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The Quarters series is a quartet of fantasy novels written by Tanya Huff in the mid-1990s.

The series takes place in a world inhabited by elemental spirits called the kigh, creatures whose power can be harnessed by bardsong. The greatest bards can Sing the kigh of all four Quarters, and walk the world to carry news and messages to and fro.

The series takes place in three unconnected installments, with books one and four being standalone stories while two and three form a separate duology. There is also a collection of short stories Huff wrote in the same universe.

  • Sing the Four Quarters (1994): The Princess-Bard Annice, the younger sister of the King of Shkoder who relinquished her claim to the throne to follow the path of the bard, turns up illegally pregnant and becomes entangled in the Frame-Up of the border duc who fathered her child.
  • Fifth Quarter (book one of two, 1995): Brother-and-sister assassin team Bannon and Vree wind up with more than they bargained for when their latest target for the Havalkeen Empire pulls a Grand Theft Me on Bannon, forcing the two of them to share Vree's body.
  • No Quarter (book two of two, 1996): With Bannon now back in his own body and Gyhard doubling up with Vree, the two leave the Empire for neighboring Shkoder in hopes of getting Gyhard back into a body of his own.
  • The Quartered Sea (1999): Benedikt, the finest Singer of water in Shkoder but who can't Sing any other Quarter at all, is asked by Queen Jelena of Shkoder to take ship on an exploration voyage.
  • Three Quarters: A Quarters Collection (2016): A compendium of three short stories set in the same universe. These are Death Rites, Exactly and Quartered, following characters established in the main books. They were printed in other anthologies previously.

The original novels are out of print, but are regularly available on the used books circuit and have been re-released in a pair of omnibus editions. E-book versions are also now available.

    Tropes in the series overall 
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Annice and Stasya are same-sex partners. They usually call each other "Nees" and "Stas".
    • Magda is often called Maggi by her loved ones.
  • The Bard: The bards of Shkoder are a group with the power to do magic through song, calling on elemental beings called the kigh for many different purposes, divided into four "quarters"-fire, water, earth and air. They are also capable of commanding people by speaking with a certain tone, used for trials to insure defendants and witnesses give truthful testimony.
  • Feminist Fantasy: The series portrays complete gender equality with the societies it focuses on, and most of the main characters in the books are women. Issues which heavily affect women such as motherhood and body autonomy are explored, but take it as a given that their rights are equal as a result of the above.
  • Gender-Concealing Writing: The series often refers to minor or background characters by their occupation — "two guards," "a secretary" — a few lines before the gendered pronoun is used. The reader then realizes that the guard or secretary to which s/he had unthinkingly assigned the "conventional" gender is, in fact, just the opposite.
  • Gender Is No Object: There do not appear to exist any restrictions against women in the military, including combat, ranging from foot soldiers right up to the highest ranks, including a marshal of the Havalkeen Imperial Army. Female guards are also not uncommon. This appears to apply with all other jobs too.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Havalkeen is apparently one of these. There's a mention early in No Quarter that the reason the Army plans to use Bannon and Vree to assassinate a rebellious governor is to avoid the casualties, both friendly and civilian, that would be incurred via The Siege or by Storming the Castle. The Empire's Marshal states that the Empire gives "a promise of peace, order, and good government".note 
  • Hereditary Homosexuality: Vree and her younger brother Bannon are both bisexual.
  • Mind over Manners: Bards take vows not to misuse their powers. Those who don't abide by this are major villains. Normally too, becoming a trained bard means they can't use their powers for evil, since it changes them. Only those with incomplete or self-taught training become evil.
  • Non-Heteronormative Society:
    • Shkoder doesn't seem to have any taboos against same-sex relationships, e.g. nobody bats an eyelash at Annice being in a long-term relationship with another female bard and many minor LGBT characters appear as well (this is quite a common trope in Tanya Huff's novels-she's an open bisexual who's been married to fellow fantasy writer Fiona Patton for many years).
    • Later on Havalkeen is shown to have similar mores, as no one bats an eye at expressions of same-sex love and Vree acts quite casual about being bisexual.
  • No Periods, Period: Repeatedly averted.
    • In Sing the Four Quarters it's a plot point that Annice missed hers, with doing so being a sign she's pregnant.
    • In Fifth Quarter Vree notes that she's near the end of her period, and thus it's probably safe for her to have unprotected sex without getting pregnant (although she ends up not doing so).
    • In No Quarter, when Vree gets testy, she's asked if her period is starting.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: The series has women completely equal to men, at least in both Shkodar and Havalkeen, where the stories are set. Many take positions of power, such as top government officials and military officers (along with guards or foot soldiers) with no sign of societal bars against this.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: The books generally take the attitude that Rousseau Was Right, and conflicts between people are much more likely to be the result of misunderstandings than malice.
  • World of Action Girls: The universe features many female guards, soldiers and assassins, with this being a common feature of the countries where the books are set, including many main characters in them. It's portrayed as common and unremarkable, with women no less competent than men.

