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Literature / The Archonate

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The Archonate series by Matthew Hughes is a fantasy / science fiction series, set in the distant future of Earth. A Homage to Vance's The Dying Earth, it takes place in the preceding aeon of Earth's history. Earth is united under the Archonate, a science-based civilisation. But there are signs that the magic is starting to come back...

There are several book series in the Archonate setting, each with their own protagonist: Luff Imbry, thief and confidence trickster; Henghis Hapthorn, freelance discriminator; Filidor Vesh, heir to the Archonate.


The "Archonate" books make use of the following tropes:

  • After the End: In The Spiral Labyrinth, Hapthorn is sent forward in time to after magic has returned.
  • The Alternet: The Connectivity, which seems to be roughly equivalent to planet-wide WiFi.
  • Apocalypse How: The return of magic is, at the very least, Class 2 (Planetary Scale, Societal Collapse).
  • Begin with a Finisher: In Majestrum, we see a flashback to a Wizard Duel where one combatant begins by attacking with everything he's got, and doesn't have the slightest effect.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: One of the locations in the Commons is a beach, inhabited by a trio of friendly maidens who match this trope.
  • Catchphrase: Hapthorn's is "It would be premature to say."
  • Circular Reasoning: In The Spiral Labyrinth, Hapthorn fears he and his intuitive alter-ego are being led into a trap. His intuitive self blithely dismisses the possibility, saying that he feels everything's going to be fine. Hapthorn points out that this feeling could itself be part of the trap, to which his intuition replies that it can't be, because he feels everything's going to be fine. Being personified intuition, he can't really grasp the logical fallacy.
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  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: One possible fate that awaits wrongdoers is being conscripted into the Corps of Buffoons, where they are forced to perform Butt-Monkey parts in ribald plays.
  • Covered in Gunge: Majestrum has a wizards' duel where the victor's first move is to humiliate his rival by spraying him with magically-conjured sewage.
  • Despair Event Horizon: In "Fullbrim's Finding", learning the true nature of the Universe tends to leave the discoverer in a near-catatonic state of despair. Thanks to the pessimism instilled by his life as a private detective Hapthorn survives, but in need of a stiff drink.
  • Dreadful Musician: An early plot thread in Majestrum involves the tone-deaf Chalivire Afre being convinced to sing at the Archon's levee.
  • Dream Emergency Exit: Guth Bandar and his fellow noönauts have an 'emergency exit' chant to escape from the Commons and return directly to reality.
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  • Expospeak Gag: Hapthorn's florid prose frequently has these. For example, his description of travelling through another plane of reality:
    This being my second experience, I purposely did not speak; the last time, in the shock of first encounter, I had reflexively voiced certain oaths. In a place where symbol and content were the same, my exclamations had caused the spontaneous appearance of a deity and left me smeared in an unwholesome substance.
  • Fairest of Them All: In one of the Hapthorn short stories a man wishes to be the richest, most intelligent, and most attractive person around. The being granting the wish responds by making everyone else poorer, stupider, and uglier.
  • Familiar: Much to Hapthorn's annoyance, his portable computer has been transformed into a wizard's familiar. Fortunately it can still interface with normal computers. The transformation goes both ways; the Archon's computer is forced into the grudging admission that it began life as a familiar in a previous age of magic.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: The inhabitants of Sherit County are titled "Renunciant" (those who have donated their fortunes to a trust for the common good, in exchange for a life of luxury) and "Recipient" (everyone else).
  • "Far Side" Island: The Commons, humanity's collective unconscious, contains numerous archetypes including a very familiar deserted island:
    ... a quiet Landscape that consisted of little more than a tiny patch of sand-colored rock, set in an endless ocean and shaded by a single Sincere/Approximate palm tree. No idiomat ever came there, and Bandar had often wondered what role the simple setting could have played in human history.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: In "Hapthorn's Last Case", the Archon warns that the new era of magic may begin very soon. It actually happens before he can complete his next sentence.
  • Homage: To Jack Vance's The Dying Earth and Gaean Reach series.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In The Helper and his Hero, the archetypes in the Commons include the Hero, whose various guises include the Sacrificial Hero. When Harkless appears in the Commons dressed as the Sacrificial Hero, Bandar worries that he is being forced into this role.
