil by that point).
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Lord Chup will kill for revenge, but throwing his wife to the demons- even though she tried to have him killed- is beneath him.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Exaggerated because the story world was created when a magicless technical world was transformed into a magic world by "The Great Change", not unlike a world-changing blast. Zig Zagged because demons really are nuclear explosions which transformed into malevolent beings during "The Great Change" (tech-to-magic). Inverted when Ardneh reverses "The Great Change" transforming magic items back to technology.
  • Femme Fatale: Lady Charmian plays this towards powerful men in the Eastern Empire, as she tries to advance her prospects at any cost- all while stuck in the Heel–Face Revolving Door when it comes to her actual husband, Lord Chup.
  • Final Exchange: The exchange between Orcus and Ardneh after the armies of the West have been sent into retreat, leaving Ardneh alone to face Orcus and all the forces of the Empire.
    Orcus: Die.
    Ardneh: I die, and at the moment of my death let go the change I have held over the world. It is my will that the nuclear energies flow again, that you, hellbomb creature, be as you were when my change first came upon you.
  • Fun with Acronyms: ARDNEH: Automatic Restoration Directorate- National Executive Headquarters. In the fine traditions of NORAD.
  • A God I Am Not: Ardneh (in all three books) and Draffut the Beastlord (in The Black Mountains) are both believed to be supernatural entities. The truth is somewhat different. Ardneh is actually a self-aware computer program 500 centuries old; Draffut began his existence as a dog, and grew to god-like power and stature through exposure to Lost Technology.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The Black Mountains is the story of Lord Chup's extended turn from Worthy Opponent into hero, with lots of Character Development.
  • Hero of Another Story: Prince Duncan, leader of the Western armies, appears in Book 3 having successfully waged war against the Empire for several years, separately from Rolf's group. Much more successfully, as Rolf's is still more or less a rag-tag rebel group, while Duncan's is sweeping up the coast against the Emperor's armies.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Som the Dead demands that Chup pretend to help Lady Charmian escape her prison, then lead her to a demon to be sacrificed instead. Som explains that this is because Chup is a valiant and noble warrior, and Som needs to know that he can be petty, cowardly and duplicitous if that's what the Empire needs. There is no room in the East for Anti-Villains.
  • Klingon Promotion: The Empire runs on this; it's noted by several characters that the Emperor believes in this priciple, and that an underling who can't defend his position wasn't worthy of it to begin with.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Rolf's sister disappears at the beginning of Book 1; in the beginning of Book 2, months later, he learns that she is still alive and begins searching for her. They are eventually reunited, but she isn't his blood sister; she is Charmian's younger sister, the one she threw to the demon to ensure her own escape. Both girls lost their memories of each other, and the younger sister is now a slave for the older. She is still alive because the demon placed its life in her hair and sent her far away, not anticipating that she would be brought back to the castle next to the demon's lair. The demon is killed when the heroes learn the truth, cut off & burn her hair.
  • Lost Technology: The advanced technology that still exists is either 50,000 years old and is treated as magical, or is created by djinnis summoned for that purpose. Rolf is highly unusual and crucial to the rebel war effort in actually having some empathy for the ancient technology. The biggest technology of all is Ardneh, a computer imbued with semi-magical powers to prevent nuclear war. In doing so, it changed the laws of physics, making magic possible and bringing demons into existence.
  • Machine Empathy: Rolf's ability, it lets him control the electronic atomic tank to save the day.
  • Magic Versus Science: Most high technology ceased functioning because the very laws of physics had been changed by a powerful supercomputer in order to prevent a nuclear war from destroying humanity, which in turn made magic possible, and indeed prevalent. By the end of the trilogy, some balance had been restored, and magic and technology could more easily function side-by-side.
  • Meaningful Name: Ardneh is a reversal of the Indian deity Indra. The Lord Ekuman, Big Bad of ''The Broken Lands", is the opposite of Namuci, the demon Indra kills in mythology. Pointed out to Ekuman by his retainer, but dismissed as coincidence. He should have listened.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay
  • No Man of Woman Born: One character threatens to slay another "not by day or night, neither with the staff nor with the bow, neither with the palm of the hand nor with the fist, neither with the wet nor with the dry." This is said to be a repeat of an old prophecy in which the god Indra slew the demon Namuci "in the morning twilight, by sprinkling over him the foam of the sea." The repeat comes true when its target is asphyxiated by the foam of a fire extinguisher at sunset.
  • Nuclear Mutant: Orcus is literally a nuclear explosion given form and sentience.
  • Only I Can Make It Go: Rolf is destined to ride the Elephant, an atomic-powered tank connected to Ardneh.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Every demon except Orcus has a soul which is kept carefully hidden outside its body. Find the soul, and you have the power to destroy the demon.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Averted; Orcus actually is a main character in Book 3 and takes a critical part in the action. In this case, Orcus is actually a nuclear explosion arrested in mid-blast 50,000 years ago by "The Great Change" that Ardneh caused; by ending the state of Change, Orcus reverts to his original form, this time over the assembled armies of the Eastern Empire. This is the final step in Ardneh's Xanatos Gambit.
