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Literature / The Quest of the Unaligned

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The Quest of the Unaligned is a novel by A.L. Phillips.

In the city of Tonzimmiel, where everything is governed by contracts and rankings, Alaric is a ninth-level certified Security Chief in the Tonzimmel First Security Force (TFSF). But his life is upended when a mysterious stranger appears out of thin air in his favorite bar, hails him as the Crown Prince of Caederan, and claims to be Ruahkini, royal steward of Caederan and a mage of air. Like every good Tonzimmelian, Alaric knows that there is no such thing as magic and Ruahkini is insane, but when Ruahkini tricks him into signing a contract stating that he will complete the Quest of the Unaligned, he has little choice but to attempt it. Joined by Laeshana, a beautiful and intelligent aesh with her own agendas, Alaric sets off on an adventure that will force him to question the assumptions that have shaped his life for as long as he can remember.

The Quest of the Unaligned provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anti-Magic: Tonzimmiel's energy shield, which strips anyone crossing it of magical power, is a big part of why nobody in the city believes in magic.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance: Subverted, then played straight, by Laeshana. At first, her golden hair clashes with her fire-magic and fiery personality. However, this turns into a straight example when she becomes an orah, as orahs are both mages of light (and Gold and White Are Divine), and orahs are elementally unaligned, which in Caederian heraldry is represented by the color gold.
  • Babies Ever After: Alaric hadn't thought about this. Judging by her expression, Laeshana had.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The names of the disciplines are based on the Hebrew words for their elements.
  • Charm Person: Shamais have the power to influence the minds of others as their secondary power.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Both Ruahkini and Deshamai mention Ruahkini's "half-wit brother", who turns out to be the hoshek that stole the Crown.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Alaric's exceptional talent for knife-throwing, mentioned casually in the very first chapter, comes back near the climax to allow him to defeat Gaithim.
  • Color-Coded Elements: In Caderian heraldry, aeshes are red, shamais are blue, aretzes are green, ruahks silver, and the unaligned gold. Also shows up in the actual magic of orahs and hosheks, which are gold-white and purple-black versions of the regular elements, respectively. For example, aesh-fire is the same color as regular fire, but orah-fire is pure white and hoshek-fire is dark purple.
  • Color-Coded Patrician. Both Caederan and sort of Tonzimmiel feature this. Caederan is a perfectly straight example: The nobles wear white robes with trim in the color of their magic (see Color-Coded Elements just above), peasant mages wear robes in their magic's color with a white sash, and ordinary peasants just wear brown. Tonzimmiel is a rather weirder example in that everyone wears a shirt and pants in colors that indicate their occupation (dark brown for security, silver for engineers, etc). Presumably this extends to the Chief Governing Officer.
  • Dark Is Evil: Dark = Evil. No more to be said.
  • The Ditz: Ruahkini has shades of this early on, making boneheaded mistakes such as sending Alaric through the energy shield without giving him the medicine to protect him from it, forgetting to give him the Sword Of Kings until Laeshana reminds him, and never giving him the instructions for the Quest.
  • Elemental Personalities: Enforced. Using one of the four aligned magics actually affects your personality. Shamais (water mages) are almost always staunch, hidebound traditionalists, Aeshes (fire mages) are generally brilliant, innovative, and inconoclastic, Aretzes (earth mages) are stable, kind, and reliable, and Ruahks (air mages) tend to be flighty and hyperactive.
  • Elemental Powers: All mages of Caederan belong to one of four disciplines: Aeshes, Shamais, Aretzes, and Ruakhs. The only exceptions are the unaligned royal house. And the Orahs and Hosheks. But they don't exist.
  • Fire Is Red: In Caderian heraldry, aeshes and fire are represented by the color red. In addition, Laeshana's aesh-fire is often described as red, though that is usually in contrast to the purple hoshek-fire or the white orah-flame. The one time it is described in detail, it is mentioned as having all the same colors as a natural flame.
  • Fisher King: The royal house's magic is directly tied to that of Caederan itself, which means that if they become unbalanced, Caederan will be thrown into chaos. With the current king and queen "ruahks in all but name", the country is plagued with droughts, tornadoes, and massive storms.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Alaric wonders if there's something in the air of Caederan that makes all the inhabitants crazy.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Aretzes, as one facet of their secondary powers.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Alaric using the Prince's Crown to transform Laeshana into an orah, thus simultaneously allowing her to marry him, giving her the full power that she has been seeking for years, and freeing her of the black aspect of her fire-magic that she's been fighting her whole life.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: Oddly enough, Tonzimmiel uses this instead of a more "modern" currency.
