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Literature / The Heirs of Alexandria

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A series of novels by writers Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer. They are Historical Fantasy novels set in an alternate Venice in the 1530s. The point of divergence from our history (other than the addition of Functional Magic), was Hypatia being converted to Christianity and stopping the mob from destroying the Library of Alexandria, eventually splitting the Church into the Petrines, under her own and St. Peter's doctrine, and the Paulines, under St. Augustine and Paul's doctrine.

The first novel, The Shadow of the Lion, focuses primarily on the character of Marco Valdosta, heir to the presumed destroyed great house Valdosta of Venice. It borrows elements from Romeo and Juliet, for Marco falls in love with Katerina Montescue, last scion of the house that has feuded with Valdosta for two generations. In it, Marco, his half-brother Benito, their friends, and Prince Manfred and his bodyguard Erik of the Holy Roman Empire must defeat an invasion by Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, headed by the demon Chernobog.

(Much of The Shadow of the Lion is a fantasy reworking of Lackey's contributions to the science fiction shared-world "Merovingen Nights" begun by C. J. Cherryh, several passages taken almost word-for-word. Maria Garavelli and Caesare Aldanto start as expies of Cherryh's characters Altair Jones and Thomas Mondragon, but diverge when Caesare betrays Maria. Mondragon would've betrayed anyone else to protect Jones. Marco and Benito Valdosta are based on Lackey's Rigel and Deneb Takahashi.)

The second novel, This Rough Magic, focuses on the characters of Maria Garvalli and Benito Valdosta, and borrows elements from the tale of Persephone (and Orpheus) from Greek mythology. Both characters find themselves in Corfu just as the island comes under siege by the Kingdom of Hungary.

The third novel, A Mankind Witch, is a solo work by Freer. It follows the adventures of Prince Manfred and Erik between the events of the first two novels.

The fourth novel, Much Fall of Blood, abandons the Valdostas and follows Manfred and Erik to Romania and Ukraine (but under different names in-novel).

The fifth novel, Burdens of the Dead. It returns to Marco, Kat and Benito Valdosta, and Maria Verelli (nee Gariavelli). It follows the invasion of Constantinople by Venice, led by Benito, and the kidnapping of Benito and Maria's daughter. It takes place concurrently with the events of Much Fall of Blood

These novels provide examples of:

  • Accidental Proposal: Erik in Much Fall of Blood offers Bortai shelter when he sees her pursuers. But he used a phrase that offered her his tent, which in her culture was a proposal of marriage.
  • Affably Evil: Satan himself is quite understanding of the fact that everyone that cuts a deal with him is going to try to cheat him, and doesn't believe any hard feelings should be had over that matter.
  • Allergic to Evil: "Witch smellers", who literally smell dark magic. And sneeze, if it's powerful enough. Detecting useful details takes practice and training, though.
  • Anti-Villain: Count Mindaug. Smart, learned. "He needed power—preferably great power—simply because he could ill afford to let anyone else have it."
  • And I Must Scream: When Bianca Casarini's Deal with the Devil comes due, the last three lines from her viewpoint are "If only she could scream!"
  • Armor Is Useless: Subverted. The Knights of the Holy Trinity wear archaic heavy armour, which everyone admits is not too useful with plenty of firearms around. However, it is still a very useful defence against magical forces, which they regularly fight against.
  • Arranged Marriage: Marco Valdosta and Angelina Dorma. It doesn't work.
  • Artistic License – Biology: A subplot in A Mankind Witch revolves around a character who cannot see things close-up, but can see super-tiny details at a great distance. This is not how being far-sighted works. Far-sighted people have normal distance vision, not enhanced. Which would not be a problem if it were simply a magical character quirk, but characters diagnose this as normal farsightedness and call it a common trait useful in lookouts.
  • The Atoner: Fortunato Bespi is convinced to become a sword defender for the children of a woman he once killed.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Marco is good at keeping books and has an excellent memory. He catches a smuggler by keeping a sharp eye on the "damaged and lost" ledger. Later, when the spirit of the dead Aleri is giving up the names of the traitors of Venice, he remembers them all and gets them down in writing for later disposal.
  • Badass Normal: Manfred is a knight and a prince of the Empire. He's also so strong that Erik considers it near-superhuman, and is able to wrestle a god-monster into submission barehanded.
  • Bad Boss: Chernobog. In addition to his habit of flaying his people alive, cooking their skin and making their successor eat it, he once forgot to feed a possessed servant for so long that the servant passed out.
  • The Berserker: Erik is capable of entering this state, but once there can't tell friend from foe, so prefers not to do so when allies, particularly Prince Manfred, are around.
  • Bodyguard Legacy: An ancient blood debt binds the members of the Icelandic Clann Harald to guard and teach the Hohenstauffen heirs and potential heirs. The first book in the series opens with Erik Hakkonsen renewing the family vow and becoming Manfred's bodyguard.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Manfred. He's big, strong, and tends to be cheerful.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Benito and Maria.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Bortai refuses to marry any man who can't beat her in a wrestling match, which she says is a Mongol tradition. But once she realizes that she's in love with Erik, she challenges him to wrestle her and promptly throws the match.
  • Blood Bath: The character Elizabeth Bartholdi bathes in blood to keep herself eternally young in an attempt to avoid the price of her deal with the Devil.
  • Blood Magic: The ritual to summon the Winged Lion requires the sacrifice of life. In Marco's case, just being willing to end his own life was enough.
  • Bring Help Back: In This Rough Magic, Benito slips out of the impenetrable fortress of Corfu, past the Hungarian siege lines, and all the way north to Venice to summon help. Then back south and past the siege and into the impenetrable fortress again to tell them help is on the way. Then back out again...
  • Chosen One: Marco, in the first book, is the only possible heir of the Lion and must be guided to his destiny. However, he falls out of the limelight in the following books, possibly because anything happening inside his territory would be too easy to resolve so the plot moves elsewhere.
  • Church Militant: Manfred and Erik are members of the Knights of the Holy Trinity ('Knots'), charged with fighting pagan sorceries and spirits.
  • City of Spies: Venice, the greatest free city in the world and the center of a small empire in its own right. Everyone from Ferrara and Milan, to the Holy Roman Empire and the Grand Metropolitan of Rome, to Poland has agents messing with the place, and that's before we get into the intrigues of the various Feuding Families and other groups within the city.
  • The City Narrows: The Jesolo, the marshlands outside of Venice proper where the poor scavenge for survival and gang bosses fight over the best turf. To a lesser extent, the canals, where the poor gondoliers and canal-folk scratch a living from the waters and scheme for the best opportunities to dodge the Doge's taxes.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: How Francesca saves Erik and Manfred from the schiopettieri.
  • Comic Sutra: The Shadow of the Lion has a position called the "twin Camellias", which involves a footstool and a number of cushions, and "could very well give a man a permanent back injury".
  • Crowd Song: In the battle against Emeric in the end of Much Fall of Blood, battle magic used by Emeric is countered by David singing a hymn that is picked up first by the Knights of the Holy Trinity and then by the entire army opposing Emeric.