    Tropes in Sing The Four Quarters 
  • Altar Diplomacy:
    • In the Backstory, then-Crown Prince Theron wanted to marry off his younger sister Princess Annice to the heir of neighboring Cemandia, but she managed to get their father King Maric to let her join the Magic Music bards on his deathbed instead. Theron reacted by ordering Annice to relinquish any claim to the succession and banning her on pain of death from having children. This is the source of their current estrangement. We learn later that Annice's gift for bardic Singing would have been fatal in Cemandia, which considers the kigh to be unholy.
    • One of Annice's sisters is in a Perfectly Arranged Marriage with a Shkoder duc. Their nuptials were intended to bind the duc's line closer to the royal family, but it ended up as a love match.
  • Anti-Magical Faction: The people in Cemandia, the hostile neighboring country of Shkoder, believe that the kigh are demons. Bards, who Sing to the kigh (and do magic this way) are banned in Cemandia since they deem them "demon-kin" as a result. All who live there are hunted down if found out. Most people with bardic gifts hide it there as a result, which often causes them poor mental health at the least, if not using the gifts in a covert and criminal way, only stoking Cemandian prejudice against them. Any they catch are tortured to "exorcise" such demons (this naturally does not help) or killed assuming they already have control over the bardic gifts.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Pjerin's evil aunt Olina chooses to thrust herself onto his sword rather than be beheaded for treason.
  • Blind Musician: Tadeus, one of the bards, is blind. It's downplayed however as the other bards are entirely sighted.
  • Compelling Voice: A bard can issue a Command with a certain tone of voice that cannot be disobeyed. This is generally used for making people speak truthfully during interrogation.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: If it comes to kigh of water, Benedikt has it covered, but he can't Sing any other Quarter at all. This severely hampered his career prior to The Quartered Sea.
  • Death Faked for You: Once King Theron more-or-less confirms that Duc Pjerin was compelled to give false testimony under Bardic Command he concludes that the best way to track down those responsible is to convince them that the frameup worked by staging the rather private execution for treason Pjerin was scheduled for (complete with a hooded body-double being escorted from the dungeons, fresh blood to be cleaned from an interior courtyard after the fact, and guards geas-bound to silence). Theron also wanted to find the victim in large part to work out how this was managed; but at least he knew who broke the Duc out of his cell the night before and where he was probably going.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The kigh are somewhat mischievous beings associated with earth, fire, water and wind whom bards can coax into doing their bidding through Singing (while this does have limitations). Kigh are also described as having a humanoid look and shape but otherwise ethereal.
  • False Confession: Shkoder's justice system makes use of bards' Commands ordering people to tell the truth during their trials so only the guilty will be convicted. However, Pjerin is framed by being made to falsely confess with a post-hypnotic suggestion so he's convicted of treason.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: In Shkoder people are named by given name, then a matronymic, then a patronymic. E.g. Annice and Pjerin's daughter Magda i'Annice a'Pjerin.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Annice was given some contraceptive teas, but gave them away for a woman who had seven children already. Thus she got pregnant by Pjerin after this when they had sex.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted, as the idea of abortion is floated early on when Annice gets pregnant without meaning to. Though she wants to go through with her pregnancy, abortion's treated as perfectly acceptable if that was her wish.
