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Literature / The Three Worlds Cycle

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Sci-fi/fantasy series (3 quartets and 1 trilogy) by Australian author Ian Irvine dealing with the "Three Worlds" Santhenar (setting of most the series), Aachan, and Tallallame, and the four humanoid plus one races living there. Quite gritty and realistic; characters range from flawed to plainly insane. The series is also noted for its seemingly random mix of magic and science, and also large span of events.

The series consists of:

  • View from the Mirror quartet
    • A Shadow on the Glass
    • The Tower on the Rift
    • Dark is the Moon
    • The Way Between the Worlds
  • Well of Echoes quartet
    • Geomancer
    • Tetrarch
    • Scrutator (aka Alchymist)
    • Chimaera
  • Song of the Tears trilogy
    • Torments of the Traitor (aka The Fate of the Fallen)
    • The Curse on the Chosen
    • The Destiny of the Dead
  • The Gates of Good and Evil
    • The Summon Stone
    • The Fatal Gate
    • The Perilous Tower
    • The Sapphire Portal

Provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Ian Irvine appears to take sadistic glee from killing off main characters.
  • Baby Factory: The situation is so dire for the Old Humans, that humanity has come to rely on a guild of human broodmares to help sustain the population. Tiaan's mother is one and Tiaan herself is almost forced into this fate.
  • Battle Trophy: After a major battle/rescue, ex-scrutator Klarm claims Ghorr's skin as a prize and puts it to good use. He has it fashioned into an effigy that he uses to rally the oppressed people of Santhenar.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Averted, after getting captured by Jal-nish, Irsis thinks that Tiann will come up with a plan and fly into the rescue like she always does. Tiann had instead left the area completely and retired to be with her father. Irsis winds up getting decapitated.
  • Biotech: The Lyrinx are masters of this due to their fleshwarping arts. But despite being able to create new life forms and biologically-based magitek items, they hadn't gotten around to being able to cure a dangerous fungal infection.
  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: Averted, the Old Humans discover that the Lyrinx are vulnerable to fungal infection and so they try to bombard the Lyrinx underground cities with it. There's not enough fungus to go around and it's easy to contain the infection if detected early enough, so tens of thousands were infected instead of the whole species. But the idea that the humans were attempting to eradicate them, so alarmed the Lyrinx that they mobilized everyone to wage an extinction war on humanity.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Even the most upright characters tend to be morally ambiguous anti-heroes.
  • Black Swords Are Better: The farmboy Whim is given a sword made from an unknown black metal when Llian, Thandiwe and him open one of Mendark's old caches. Besides being lighter than normal, the sword has an enchantment that can sometimes take control of the wielder's arm to make an accurate strike or parry. The sword can also easily cut through things made of ordinary steel.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: The Aachim are a Deconstruction and tend to screw themselves and others over with their arrogance.
  • Character Development: Characters do improve over the course of their series. Nish, particularly, goes from being a slimy little git to something of a badass.
  • Clock Punk: The level of technology is a mix of Dark Ages Europe and the intricately geared, magically powered clockwork mechanisms. So primitive flying machines exist alongside people using crossbows.
  • Cooking Duel: A story-telling duel with the Big Bad. Then again, this the only thing Llian does well...
  • Cool Gate: The focus of the first book of the second series is to make one.
  • Cool Old Guy: Xervish Flydd. Scrutator, Mage, Manipulative Bastard, and pushing 60.
  • Crapsack World: Especially under the Scrutators and Lyrinx invasion. Basically the invasions are so devastating that Old Humans face extinction. For that reason, much of humanity has been coerced into factory work, fighting on the front lines or becoming a human brood mare.
  • Death Seeker: Pilots who lose their control crystals become despondent and even suicidal. This is due to the empathic bond between the pilot and their clankers.
  • Death World: The Void between worlds is so dangerous that only beings that can rapidly evolve can survive. Oddly, Santhenar is one for creatures from the Void. Despite their ability to hyper-evolve, the only organism from the Void to survive are the Lyrinx and that's because they were originally old humans.
  • Deconstruction: Not a full-on Genre Deconstruction, but it tries to make the fantasy setting more "realistic" (in the Darker and Edgier way).
  • Dented Iron: Karan was a real scrapper in the first series, but after nearly breaking every bone in her body she's got some permanent pain which she treats with the narcotic herb hrux. It could have been much worse, without powerful mancery to aid her healing, she'd have far more permanent injuries.
  • Downer Ending: The first series had this mildly, the second was horribly depressing. The third series is somewhat nicer but still horribly grim.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Jal-nish coming from nowhere at the end of the second series.
  • Eldritch Location / Death World: The Void. This is an other-dimensional nexus that is hostile to life and constantly undergoing change. Only those creatures capable of regular physical adaptation can survive there for long. For an idea, the mighty Charon race were reduced to 100 survivors and the Lyrinx were originally human but had to use magic to convert themselves into sphinx-like beings.
  • Fatal Flaw: Aachim and Faellem pride. It is noted by many characters that even the most unbiased and open Aachim Malien is not free of overwhelming arrogance.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Despite the prevalence of alot of very advanced engineering marvels and Magitek artifacts, the mightiest projectile weapons are catapults and ballistas (though there was an invention of a Magitek laser cannon). It becomes especially noticeable in The Gates of Good and Evil quartet as powder keg technology is commonplace.