  • Deal with the Devil: Elizabeth Bartholdy made one for eternal youth, and one of her henchwomen for eternal life. What Crocell bargained for is not mentioned, but his debt came due in the backstory.
  • Deliberate Injury Gambit: Marco faces a better fighter with a longer reach in a knife fight. He wins by impaling his own left hand on the blade of his opponent's dagger, rendering it useless and allowing him to slay the man.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor:
    • In This Rough Magic, it is revealed that beings of pure evil cannot understand humor and therefore cannot imitate it. This is the only way to be sure you aren't dealing with one, as they are otherwise perfect illusionists. A water spirit proves to the heroes that she is on the side of good by doing something silly.
    • Double inverted when an angelic being speaks to Kat. She drops a rather amusing Hurricane of Puns about a demon being crushed by a Bible.
  • Evil Mentor: Caesare Aldanto to Benito. He helped kill the Valdosta boys' mother and only helps them because of the money he gets from their grandfather. He's a ruthless assassin and plotting to help the city fall to the coming invasion.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: With Erik, Manfred, and Francesca. There was nothing fake about it, either.
  • Fantastic Catholicism: Priests and nuns can be magicians, and the Church apparently includes some non-humans, with one Venetian church having a "water chapel" for undines. This is all hidden from most ordinary folk, though.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Used several times, in various ways, even though gunpowder weapons are starting to dominate the battlefields.
    • When Benito and Marco gets introduced into the Venetian upper circles, they have to wear swords and are trained with them. However, they never use them in anger.
    • Duke Dell'Este signals his alliance with House Dorma of Venice by sending one of his honour-blades to Petro Dorma.
    • Justified in the case of the Knights of the Holy Trinity, since Cold Steel is effective against supernatural forces, and swords can be used as a cross in a pinch.
  • Heroic BSoD: Erik, after Svanhild is killed.
  • Heroic Seductress: Francesca in The Shadow of the Lion uses her position as a high-class courtesan to end a deadly family vendetta and to further the education (in all sorts of ways) of prince Manfred.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Francesca, although she trades up to Imperial Advisor the second she gets the opportunity.
  • Historical Fantasy / Alternate History
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Elizbeth Bartholdy whose ritual to strip away Drac and his sisters magical protections stripped away her own making her VERY mortal.
    • Ceasare has a more subtle one one of the subplots was implied that a smuggling scheme concerning ship caulking was used to sabotage Venice's shipping. Its than implied that Ceasare's escape vessel had the same flaw which lead to its sinking and his own comeuppance.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: The biggest reason Lucretia wants Eneko and Marco dead.
  • Immortality Immorality: Countess Elizabeth Bartholdy.
  • Ironic Hell: Bianca Casarini wanted eternal life, and gets it; she is trapped in an insectoid form to be hunted and devoured by Crocell trapped in an arachnoid form, only to be revived and start again.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: In This Rough Magic, Chernobog/Caesare pulls this on Giuliano. However, the ordinary soldiers he brought with him are also fooled, and drop their weapons. Once he breaks his word, the enemy massacres his now unarmed soldiers.
  • Jerkass: Caesare.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Caesare ends up shipwrecked by one of the ships he helped sabotage.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In This Rough Magic, the well-endowed Svanhild Thordardottar is described as "the one with the big pair of—of—bodyguards".
  • Le Parkour: Benito's favourite way of getting around in Venice.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Each title is part of a line from William Shakespeare - e.g. This Rough magic from The Tempest and Much Fall of Blood from Macbeth.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: Angelina Dorma is sent to a nunnery after the end of The Shadow of the Lion.
  • Love Across Battlelines: Kat and Marco in The Shadow of the Lion. Their subplot includes several Shout Outs to Romeo and Juliet.
  • Love at First Sight: Kat and Marco. Erik and Svanhild.
  • Low Fantasy: The Shadow of the Lion is set in ancient Venice, and, though magic exists, it has little more to do with the day to day life of most citizens than historical "witchcraft" did, and, indeed is treated in much the same way. Except for protagonist Marco Valdosta, who ends up fulfilling his destiny as a mage by acting as a vessel for the Winged Lion of Venice and saving the city. Virtually the only other fantastical elements are spirits/demigods and demons (from whom humans draw magical power, so arguably these two are just different aspects of the same element).
  • Marriage to a God: Maria and Aidoneus.
  • Music for Courage: Used several times, mostly with battle hymns. The most notable example is in the final battle against Emeric in Much Fall of Blood.
  • Noble Fugitive: Plenty. Marco and Benito in The Shadow of the Lion. Vlad, Bortai, and their respective sister and brother in Much Fall of Blood.