  • The Good King: Theron, though you wouldn't believe it with the way he's initially introduced trying to use his sister Annice in a marriage alliance to Cemandia and then banning her from having children on pain of death when she defies him to join the bards. In fairness, he was barely out of his teens when he inherited the throne, and in the interim between that flashback and the present day he's risen to the challenge and cares deeply about the welfare of his subjects and his kingdom. He also deeply regrets behaving that way to Annice, and after he finally catches up with her and Pjerin he lifts the death sentence on her.
  • Living Lie Detector: A trained bard can tell from the tone of a person's voice whether they're lying or not. Due to this, along with an ability to compel truthful testimony, bards supervise court trials.
  • Magic Music: Bards must be born with the gift to Sing the kigh and have to train for years to master the art. Among the more common uses of the kigh is Singing them to speed riverboats along and to carry messages between bards.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: During her pregnancy Annice discovers that she's losing the ability to Sing any kigh but earth. This is indicated to be a normal thing for a pregnant bard, but it proves a stumbling block.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Annice got pregnant by Pjerin from a single time having sex with him, specifically saying that at the time she wasn't interested in anything more.
  • The Order: In Shkoder the bards are a select group with their own living spaces named halls and use their Magic Music power to various ends on the realm's behalf.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Or Sibling Childbearing Veto in this case. Annice is the younger sister of the King of Shkoder but relinquished her title and claim to the succession in order to become a bard, defying her brother King Theron who wanted to put her in an Arranged Marriage to the heir of Cemandia. She also swore never to bear a child on pain of death lest it threaten the succession. Theron actually deeply regretted doing this to her later but both of them were too darn headstrong to speak on friendly terms for many years afterwards, and Annice decides to carry her baby with Pjerin to term just to spite him. Once he catches up with a very pregnant Annice, Theron apologizes and forgives her.
  • Polyamory: Annice is with Stasya in a happy long-term committed relationship, but still also had sex with Pjerin, becoming pregnant by doing so. Stasya isn't surprised or acts betrayed by this, indicating Annice and she have an open relationship, commenting simply that this is what you get from sex with men (she's a lesbian, unlike Annice who's bisexual).
  • Poor Communication Kills: When she initially learns she's pregnant, Annice is terrified that King Theron is going to have her killed. Unbeknownst to her, Theron actually wants to rescind his earlier death threat, but the two of them haven't been able to speak civilly in years.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: A confession under a trustworthy Bard's command to speak the truth has been considered conclusive for generations. However in the case of one Duc Pjerin's supposed high treason, both King Theron and his youngest sister Annice found the public pre-execution confession sufficiently inconsistent with his... everything else... that they both came to suspect he had been somehow compelled to give false testimony for the sake of either eliminating him or covering the actual traitor's tracks. Unfortunately the siblings had not spoken for a decade, so by the time Theron made up his mind to talk to the prisoner without bardic intervention Annice had used her knowledge of the palace's secret passages to spirit him out of the dungeon and flee.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Annice got unexpectedly pregnant from her tryst with Pjerin. It sets the plot in motion, since she's been forbidden to have children by her brother on pain of death.
  • Truth Serum: A major plot point of Sing the Four Quarters is that nobody can lie to a bard under interrogation: they have the ability to magically compel the speaker to tell the truth regardless of their preference. Except nobody really quite believes it when Pjerin, Duc Ohrid, is revealed by this compulsion as a traitor, because it just plain seems out-of-character. Turns out part of the Frame-Up involved planting what amounts to a post-hypnotic suggestion that forced Pjerin to respond in a self-incriminating manner to the Bard Captain's legally prescribed question.

