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Literature / The Stone Dance of the Chameleon

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This drawing by the author became the genesis of the story.
Thrust forth the Green Child
Ten thousand times reborn
Squeeze Him into the air
Enjewelled by the morning
To take sweet nurture
At Your breasts
That He might dance again
And once more blow His scents
Beneath the skies.

The Song to the Earth

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon is a Low Fantasy trilogy by Ricardo Pinto. It is notable for being extremely dark and featuring no magic at all.

Cruel and oppressive, the Masters rule over the three lands; a race of tall, pale people who believe the blood of gods runs in their veins. Carnelian is a Master but, having grown up in exile, he has the unusual trait of mercy. When his father is called back to the capitol Osrakum to oversee the election of a new God-Emperor, he finds himself plunged into a web of intrigue and deceit.

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon consists of the following books:

  1. The Chosen (1999)
  2. The Standing Dead (2002)
  3. The Third God (2009)

In August of 2018, the author announced the upcoming release of a revised and reduced second edition of the series. The second edition will consist on seven shorter books rather than three longer ones:

  1. The Masters (released 31 January 2020)
  2. The Chosen (released 29 February 2020)
  3. The Standing Dead (released 10 May 2020)
  4. The Darkness Under the Trees (released 20 June 2020)
  5. Dragon Fire (released 25 August 2020)
  6. The Mirror Breaks (released 23 October 2020)
  7. The Third God (released 21 December 2020)