  • Healing Hands: Aretzes have this as their secondary power.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Naruahn attempts one of these when he challenges Gaithim to a duel of power. Naruahn knows he can't win the duel, but the magic of Caederan will force Gaithim to fight Naruahn and prevent the hoshek from casting magic on anyone other than Nahruahn until the duel is over. This in turn will buy Alaric time to reach the Prince's Crown.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Gaithim is defeated by the same weakness he exploited, the vulnerability of magic-stopping wards to mundane attacks.
  • Jack of All Stats: Orahs and Hoshek have power in each discipline equal to that of a fully aligned mage.
  • Keet: Naruahn. Also seems to be a trait of ruahks in general.
  • Light Is Good: They're pretty much the same thing.
  • Loophole Abuse: There's never needed to be a law against the prince marrying a peasant, since there is a law against the prince marrying anyone other than an unaligned mage, and only members of the royal family are unaligned. At least until Alaric turns Laeshana into an orah, who are also unaligned.
  • Mad Scientist: Aeshes are generally regarded as this, and in fact in magickless Tonzimmiel, "aesh" means "certified engineer." Word of God reveals that their secondary power is Haesh's Trace, a burst of insight that grants them true understanding of something they've been considering. An example of this is seen in Laeshana's sudden insight into the nature of magic, while she is finishing her studies at the College of Magic.
  • Master of None: Though unaligned can use any of the four elemental powers, every time an unaligned uses one of the four, they become slightly stronger at that power and slightly weaker at its opposite. For this reason, unaligned don't tend to become very strong at any single power, instead settling for a weak mastery of all four.
  • McGuffin: The Prince's Crown. If Alaric doesn't bring it to the City Of Balance by the summer solstice, he will be unable to be crowned as heir, and the country will be split by civil war. Also the key to accessing light or dark magic.
  • Meaningful Name: All aligned mages have their discipline's name as part of theirs (Laeshana, Deshamai,Ruahkini, etc.)
  • Natural Disaster Cascade: Played With. Thanks to the Fisher King nature of Caederan's royal house, storms, tornadoes and droughts plague the country when the current ruling monarchs are "ruahks in all but name".
  • Non-Elemental: This is the power of the unaligned, who can chose to pursue any of the four magical arts. Also applies to orahs and hosheks.
  • No Self-Buffs: This is why orahs are so rare. Turns out it's impossible to claim light magic for yourself, you can only give it to someone else.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They don't seem to breathe fire, their claws are extremely poisonous, they aren't intelligent, there's no indication that they collect princesses or gold, and they don't seem to have any special resistance to magic. Their primary weak spots are their wings, as the rest of their body is coated in razor-edged scales harder than diamonds (Laeshana's father is mentioned to have a dragon-scale saw, which cuts through metal easily and is used the same way Real Life diamond-bladed saws are used).
  • Phosphor-Essence: Seems to be a side effect of becoming an orah. Also occurs when Alaric is crowned with the Prince's Crown.
  • Private Military Contractors: The First Tonzimmelian Security Force appears to be something between this and a police force.
  • Royalty Super Power: The royal house of Caederan are the only mages not tied to a specific element as far as anyone knows, and also just have the strongest magic potential.
  • Shirtless Scene: When Alaric finds himself without the velvet bag traditionally used to carry the Prince's Crown (which he absolutely must not touch until he has delivered it to the High Guardian at the City Of Balance), Laeshana tells him to take off his shirt and use that. Once the nearby Big Bad is forced to retreat, Laeshana immediately insists that Alaric put on the spare shirt in his pack.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Justified, in that all aligned mages have their alignment's name incorporated into their own.
  • Teleport Spam: Ruahks tend to use this in battle or duels, since they get teleportation as their secondary power.
  • The Magocracy: Sort of. While the nobles are nobles because of their magic, and the unaligned form the royal house because they have even more magic, peasants who happen to be born with magic are still looked down on by the nobles. On the other hand, peasant mages are still greatly respected by other peasants, to the degree where a mage is considered more important than the village headman.
  • The Power of Trust: In order to access light magic, you have to give your innate magic to someone else, since light magic can only be bestowed on another, never claimed for oneself. Shown with Alaric and Laeshana.
  • The Smurfette Principle: While there is only one woman in the main party, there is also only one man for the first half of the book and only two for the second half, so A.L. Phillips probably gets a pass on this one.
  • Unequal Rites: Occurs frequently. Some instances are rational (most especially the rule of the unaligned, who really are more powerful than aligned mages), while some are not (Such as Deshamai's denigration of aeshes, or the perpetual snubs against white-sashes (peasant mages) by white-robes (noble mages)).
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Alaric proposes to Laeshana in a place outside space-time, right after transforming her from an aesh into an orah. She says yes.
  • Warrior Prince: Alaric kills a dragon, several hundred fire-spiders, and a hoshek all without any magic. For context, the last prince to fight a dragon was a full unaligned mage and was crippled for life, while the last time a hoshek surfaced he destroyed half the country before finally being defeated.
  • Water Is Blue: In Caederian heraldry, water and shamais are represented by the color blue.

Alternative Title(s): Quest Of The Unaligned