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Literature / RCN

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Space Sailing has never been so much fun.
"But Daniel," Adele said, struggling to understand a situation devoid of logic. "Their ships are bigger and newer and there's more of them. Surely Admiral Chastelain knows that?"
"Yes, Adele," Daniel said, "But he also knows that we're the RCN. No Alliance commander ever forgets that."
"Ah," Adele said. "Yes, I understand."
Lt. Leary, Commanding

David Drake's RCN (Republic of Cinnabar Navy) series is loosely based off the 18th century British navy, complete with spaceships that travel through hyperspace using sails. However, the sails are handled fairly realistically: stripping a ship's sails with a plasma cannon is a quick and easy way to keep it from escaping into hyperspace, the sails need to be furled and stowed before entering an atmosphere, and when deployed, interfere with the ship's realspace maneuvering and combat.

In the same way that Honor Harrington is Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE!, the RCN books are Aubrey-Maturin IN SPACE!, with Daniel Leary in the role of Jack Aubrey and Adele Mundy as Stephen Maturin (only with her being the ship's comms officer rather than its surgeon).

From the author's note from The Way to Glory, fourth book in the series: "The general political background of the RCN series is that of Europe in the mid-eighteenth century, with admixtures of late-Republican Rome. (There's a surprising degree of congruence between British and Roman society in those periods.)"


Also known as:

  • The "Lt. Leary" series, after the primary main character.
  • The "Republic of Cinnabar" series, the protagonists' nation.
  • The "Leary-Mundy" series, after the main characters.
  • The "Lt. Leary, Commanding" series, after the title of the second book. The title of the first book, "With the Lightnings" did not lend itself to a series name.
  • The "RCN" series is the nomenclature Drake uses, for Republic of Cinnabar Navy, the protagonists' military service..

The books so far,

  • With the Lightnings (1999).
  • Lt. Leary, Commanding (2000).
    • Title on the dust cover: RCN Lt. Leary, Commanding RCS Princess Cecile. A quirk is that the "R" in "RCN" has a stylized crown, suggesting the designer for the titles didn't know "R" stands here for "Republic" rather than "Royal."
  • The Far Side of the Stars (2004)
  • The Way to Glory (2005)
  • Some Golden Harbor (2006)
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  • When the Tide Rises (2008)
  • In the Stormy Red Sky (2009)
  • What Distant Deeps (2010)
  • The Road of Danger (2012)
  • The Sea Without a Shore (2014)
  • Death's Bright Day (2016)
  • Though Hell Should Bar the Way (2018)

This series provides examples of

  • Absent Aliens: In spirit. While at least three other alien species exist, interaction between them and humanity is extremely rare, since humans and aliens don't compete or trade for resources or planets because they don't use the same ones: there's a mention in With the Lightnings of an alien visitor to Kostroma who has to be ferried about the city inside of a tank containing its native atmosphere.
    • There are hints sprinkled throughout the series of aliens that lived on the same kind of worlds as humans, Death's Bright Day even has Daniel find an alien glove in a cave.
  • Action Girl: Any military-trained woman in this series can kick just as much ass as the men, but even then there's a few standouts:
    • Deuteragonist Adele Mundy is The Gunslinger of the series, trained as a pistol duelist and a crack shot with most handguns. Her preferred sidearm is small and easily concealable, but its lower penetration leads her to aim for the eyes. She personally leads the ground assault on enemy fortifications on Dunbar's World since Daniel is piloting Princess Cecile.
    • Adele's servant/bodyguard Tovera is a former assassin of the Alliance's Secret Police, the Fifth Bureau, and carries a submachine gun in an attache case. She's also adept with Improvised Weapons, once immobilizing a man by stabbing him with a writing stylus.
    • Woetjans, Daniel's bosun, is a tall, strong woman who likes to use a length of high-pressure tubing as a truncheon.
    • Midshipman Lucinda Hale, introduced in The Sea Without a Shore, gets an interesting Establishing Character Moment. She's mentioned when she hires onto Daniel's crew as a private citizennote  have been on the Academy shooting team and declines Hogg's offer of a pistol... only to turn and pick up a rifle instead on grounds that she has a better chance of actually hitting something with it.
  • The Alleged Ship: Starships from Novy Sverdlovsk have a reputation for being like this, with their crews being of equally low quality. The RCN also tends to have a low opinion of Pantellarian ships, though this has more to do with the quality of the crews than the ships themselves: Pantellarian sensors in particular are as good or better than anything in Cinnabar or Alliance use, though on the other hand they also use some tri-barrel plasma turrets that are Awesome, but Impractical.
  • Almighty Janitor: Adele is officially a non-commissioned officer responsible for communications and cyberwarfare. If Daniel isn't present, however, everyone on the ship including Lt. Vesey, his first officer, will defer to her judgement in almost everything except handling and fighting the ship (which she openly admits she knows nothing about). And if it doesn't involve ship operations, Daniel is equally willing to follow her lead.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: After eleven books from Daniel and Adele's points of view, Though Hell Should Bar the Way switches to a new character serving aboard: Roy Olfetrie, a down-on-his-luck spacer who had planned to join the RCN but for his father being unmasked as a white-collar criminal.
  • Antimatter: The High Drive that provides deep space propulsion for both ships and their missiles uses matter-antimatter annihilation to produce thrust. The reaction isn't complete though, so it's only used in vacuum, as antimatter that hadn't reacted in the thrust could interact with atmospheric molecules, damaging or even destroying the engines (there are at least two instances of this in the series, one accidental, one caused by Adele hacking the control systems). Due to this, lower-powered and less fuel efficient plasma thrusters are used for atmospheric maneuvering.
  • Artistic License – Military: In-Universe example. In When the Tide Rises, Adele attends a play dramatizing the mission in Some Golden Harbor and spends the whole show noting the various mistakes in the details, such as getting uniforms wrong.note  Also the holographic portion of the performance, while consisting of real images from Princess Cecile's combats (which a crew member sold to the playwright so he could send the money to the families of slain and crippled crew members), actually combines every battle since Leary commandeered the ship from Kostroma in book one rather than just the fight for Dunbar's World.
