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Literature / Wars of Light and Shadow

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Wars of Light and Shadow is an epic fantasy series by Janny Wurts, chronicling the conflict among many different factions as they battle for control of the fictional world of Athera. The main story explores in depth the ambiguities of good and evil; both sides are portrayed with equal sympathy, avoiding the usual tendency to portray the winners as justified heroes and the losers as unequivocally evil.

Books in the Series:

Arc 1:

Arc 2:

Arc 3: The Alliance of Light:

  • Fugitive Prince
  • Grand Conspiracy
  • Peril's Gate
  • Traitor's Knot
  • Stormed Fortress

Arc 4: Sword of the Canon:

  • Initiate's Trial
  • Destiny's Conflict

Arc 5

  • Song of the Mysteries (to be confirmed)

Short Stories

  • Child of Prophecy
  • The Sundering Star
  • Reins of Destiny

This series has a character sheet. All character-specific tropes should go there.

This series contains examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: The FAQ section of the author's website has a lot of information about the setting that can't be fully described in the books, such as background of some major conflicts and an in-depth look at how Athera's magic works, as well as an art gallery. Be warned, though, as the FAQ does contain spoilers.
  • Another Dimension: There are very powerful, very ancient Worldsend Gates linking different worlds together; Dascen Alur is described as a "splinter world", a sort of buffer zone between major worlds.
  • Apocalypse How: It is implied that the humans of Athera initially escaped to that world from a Class 5 or Class X, caused by the Fellowship - and if anything happens to jeopardize the Paravian races' return, the Fellowship may have to do it again.
  • Cain and Abel: The cursed enmity between Lysaer and Arithon touches off the bulk of the story.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: According to Word of God, the clothing and eye color for many, if not all, of the characters have significance; for example, Arithon's green eyes and the colors of s'Ffalenn royalty represent the inherited gifts of empathy and compassion. The Fellowship Sorcerers and Lysaer, at the least, also share this for their respective clothing.
  • Costume Porn: Even the simplest of clothing is described in loving detail.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The Alliance of Light seeks to punish Arithon for crimes he committed while defending himself against their previous attacks, which were in revenge for crimes committed for attacks they launched earlier. At no point do they ever stop and realize that they struck first, for faulty cause.
  • Doorstopper:
    • Most of the books are pretty hefty, even in paperback form. Wurts indicated that she originally wanted to have each story arc be its own book.
    • Arc two was its own book when it was published in hardcover (Entitled Ships of Merior). It turned out to be too large to convert to paperback, so the paperback version was split into two books, Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark. So anyone looking for a hardcover edition of Warhost of Vastmark, don't bother.
  • Elemental Powers: The powers of Light and Shadow commanded by Lysaer and Arithon, respectively.
  • Fantastic Drug: Tienelle, or seersweed, a highly toxic herb valued by spellcasters for its mind-expanding properties.
  • Fisher King: The High Kings appear to be this. Their coronation ceremonies link them with the elements and directly connect them to the lands they rule, as dramatically demonstrated in Peril's Gate. Exactly what this connection means isn't clear yet, though.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Wurts portrays both sides with equal sympathy, allowing the reader to decide who is right.
  • I Know Your True Name: Knowing something's true name is to know absolutely everything about that individual, making it possible to cast binding magic on a given creature. The inscrutability of the Mistwraith's true name has made it nigh impossible to stop it, until the events of Curse.
  • Ley Line: Each of the Twelve Lanes of power offers a conduit for scrying and magical travel as well as energy for spellcasting. They seem to be arranged along the longitudes of the planet.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Fellowship cannot intervene in issues that all parties got into by their own free consent. Unfortunately, free consent isn't the same thing as informed consent, a loophole which the Koriani use to set up their scheme with Fionn Areth, who was far too young to understand what he was getting into when they recruited him.
  • Mage Tower: Many of these are left over from previous Ages, built by the Paravians and often used by the current magic users for their research.
  • Magic Music: A lyranthe, a type of Paravian stringed instrument capable of complex harmonics, is the primary means of especially talented bards utilizing their brand of magic. A Masterbard's voice alone can achieve the same effects.
  • Meaningful Name: Just about everyone and everything. The Fictionary in the back helps clarify things.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: A number of characters mutter unspecified speculations on the parentage or personal habits of others.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Law of the Major Balance, which states that "no force of nature should be used without consent, or against the will of another living being."
  • Oddly Small Organization: The Fellowship of Seven has exactly seven members - eight if you count the half-trained Dakar. With Ciladis missing and Davien banished, that brings them down to five effectives, four when you consider that Sethvir rarely leaves Althain Tower. Because of this, even though they're indisputably the most powerful mages on the planet, they have a hard time dealing with crises that erupt in dispersed locations at the same time, because they don't have the manpower. The Koriani use this to their advantage on occasion by creating an all-hands emergency the Fellowship has to deal with, leaving nobody to thwart their schemes concerning Arithon.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Characters often utter oaths referencing Ath creator, Dharkaron (an angel of vengeance), and Daelion Fatemaster.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • The Khadrim, described as flying, fire-breathing reptiles.
    • As well as the great drakes themselves, Reality Warpers whose dreams created life without understanding the emotions behind it. Although long dead, their remains must be kept contained inside Fellowship-maintained grimwards, or the remnants of their dreams in death could tear apart the fabric of the world.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The Paravians, which included such creatures as elves, unicorns, and centaurs.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Three characters, Davien, Kharadmon and Luhaine, exist in a "discorporate" state. Kharadmon and Luhaine seem to be unhindered by their lack of body, and in fact use it to their advantage, traveling nearly instantaneously across Paravia. They can manifest, looking much as they did when alive, but usually only do so when talking to someone. Davien is the only one who can manifest in an actual, physical body.
  • Poltergeist: Iyats are invisible minor spirits that feed on miscast magic and strong human emotions. Once attracted by the former, they will do everything in their power to get the latter, mainly by annoying the hell out of nearby mortals.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Those with the gift of foresight tend to have these, either spontaneously or induced by trances or herbs. Dakar stays astonishingly drunk to avoid them, with varying levels of success.
  • Psychic Powers: A number of characters are gifted with prophecy or foresight, often to their detriment.
  • Punctuation Shaker: The names of the noble families follow the example of s'Ffalenn and s'Ilessid.
  • Restraining Bolt: The gifted geases granted to the five royal bloodlines to emphasize certain traits that the Paravians believed would make the resulting kings and queens immune or resistant to corruption from outside.
  • Royal Blood: The founders of the five royal dynasties were all given a certain trait (compassion, justice, etc) which would be inherited by their successors. Plus, the charters under which the monarchies were established were an important part of the deal which gave humanity permission to settle in its current home. The fact that the monarchies were all overthrown a few centuries before the start of the story is a significant plot point.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Koriani seek to destroy Arithon because Morriel has a divination revealing that he will bring doom to the order. After two centuries of catastrophes that could have been avoided if not for Koriani meddling, Arithon decides that he's had enough and does something about it.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Lysaer and Arithon, though technically half-brothers, are nearly polar opposites. Lysaer, the master of Light magic, is a blonde, charming, and charismatic prince, possessed of an irresistible geas to seek justice (even where none exists), and becoming a hero to the townsfolk and merchants. Arithon the Master of Shadows, meanwhile, is quieter, keeps to himself, is an outlaw in their homeworld despite his own royal blood, and possessed to an irresistible geas of compassion, to the point that he "will forgive the knife that kills him", becoming a hero to the poor.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Arithon and Elaira love each other deeply, but Arithon knows that Lysaer's people might strike at her to hurt him, and Elaira knows that the Koriani Order will use their bond to cast baneful sorcery against him (the fact that she swore a magically binding oath of celibacy to the Order before they ever met doesn't help). The simplest solution is for them to stay as far away from each other as possible.
  • Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: The Waystone of the Koriathain is a flawless spherical amethyst the size of a melon. The Skyron Aquamarine isn't much smaller.
  • Unequal Rites: There has been a long-standing rivalry between the Fellowship of Seven and the Koriani. One of the results is that Sethvir has possession of the Great Waystone, a powerful Koriani artifact, which he states he will happily give back if Morriel asks - knowing full well that Morriel would rather eat her own arm than ask him for anything.
  • Unstoppable Rage: The Mistwraith's curse causes this whenever Lysaer and Arithon see each other, even through magical means.
  • War Is Hell: The battle sequences are described in unflinching detail, with no effort made to gloss over or glorify the often horrifying violence.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Lysaer receives several of these speeches throughout the series as he sinks deeper and deeper into Knight Templar territory (One example being shortly after legalizing the enslavement of clansmen in Grand Alliance, when he had decreed that he'd rather be in chains himself than permit slavery in Ships of Merior). Unfortunately, they all fail to penetrate his Desh-Thierre enhanced self-righteousness.
  • Wizards Live Longer: The Fellowship have been around for over 10,000 years, and will not even be stopped by dying. They have also taught their apprentices various ways to stop or reverse aging. Even the Koriathain have their methods. Arithon and Lysaer have an expected 600-year lifespan caused by drinking from a fountain of Davien's creation, which not only stops their aging, it also allows them to recover from normally fatal wounds until those six centuries are up.

