Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Starship's Mage

Go To
No one on this planet really knows what it means for a Hand to go to war.

Starship's Mage is a Science Fantasy Space Opera series by Glynn Stewart. The first book, Starship's Mage: Omnibus was originally published as a series of five novellas following the young mage Damien Montgomery as he goes from a nobody with no family connections to a fugitive on the run from one of the Mage-King's "roving warrior-judges" to one of the most powerful mages alive and a student of the Mage-King himself. The second through fifth books, Hand of Mars, Voice of Mars, Alien Arcana, and Judgement of Mars follow Damien as judge, jury and executioner, as he completes regime-toppling troubleshooting missions for Mage-King and Protectorate.

The opening novellas chronicle Damien's adventures on the Blue Jay, an interstellar cargo freighter captained by David Rice, a man just principled enough to severely piss off the local crime syndicate.

Stewart has described the series as The Dresden Files meets Miles Vorkosigan, with magic taking the place of the usual hand-wave that accompanies faster-than-light travel in science fiction.

A spin-off trilogy featuring the adventures of David Rice and the crew of the Red Falcon following the events of Starship's Mage and the subsequent interest the mob, the Legatans, and the Protectorate all have in him, much to his own chagrin.

  • Interstellar Mage (2017)
  • Mage-Provocateur (2018)
  • Agents of Mars (2018)

Tantor Media began publishing an Audiobook adaptation of the series in 2015, narrated by Jeffrey Kafer. As of the Unarcana Rebellions trilogy, the audiobooks are now being done by Podium Publishing with Jeffrey Kafer still narrating.

These books provide examples of:

  • Action Girl: A number, most notably Julia Amiri, ex-bounty hunter and more recently bodyguard on a quest to keep the Hand alive even though he has no sense of self-preservation.
  • Action Girlfriend: Damien's college sweetheart was Grace McLaughlin, granddaughter of the planetary governor of Damien's homeworld and Commodore of the Sherwood Interstellar Patrol by the time he meets her again. Treating her as a Damsel in Distress would be ill-advised. Also fits Hand Charlotte Ndosi.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: See Assassin Outclassin'.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The aristocratic mages on Mars, especially.
  • Ancient Conspiracy:
    • Maybe not so ancient, but the Eugenicists that originally "created" the mages were already subtly manipulating lineages before they took over the Mars colonies and began overtly manipulating the population and force-breeding test subjects.
    • The Keepers are this, though they believe they're a Ancient Order of Protectors. They guard the secrets of the Martian Protectorate that are too terrible to release to the public. Nemesis is their Renegade Splinter Faction.
  • Arc Words: "I speak for Mars."
  • Artificial Gravity: It's expensive to bring in mages to constantly refresh gravity runes, so many ships at dock don't have extensive artificial gravity. Ships in transit often have spinning components that allow centrifugal force to pull inhabitants to the outside of the ship. Despite the fact that mages can create their own artificial gravity fields, some, like Damien, choose to float through zero gravity spaces just like the rest of the population, to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: When you need to rein in a rogue head of state, it's useful to be able to stride into their heavily-fortified base with only a small force due to your own status as a Person of Mass Destruction.
  • Aura Vision: Very few mages have this ability, Damien being the most powerful.
  • Authority Grants Asskicking: On the other hand, you don't get to be a Hand of the Mage King without being pretty terrifying to begin with.
  • Audio Adaptation: Since the series was acquired in 2015, the audiobook tends to be released a couple of months after the eBook and paperback versions.
  • Badass Crew: Most of the crew of the 'Blue Jay', but especially Narveer Singh.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Winton may have had to die in the process but he achieves all he ever wanted.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Damien's typically quiet, polite and genuinely concerned about making sure that everyone is treated equitably in the situations he's called to unravel as Hand of the Mage-King. But if you go too far, he won't hesitate to take you down.
    Every time she saw the Hand, Amiri started to get nervous. Damien was... young, polite, and, with the Runes of Power carved into his body, an extraordinarily powerful Mage. She also knew, unlike most, that he already had a body count to make serial killers blush.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: Damien is far more lethal than Amiri or Romanov, but that doesn't stop either of them from managing to save his life.
  • "Burly Detective" Syndrome: The author does this a lot, combined with lots of viewpoint characters and even more side characters, which can make dialogue confusing. Damien gets referred to as "the Hand," soldiers get referred to as "the Mage-Captain" even when there's more than one Mage-Captain around, so on and so on.
  • Captain Oblivious: Damien is painfully aware that as a "Mage by Right" rather than a "Mage by Blood," he's a step down in the aristocratic hierarchy of the mages. He is also painfully unaware of how close he is to the governing family of his planet, or later to the Mage-King and his family, and he never thinks to take advantage of that. This trait of considering himself a completely unimportant person in the grand scheme of things will follow him throughout the series.
    Adamant: The third adult Rune Wright in the galaxy, personally trained in politics, magic and law by the Mage-King himself, and the man who brought down the Blue Star Syndicate. Unimportant, huh?
  • The Chessmaster: Winton manipulates the Protectorate, Legatus, The Keepers, and the Republic to achieve his plan.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Mages born to non-mage parents are relatively common in the setting, but Damien's family died in an accident, leaving him without any real connection to his home planet other than the people he met at school.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Played straight with a number of corporations on Amber and Ardennes, but averted in book two with Tomas Rickard, the CEO of an interstellar corporation. Rickard informs the Hands that the government of Ardennes has been granting exceptions to safety codes that have resulted in a huge number of civilian deaths.
    Rickard: We were on track for a zero fatal accident fiscal year. On the scale we operate, that is something to be damned proud of. And then these idiots killed two hundred and fifty-six of my people.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Martian ships are overengineered for pursuit. Since three-quarters of their weapons face forward, that means if they are being pursued, they have to turn around to fire. Since Mars has been the most powerful military force for over two hundred years, they simply don't have to worry about running away from superior forces.
  • Dark Secret: The Eugenicist's were receiving help from an alien race to revive Magic within humans. The Keepers were formed by the first Mage-King in an effort to keep this under wraps.
    • Winton made it his life's goal to prepare humanity for the alien's eventual return because he believes the existence of the Prometheus Interface means that the aliens will harvest humanities mages like crops.
  • David Versus Goliath: The only resources that Damien has to take down a corrupt government that is perfectly willing to blow up its own cities is the resistance made up of a bunch of ex-politicians, some gear smuggled in as part of a bigger conspiracy, and the access codes that he has from being a Hand.
  • Dead Man Switch: In Hand of Mars, what the governor's right hand man uses as a final bargaining chip, when he's threatening to destroy several cities as part of his escape plan.
  • Deep Cover Agent: In Hand of Mars, Amiri infiltrates the Ardennes resistance on behalf of the Protectorate, and Leclair infiltrates the same resistance on behalf of Legatus.
  • Driven to Suicide: Winton in order to avoid capture and interrogation.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: The Eugenicists.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Ardennes has elements of Quebecois culture, most noticeable by the "Quebec Reformation Catholic Church" that plays a small part in Hand of Mars. The same book also has escargot imported from France.
    • The first book contains Amber, which is a bit of a future utopia for American Libertarians. Healthcare coverage is required by the Protectorate, but in Amber, you still need to pay the toll to get to the hospital. Amber sees itself as "the only truly free world in the Protectorate," while everyone else sees it as a lawless hellhole. The truth is in the middle; you have to pay for more things, but in the end it's pretty much the same as all the other Protectorate worlds.