  • Hungry Weapon / Talking Weapon: When Hapthorn was sent forward in time, he was carrying an AI-controlled energy pistol. It's transformed into a magical sword that feeds on the life force of those it kills.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: While Hapthorn and his alter-ego are watching millennia-old archive footage of the Big Bad of "Majestrum", Hapthorn's alter-ego whispers the villain's title. The villain's image promptly reacts, his expression resembling that of a predator who's just seen interesting prey cross his path.
  • I Know Your True Name: An important aspect of magic; the Big Bad of "Majestrum" defeated his most dangerous rival by learning his true name.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Downplayed, but present. Hapthorn's normal self is rational, tempered, collected, hates needless suffering, is very cultured and etiquette-adherent, and is hesitant to offend without reason. His intuitive alter ego is impulsive, prone to fits of rage, has a very strong morbid curiosity towards the atrocities mages can commit, is obsessive, and likes probing questions and disregarding stuffy social requirements. Downplayed because they both share the same sense of justice, and intuition directs his rage at furniture rather than people, so he can’t be truly called evil so much as “less polite, less moral”.
  • Just Before the End: Magic is starting to come back, and when it does, civilization will collapse.
  • King Incognito: The Archon frequently travels among his people in disguise. It tends to promote politeness to strangers, just in case the stranger in question turns out to be the Archon.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Through Majestrum, the identity of the mysterious Osk Rievor is one of the main questions of the book. The sequels The Spiral Labyrinth and Hespira tell you who he is straight away.
  • Leaking Can of Evil: In the backstory of Black Brillion, the Dree invasion of Earth was thwarted by a weapon that destroyed their invasion force, but left the area riddled with gravitational anomalies. As things turned out, some of their hive consciousness survived in one of the anomalies, and was able to enslave humans who came close enough to it.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Big Bad of The Spiral Labyrinth traps Hapthorn in one, wherein he is raised to the rank of Margrave, appointed head of the Bureau of Scrutiny, and gets a fantasy love interest. When that doesn't get the desired results, the visions become a whole lot nastier.
  • MacGuffin: Everything the MacGuffin family does.
  • The Magic Comes Back: The new age of magic dawns in A Wizard’s Henchman.
  • Oh, Crap!: In The Spiral Labyrinth, Smiling Bol finally loses his Slasher Smile when the powerful and dangerous (and, as he soon learns, vengeful) being he's been trying to imprison is released.
  • Pent-Up Power Peril: In Majestrum, part of the backstory involves a magical weapon built during a previous era of magic. When it was first activated, the resulting blast not only destroyed the Moon, but also killed the mages who'd originally been involved in building it. For untold centuries afterwards, the weapon remained, continually charging up. From time to time, someone would have to discharge it — at the cost of their life.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: The Helper and His Hero is Black Brillion retold from Guth Bandar's perspective.
  • The Quisling: The villain of Black Brillion has allied with alien invaders, hoping that he will gain power when they take over.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Black Brillion opens with rookie cop Baro Harkless arresting a fraudster, Luff Imbry — only for his superior to recruit Imbry into the force and assign the pair to tracking down Imbry's former partner.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: In The Spiral Labyrinth, magicians use two colours of magic, major and minor. The Big Bad uses black and red.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Discussed in the short story "Fullbrim's Finding":
    “You are familiar,” I began, “with the kind of story, allegedly humorous, that consists of a long and complex build-up, leading to some cave on a remote mountain peak, where the end of all the striving turns out to be no more than a deflating inanity?”
    “I am. And I will say that I never cared much for them.”
    “Well, it appears that they are a clue to the true nature of reality,” I said
  • Sharing a Body: The magical event that gave Hapthorn a familiar also split his intuition into a separate personality who shares his body.
  • Sherlock Homage: Hapthorn (the name is intended to evoke "Rathbone") is a hyper-rational loner Great Detective.
  • Shout-Out: In The Helper and His Hero, Bandar recognises the Sacrificial Hero as originating from an ancient story where the hero slays the monster and its mother.
  • Slasher Smile: Smiling Bol is so called because he always smiles. But not always in a friendly way.
  • Sudden Lack of Signal: When Hapthorn travels into the future, one of the first things he and his familiar check is whether they can access the Connectivity. They can't.
  • Wham Line: Throughout Majestrum, the name 'Osk Rievor' continually crops up, associated with a shadowy figure pulling strings from behind the scenes. Then, confronting the Big Bad, Hapthorn's intuitive self suddenly announces "I name myself... Osk Rievor."
  • Whatevermancy: In "A Herd of Opportunity", the Eminence Malabar and his followers practise hydromancy - except that they're a splinter faction that uses urine rather than water as the liquid in question.