  • Asexuality: Adele is completely uninterested in sex and finds everyone's obsession with it irritating:
    "Biology isn't one of my particular interests, Senator," she said in an upper class drawl. "I wouldn't be shocked if a maggot crawled out of your eye socket, though I'd find it vaguely disgusting."
  • A-Team Firing: Many of the Sissies are described as shooting with more enthusiasm than skill. Justified because as naval personnel they're not trained for infantry combat, even though they get used as Space Marines fairly often since Princess Cecile is too small to carry her own Marine contingent.
  • Badass Boast: "Every Alliance spacer ... knows that no matter how many ships they have, they've always got to expect us to go for their throats. Deep in their hearts, they're afraid and they know we aren't. We're the RCN." — When the Tide Rises
  • Badass Bookworm: Lady Adele Mundy, Mundy of Chatsworth, one of the First Families of Cinnabar, Signals Officer in the RCN, pistol-packing Librarian. She's not only a Bookworm who's also badass, but equally Badass as a bookworm. Once she frightened the head of Cinnabar Intelligence with her ability to penetrate Cinnabar systems, form queries, and make inferences from the result.
    "The ship is to be the Hermes?" Adele said, her eyes on her display ... Sand cleared her throat, "I wouldn't normally pry into your sources of information, but I had reason to believe that only two people in the human universe had that information until now. If my communications with Admiral Anston aren't secure, then I really must know that." [After Adele's explanation] "I just realized that I've apparently ... leagued with a demon. But you're the Republic's demon, and I'm bloody well not going to let you go now that I've found you!"
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: One of the series' running gags is Hogg constantly having to repair Daniel's dress uniforms after he gets into fights while wearing them.
  • Battle Butler:
    • Anyone disdaining either Tovera or Hogg as a simple servant is unlikely to live long enough to regret the mistake.
    • Porra's exiled mistress in What Distant Deeps also has a personal servant whose real duty (everyone knows) is to keep an eye on her. She and Tovera spend a great deal of time ensuring each has a clean shot at the other if necessary.
  • Bawdy Song: One of the early books opens on the funeral for Daniel's uncle Stacy Bergen, a record-setting RCN navigator who inspired Daniel to join the RCN himself. The procession includes a troupe of mummers who perform a song that includes a line about Stacy teaching young ladies "how to fuck" (one of surprisingly few times the word is used in the series).
  • Becoming the Mask: As of In The Stormy Red Sky Adele believes this may be happening to Tovera, who initially joined with Adele to learn how to at least act like a human with a conscience instead of an amoral sociopath.
  • Berserk Button: Anyone who thinks they can sully the honor of a Mundy of Chatsworth without repercussions is in for a nasty surprise.
  • Black Comedy: Tovera's idea of humor in a nutshell. As a sociopath with limited emotions, she basically developed her sense of humor by trying to imitate neurotypical humans (mainly Adele), and will often make completely deadpan jokes about random acts of brutal violence.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: While many of the Sissies fit this trope, Woetjans exemplifies it, a large woman who's shy with neither a sharp tongue nor a length of pipe to use as a bludgeon if need be.
  • Briefcase Blaster: Tovera keeps a submachinegun in her attache case, which is rigged to hide the weapon from any but the most advanced of weapon scanners.
  • The Captain: Daniel Leary is clearly in charge of the Princess Cecile crew, which causes some minor tension in Some Golden Harbor when Lt. Vesey is the official CO of the ship, but everyone tends look to Leary for guidance. However, Daniel makes clear to Vesey that he wants her to be captain in truth, not just on paper.
  • The Casanova: Daniel Leary's favorite form of entertainment in port is seeking out willing women to sleep with. And he always finds them. He's stated to be good enough at seducing women to make his living at it. More recently he has settled down with Miranda Dorst.
  • The Chick: Lieutenant Vesey, Daniel's XO, is a navigator and ship-handler rivaling her captain, but she has too much of a hangup about killing to really make it as a naval CO in her own right.
  • Contrasting Sequel Protagonist: Roy Olfetrie in Though Hell Should Bar the Way to Daniel and Adele.
    • He's a naval officer, like Daniel, and like Adele his family is disgraced: he was forced to drop out of the Naval Academy in second year after his father, a naval supply contractor, was incriminated in a corruption scheme and killed himself.
    • Unlike Daniel, he's not as naturally talented an astrogator, but more comfortable with being on the hull than Adele.
    • Unlike Daniel, he's not a Casanova: he instead rescues a noblewoman from a pirate lord's harem after falling in love with her at first sight. When They Do sleep together, she initiates it, and he declines until he's sure she's doing it because she wants to and not because she feels she owes him.
  • Cool Starship: Both of Daniel's main commands in the series are unique.
    • RCS Princess Cecile is a Kostroman corvette with a modular hull, as opposed to the one-piece hulls favored by Cinnabar and the Alliance. The hull is more difficult to work on, but enables the ship to repairably survive damage that would have sent a normal ship to the scrapyard. Though after the Battle of Strymon, the Sissie is sold out of service since the RCN's shipyards don't have the equipment to fix the hull. Daniel's family owns a shipyard and buys and fixes her, essentially making the Sissie Daniel's private yacht.
    • RCS Milton, formerly AFS Scheer, is an Alliance heavy cruiser Daniel captures in The Way to Glory and takes command of in In the Stormy Red Sky. It's noted to be a peacetime design of which only three were built, with an experimental weapons layout that's derided as Awesome, but Impractical: two pairs of 8"/20 cm plasma cannons rather than the four six-inchers more typical on a heavy cruiser. This means that while Millie packs a wallop at energy range, her point defense against missiles is handicapped. Daniel is not discouraged. Unfortunately she's hit by a missile and damaged beyond repair in the same book Daniel takes command.
  • Cunning Linguist: Adele is adept at mimicking accents and uses an upper-class Alliance core-world accent a number of times.
  • Death Seeker: Adele Mundy ... unfortunately she sucks at dying.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Tovera reacts quite poorly to a mook that was excessively and insultingly physical about searching Adele, by castrating them.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Whenver Barnes pilots an aircar, the trip always ends in a controlled crash.