  • Farm Boy: Whim is a 17 year old boy who's the only child of an impoverished farmer. She's invested almost of all her earnings so that Whim can go to the College of the Histories and become a Teller. With his lack of wealth and experience, he's the Naïve Newcomer to the now adventuring old hands of Karan and Llian.
  • Groin Attack: In The Summon Stone, Karan is on the receiving end of a kick to the groin during a fight between her and a Merdrun magister. It's a powerful kick that lifts her off of her feet and agravates her old pelvic bone injuries.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Blendings have the blood of two races, triunes have 3 and quartines ortetrarchs have 4. Liable to be riddled with mental and physical problems.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Faelamor. And she takes the rest of her planet and people with her. Her machinations enable her people to travel back to their world, but it had been left open to the Void and ensuing invasions reduced her descendants to regressing into Stone Age primitives.
  • Human Aliens: The Aachim, Faellem and Charon. For the first two races it's to the point that they are considered part of the human race (regular Homo Sapiens are just considered Old Humans), despite all three coming from other dimensions. And every race can interbreed with each other. The list of what's humans gets a little more detailed when it's revealed that originally the Charon were just a splinter faction of the Mariem, a race that shared the world of Tallallame. The other faction of the Mariem are the Merdrun.
  • Humans Are White: Averted in the second series. Most of the story takes place in a part of the world where people have an Asiatic appearance, including protagonist Tiaan. Irisis is notable early on for being blonde, blue-eyed and tall.
  • If We Get Through This…: * Irisis is the only character who has any definite plans for what she wants to do when the war is over (become a jeweller), a fact which is casually mentioned a couple of times a book. At the end of the quartet, enter Diabolus ex Machina and – on the second last page of the quartet – she dies.
  • Knight Templar: The Scrutators in their effort to repel the Lyrinx, spare no human in their goal of defeating the invaders whether it's sending thousands to their deaths in battle or dragooning available women into being brood mares. It turns out to be a big lie, the Scrutators council had long resigned themselves to the idea of not defeating the Lyrinx, instead their efforts have turned to doing what they can to keep power and indulge themselves.
  • Kryptonite Factor: The Lyrinx are an unstoppable threat to the humans, but they do have some weaknesses that had been exploited. They fear deep water and can't swim, there's a fungus that is deadly to them but doesn't harm humans, and a sufficiently loud telepathic broadcast will knock them out. It's the mindcry, when weaponized, that defeated the Lyrinx
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The evil Chief Scrutator Ghorr loves punishing people with flaying. He meets his end when's he caught in an explosion that blows his entire skin clear off his body. And if that didn't finish him, then falling off the sinking Air Dreadnought and getting impaled on a tree did.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Maigraith becomes obsessed with creating a new "race" by mating her (hybrid) child with Karan's as a monument to her dead lover.
  • Mad Scientist: Well, Mad Mathematician but its close enough.
  • Magitek: Clankers and most of the other technology are powered as much by magical energy from the planet, as clever engineering.
  • The Magic Goes Away: At the end of Well of Echoes, Tiann fears that the Secret Art's power is too much for any one person. So she globally alters the Nodes that powers the Secret Art, thus cutting off the power for the people and machinery that uses it. This comes to bite humanity back in the ass.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Grand Commander Orgestre is the head of the remaining human military forces in Well of Echoes. He loves parading about in military regalia and proudly wears his many medals and accolades on his uniform. Only...he's never been in active service before, he bought his commission as a way to keep out of the frontlines. When he's faced with the possibility of fighting the Lyrinx for the first time, he constantly argued against taking the offensive against them and after a major setback, he leads the retreat while having his underling General Troist do the rearguard. But when the Lyrinx are decisively losing, he's the first and loudest voice to advocate their extinction.
  • The Napoleon: Cryl-Nish, especially painful as his nickname means pipsqueak.
  • Our Elves Are Different: They're called "Aachim" here, and boy are they pricks.
  • Really 700 Years Old: All the other races, although Yggur(old human) gets this as well.
  • Schizo Tech: Everywhere in the second series. Mainly because having been at war for more than a hundred years, all scientific efforts are focused on making better weapons and nothing else.
  • Time Skip: The Well of Echoes series happens 200 years after the events of The View from the Mirror while The Gates of Good and Evil take a place a decade after The View from the Mirror and Song of the Tears take place shortly after Well of Echoes.
  • Took a Third Option: Rather than force a truce or exterminate the Lyrinx, Tiann transports them to the forest world of Faellem.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In the time between The View from the Mirror and Song of the Tears, Maigraith apparently decided to stop faffing about and put her considerable mind and talent to sinister use. Not good news.
    • Quite a few lesser examples too, mostly characters who start out as Action Survivors.
  • The Vamp: Irises starts out as this and a Manipulative Bitch. She gets better.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Old humans, who are also the weakest race with the least magical talent (most of the time).
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: A lot, due to the alien invasions and attempts to save their own species, many characters go all out.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Used liberally in the second series. It turns out that the lyrinx are actually old humans.
  • Wrench Wench: Tiaan is a master artificer and recreates a piece of technology that eludes the Aachim despite centuries of study. Irisis is one to a lesser extent.