  • No Immortal Inertia: Elizabeth Bartholdy. Somewhat justified in that the immortality treatment had to be maintained at regular intervals.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In Much Fall of Blood, they are the result of a willing sacrifice between man, wolves, and natural forces, and fully in control of themselves and the transformation. An involuntary sacrifice will generate loup garou, who hungered for blood and were hard to kill.
  • Police Lineup: One appears in The Shadow of the Lion after Benito is accused of murdering a bishop. It's a setup — Benito was only accused after Marco was proven to have a solid alibi, and the authorities realize that the accuser didn't know the two (half-)brothers don't look related. Sure enough, he can't pick Benito out as the person he "saw" lurking outside the bishop's home.
  • Pungeon Master: When Kat literally throws the Good Book at a demon, an angelic being who may or may not have been Saint Hypatia quotes a bunch of aphorisms that, in context, were also puns.
  • Rags to Royalty: Marco and Benito in The Shadow of the Lion.
    • Although technically they were born to nobility, so Riches to Rags to Riches.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: Benito for Maria in This Rough Magic. He one-ups Orpheus in resisting the temptation to look back by following his other companion, a knight who is wearing shiny, mirror-like armor; letting him see that Maria is behind him without having to look.
  • Rescue Introduction: In Much Fall of Blood, Erik and Bortai first met when she was escaping from Gatu's forces, and he offers her shelter, with unintended consequences.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: A common man is coerced into betraying the guerrilla fighters led by Erik when Caesare and the Shaman kidnap his young son. When they outsmart the trap and find out the man's son was killed (and eaten by the Shaman in his dog form), they give him the gnawed on thigh bone and tell him to spread the word about what the invaders do to children. This, in turn, helps raise up the populace against the invaders and drive them out.
  • Running Gag: Early on in Much Fall of Blood, Benito is tricked into greeting someone by saying "your mother was a tortoise" in that person's native language. The remainder of the book has numerous references to peoples' mothers being tortoises.
  • Sarcastic Confession: From The Shadow of the Lion:
    Policeman: [I'm looking for] a boy. Rumor has it he lives somewhere in this area of the city. Dark curly hair.
    Father Lopez: There are thousands of boys in Venice with dark curly hair. Doubtless I have this one hidden under a blanket in my cubicle.
    Policeman: [I'd] just wondered if you'd seen him, Father Lopez.
    Father Lopez: I did. When I see him again, I will tell him you're looking for him.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The Shadow of the Lion includes a fantasy reworking of Lackey's contributions to the science fiction shared-world "Merovingen Nights" begun by C. J. Cherryh, with the names changed but several passages taken almost word-for-word.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Katerina and Francesca.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: Type X (Fantastical Alternate History), and due to the large scale of the change and how long ago it happened, probably a type II (Hard/Soft Alternate History) when the series start, mainly due to good research.
  • The Sneaky Guy: Benito Valdosta. Trained as a thief and a very good climber.
  • The Stoic: Erik tends not to show a lot of emotional reaction, and everyone's shocked when, after falling in love, he unbends enough to laugh. After said love dies, he first goes berserk, then after barely surviving the incident, returns to stoicism.
  • Tsundere: Maria, very much so.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Jagellion of Lithuania/Chernobog
  • Sudden Principled Stand: In the opening of The Shadow of the Lion, Abbot Sachs has, with the help of several Knights Templar, apprehended some children in a church, that he claims are enacting satanic rites. Erik reminds the knights that the kids are most likely innocent, have sanctuary in the church, and can only be removed by order of the parish priest. This sets up Erik as a moral center for the knights, and a conflict with the abbot.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: In The Shadow of the Lion, a policeman is looking for "a boy...with dark, curly hair". In Venice. The amount of detail in the description is commented on by the person being asked.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Used with Rosa, an army Camp Follower, in Much Fall of Blood:
    "Some of them have lost everything and had nothing else to sell. Some who want money. Some, like Rosa, who are too wild to keep to one man."
  • Villain Ball: Lampshaded in Much Fall of Blood. The Evil Sorcerer plans to trap and sacrifice the heroes in a location where magic doesn't work. Of course, this means the Evil Sorcerer has no access to magic either, and the heroes are better in a physical melee.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Marco originally marries Angelina Dorma because she's pregnant, and promises to take care of the child and love her as his own. For political reasons as well as so that he can pursue his own true love, the marriage is annulled and Angelina is banished to a nunnery, leaving her daughter behind. However, by Burdens of the Dead when Alessia is brought to stay with Kat and Marco it's treated as their first time being around a young child. What happened to the first one?
  • Your Mom: "Your mother is a tortoise". Subverted when it's made into a running gag in Much Fall of Blood. And again at the very end of Burdens of the Dead.

Alternative Title(s): This Rough Magic, Much Fall Of Blood, The Shadow Of The Lion