    Tropes in Fifth Quarter 
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Bannon scoffs that the dead can't walk once he's first heard the idea. Vree reminds him the two are currently Sharing a Body, but he insists that it's different.
  • Body Surf: Gyhard is capable of moving from one body to another, expelling a person's soul and taking it over while leaving his victim in the (usually dying) old body. He's done this for over a century, living six lives in different bodies.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Vree is attracted to Bannon, her brother. She's also disturbed by the fact, and tries to tell herself that isn't what her feelings are. Bannon later actually proposes she have sex with Gyhard in his body to get close so they can kill him, and Vree reluctantly agrees, rationalizing that it's not her brother in there now. After she realizes how much Bannon is into the idea of having sex with his body while sharing hers, she's disgusted and stops herself though.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Vree and Bannon. They're fraternal twins, brother and sister, who work as assassins together.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Discussed when Vree and Gyhard had a dispute on whether to eliminate the Bard they just pumped for information on the old man who kidnapped the prince Gyhard had been plotting to body-jack. Vree pointed out that A) Bard Karlene could track their targetnote , B) Vree could not trust her own training/experience in killing the living to deal with the old man's already dead muscle, C) a reliable counter to the old man's formidable Bardic powers would be critical given the meat-shields, & D) if anything Karlene wants to get to Prince Otavas at least as badly as Gyhard (admittedly to save him or put him to rest rather than steal his body, but that can be dealt with once the Necromancer is out of the picture).
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Imperial Prince Otavas has a strong resemblance to how Gyhard looked when he broke up with Kars over his necromantic dabbling. Unfortunately, Kars has grown both more adept and less sane over the decades.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: The plot is sparked when Gyhard, Bannon and Vree's target, does this to the former. Bannon finds himself in Aralt's dying body, having to share Vree's.
  • Grand Theft Me: There's a "Freaky Friday" Flip where Gyhard steals Bannon's body, running off in it.
  • Necromancer: Kars, a Bard, is able to raise the recently dead with his Song, who are effectively zombies forced to obey him afterward.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Vree's full name, Vireyda, is rarely used. Bannon's isn't revealed to be Albannon until the finale of the book.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: No formally trained Bard would consider trapping a Kigh in a corpse even if they had the strength needed and thought it was theoretically possible, nor would a sane one willingly remain near a Kigh as tormented as one trapped in a corpse would be. Kars is a wholly self-trained Bard of great power who cracked completely decades ago.
  • Parental Abandonment: Vree and Bannon's mother had died when they were young (she was a soldier). Their father may have been too, they don't know, and Vree expresses indifference as to where he went since the Army was their family after that. It turns out Neegan, their trainer, is the pair's father. Like Vree, he maintains that assassins have no family but the Army.
  • Patricide: Vree kills Neegan, who it turns out is the father of her and Bannon, to save them since he'd been sent to kill them both as deserters.
  • Professional Killers: Bannon and Vree are assassins attached to the Havalkeen Army, making them something like commandos in modern terminology.
  • Screw Yourself: Vree is about to have sex with Gyhard in her brother's body, but then feels just how much her brother Bannon wants it (while he shares her body), and stops in disgust.
  • Sharing a Body: Vree and Bannon do this after the latter suffers a "Freaky Friday" Flip with his body being taken away by their target Gyhard.