    • With Hogg behind the wheel, the "controlled" in "controlled crash" doesn't enter the picture.
    • While Tovera's driving isn't as outright bad as that of Barnes or Hogg, while she's technically trained to drive an aircar it doesn't come naturally to her, resulting in some rough flying and landings.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Daniel's Chief Missileer Borries is killed offscreen when Milton is hit by a missile in What Distant Deeps, obliterating the Battle Direction Center.
    • Lucinda Hale dies similarly in Death's Bright Day, after Daniel orders her aboard a captured rebel cruiser to ensure the loyalty of its captain. The cruiser takes a missile to the bridge in the ensuing space battle.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Elmere in Some Golden Harbor. Matters are further confused due to the way he behaves in a stereotypically feminine manner.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Daniel comes in for a fair amount of guff from officers jealous of his meteoric rise through the ranks and number of medals (including the Cinnabar Star with Wreath, roughly equivalent to someone being awarded the Medal of Honor twice). They typically think he's either a Glory Hound or well-connected. (They're about half-right on the latter: he's the son of a former Cinnabar head of state and the original head of the Navy Board, Admiral Anston, took a liking to him, but Anston was medically retired in The Way to Glory and Daniel and his father haven't been on speaking terms for over a decade.)
  • Duel to the Death: Duels are perfectly legal on Cinnabar. As a result, the prospect of a duel gets mentioned often, especially in regards to Adele Mundy: her politically active father taught his entire family to be crack shots and made sure that was well-publicized in order to ward off people attempting to duel them.
    • Adele in the Backstory killed her first victim as the result of a duel with a young man that was too scared and/or proud to apologize for an insult he gave her. Notably she only shot to wound him but misjudged the gun and blew his brains out. In the story proper, she occasionally uses the threat of dueling to intimidate people.
    • After their first meeting, Daniel resolved to challenge Adele to a duel for dismissing his uncle's achievements. Had plot not ensued when it did, it would have been a very short book.
    • Adele privately monologues in What Distant Deeps that if by bad luck she ever comes within shooting range of Daniel's father (the man who ordered her family killed), she wouldn't bother with the formality of a duel, but just kill him right then and there.
  • Earth That Was: Lt. Leary, Commanding explains that The War of Earthly Aggression ended in a massive asteroid bombardment that decimated the homeworld's population and rendered it mostly uninhabitable and the continents virtually unrecognizable.
  • The Empire: The Alliance is the typical star-conquering kind, but Cinnabar is A Lighter Shade of Grey, euphemistically referring to its Hegemonic Empire as "Friends of Cinnabar", happily interfering in their governance to ensure that relationship stays intact and generally restricting their militaries to what's needed to keep the surrounding space clear of pirates.
  • Enemy Mine: The RCN and Alliance Fleet have a degree of professional respect for one another: when they have occasion to interact outside battle their officers regard each other as fellow spacers who happen to be on different sides. With Cinnabar and the Alliance having signed a peace treaty "of mutual exhaustion" in What Distant Deeps, Daniel finds himself working alongside a duo of Alliance destroyer captains to foil a conquest by a Cinnabar ally that would have imperiled the peace.
  • Energy Weapon: Plasma cannons are what happens when you detonate a nuclear fusion explosion and then magnetically coerce it into squeezing itself out a gun barrel. They're strictly a close-range weapon, mainly used in space for point-defense to ablate kinetic missiles and knock them off course.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: As noted in the author's foreword in The Way to Glory, the Republic of Cinnabar is an amalgam of Regency Britain and Republican Rome. The Alliance is a stand-in for Napoleonic France, though it also has elements of Prussia.
  • Fantastic Racism: "Men whose idea of patriotism was that anyone not from Cinnabar was a wog with no honor and no rights." The members of the RCN feel that way about pretty much anyone not in the RCN, and not a few in it. This attitude shows up on Earth in the Aubrey-Maturin series, which RCN is based on, and is apparently Truth in Television.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The series uses a variant of the hyperspace form. After using the High Drive to accelerate up to a decent fraction of lightspeed, ships transition into the Matrix, a web of bubble universes that each have their own physical constants. The one constant common across all of them is Casimir radiation, which exerts a single consistent pressure that can be harnessed by a starship's sails. Computers can navigate it, but not as well as talented humans. Daniel is very good at this and regularly sets naval records for transit times, but by his own admission he can't hold a candle to his long-retired (later deceased) uncle Stacey Bergen.
  • Fat Bastard: Many of the tinpot dictators the Sissies encounter in their travels fit this trope to a T.
  • Feudal Future: A merchant princes variant. Cinnabar is a democracy only as much as 18th century Britain: while there's no nobility in the traditional sense, only members of the upper economic classes have the right to vote and there's little opportunity for social mobility except by getting rich and buying your way in.
  • Fiction 500: Daniel Leary was cut off without a farthing by his rich and powerful father after the argument that prompted him to become a spacer, but he quickly becomes independently wealthy from the prize money for capturing starships (that's before he inherits his maternal uncle's stake in the family shipyard). The bajillions of florins in prize money he invariably brings in becomes one of several reasons he has an easier time recruiting crews than other RCN captains (even his enlisted crew and noncoms get rich off their shares: by What Distant Deeps one of his power room techs ends up buying the estate he grew up as a tenant on). Daniel himself could really care less about the money so long as it's there when he needs it: when he's not on duty he lives as something of a self-made trust fund baby, with his sister, a banker, handling things for him.
  • Foil: Adele is an introverted bookworm who's friends with the extrovert Daniel. Also, the extremely co-dependent Tovera mirrors the independent Hogg.
  • Friend or Foe: During a fleet action Daniel takes out a heavy cruiser by tricking it into pulling a High-Speed Missile Dodge against Princess Cecile only to run into a nearby Alliance battleship's fire.
  • Genocide Backfire: Played with. In the backstory, Daniel's father, Cinnabar's former head of state Corder Leary, ordered the execution of Adele's entire family for treason (including her ten-year-old sister, who was caught up in it despite being younger than the orders allowed). Adele always carries a pistol, and once mentions in her Internal Monologue that if she ever ends up in the same room as former Speaker Leary, she won't bother with the formality of a duel. Fortunately, Daniel and his father aren't close, either, and he's only shown up once (in The Way to Glory).