This trilogy provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Youthful Father:
    • According to the family trees Grane was born when Sardian was only 12.
    • Osidian (13 years old at the time going by the aforementioned trees) briefly mentions his sybling sons at one point.
    • Also going by the dates in the trees, Molochite would be 14 when Ykorenthe was born.
  • And I Must Scream: The Wise, arguably, and combined with a liberal dose of Body Horror. Somewhat unusual, in that they're an active political force. Still, having your eyes, tongue, nose, and eardrums cut out and being left with writing encoded on strings of beads and coded messages to a stunted, dwarfish interpreter as your only avenues of communication is pretty nightmarish.
  • Artistic License – Biology: With the sheer amount of incest going on in the House of the Masks note  it seems unrealistic, to say the least, that all the members of that House that we meet in the story are not only healthy, but said to be very good-looking. There does seem to be some mental instability in the cases of Molochite and Osidian, but that's about it. And even those could be explained by reasons other than being the result of centuries of inbreeding.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The God Emperors practise this (among other forms of incest) to keep their House's blood pure.
  • Body Horror: Loads and loads of it. The Masters' civilization is obsessed with ritual mutilation.
  • Cain and Abel: Nephron and Molochite. The fact that whoever loses the election has to be executed might have something to do with that.
    • Osidian ultimately ends up as the Cain to Molochite's Abel in the third book, after their armies meet in battle and Molochite is burned to death inside the Iron House.
    • And earlier in the same book, Molochite is also revealed to be the one who murdered their sister Flama Ykoria some years prior.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The dinosaurs are not referred to by their scientific names. (Some do appear to be made up, but not all.)
  • Child by Rape:
    • Fern was conceived when his mother Akaisha was raped by a Maruli. It's not entirely clear if his second edition equivalent Blue is also this trope, since his conception is described more ambiguously.
    • Carnelian is also this.note 
  • Conjoined Twins: The Masters believe conjoined twins, which they call "syblings", to be representatives of the Twin Gods in some way. The twins share the same name ("Left-Name" and "Right-Name" are used to distinguish them if neccesary) and one of them is blinded at birth. All of them are children of members of the Emperor's family and serve as elite guards and servants at the palace. When Carnelian theorizes that the high number of syblings within the royal household may have to do with the divine blood burning in their veins, his father wryly points out that more likely it has to do with the drug cocktails given to pregnant women of the House of Masks to make them bear twins.
  • Conlang: Quya, the language of the Masters. Hear the author speak it here. There's also a system of glyphs to write it, and the title of each chapter is written in both English and Quya glyphs.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In the second book, Carnelian and Osidian just happen to be found by Plainsmen from the exact same tribe Ebeny (Carnelian's foster mother) was born into (and whose language he had been taught in childhood). note 
  • Death of a Child: Very frequent, with this being a Crapsack World:
    • Many of the slaves who meet a cruel end at the hands of the Masters are children.
    • Going by the dates given in the family tree, Kumatuya and Ykoriana's daughter Flama Ykoria was only 9 when she was murdered.
    • From the same source, Aurum's unnamed son from his first marriage was 12 when he died.
    • It is mentioned in the first book that one of the duties of the male members of the House of the Masks is to "make blood for ritual", that is, to father children whose sole purpose is to be sacrificed at the Apotheosis of a God-Emperor. Osidian briefly mentions having sybling sons born for this reason; they were presumably sacrificed at Molochite's Apotheosis later on.
    • At the end of the second book, the entire Ochre tribe (except for Fern), including young children and infants, is massacred by Osidian.
    • In the third book, Molochite takes the children of the Chosen Lords to the battlefield to ensure their fathers' support. When Osidian (who did not know about the children's presence) attacks the Iron House during the battle, everyone inside is burned to death.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Huimur (ceratopsids, small versions of which are used as pack animals and giant versions of which are outfitted with flame pipes and ridden to war) and aquar (theropods which are this world's equivalent to horses).
  • Doorstopper: The first volume clocks in at just over 700 pages. The next two are even longer.
  • Enslaved Elves: The sartlar, who are considered little more than animals and have been entirely enslaved, turn out to be none other than the legendary Quyans.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Sexuality is pretty much discarded as a point of interest, where straight and gay relationships are equally common-place. The problem comes where you have the Chosen (who are the undisputed "supreme race" so to speak) and the other races (who act as their slaves and who aren't even allowed to look at their faces). Considering that all subservient races are completely oppressed by the Chosen and horrifically bound by The Law, there tends to be a lot of sexual abuse, rape, and subjugation of both genders of those races... and some of the stuff the more sadistically-minded Chosen are into crosses the line of "torture" and becomes Brain Bleach incarnate. In fact, when the main character (who is a Chosen, but brought up away from their culture), finds out that another Chosen has raped his half-slave brother, said Chosen can't understand why he's so upset and is genuinely shocked that he cares so much.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • In spite of the lengths she might have gone to in order to keep power, Ykoriana did have genuine love for her daughters, the late Flama Ykoria (who she didn't actually murder, as previously thought) and Ykorenthe. And she did not take the death of Carnelian's mother (her beloved younger sister) in childbirth well at all.
    • Similarly, even after all the atrocities he committed during the second and third books, Osidian still cared deeply for Carnelian. He was shown to be extremely worried when Carnelian was abducted by the Lepers and later even chose to defy a centuries-old tradition by refusing to have him be sacrificed at his Apotheosis.
  • Evil Old Folks: Aurum is the oldest Master we meet in the series, and also one of the most ruthless.
  • Eye Scream: Blinding people is a routine punishment in this world.
  • Fantastic Racism: Sort of. The pale Masters believe themselves to be more than human and oppress the other, darker skinned people.