    • Sherwood's culture and background is largely Scottish.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Played with. Anti-mage sentiment is part of the reason that Damien's intended punishment in Book One is so severe, as it's intended to show that mages can police themselves.
    • In theory, the reason that mages are not allowed to step foot on UnArcana worlds is not motivated by racism. It's supposed to be a way to loophole around the fact that the Charter automatically places mages above mundanes; there's no law in the Charter that says mages have to be allowed on the planet, and if they're not allowed on the planet then their legal superiority is moot. However, it's also clear that a lot of UnArcana worlds are motivated by racism. Legatus talks about freedom, but their leaders just want to overthrow the mages.
    • A more straightforward example is Mage-Commodore Cor in Hand of Mars, who considers all non-mages to be inherently inferior beings.
    • Taken to an even further extreme in Sword of Mars Dr. Finley considers all non-Rune Wrights to be failure Mages and is perfectly fine with extracting their brains to use in The Republic's interstellar jump ships.
    • In Darker Magic we find out that there are entire Mage Supremacist groups which the main villain of the book Ulla Lafrenz was a part of before coming under the wing of Dr. Finley
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Mages can transport ships up to a light year in an instant, but they need to rest between jumps or risk burning themselves out—painfully and fatally. This happened to the original ship's mage on the Blue Jay, who sacrificed himself to allow the rest of the crew to escape from pirates, and setting up the action in the first book (the mage who died was a relative of "the McLaughlin," Governor of Sherwood.)
  • Feudal Future: Planetary governors report to the Protectorate of the Mage-King of Mars. The mages gave humanity access to the stars, and set themselves up as an aristocracy to avoid ever being in the position of powerless test subjects ever again. Legatus disagrees with this status quo.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first book, the Blue Jay smuggles gunships to an Un Arcana world. In the second book, a Legatan agent is caught arming a revolution. It shouldn't really be a surprise that they're up to no good in the third book.
  • Former Regime Personnel: Inverted, in that many of the people Sherwood recruits for its anti-piracy defence force were accidentally recruited from the pirates and mercenaries left over after the Blue Star Syndicate collapsed at the end of book one.
  • Glass Cannon: Pre-runes of power in Book One, Damien throws a little too much magic around in a fight and has to depend heavily on the rest of the crew to get back.
  • Homage: Damien's position as Hand of the Mage-King has more than a little of the troubleshooting Imperial Auditors from the Vorkosigan Saga inspiring it... and maybe also a little bit of Darth Vader or Emperor's Hand Mara Jade.
  • Humans Are Special: Evidence of a few alien races has been discovered, but they are all either extinct or never reached a high tech level. Of those that did develop space travel, all but one were still trapped in their home systems and died due to a variety of disasters. Humanity is immune to most of those disasters due to their use of magic. Captain Rice mentions that they tracked down the rogue black hole that killed one species and destroyed it as a test for if humanity ever faces a similar problem.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Stealey, although her literal iron stomach tends to filter alcohol too quickly for it to enter her bloodstream.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: All mages know that it's impossible to alter magic runes, and trying is tantamount to attempted mass murder (they have a tendency to explode when messed with.) Secretly, only a few people have the innate ability to see what the runes do well enough to make alterations, and that's a secret known only to the Mage-King and his inner circle. The Royal Order of the Keepers of Secrets and Oaths is this trope made into an organization.
  • Knight Templar: Legatan agents, especially the Augments who are designed to go up against mages, see themselves as agents of freedom, fighting the tyranny of the mage caste. Most of them act accordingly. But dear gods, the Legatan agent in Voice of Mars. Interestingly, his boss seems none too happy with him.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: It's almost impossible to describe the series without spoiling the ending of the first book.
  • Leave No Survivors: When the pirates in Hand of Mars realise that there's no chance of victory or escape, they begin to turn on each other (mostly due to outside forces).
  • Man Behind the Man: The Legatus Military Intelligence Directorate has ties to many of the major conflicts in the series.
  • More Expendable Than You: Amiri would like to convince Damien that, at the very least, he really doesn't need to fight armed insurgencies head-on, alone.
  • Names to Run Away From: The Hand of the Mage-King of Mars. Legatan Mage-killer Augment.
  • Nepotism: Often used by Mages by Blood. The first book opens with Damien losing a job interview before it even began because two people who applied after him were the grandchildren of the local Mage-Governor.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: The reason that the mages are a separate, higher caste from the mundanes. The Eugenicists treated mages as slaves and breeding stock, and the first Mage-King refused to ever go back to that.
  • Never My Fault: Governor Vaughn.
  • New Tech Is Not Cheap: Fortunately, Legatus is around to provide tech and weapons to anti-Protectorate causes. Allegedly.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Fortunately, Alaura Stealey has an iron stomach that should eliminate any poison from her system.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Generally not a good standard to apply to Hands of the Mage-King.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Council of the Protectorate spends a lot of time arguing with each other and with the Mage King, much to Damien and the Mage King's frustration. It almost gets them all killed when they are attacked by the Belt Liberation Front.
  • Outlaw Town: Darkport, where the Blue Jay goes to lay low from both Protectorate law and the bounty hunters that have been plaguing her crew.
    The rules of Darkport are simple. This station is run by the Falcone Family. You fuck with Falcone affairs, we kill you. You risk the atmo integrity of the station, we kill you. You break the bounty ban, we kill you. Your safety and the safety of your goods are your problem.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: All Hands of the Mage-King, but by Hand of Mars, this is especially true Damien (and presumably the Mage-King himself).