  • Glass Cannon: Because of the nature of their weapons (relativistic homing kinetic-kill missiles), even a corvette like Princess Cecile can do significant damage or even outright kill ships of the line. The reverse is also true. There are also no Deflector Shields in the 'verse; the closest anyone can come is to wrap the hull with sailcloth, which will protect the hull from one direct hit of plasma cannon fire.
  • Glove Slap: Adele to a slimy (allied) intelligence officer in With The Lightnings.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Autocrator Irene in What Distant Deeps. When her husband had been alive, it was presumed that he was a tinpot dictator with delusions of grandeur. But after his death, it was realized that, if anything, he had been keeping his wife in check.
  • Harmful to Minors: Adele's ten-year-old sister was forced into prostitution before being decapitated. The severed head was then placed on public view, in spite of her being too young to be affected by the Proscriptions that resulted in most of the Mundys being executed as participants in the Three Circles Conspiracy.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: At one point Daniel recruits several crewloads of spacers for Cinnabar who had previously been recruited from Cinnabar by the Alliance after their ships were captured mere weeks ago. Justified in that spacers are a transient lot by nature: the Alliance pays as well as Cinnabar (and merchant captains pay even better: in one book the Navy Board takes to locking crewmen inside ships scheduled for scrapping to keep them from going AWOL between tours) and most enlisted spacers don't particularly care which side they're flying for as long as they get to fly at all.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • At the end of With the Lightnings, Adele is joined by a former agent of the Alliance of Free Stars' Fifth Bureau, Tovera.
    • About three dozen Alliance spacers change sides to join Daniel's crew in The Far Side of the Stars, with threefold justification: Number one, spacers are noted at least twice in the novel to be a transient lot by nature, since they can only make money by shipping with either military or civilian ships. Number two, the Alliance routinely practices conscription on subject and "allied" worlds, meaning a lot of them weren't originally in Alliance service by choice. Number three, the reason they have the opportunity to change sides in the first place is because Daniel has repaired their ship to a spaceworthy state in order to attack an Alliance naval base, after disabling it earlier in the book and leaving them stranded on a nowhere rock, so he's their only ticket offworld.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Tovera is a downplayed example in the later books. With Adele's hand on her tiller, so to speak, she drifts from being a completely amoral and very frightening sociopath into a frequent source of deadpan Black Comedy.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Barnes and Dasi have no known romantic intentions towards one another, but where one goes the other inevitably goes as well. Also partially averted, as both are explicitly stated to not be at all heterosexually inclined.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Daniel has a zoology hobby, much like Stephen Maturin. Being mentored by Hogg, a hunter, might have had something to do with it.
    • Tovera of all people turns out to be a surprisingly good singer in Some Golden Harbor.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: A common feature of ship-to-ship fights. Missiles are guided until the point of burnout and extremely lethal when they hit: even the missiles from a corvette like Princess Cecile can do serious damage to large capital ships, so evading incoming fire is easier at long range than short, but thanks to Einstein missiles are conversely more damaging when they hit terminal velocity (about .6c) than at closer range. The main purpose of plasma cannon is to either deflect or destroy incoming missiles that cannot be outright dodged.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics:
    • In Lt. Leary, Commanding, Daniel inflicts serious damage on an Alliance battleship with his corvette-class Princess Cecile by jumping in, launching missiles, and jumping back out before the enemy can return fire. As he expects, It Only Works Once because the enemy admiral is ready for him on his second run, so the second time he opts for a high-speed pass, but then nearly can't slow down afterwards because his High Drive is damaged by the return fire.
    • Faced with a heavy cruiser and a cloud of rocket-armed cutters in What Distant Deeps, Daniel in Princess Cecile and two Alliance destroyers resort to Teleport Spam, whittling down the pursuing cutters with plasma cannon and staying well ahead of the slower capital ship.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Downplayed. While there's very few computer systems that can even give Adele trouble (usually only when the computer is physically isolated from any remote access point), the mechanics of what she does to break into them for intelligence purposes are usually glossed over.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Too much time spent in the Matrix (the series' means of FTL travel, no relation to the film by that name) causes humans to hallucinate, though it's implied that in some cases they may be seeing into alternate realities rather than hallucinating.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Dropping into hyperspace to avoid incoming fire is a regular tactic in space combat, particularly for more lightly built ships. However, the transition into the Matrix isn't instantaneous, resulting in a vulnerable period for the ship attempting it if the captain's timing is off, and stripping a ship's sails with gunfire or fragmentation rockets makes escape impossible.
  • Ignorant About Fire: In The Far Side of the Stars, Tovera and Hogg set fire to the townhouse of a rival of Adele Mundy's in retaliation for sending thugs to attack her in the street. Adele had told them not to hurt anyone and the two Hypercompetent Sidekicks deliberately planned the fire to give the owners enough time to escape, but the Upper-Class Twit lady of the house stays to grab her jewelry and the Literal-Minded Tovera goes in to retrieve her and ends up mildly burnt.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Daniel Leary's manservant and surrogate father Hogg is given to various "ne'er-do-well" activities, but because of the friendship the two share Leary explicitly says in narration that he doesn't ask how Hogg has "acquired" what the mission needs, because if Hogg's methods did come to light Leary would probably have to fire his mentor and best friend.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Adele Mundy is an expert pistol shot, from the Mundy family's insistence that its members be able to protect themselves, and be able to survive duels that may arise from the "rough and tumble" nature of Cinnabar politics.
  • Indy Ploy: Daniel prefers to plan ahead, and does it well, but it can be almost frightening watching how smoothly he adjusts if something ruins his current plan.
  • Interspecies Romance: Reptilian alien Fallert and Tovera are implied to have gotten intimate with one another in Some Golden Harbor; Daniel was thoroughly Squicked by the prospect.
  • The Jinx: The Sissies regard Lt. Mon as this and believe that Daniel's presence is the only thing that keeps it in check. He quits the service early in the series, and Daniel hires him as a manager at his family's shipyard, which turns out to suit him much better.
