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Literature / The Shadow of Black Wings

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The Dracaland was always at war somewhere with somebody; it was its way and purpose.

A historical fantasy based around the turbulent opening of Japan to the West in the middle of the 19th century. Being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, the names are different. Japan is "Yamato", China is "Qin", the British Empire is the Dracaland Empire and so on.

"The Shadow of the Black Wings" is the first volume in James Calbraith's "The Year of the Dragon" saga.

  1. The Shadow of the Black Wings (2012)
  2. The Warrior's Soul (2012)
  3. The Islands In the Mist (2013)
  4. The Rising Tide (2013)
  5. The Chrysanthemum Seal (2014)


The following tropes

  • A Boy and His X: In this case, dragon. Emrys is often referred to as a 'pet' and 'child's toy' that Bran is too found of to replace with a bigger/stronger/faster etc, breed.
  • Alternate History: The Roman Empire was never vanquished.
  • An Ice Person: Ice is Sato's speciality.
  • Animal Eyes: Edern has cat-like eyes due to him being Fair Folk.
  • Anti-Magic: Old people are resistant to magic and the older they are the stronger the resistance. This is because magic is based on 'potential' as in 'potential energy' and younger people have more of it.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Downplayed with dragons. They can be tamed for a few years but all of them inevitably go feral. Dylan has been injured because he didn't replace one in time.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Nagomi's introduction has her complaining about the raining and walking in the mud and other things that can make one think she's a spoiled noble girl who joined the clergy for some selfish reason. Then her group's porter is injured and without hesitation she kneels in the mud to heal him despite knowing it will be a thankless job and the onlookers will scorn her for her hair color.
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  • Blessed with Suck: If you find you can use every kind of elemental magic with equal skill then congratulations! You're a once-a-generation prodigy who will no doubt become famous! You'll also die before your thirties because the conflicting elements will tear you apart.
  • Blood Magic: Magic that involves blood is alluded to in a custom made gauntlet that pricks the user it is but not seen just yet.
  • Big Bad: Zigzagged. While Nariakira schemes like a big bad and has the ambitions of a big bad, he only has one scene in the first book.
  • Deuteragonist: Reducing his role further, Bran is absent and/or Out of Focus in the latter part of the narrative while Sato and Nagomi share center stage.
  • Dragon Rider: Bran and many others ride dragons. Dylan is a commander in Dracaland's Dragon Rider division.
  • Elemental Powers: It's possible for anyone to learn them but every mage has to make due with a 'innate speciality' for one or another. Sato, for instance, is an Ice/water Innate. While she can cast fire magic too it is weaker, less versaile, and more exhausting.
  • Establishing Character Moment: There are several of these.
    • Bran's academy test demonstrates his dragon flying ability.
    • Nagomi's first healing demonstrates her compassion and All the Other Reindeer nature.
    • Nariakira's Chess Master maneuvering shows his ambition and talent.
  • Evil Plan:
    • Averted. The closest thing the first book has to ' devious scheme plotted by a villain' is Dylan trying to replace his son's pet dragon with one more suitable for a professional dragon rider. This is something all dragon riders have to do eventually and all of Bran's generation has already done it.
    • A Qin saboteur is hinting "a cause older than the rebels or the court" but he doesn't appear until midway and isn't seen again for the first book.
  • Forgets to Eat: Sato cooks dinner for her dad and it often goes cold because he's too busy with an experiment.
  • For Science!: Sato's dad Shuhan is aware that his research will likely never be published or accepted because of his disgraced family name. He continues to sate his own academic curiousity.
  • Gender Is No Object: Dracaland army and society, contrasted with strict gender roles in Yamato. E.g. Reeve Gwenllian.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Dylan, the story's functional hero, has a scar running across his cheek and possibly more around his body.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Pre-series, mages raised the dead and used them as weapons of war. They were so successful no one could tell the undead from the truly living. It made everyone paranoid.
  • High-Altitude Battle:
    • Bran fighting the Dracolich.
    • All battles of the Royal Marines Dragon Corps.
  • Healing Hands: A standard priestess power is to heal injures through physical contact.
  • Heir to the Dojo: Sato considers herself the successor of her father's dojo and her father considers her this as well. Misc other people note that she has the skill to be this. Being a girl, however, means she legally can't be this.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Two.
    • Qin had a barrier and isolated itself pre-series but it has since been discovered, exploited, and decayed as a result.
    • Yamato, more or less, is still this at the start. Only the Bahtaavains know how to cross the Divine Winds and even they can only go to Dejima. Aside from a few Dracaland officers, the rest of the world doesn't know it exists. The main conflict of the series is whether Yamato should stay this or open completely.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Bran's original love interest is a redhead. Also, Nagomi is hinted at.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Sato's family is a samurai family and well known for its style of swordcraft and magic but has fallen on hard times since their grandfather lost the emperor's favor.
  • It Runs in the Family:
    • For Bran's, it's wanderlust.
    • For Sato's it's magical talent and getting in trouble with the capital.
  • Jerk Jock: Wulfhere is more athletic than Bran and bullies to gratify his ego.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: Nagomi's hair is amber red and can shift to other hues depending on factors such as her mood or the weather. Because of this, most people see her as bad luck.
  • Language of Magic: Spells can be cast in a number of obscure languages, including Welsh and Dutch.
  • Large Ham: Sato can act the part because she's a fan of the theater.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: How magic works and the differences between Eastern and Western styles are often discussed and plot points. Sato teaches a class on it and her dad researches it.
  • Miko: Nagomi is one in training. In the first book she's on the verge of moving into the shrine to work full time.
  • No Ending: The first book just stops.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Nagomi's father didn't like how his daughter frequently brought 'stays' to their clinic because it was bad for business. She shined her 'doe eyes' on him and he reserved part of the clinic for them.
  • Red-Headed Stepchild: Nagomi is picked on by almost everyone for being the only red-head in the city.
  • Samurai: They range from spoiled brats, to a noble-minded girl, to an out-of-work interperter who hangs onto his swords to prove he's not entirely destitute.
  • Seers: Another priestess power is seeing the future.
  • Spoiled Brat: Keinosuke, who because his dad's a samurai, thinks he's above everyone else and can order his teacher's head cut off despite the fact that she is also from a samurai lineage.
  • Spontaneous Weapon Creation: Soul Lance, the weapon of the dragon riders.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Sato is a weird case: She dresses like a boy down to binding her breasts and her dad refers to her as his son but apparently everyone from her students to the local government knows she's a girl.
  • Scenery Porn: Everything from the college, to the country, to the city, to the warship to the shrine is lavishly described.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Bran is the one the story follows but after the third chapter or so he's just watching his dad, Dylan, be awesome.
  • The Thing That Goes "Doink": The shishi-odoshi is silent.
  • Translator Microbes: Averted. There is no 'universal translator' spell. If you want to talk to someone of another language, learn that language or find an interperter.
  • Walking the Earth: Bran, his father, and his grandfather joined the navy to see the world.
  • The Watson: During the trip to Qin, Bran asks questions about the places and events so Dylan has an opportunity to explain them.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Sato wears male clothes all the time, although she doesn't feel comfortable in them.