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Darkover is a series of novels by famed Science Fiction and Fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. They deal with the Lost Colony world of Cottman IV, called Darkover by the natives. The series itself spans many thousands of years of history.

The world of Darkover is a feudal society with all technology being matrix science, or laran, which are Psychic Powers enhanced by crystalline matrices. The abilities are said to be the natural talents of humans, enhanced by the matrices and historical selective breeding programs. There are also numerous non-human intelligent species on Darkover.

The novels and history of Darkover can be split into the following categories:

The Founding

A human colony ship crashes on Cottman IV and the survivors found the colony.

  • Darkover Landfall

The Ages of Chaos

Humanity of Darkover has become a feudal society with power resting with those families who have laran. Earth technology is all but lost, but matrix science has become nearly as powerful in its place. Dangerous inbreeding occurs as the families try to produce more exotic and powerful types of psychic abilities. Those with the most powerful laran serve in Towers, which power transport, send messages, and make technology for others to use, such as constructed servants and weapons.

  • Stormqueen!

The Hundred Kingdoms

Coming at the end of the Ages of Chaos, Darkover has suffered a series of devastating wars using deadly laran weapons. Some of the gifts of laran are already starting to die out due to the effects of the breeding programs. The continent is split into dozens of small kingdoms, most still fighting. The Towers produce weapons of enormous destructive capabilities. This period ended with Varzil the Good created The Compact, which forbade anyone from using a weapon that didn't bring the user within equal risk of death.

  • Hawkmistress!
  • Two to Conquer
  • The Heirs of Hammerfell
  • The Clingfire Trilogy (with Deborah J. Ross)

Against the Terrans: The First Age

Darkover is rediscovered by the Terran Empire, and a space port is established on the planet's surface. Darkover lies along a critical trade route, so pressure is applied for the planet to join the Empire, but Darkover's government, the Comyn, resist. Matrix technology is dying out, as are the men and women who wield laran, due in large part to the breeding programs in the Ages of Chaos. The land is split into seven Domains, each ruled by one of seven major families, and all is ruled over by a king.

Many of the novels set in this age feature Terrans going native on Darkover.

  • Rediscovery (with Mercedes Lackey)
  • The Shattered Chain
  • Thendara House
  • City of Sorcery
  • The Spell Sword
  • The Forbidden Tower
  • Star of Danger
  • Winds of Darkover

Against the Terrans: The Second Age

The pressure from the Terran Empire becomes less and less subtle, climaxing with hiring a organization known as the World Wreckers to destroy the planetary economy and assassinate the members of the local governments. The Comyn were reduced to only a few and the Telepathic Council was formed as an interim ruling body until a member of each of the seven Domains could once again take his or her seat and the Comyn council be reformed. This period's end is marked by the fall of the Terran Empire, and Darkover being left to develop on its own once again.

  • The Bloody Sun
  • The Heritage of Hastur
  • The Planet Savers
  • Sharra's Exile
  • The World Wreckers
  • Hastur Lord (with Deborah J. Ross)
  • Exile's Song (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • Shadow Matrix (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • Traitor's Sun (with Adrienne Martine-Barnes)
  • The Alton Gift (with Deborah J. Ross)

This series provides examples of:

  • A Plague on Both Your Houses: a servant curses the head of the Aldaran household as he dies in Stormqueen!
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Empire has this in theory, as worlds that want limited contact with the Empire are supposed to be respected. However, in later books, they start looking for an excuse to break the rule and force their way into Darkover, and in Traitor's Sun they finally abandon the rule (fortunately, Darkover manages to cut off all contact before the Terrans can invade).
  • Alien Sky: the Darkovan sun is a large, red star, colloquially known as the Bloody Sun. The night sky has four moons.
  • All Myths Are True: The creation myth of the house of Hastur is actually true, although the "god" was actually an alien Chieri
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Darkover itself, and the numerous worlds of the Terran Empire.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Renunciates, also called the Free Amazons, are a guild of women warriors who reject Darkover's traditional gender roles (women can only be wives or work in a Tower). They all tend to have a Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Arranged Marriage: constantly
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Dorilys of Rockraven does use her storm-control powers to save lives on a few occasions.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Mikhail of Aldaran insists on his preteen daughter marrying her 20-year-old half-brother in order to solve his Heir Club for Men/Succession Crisis problem. Yes, he wants them to make a baby. And it's implied that if he wasn't impotent, he'd have been willing to commit Parental Incest to solve the problem. Even worse, both of the siblings are eventually willing to go through with it, even the brother who already has a girlfriend.
  • Burn the Witch: after Cleindori demonstrates that Virgin Power isn't really a requisite for her job, she and a lot of her family and friends (and the members of the Forbidden Tower) are slaughtered. And yes, in some cases, burned (in their house).
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Callista's dilemma in The Forbidden Tower is that she wants to have sex with her husband (see below), but has been brainwashed into being a Keeper who's not allowed to get laid, and undoing that brainwashing is extremely difficult.
  • Canon Dis Continuity: The first book written for Darkover, The Sword Of Aldones, was de-canonized when Bradley wrote The Heritage of Hastur. Sharra's Exile was later written in to replace it.
  • Catfolk: The Catmen.
  • The Clan: The seven major noble houses of Darkover and the numerous minor families.
  • Closet Key: Danilo for Regis (in more ways than one; he has the catalyst laran, after all) and vice versa.
  • Culture Clash: The Darkovans and the Terrans do this a lot; stories where the characters go native invariably focus on the difficulty of adapting to a different culture.
  • Death by Childbirth: Melora
  • Depraved Homosexual: Dyan Ardais, before his redemption.
    • It's implied that this might partly be owing to Dyan never really getting over the fact that in their teens, Kennard Alton broke his heart TWICE, first by picking a new best friend and then by going straight on Dyan. Jawdroppingly, Dyan realizes the last-mentioned while he and Kennard are actually having sex.
  • Disney Villain Death: Jaelle and Aquilara
  • Doppelganger: Paul Harrell, to Bard di Asturiens
  • Dramatic Irony: Auster is convinced that the Terran Jeff Kerwin is somehow being used as a spy for the Terrans against his knowledge. Turns out that (a) Jeff doesn't have a Terran dad, Auster does, and (b) he was Separated at Birth from an Evil Twin, and the twin is using his psychic link to Auster to spy on the Arilinn circle.
  • Dropped a Bridget On Him: In Hawkmistress!, Romilly MacAran, in disguise as a boy, is an object of lust for one of her companions. Turns out he didn't see though her disguise at all, he was actually gay.
  • Due to the Dead
  • The Empire: The Terran Empire during the Second Age
  • Eternal English: Played straight with the Terran Empire, subverted on Darkover which speaks two different languages derived from gaelic and Spanish.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Sexual orientation is pretty fluid among the Darkovans.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness
  • Fantastic Racism: The trailmen and catmen, nonhuman intelligent races on Darkover, are the subject of racism from the humans.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: The Darkovan Compact forbids any kind of range weapon. It was developed to deal with the destructiveness of laran weaponry, but it covers guns as well.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: How the colonists got to Darkover and what keeps the Terran Empire together.
  • Fish Out of Water: Any Terran on Darkover; Andrew Carr and Jeff Kerwin are examples. Thendara House is a paired example, with Magda Lorne with the Amazons and Jaelle with the Terrans.
  • Feudal Future
  • Gender Bender: The chieri can alter their sex to match that of their partner.
  • Going Native: Numerous Terrans, including Magda Lorne, Andrew Carr, Jeff Kerwin, and Margaret Alton