  • Kid with the Leash: Adele with Tovera. Adele keeps her around partially as a reminder that nightmares are far from the worst possible consequence of her chosen lifestyle.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Anti-ship missiles don't bother with an explosive warhead, but instead use kinetic energy from being accelerated up to a significant fraction of the speed of light by their High Drive, making explosive warheads pointless. They're also segmented to give a wider spread. On the ground, coilguns with discarding sabots, rather than firearms, are the weapon of choice.
  • Klingon Promotion: In Death's Bright Day when the Sissies are being commingled with the Tarbell Stars naval personnel, Woetjans is understandably incensed when the ship's bosun classes her as a landsman. When he proceeds to make a sexist crack, she responds by grabbing him by the feet and swinging him like a bat, cracking his head on the bulkhead. Much to Daniel's surprise, the captain appoints Woetjans as the new bosun (though it's indicated that he had been itching for an excuse to get rid of the old bosun).
  • Lady Killer In Love: Daniel develops a romantic attraction to Miranda Dorst, the sister of one of his Plucky Middies who is killed in action. Adele notes to herself that Miranda isn't his usual "type" (he usually prefers the Brainless Beauty type for one-night stands, but Miranda is described as being much smarter). In an unusual example, Daniel later states he and Miranda have an "understanding" (suggesting an open relationship whereby they don't expect each other to be celibate while Daniel is on deployment), but they get engaged before The Sea Without a Shore and are married by the next book.
  • A Lady on Each Arm: Before he hooked up with Miranda Dorst, this was not an unusual situation for Daniel.
  • Last-Name Basis: Daniel's servant and parental substitute is only ever referred to as "Hogg", the family name.
  • Laughing Mad: Tovera's laugh is a very unpleasant thing to hear for any sane person. Justified by the Uncanny Valley: she's trying to mimic neurotypical human laughter and failing.
  • Legacy of Service: It's said by the narration that Hoggs have been serving the Learys of Bantry for many generations, including the one standing by Daniel Leary throughout the book series.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Not to Honor Harrington standards but still somewhat frequent: battleships in the series can put forty birds in the air at a time, any one of which can seriously damage or kill a ship. Pirates often use multiple-rocket launchers, which can't usually puncture a ship but can easily shred sails to prevent a Hyperspeed Escape. Daniel for his part is more commonly on the receiving end, as Princess Cecile only has two launchers and a twenty-shot magazine.
  • Magical Computer: Adele's portable data unit. She uses it to do everything from looking up zoological data for Daniel's amusement to reading encrypted Alliance battle transmissions in real time.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Neither Daniel or Deidre share many physical traits with their father, as Corder Leary was lean, craggy man and considerably taller than both Daniel and Deidre, who were fighting their weight.
  • Meaningful Name: The name of the gunner who operates the Princess Cecile's plasma cannons is Sun.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: Actually averted as a deliberate artistic decision. The Alliance uses the metric system but Cinnabar prefers British units, and it's not clear which is the majority measurement system. In the foreword of each book (because he's gotten so much fan mail about it), Drake notes he's just using the two different measurement systems to differentiate between the Alliance and Cinnabar, as he doesn't expect either measurement system to last over the thousand or so years between the series setting and Real Life. (It also doesn't hurt that this corresponds to the primary Fantasy Counterpart Cultures of Cinnabar as Hanoverian Britain and the Alliance as Napoleonic France.)
  • Military Moonshiner: Slash is distilled from the alcohol-based hydraulic fluid used in ships' power rooms. The RCN attitude toward it seems to be benign neglect: as long as the crew aren't drunk on duty the officers are fine with it and will usually partake themselves (if offered a drink of some local brew, Daniel will usually make some remark about how he's had slash that tasted a hell of a lot worse).
  • Moe Greene Special: Mundy's pistol fires ceramic pellets that don't have much penetration, so her preferred aim point is her target's eyes where there's no concern for bone deflecting the pellet.
  • Moral Sociopathy: Tovera tries to affect morality, among other behaviors of neurotypical humans, despite having little comprehension of it, largely because of the potential consequences. She'll still happily kill you (or in one case, castrate you) if you cross Adele, unless Adele herself tells her not to.
  • Noble Savage: Believed by Adele's mother, who was never actually amongst the "savages" to find out what things were really like outside of the relatively cloistered life the Mundy family lived, prior to the Proscriptions. Averted by the savage cultures encountered in the series, who are just as nasty and brutish as Hobbes said.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Hogg regularly pretends to be a dull-witted hick to more effectively sucker anyone he gets into a poker game. Similarly, Daniel isn't above playing at being an Upper-Class Twit who got his position through family connections and dumb luck if the circumstances warrant it.
  • Old Retainer: Hogg has been in the service of the Learys of Bantry for a long time, serving as a Parental Substitute for Daniel due to Speaker Leary's frequent absences due to his political career.
  • Once per Episode: Someone will assume that Daniel and Adele are romantically involved. The most hilarious instance occurs in What Distant Deeps when Adele visits the Bantry estate, in which a kid comes up to her and asks if she's Daniel's girlfriend. He's almost immediately clouted by his older sister, who then profusely apologizes for his behavior.
  • Orbital Bombardment: In Some Golden Harbor, Captain ap Glynn, CO of a Pellegrinian cruiser, apparently cracks after Daniel's people capture the Pellegrinian beachhead on Dunbar's World and starts firing missiles at ground targets (including a city), while demanding that the "pirates" surrender to the "rightful" controllers of Dunbar's World. Likely a combination of stress and not wanting to return to the Pellegrinian dictator a failure. He apparently calms down a bit after Daniel goes to get help in the Princess Cecile.
  • Out-Gambitted: In The Road of Danger during the battle between the Princess Cecile and the Estremadura, the former is constantly at a disadvantage due to the latter being able to be too close for the effective use of missiles every time they extract from the Matrix. The Princess Cecile eventually comes out on top when the Estremadura is hit by missiles Daniel had fired before their previous trip through the Matrix, and therefore hitting at terminal velocity. The only reason it worked is because the pilot of the Estremadura was so good.