    • Applies to all Rune-Wrights, but Rune-Wrights with Runes of Power like Damien and the Mage-Kings family take it to another level. It nearly burned him up but Damien stood off three orbital bombardment attempts in Alien Arcana and Jane Alexander, sister of the Mage-King, destroyed an AntiMatter Ring that encircled an entire gas giant planet on her own in The Service of Mars.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Magic allows Faster-Than-Light Travel by ship, and also allows mage-to-mage speech in specific circumstances. A significant portion of the plot of Hand of Mars revolves around gaining access to the communication hub on Ardennes in order to contact Mars. Data transfer by magic is impossible. In Voice of Mars, the lack of instant communication almost triggers a civil war.
    • The Keepers insist that this is happening with Damien in Alien Arcana, he disagrees. They think he would join them is he knew their secrets but the one he does know is something that he doesn't see the danger of, let alone the justification for murder to protect it.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Legatan FTL drive is supposed to be a technical jump drive. However, the drive is actually driven by the extracted brains of mages, connected to a life support system, and electronically controlled.
  • The Purge: Winton orchestrates one of these against the Keepers. He is completely successful and wipes the organization out.
  • Precocious Crush: A girl on Mars has a crush on Damien. Except that the girl in question is the daughter of the Mage-King and second in line for the throne, so he's not interested in seeing how it plays out. When Stealey teases him for fleeing the planet to escape her, he shamelessly points out that he fled the star system.
  • Properly Paranoid: In Book One, Captain David Rice insists on bringing Damien to the surface of an UnArcana world—a place that doesn't allow mages on-planet. Singh stays on-board the Blue Jay, with power armor, just in case. The crew was able to surprise the ground-based ambush with magic, and surprise the space-based boarding attempt with a badass Sikh with heavy weapons and power armor. That preparation was the only thing that allowed the Blue Jay to escape—though not without losses.
    The best way to avoid a trap, in his experience, was to walk into it with your eyes open.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Averted by the local system government that—before a trial is even held—resolves to strip Damien of his magic for altering the runes of the ''Blue Jay''. Played straight by Alaura Stealey, the Hand of the Mage-King that is called in to hold the trial and administer the punishment, who immediately realizes that Damien must be a Rune Wright. Also played straight by the Mage-King of Mars, who acts as a mentor to Damien and uses his Hands to solve problems in the systems they're sent to, rather than just enforcing existing laws and structures. Also, surprisingly, Major Niska in Book One.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Whenever Damien is being a little too modest, other characters are likely to bring up the time that he singlehandedly cut off the head of a major crime syndicate when he was a newly-graduated Jump Mage.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction:
    • Legatus and the other Unarcana worlds are this toward the Martian Protectorate since they hate mages and all of interstellar civilization is based on magic. They eventually revolt.
    • The Keepers have one of their own in Nemesis that eventually destroys the primary Keepers.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Often subverted by rebellions that don't want to draw the ire of the Hands of the Mage-King. Inverted by Mage-Governor Vaughn, who tries to blame the destruction of a city on Ardennes rebels. Played straight by the Neo-Puritans in Voice of Mars.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Mage-King personally provides orders to his Hands, sending them into volatile situations to avert civil wars and end rebellions (usually by solving the problems that caused the rebellions in the first place.)
  • Science Fantasy: Magic explicitly takes the place of the usual handwaving in Faster-Than-Light Travel.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Simultaneously inverted and played straight by Damien in Book One, when Damien takes a posting on the Blue Jay:
    • After he's turned down repeatedly for Jump Mage positions in favor of candidates with better connections than he does, he decides he's willing to risk going with the Blue Jay even though it's been blacklisted by the Sherwood government (particularly Mage-Governor McLaughlin, whose nephew was killed when the Blue Jay fled from pirates at the beginning of the book.)
    • But he finds out about the vacancy entirely because his girlfriend, Grace McLaughlin (the granddaughter of the Mage-Governor) heard that the Blue Jay was looking for a Jump Mage.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Hands speak with the authority of the Mage-King of Mars, a requirement in a setting where interstellar communication is limited. They have the ability to override planetary governors and all levels of the military. Obstructive Bureaucrats find this out the hard way.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Space Battle: Much of the series' action is person-to-person combat, but there is at least one space battle per book.
  • Space Pirates: A major theme of both Book One and Voice of Mars, and also the end game of Mage-Commodore Cor's escape plan in Hand of Mars.
  • Squishy Wizard: Averted in that powerful Mages are seriously hard to kill. Played straight in that it's unfortunately rather easy for them to overdo it and kill themselves.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: The Mages by Blood are descended from a Eugenics program. The Mages by Right are suspected to be descended from washouts of said program who didn't demonstrate any abilities but carried the genes to their children. There are also a number of magical abilities which appear to be passed on genetically, with the most frequently mentioned being Rune Wrights - Damien is the only mage in the series (and possibly the only mage ever) to have that gift who's last name isn't Alexander, and the Martian royal family does careful gene-splicing to ensure the gift passes on to their children.
  • Taking You with Me: The reason that the pirates in Voice of Mars turn on each other.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: All jump-mages. Damien in particular can teleport small objects to his hand instantly.
  • Theme Naming: The Protectorate's deliberately long and pretentious warship names. Also the Sherwood Flotilla: The Maid Marion, Robin Hood, and so on.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Damien, after he uses his abilities as a Rune Wright to inscribe a rune of power on his own skin (and follow up training), transforming from an average mage in terms of power level and combat ability into one of the most powerful mages alive. Grace, who between the first and third books moves from a junior Jump Mage into the Commodore of a system militia.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Damien's enemies, repeatedly and often terminally.
  • The Unfettered: The Legatan agent in Voice of Mars.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Mage-Governor Vaughn in Hand of Mars. And, potentially, Legatus in its attempts to overthrow the Mage caste.
  • You Are Number 6: The original mages created by the Eugenicists had no names, just alpha-numeric designations. The man who became the first Mage-King was DMA-651, which he turned into Desmond Michael Alexander after gaining his freedom.