  • Halfbreed: Lew and Marius Alton get a lot of grief for having a Terran mother.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The alien native chieri and the humans are capable of interbreeding. It's implied that the abnormally high incidence of psychic talents on Darkover is due to their chieri blood. Not to mention the extra fingers.
  • Heir Club for Men: constantly.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: nearly all those with psychic talent have red hair, which means that the love interests and heroines are almost always redheads.
  • I Choose to Stay: Magda and Camilla choose to join the Hidden Elf Village at the end of City of Sorcery.
  • It's Okay If It's You: Regis Hastur has a thing for Danilo Syrtis, who is very reluctant due to a major case of homophobia (preferring to maintain their current relationship ) until Regis finally manages to get him into bed, after which he does an abrupt 180 and becomes quite possessive; it's implied that Danilo is ONLY interested in Regis to the exclusion of any other potential relationship.
  • Interspecies Romance: The origin of the strong psychic powers, and also used in The World Wreckers.
  • It's Not Rape If You Enjoyed It: Bard's laran enables him to force a woman to want him sexually (they're not happy about it afterwards), and this is something he cites frequently.
  • Kissing Cousins: almost every single freaking relationship on Darkover that doesn't involve an alien species or a Terran is a case of cousins marrying.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Ellemir, who loves children and very much wants her own, finds it very difficult to carry a child to term. Her twin sister Callista, who is not especially interested, has no trouble at all. The result is a bunch of children running around the estate who all call Ellemir "Mama," regardless of their biological parentage. (IIRC, even some children not born to Ellemir, Callista, or either's husband do this. She just mothers any child in range.)
  • Lost Colony
  • Love Is in the Air: The Ghost Winds spread kireseth pollen, which has this effect among others.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Dezi's father might be one of oh, six guys his mother slept with that night. None of them will claim him as his own, which royally pisses him off.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: and how. Not only can nobody conceive of such a thing as being wanted, Darkover used to have breeding programs for laran. The Comyn still insists on everyone having as many kids as possible with other Comyn (at a time in the past, it was forbidden for one woman to have more than two children by the same man: a Darkovan woman a little patronizingly explains to an Earthwoman the concept of "genetic pool"). Camilla of Darkover Landfall and Rohana of the Renunciate trilogy particularly were not thrilled to have lots of kids.
    • This attitude is of course a legacy of the Landfall era when it was vital for all fertile females to have as many children as they could manage by several different fathers to establish a sufficiently large and varied gene pool to guarantee the survival of our species on Darkover.
  • The Magocracy: The planet is ruled by a king and seven noble houses, and the heir to those positions must have laran. Subversion: those who actually specialize in the use of laran are supposed to stay in the Towers and out of government.
  • Matriarchy: While Darkover as a whole is extremely patriarchal, women head the Aillard Domain.
  • May-December Romance: actually not done on Darkover, or at least marrying someone not of your generation isn't, because they might very well BE your father.
  • Mind Over Manners: After the time of Varzil the Good, those with telepathic gifts are expected to be extremely conscientious with their powers. Those with the Alton Gift are held to particularly high standards.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bard di Asturien gets a big one after being forced to live through the experiences of the women he's raped.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Compact forbids the use of any non-melee weapons. When it's broken, the results are usually a bad thing.
  • One Steve Limit: totally averted. The same first names are used over and over and over for generations. And one book had multiple Davids.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Jeff Kerwin grows up in the Terran Empire with no idea that the blue stone he's always worn is the matrix of his Keeper mother Cleindori; when he finally comes back to Darkover, the Comyn identify him through the matrix.
  • Our Elves Are Better: The chieri, of the Space Elf variety.
  • No Periods, Period: In Hawkmistress!, Romilly's menstruation is a big problem while she's disguised as a boy.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Cottman IV
  • Patronymic: Children take the last name of the higher ranked parent.
  • Planetary Romance: Although nominally Science Fiction, any of the novels set before the rediscovery are indistinguishable from fantasy.
  • Polyamory: oddly enough, this seems to crop up in places. Due to breeding issues, it used to be far more acceptable to have children by various men. Particularly notable is the social custom of it being okay for a wife's sister to sleep with her husband should she be unable to do so.
    • Ellemir, Callista, Andrew, and Damon seem to have fallen into a polyamorous foursome by the end of The Forbidden Tower
    • Regis Hastur seems to have this going on with his wife Linnea and his paxman Danilo.