  • Outranking Your Job: Daniel's primary command in most of the books is RCS Princess Cecile, a corvette. This is a suitable ship for the rank of lieutenant he starts out with, but not for the full commander he's promoted to in The Way to Glory, and he's promoted to captain at the start of In the Stormy Red Sky. Granted, from Some Golden Harbor on, Princess Cecile is technically privately owned by Daniel himself after being sold out of service and purchased by his family's company.
  • Parental Substitute: Given Corder Leary's frequent absences from the Leary household due to his political activities, Hogg serves as a substitute father for Daniel, teaching him what it means to be a man.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The bad guys mostly come from the "Alliance of Free Stars", which is even less democratic than Cinnabar and amounts to a military dictatorship (it's based mainly on Napoleonic France, with elements of Prussia and the Soviet Union).
  • Pervy Patdown: A local magnate's thug does this to Adele and Tovera during a crisis in When the Tide Rises. Neither objects at the time because they need help rescuing Daniel, who has been falsely accused of plotting a Military Coup against the Bagarian government, but once the balance of power shifts, Tovera shanks the thug with a writing stylus, then castrates him.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Tovera occasionally displays feats of strength that are out of proportion with her petite build.
  • Plasma Cannon:
    • Ship point defense mounts use plasma cannons, whose lightspeed bolts don't really work beyond relatively short ranges but are quite destructive within those ranges. Instead of destroying incoming missiles, they use ablation to try to drive anti-ship missiles off-course enough to miss.note  As a secondary use, they can strip the delicate sails used by ships to maneuver in hyperspace, to prevent a Hyperspeed Escape.
    • APCs have as an armament option plasma cannons. While not so great against heavily armored targets given atmospheric dispersal, at normal operating ranges they're devastating to infantry and targets with light to no armor.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Adele will do just about anything for Daniel, to the point of manipulating the Cinnabar government to serve with him, but it's mentioned several times that neither has any romantic inclinations towards the other — and Adele has no romantic inclinations toward anybody.
  • Precursors: The characters encounter ruins left behind by long-vanished aliens in several books.
  • Proxy War:
    • Several of the first seven books' plots deal with attempts by Alliance proxies to overthrow the governments of pro-Cinnabar planets and having to be stopped by RCN forces under Daniel Leary. In one case it costs the RCN an entire battle group after Alliance-backed rebels gain control of anti-ship missile batteries defending a harbor.
    • Defied in book eight and later: With Cinnabar and the Alliance having signed a peace treaty of mutual exhaustion and trying very hard to avoid a resumption of hostilities, Daniel's job is turned on its head, with him trying to prevent a Cinnabar client state from invading a pro-Alliance planet, and removing a Cinnabar citizen leading a rebellion on an Alliance planet to prove the Republic wasn't involved.
    • Death's Bright Day sees Daniel in the unusual position of intervening in a proxy war that pits the Alliance against itself. More specifically, two rival generals in the Fifth Bureau, one of whom is marginally friendlier to Cinnabar than the other, are backing opposite sides in a civil war in an Alliance client state in hopes of currying favor with Guarantor Porra.
  • Psycho Sidekick: Adele's servant Tovera has no real emotions, and empathy is something that's effectively nonexistent for her. Mostly she stays with Adele to learn to at least mimic the behaviors of someone with a more normal mental state.
  • The Purge: In the Backstory some members of the Mundy family became embroiled in the Three Circles Conspiracy, an Alliance-connected plot to overthrow the Republic of Cinnabar's government. In response, Corder Leary, Daniel's father and Cinnabar's head of state at the time, ordered every family member of the conspirators older than age twelve executed, including the Mundys of Chatsworth. Adele survived because she had left Cinnabar to study library science offworld a few days earlier, while some family members serving in the RCN mutinied and ran for foreign lands. Several years later the Cinnabar government issued an Edict of Reconciliation permitting certain people who had escaped the purge to be pardoned and return home.
  • Put On The Bus: Betts served as the Chief Missileer on the Princess Cecile in Lt. Leary, Commanding and The Far Side of the Stars. In The Way To Glory, they're assigned to a cutter tender, which has no missile tubes. In Some Golden Harbor, the Princess Cecile hasn't got any missiles, and thus Daniel ships no missileer. During that voyage, he acquires a missile-armed vessel and takes a man named Borries on as missileer, who remains with the Sissies thereafter.
  • Quantity vs. Quality: When the Tide Rises discusses this. The Alliance Fleet tends to build more, bigger, and theoretically more powerful ships than Cinnabar, but Cinnabar crews tend to be more skilled and more loyal. Guarantor Porra relies mainly on conscription to fill out the ranks, so while they don't have the manpower problems the RCN often does from having to compete with the merchant marine, many Alliance spacers aren't as good or motivated as their RCN counterparts and will sometimes even switch sides given the opportunity. The end result is that numerically superior Alliance squadrons will sometimes lose to lesser Cinnabar squadrons on the sheer skill and balls of the Cinnabars. In Daniel Leary's case, he's helped along by the fact that thanks to Adele Mundy's hacking and data-crunching skills, he nearly always has better intelligence than any opponent.
    Daniel: The second advantage [in this battle] is even less tangible, Adele, but it's more important. It's the fact we are the RCN. We know it and they know it. Every Alliance spacer from [Admiral] Guphill to the Landsmen in Training knows that know matter how many ships they have, they've always got to expect us to go for their throats. Deep in their hearts, they're afraid and they know we aren't. We're the RCN.
  • Questionable Consent: Defied in Though Hell Should Bar the Way. Roy fell in Love at First Sight with Monica, who was at the time being held as a harem slave (she's confirmed to have been gang-raped at least once). She reciprocates, but he initially turns her down, wanting to make sure she's sleeping with him because she wants to, not out of any sense of obligation.
  • The Quiet One: Tovera, Adele Mundy's aide. Subverted in that she's a tiny female. So self-effacing she's ignored by police responding to murderous violence at a society garden party in Lt. Leary, Commanding, despite the fact that she's holding a sub-machine gun. Deadlier than her mistress, the Badass Bookworm. Much deadlier.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The series' True Companions consist of the disowned son of the most powerful politician on Cinnabar and playboy military hero, a lethal librarian/spy who is the sole survivor of the disgraced family massacred on the order of said aforementioned politician, a sociopathic former agent of Cinnabar's main enemy, and Leary's surrogate father who uses Obfuscating Stupidity so that people don't realize the hick peasant is the deadliest person in the room (if any of the other three aren't there).