  • Power Crystal: Certain rare black gems are incredibly beautiful to spirits, wizards, and others with magical vision. But only Ardneh knows what they are, and he is able to draw immense power from one by transforming it back into what it originally was: The magnetohydrodynamic core of a hydrogen fusion power lamp.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The heroes search for a magic metal elephant to help them in the war. The elephant turns out to be a mostly operational nuclear-powered battle tank from before the nuclear holocaust thousands of years earlier. The armament is dead and the chemical-protective gear crumbles when touched, but the controls still light up, the engine roars, and none of the drive mechanism is broken. This is rare enough on a tank that hasn't been maintained since last week.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Eastern Satrap Ekuman, Lord Som, and Emperor John Ominor all take steps to discourage Chronic Backstabbing Disorder in their immediate circles, and show some instances of recognizing and rewarding loyalty. However, they remain reasonable only as long as their underling are successful, at which point You Have Failed Me may come into play.
  • Rescue Equipment Attack: Lord Ekuman is killed by asphyxiation with the foam of a fire extinguisher, thus making good an earlier threat to kill him "neither by the wet nor by the dry."
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The leader of the Western army is Prince Duncan of the Offshore Isles.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Demon-Prince Orcus, who founded the titular Empire, was imprisoned under the earth by his own lieutenants, John Ominor and Wood, in a coup. Eventually, Wood convinces Ominor that they should release Orcus, believing that only Orcus has the power to match Ardneh, and believing that they can keep Orcus controlled.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Each book's villain is the subordinate of the next higher-up. Satrap Ekuman answers to Som the Dead, the undying ruler of the West, who in turn is a vassal of Emperor John Ominor. John himself is bound to Orcus, though not as a vassal.
  • Soul Jar: Most demons can not be killed unless the object containing their "life" is destroyed, which is a critical plot point during Book 2 "The Black Mountains".
  • Tank Goodness: The Elephant is an atomic-powered tank lying dormant from before the Great Change. Ardneh leads Rolf to its hangar, where Rolf's Machine Empathy allows him to wake it up and pilot it into battle.
  • Technology Erasure Event: The laws of physics were changed to prevent nuclear weapons from working, which has disabled most other technology as well.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The final main villain, Emperor John Ominor, looks like a normal man. This was a surprise after dreading earlier less powerful climactic villains, such as demons, the wizard Wood, and Som the Dead.
  • Twisting the Prophecy: Prince Duncan and three of his top wizards conduct a divination ritual which reveals that if Duncan takes his army east, it will be defeated and sent into a headlong retreat and that an enemy of terrible power will appear and destroy Ardneh. Ardneh whispers into Duncan's mind that he should take his army east anyway. Duncan realizes that Ardneh can see this future as well as his wizards can, so Ardneh must have a prophecy twist in mind —even if Duncan has no idea what that twist might be. The Empire releases the demon Orcus to destroy Ardneh, and he does— but when Ardneh dies, he transforms Orcus back into a detonating nuclear warhead, taking out most of the forces of the Empire in the process. Duncan's army survives because it retreated away from Ground Zero.
  • Unholy Nuke: An inverted example. Magic transformed nuclear explosions into an unholy race of demons.
  • Virgin Power: Some wizards, both male and female, lose some or all of their power if they lose their virginity. Many do not, and, indeed, some are quite promiscuous with no ill effects, but there is no explanation of why some do and some don't.
  • Walking Techfix: This is Rolf's special gift, in a world where almost no-one understands the few pieces of Lost Technology that remain. It leads to him being recruited directly by Ardneh as an agent.
  • Was Once a Man: Downplayed. The wizard Elslood experiences the loss of his humanity, his mind, his identity, his ability to think, and his senses as he is transformed from a man into a small web footed animal, as punishment for betraying Lord Ekuman. As a cruel twist, the spell won't let him forget he once was a man.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Rolf's search for his sister Lisa is one of his driving motives throughout the first two books. Come the third, and there isn't even an offhand mention of her.
  • Worthy Opponent: Lord Chup, in Book 1 (The Broken Lands), regards a captured Rolf as this, when Rolf has the guts to pick up the sword Chup throws down as a challenge. Rolf returns the respect, believing Chup, while he is still an Eastern Lord, is above lying and petty cruelty.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The entire trilogy proceeds according to Arndeh's design, and no matter what choices the leaders of The Empire make, they are playing into his hands. The main plot of Changeling Earth is Ardneh finally revealling his location to the East, luring them to himself and making them desperate enough to actually summon the demon Orcus. This puts them in a position to be destroyed by Ardneh's counterstroke. Of course, if they had not moved against Ardneh with all their power, they would have still lost, since Ardneh would have continued to work against them, now with enough power to almost match all the might of the Empire at once, but from a position of complete security.