Warhost of Vastmark

  • Coming in Hot: Kharadmon's return to Athera, with nine unbound wraiths in hot pursuit.
  • Death World: The two splinter worlds that originated the Mistwraith, now lifeless and abandoned.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: When Tharrick, helping rebuild one of Arithon's ships while recovering from injuries suffered when he was caught torching the whole fleet, finds a pile of silver coins waiting for him in his room at the inn, he is initially livid, thinking Arithon was offering him a token of charity. Turns out they were his wages.
  • The Florence Nightingale Effect: Possibly the root of the romance that develops between Tharrick and Jinesse while the latter cares for the former's injuries.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The scientific research carried out beyond the South Gate. Small wonder the Paravians had forbidden it in the first place.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Mistwraith apparently started off as this, but it broke loose.
  • You Had Us Worried There: Sethvir's battle to allow his voluntarily disembodied spirit to escape the nine wraiths trying to possess him is carried out largely in the aether, with his colleagues largely helpless to aid him other than to craft a magical ward to sift out the attached wraiths. It is hours before his shed body finally stirs, and they are still cautious until they determine that Sethvir is back (instead of a wraith possessing his body).

Fugitive Prince

Grand Conspiracy

Peril's Gate

Traitor's Knot

  • Cannot Spit It Out: Sulfin Evend. Sulfin finds out his best friend and king, Lysaer, has been cursed by necromancers. There is a special ritual to save him. The ritual requires sneaking into Lysaer's room, stabbing him with a magic knife to wake him up, and then miming that Lysaer needs to make a specific gesture with the knife, all the while dealing with the fact that Lysaer really hates Magic. Justified in that if he had spit it out, the ritual would have been interrupted.

Stormed Fortress

Initiate's Trial