  • God-Emperor: Born mortal, believed to ascend to godhood when he is crowned emperor.
  • Heir Club for Men: Very much the case among the Chosen. In particular, the lack of a son and heir is something that greatly worries Aurum (he had a son from his first marriage who died young, and his second marriage only resulted in three daughters).
  • Human Sacrifice: The Maruli's offering to the Darkness Under the Trees. Also, all brothers (and other close male relatives with pure enough blood) of a new God-Emperor must be sacrificed during his Apotheosis.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: While this trope is usually averted, it is played straight close to the end of the series. Thousands of flesh-tithe children and Ykoriana's young daughter Ykorenthe escape from Osrakum along with Carnelian and his friends, surviving the whole escape and later being spared by the sartlar led by Kor.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Masters use the sartlar's fear of fire to keep them at bay.
  • Kissing Cousins: Fern and Sil, Carnelian and Osidian, although they turn out to be even more closely related.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Carnelian is actually the son of the God Emperor Kumatuya, making him Osidian and Molochite's half-brother.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Averted with Carnelian's father Sardian, who does not blame him in the slightest for the death of his mother in childbirth. Unfortunately for Carnelian, his aunt Ykoriana certainly does.
  • Mayincatec: The Masters have some shades of this (see the picture above), but then again there're also significant Roman and Southeast Asian influences.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Darkness Under the Trees. Legions. More subtly, Kor is the Quyan word for 'death'.
  • No Woman's Land: The Masters are rather sexist. Fertile women are generally not even allowed to leave the house.
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • In the first book, it is widely rumoured that Ykoriana recently murdered her own daughter Flama Ykoria note . However, we learn in the third book that Molochite was in fact the one who murdered Flama Ykoria, making it a different trope.
    • Ykoriana also tries to have her son Osidian (along with Carnelian) killed by the end of the first book, but the attempt is unsuccessful.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Aurum's son from his first marriage died young.
    • Kumatuya and Ykoriana's daughter Flama Ykoria was murdered a year before the beginning of the series. Ykoriana also outlives Molochite, who is killed in battle against his brother Osidian some years later.
    • Kumatuya's own mother Nurpayahras has this trope apply to her after his death. The same is true of her sisters Nayakarade (Ykoriana's mother) whose son Tyatxungo was sacrificed at Kumatuya's Apotheosis, and Tiye, whose daughter Azurea died giving birth to Carnelian.
    • Akaisha and Stormrane's eldest son is killed early in The Standing Dead, during the same skirmish that leads to his father being mortally wounded.
    • Fern/Blue outlives his young daughter Leaf/Leef, who perishes during Osidian's massacre of the Ochre tribe.
  • Parental Incest: Often occurs within the imperial House of the Masks (see Brother–Sister Incest above as for why). Yes, this story has every kind of family lovin'.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Carnelian for large parts of the story. And whenever he decides to take matters into his own hands, it ends in disaster.
  • Posthumous Sibling:
    • The daughters of Aurum and Sardian's sister were all born after the death of their half-brother, Aurum's son from his first marriage.
    • Ykorenthe is also this to the late Flama Ykoria.
  • Queer Romance: Carnelian's romances with Osidian and later with Fern are a central part of the story.
  • Religion of Evil: The Maruli's worship of "The Darkness Under the Trees". They appear to greatly fear it themselves.
  • Retcon: A few changes have been made for the second edition:
    • Fern has had his name changed to Blue, while the character formerly named Blue is now Thander. Similarly, Nephron is now spelled "Nepheron" and Leaf "Leef".
    • While Fern was described as slender and brown-eyed, his second edition counterpart Blue is said to have a stocky build and vivid sky-blue eyes.
    • The terms "cypher" and "Celestial" have been replaced with "sigil" and "Ichorous" respectively.
  • Scary Black Man: Applies to all the Marula oracles of the Darkness Under the Trees, but especially to Morunasa.
  • Situational Sexuality: This is implied to happen a lot in the society of the Masters. The Masters place a tremendously high value on blood purity, so much so that their women are not even allowed to leave their house, except when they get married off and are instead kept at their husband's house. As such, males often form very intense emotional and sexual relationships with each other.
  • Slave Collar: Members of the legions are forced to wear these. As they can't take these off themselves, the Masters have no trouble identifying deserters.
  • Straight Gay: Zigzagged. the Masters as a class are described as prone to homosexuality and have some serious Sissy Villain vibes. They are frequently described wearing silky clothing, full body makeup, and floral scents while engaging in a lot of passive cruelty. That being said not all the gay or bisexual men depicted in the books are Masters and individual Masters are shown acting both rougher and softer than their counterparts.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Early in the series, Carnelian is said to greatly resemble his mother's side of the family. There's a very good reason for that, it turns out, as the late God Emperor Kumatuya was actually his biological father.
  • Surprise Incest: Twice. Carnelian and Osidian are cousins. Oh no wait, they're actually brothers!
  • Tangled Family Tree: ALL Masters in the story are somehow related, which combined with their obsession with blood purity and resulting incestuous unions makes for some bewildering family trees.
  • Teenage Pregnancy:
    • According to the family trees found in the author's website, Azurea was only 15 when she died giving birth to Carnelian.
    • There's also Urquentha (Sardian's mother), who was 15 at the time of her son's birth and 17 when she had her (unnamed) daughter.
    • Looking through the family trees will reveal further examples from previous generations.
    • Assuming Sil is the same age as Fern (a few years older than Carnelian), she gave birth to Leaf while in her teens.
  • Theme Naming: Many of the Masters seem to be named after gemstones and minerals. Named throughout the story, we have: Carnelian himself, his father Sardian (sard), his mother Azurea (azurite), Jaspar (jasper), Molochite (malachite), Nephron (nephrite), Osidian (obsidian), Spinel, Opalid (opal), Amethus (amethyst), Berillus (beryl), Emeral (emerald), Onyxor (onyx), Tapaz (topaz).