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: In The Road of Danger Adele and Tovera kill a child predator in a deliberately drawn-out and painful manner, and Tovera remarks that while even Guarantor Porra himself wouldn't bat an eye at torturing or killing children, even he draws the line at doing it for sexual reasons (the aforementioned predator likely escaped to the fringeworld ahead of Fifth Bureau assassins).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: David Drake comments in the foreword to When the Tide Rises that he based the book's major battle on the 1811 Battle of Lissa. He also notes in regard to the 1866 Battle of Lissa that it's unusable as a fictional source because the losing side was implausibly incompetent: among other things the Italian flagship's crew somehow forgot to put shells in their cannons and spent the whole fight shooting blanks.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Tovera delivers one to Vesey in In the Stormy Red Sky concerning her squeamishness over killing people.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Aubrey-Maturin is explicitly the model for the series, for both the main characters and the setting as a whole. It could be mistaken for Horatio Hornblower, but that's already been done. Drake discusses the historical influences for the individual books in the foreword or afterword of each one.
  • Refuge in Audacity: While Daniel's very real skill as a spacer and Adele's intelligence-gathering abilities are major factors, many of Daniel's plans work in no small part because the sheer balls required means nobody in the Alliance is ready for them. This is lampshaded by Daniel a couple of times in a manner reflective of Admiral Lord Nelson's quotation that "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy."
    • Early in When the Tide Rises, Daniel is sent to report to an admiral who's in a losing battle to save a subject world from being overrun by the Alliance. Upon arriving in Princess Cecile, he sees part of the RCN group trapped by part of the Alliance group and goes on the attack. The Alliance ships bug out because they know an Alliance corvette wouldn't dare attack three sloops unless it was the vanguard of a much larger force... exactly as Daniel thought they would.
    • Daniel Leary mounts a raid on the home star system of the Alliance of Free Stars in When the Tide Rises, relying in part on the notion that because no one would expect anyone to attack the star system with just an antiquated light cruiser and a corvette, there wouldn't be prepared plans available to handle such a situation.
  • Regional Redecoration: In the backstory, The War of Earthly Aggression ended about a thousand years ago with a massive asteroid bombardment that left the planet's geography unrecognizable. The plot of book three starts out as a treasure hunt for a large diamond engraved with the pre-bombardment continents.
  • Running Gag:
    • Daniel is bad at saluting and invariably wrecks his dress uniform.
    • People assuming Daniel and Adele are romantically involved.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Most of Daniel and Miranda's romance takes place offscreen between books and she doesn't get a whole lot of development during. She has more of a role in the first third of Death's Bright Day due to their wedding and honeymoon, but discusses the trope towards the end of it: it's starting to sink in for her what being a Navy wife means.
  • Schizo Tech: Technology can vary dramatically from one planet to another due to the chaos caused The War of Earthly Aggression and the Hiatus. Cinnabar and the Alliance are generally at roughly Information Age tech levels (with the addition of Faster-Than-Light Travel), but there's such weirdness as wooden carts powered by diesel engines and the odd backwater planet with Stone Age human inhabitants.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In When the Tide Rises, the bulk of Daniel's fleet does this when the assault on Churchyard doesn't go as well as anticipated.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • Characters occasionally referred to "God," singular, up until somewhere in When the Tide Rises, after which they seem to always speak of "the Gods."
    • In the Stormy Red Sky says the Alliance dictator's name as "Jorge Porra". In What Distant Deeps, however, Porra's former mistress speaks of him as "Guillaume." Possibly this is just her name for him.
    • What Distant Deeps refers to the Peace of Rheims ending the war between Cinnabar and the Alliance. In The Road of Danger it's the Truce of Amiens.
  • Servile Snarker: Hogg. One especially notable incident occurs in In The Stormy Red Sky just after the Sissies have captured an Alliance world and are about to accept an official surrender when Senator Forbes complains about how dust will show up on the suit she's wearing. Hogg points out that as long as she hasn't crapped herself, she'll be better dressed than anyone they meet.
  • Shoot the Dog: Adele blows up a ship full of hostages to demonstrate her resolve in In The Stormy Red Sky. Immediately subverted by Tovera noting the Fifth Bureau would have killed the hostages before surrendering as SOP.
  • Shoot the Hostage: The Alliance tends to take the families of captured worlds' rulers hostage to ensure their cooperation. In In the Stormy Red Sky, Adele and Tovera blow up the ship carrying these hostages to convince the other, combatant, ships in the convoy to surrender. Tovera notes that even had the convoy surrendered without a fight, the Fifth Bureau minders would have spaced the hostages anyway.
  • Shout-Out: A brief reference in In the Stormy Red Sky to a medicinal plant known as "bluebrights" and grown on the planet Melpomene. The chronologically first Hammer's Slammers story takes place on Melpomene and mentions that bluebrights are the planet's only export. (The technologies used are different enough that the Slammers and the RCN cannot be part of the same future history.)
  • Slasher Smile: Tovera and sometimes Adele. In the former's case she's a sociopath aping the behaviors of a normal person, and with the latter it's simply from not being much of a people person.
  • Space-Filling Empire: The Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars control most of human space between their territorial holdings and their client states. Though there are bevies of independent worlds, few other multi-system governments exist.
  • Space Mines: Mines are used as the primary tool of planetary defense networks. Unlike traditional mines they magnetic lenses focusing the blast of their nuclear warhead to turn them into what are effectively one-shot x-ray lasers, similar to the missile warheads of another space navy influenced by the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The Sociopath: Tovera. Everyone who knows her, including herself, consider her a monster.
  • State Sec: The Fifth Bureau of the Alliance of Free Stars serves the Alliance's political suppression and general populace terrorization needs.