    Tropes in No Quarter 
  • Big Brother Instinct: Garek is protective with Magda, his little half-sister, offering her immediate help and care whenever she needs it.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Bannon threatens a man who he had just beaten in a fight with ease. The man wets himself as Bannon warns that he'll kill him if he ever crosses Bannon again.
  • Chick Magnet: Bannon is quite handsome, it's indicated, as many women he meets are soon smitten with him. He can easily bed women as a result.
  • Extended Disarming: Before he can see the Emperor, Bannon has to disarm himself. This leads to him pulling daggers and throwing stars from every conceivable hiding place on his body.
  • Forced Sleep: A Bard can make someone sleep with a Song, only reawakening when they bid it.
  • Gilligan Cut: Two in rapid succession:
    • King Theron is summoned from his breakfast by his current chancellor who states that she has been informed of something urgent by the diplomatic courier from the Shkodan ambassador at the Havakeen court, then nervously tries to find a way to put it before blurting out:
      Chancellor Rozele: "Majesty, the Empire has sent an assassin into Shkoder."
      (paragraph break)
      Bardic Captain Liene: "Majesty, the Empire has not sent an assassin into Shkoder."
    • After not-all-that-effective efforts to convince him that they were merely dealing with a retiree and private Havakeen citizen coming to help the Bardic Hall research recent discoveries about the Kigh, King Theron demands that the so-called-ex-assassin and the body-surfing serial killer sharing her headspace be kept away from his niece. The next paragraph is from the POV of Magda i'Annice a'Pjerin, a trainee healer with an exceptional affinity for the Fifth Kigh and a hopelessly romantic sixteen-year-old, as she muses on how much harder it is to talk "sense" into the King in a remotely official situation than it is to bend her Uncle Theron.
  • Hero's First Rescue: Vree's killing of Edite i'Oceania near the beginning of the book has elements of thisnote . However a more unambiguous example is her climbing down an unstable seaside cliff to extract a woman from the wreckage of what was a house on the edge and was at that point not only twenty feet or so down but about to plummet another fifty into the pounding surf, mainly because someone saw her moving minutes ago and she has never actually left anyone to die.
    *Are you sure you can do this?*
    * I could do this in the dark under the noses of guards who would desperately like to kill me.*
    * Yeah, but can you do it in the daylight under the noses of people who desperately want you to succeed?*
    * First time for everything.*
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: After she admits her love for him, Vree and Gyhard are very clearly just about to have sex when the book ends, implying they'll become lovers at last.
  • Hyper-Awareness: Vree has been trained as part of being an assassin to notice even minute details around her that could help in her survival.
  • Keystone Army: The crew of the notorious pirate ship The Raven is theorized to be this, a band of rabble held together though force of personality by Captain Edite i'Oceania and liable to fall apart as a fighting or boarding force if she is slain. When Vree slits i'Oceania's throat as she directed the boarding of The Gilded Fancy, what actually happens is the pirates instantly reversing course (several leaping back from the boat they were trying to take) in a mad scramble to avenge their beloved leader... which was functionally much the same thing.
  • Love Confession: Vree admits at last that she does love Gyhard at the end of the book.
  • Mercy Kill: Healers in Shkoder swear to euthanize patients who are beyond all other help so they won't suffer anymore as part of their vows.
  • Mugging the Monster:
    • Three thugs in Shkoder harass Vree, who's an Imperial assassin (unbeknownst to them). She easily beats them all up, and were she not reminded not to pull her blades at least the first would have died.
    • Bannon, Vree's brother who's an assassin as well, gets into much the same situation with a brutish man and his four sons who pick a fight. He takes down all five in a trice, with multiple broken limbs and two of them having to be carried out, and has them completely convinced that they will die if he sees them again.
  • Neck Snap: Vree kills Kars through breaking his neck with her hands. As he's a very old man, this works easily.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse:
    • Vree is repeatedly described as a short, slim woman, with her skill as an assassin surprising many people because of this. She doesn't fall into Waif-Fu however, as Vree's shown as in trouble if pinned under a larger opponent at first before wriggling free of them. As an assassin, Vree mostly sneak attacks people. Her small size is thus an asset to moving quickly and getting noticed less (or underestimated) given this.
    • Likewise, her brother Bannon is a small man who other men underestimate due to his size, but like Vree he's a highly trained assassin. Those who pick a fight with him thinking he's weak soon regret it.
  • Pirate Girl: At the beginning of the book, the ship Vree's on gets attacked by pirates with a female captain. Vree learns they'll soon fall apart if she's killed and so she gets onboard to assassinate her. It soon turns out that some others in the crew also are women. When they're captured, some of them turn out to be pregnant. Thus, they're spared from hanging until they've given birth.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • Gerek speaks to Karlene this way when insisting that she help the others.
    • Vree later does the same to Gyhard insisting he not leave her alone.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Vree and her younger brother Bannon appear much alike, so that no one is surprised to learn they're related.
  • Supernatural Sensitivity: Bards can tell instantly just by looking at Vree that there's another kigh (spirit) inside her along with her own.
  • Time Skip: The book shows that it's set over a decade after Sing the Four Quarters since Annice and Pjerin's daughter Magda (whom she'd given birth to near the end) is a teenager here.
  • Touch Telepathy: Bards can hear what Vree and Gyhard are saying to each other inside her mind while touching her body.

Alternative Title(s): Sing The Four Quarters, Fifth Quarter