  • Straight Gay: Dasi and Barnes may not be attracted to one another, and their amatory interests don't really come up as minor supporting characters for the main heroes, but in When the Tide Rises it's hinted at that they're not straight, after another character uses "pansies" to disparage a just-deposed dictator's mooks as being unable to fight armed opponents. The two are among those that Leary looks to when gathering brawlers from the crew for beating some sense into others.
  • Status Quo Is God: In the Stormy Red Sky is so far the only book in the series that doesn't feature Princess Cecile as Daniel's primary command; he's instead given command of RCS Milton, a heavy cruiser. Milton takes a missile to the stern at the climax, damaging her beyond economical repair, and between books Cinnabar and the Alliance sign a ceasefire, so Daniel is back to commanding Princess Cecile in What Distant Deeps.
  • Take That, Critics!: Many of the books in the series has a detestable character with no redeeming features named "Platt" whose primary purpose is to either suffer some indignity or die messily. The real Platt "earned" this for a scathing review of Drake's Hammer's Slammers series, which Platt said wouldn't have been written as it was if Drake had actually served in the military. Drake served in The Vietnam War as an Army interrogator attached to the 11th Armored Cavalry, as stated in his official biography.
  • Tap on the Head: Daniel hits his head and is knocked unconscious when Milton is hit by a missile in In the Stormy Red Sky.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Similar to some historical navies, RCN ships often fall into theme-named classes — "Archaeologist-class cruisers" such as the Maspero and "Philosopher-class battleships" like the Lao-tze. More unusual is that although there's nothing especially German about Alliance personal names, Alliance warships above the level of destroyers almost always have German names (the most noticeable exception is named after the Alliance capital world).
    • There is a strong Prussian feel to a great deal of the Alliance military apparatus. Ranks are German, uniforms are 'field gray' etc. In What Distant Deeps, it is revealed that the world of Adlersbild was one of the founding planets of the Alliance, along with Pleasaunce, and that this world is run by aristocrats with 'Von' in front of their names.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: This is used as an improptu punishment for mutiny in the fourth book by a paranoid captain.
  • Tranquil Fury: Adele all the time
  • Translation Convention: In the foreword of the first book, Drake explicitly states he has Cinnabar using imperial measurements, while the Alliance uses metric ones, to help differentiate the two polities, even though he doesn't expect either system to actually exist many centuries in the future.
  • True Companions: Leary notes to himself in What Distant Deeps that he, Adele, Tovera, and Hogg have become a weird kind of family.
  • Uriah Gambit: Narrowly averted in The Way to Glory. Daniel is asked by his father Corder Leary to kill his commanding officer Commander Slidell and avenge Midshipman Oller Kearnes, whom Slidell had spaced for plotting mutiny and whom Corder believes was his bastard son (he had been having an affair with Kearnes' mother). Slidell later ends up using a plan created by Daniel on a Suicide Mission and doesn't come back. The tricky bit is, Daniel had intended to take the mission himself, but Slidell's paranoia (which had led to the earlier execution) led him to think Daniel was trying to hog all the glory and try to do it himself. Daniel later wonders what his father will think, but Adele says he acted properly (down to ensuring that Slidell's heir will be able to collect his share of the prize money quickly), and oh, by the way, RCN genetic records say Lady Kearnes wasn't just having an affair with Corder Leary: Oller Kearnes was Slidell's brother's kid.
  • Vehicular Turnabout: Enemy ships are often captured and used against them, occasionally even taken into RCN service after capture. This is in fact how Leary acquires his first command, RCS Princess Cecile, in With the Lightnings: by stealing it out of dock from the Kostroman navy.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: In Some Golden Harbor, Adele and Tolvera use a false bosom used by Elemere to hide a pair of machine pistols for use in a raid on a paranoid councilor's mansion, knowing that they would be scanned for weapons on arrival, while a seemingly restrained Elemere wouldn't.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The Population Wars in the backstory, set off by Earth's policy of foisting its excess population off on its nearer daughter worlds without their consent. This culminated in Earth being decimated by Colony Drop, which, as Adele remarks in her Internal Monologue, ironically achieved Earth's objective to reduce its population to a sustainable level.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Daniel is sent to support a group of breakaway Alliance planets in When the Tide Rises and is nearly undone by infighting among the rebels. Adele observes to herself that this is not atypical of rebellions; the ones that succeeded inevitably did in part because their enemies were even more divided. Daniel ultimately just uses them to draw ships away from a besieged Cinnabar base and then drops them like a hot potato, probably feeling a bit miffed that they tried to kill him.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In When the Tide Rises Daniel is sent as an adviser to a group of breakaway Alliance planets. After he wins them two high-profile victories against the Alliance, the leaders worry he could farm his popular support into a Military Coup (because they would; Daniel and Adele both know he could but he isn't planning on it). They try to forcibly remove him from command, but he breaks loose and leads Bagarian ships on a raid into the Alliance's capital system to piss off Guarantor Porra so he'll divert ships from besieging a Cinnabar base to retaliate against the Bagarians. After this the Bagarians are forgotten as Daniel joins the fleet at Diamondia to break the siege altogether; we never hear what became of their revolution.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: RCNVerse gun barrels are made of iridium. And shoot osmium bullets. Both metals are rarer and more expensive than platinum in Real Life.
  • Worthy Opponent: An Alliance Fleet heavy cruiser captain whom Daniel tangles with at the climax of The Far Side of the Stars, who proves his equal in astrogation and gives the Sissies a run for their money after catching up with them. After beating him in large part by luck, Daniel insists that he be allowed to surrender purely out of respect and admiration (as opposed to merely because Daniel isn't the type to kill a helpless or surrendering opponent).
  • You Are in Command Now: In In the Stormy Red Sky, Adele finds herself thrust into command of the Milton when Daniel gets knocked out by some flying debris and Vesey experiences Heroic BSoD as a result.
  • You Have Failed Me: Guarantor Porra does this frequently, to the point where the Alliance Fleet's top brass has more buck-passing politicians than skilled tacticians.
  • Your Head Asplode: Usually the result when Adele uses any handgun other than her personal pistol, since by habit she aims for the eyes due to the sidearm's poor penetration. Daniel once has to pick a bit of brain off his uniform after she headshots somebody near him.


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