  • The Power of Love: in Two to Conquer, this redeems both protagonists.
  • Precursors: The chieri reveal that they are the dying remnants of what was once a galaxy-spanning race of Sufficiently Advanced aliens.
  • Psychic Powers: Laran.
  • Psycho Electro: Dorilys of Rockraven, the titular Stormqueen!, who's been known to kill people accidentally. She's a Spoiled Brat because who can stand up against her?
  • The Quest: the plot of City of Sorcery features a quest to find a Hidden Elf Village.
  • Reincarnation Romance: it's implied that Mikhail and Marguerida are this, to the point of going back in time and being mistaken for a thwarted couple named Mikhailangelo and Margarethe.
  • Reset Button: Exile's Song largely ignores the important evolution of Darkovan society and politics that had been clearly established in previous books. Gradual rapprochement between Darkover and the Terran Empire is no longer happening or desirable. In Traitor's Sun, the Terran Empire leaves and this is described as a very positive thing.
  • Residual Self Image: The form a person takes in the Overworld is based almost completely on the way they picture themselves. It may not even be human in form.
  • Retcon: The author later stated that the FTL accident that sent the colony ship off-course also sent it through time, accounting for the disparity between the long Darkovan history and the much shorter history of the Terran Empire.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: In the earlier novels, the Terran Empire's culture was very similar to that of the early 1980s. She got better.
  • Screw Yourself: In Two to Conquer, the protagonist meets up with an identical duplicate of himself. And then, well, Squick.
  • Sex Slave: The riyachiyas in Stormqueen.
  • Shout-Out: One of the main families of nobles is called the "Hasturs". There is a minor family of nobles called the "Alars". There is a place called Carcosa. There is also a lake called "Lake Hali", which is misty. According to The Other Wiki, this was a deliberate shout-out to Robert W. Chambers' book The King in Yellow (which also inspired parts of the Cthulhu Mythos).
  • Split Personality: Dr. Jason Allison of The Planet-Savers was raised by Darkovan trailmen before returning to the Terrans to become a cold, xenophobic doctor who entirely repressed his childhood experiences; his "Jay" personality, warmer and more impulsive, has those memories but none of Jason's medical and scientific training.
  • Straw Misogynist: The Terran men as well as the Darkovans, and institutionally as well as individually. (In a galaxy-spanning Terran Empire of three thousand years in the future — one in which men and women are repeatedly asserted to be equal in every way — when Jane Smith marries John Doe, she is automatically designated not only with his surname, but with his full name: not "Smith, Jane", not "Doe, Jane", but "Doe, Mrs. John".)
  • Succession Crisis: constantly
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Romilly in Hawkmistress.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: During the height of their power, the Towers could send people and objects through the giant artificial matrices from one tower to another instantaneously.
  • Truce Zone: Forest fires are a great danger on Darkover, and an absolute truce is maintained by those working on the fire-lines. There is a story told of a man who met and killed his father's sworn enemy there, and was cut to pieces by his own brothers for it.
  • Twin Switch: an inherent part of Bard and his dad's plan to bring Paul into their lives is so that they can do this. It gets interesting when when Bard's gone, Paul gets nabbed and forced to become king of Asturiens and marry Melisandra. Fortunately it turns out that Bard doesn't want Melisendra for himself and neither of them want to be king.
  • Twin Telepathy: With twins, one will have a large portion of laran, and the other little. However, twins are always telepathically linked regardless of how little talent the one has.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Bard and Paul give this a go with a random woman, and then give Twincest a shot...
  • The Unfavourite: Mikhail Lanart-Alton's parents pretty much can't stand him ever since he got tapped to be his uncle's heir.
  • Victim Falls For Rapist
    • A weird almost-subversion of it comes up in The Forbidden Tower. Ex-Keeper Callista has been so brainwashed into virginity that she can't physically touch her husband without freaking out. At one point she suggests that he just knock her out and have sex with her because then her reflexes won't go off and kill him for trying. Andrew is horrified at the idea of this, but his brother-in-law is all, "Well, that could work."
    • It is completely subverted in Two To Conquer, as none of Bard's rape victims fall in love with him, even when in one case he wants her to.
  • The Wall Around the World: Literally called this, it is the global-spanning glacier that surrounds the only habitable continent.
  • White and Grey Morality: The central conflict is between the good Darkovans and well-meaning, sympathetic Terrans who happen to be opposed to the Darkovan way of life. Individuals range all over the morality scale, but the series prefers nuanced villains to Complete Monsters.
  • Virgin Power: Keepers, the most powerful of laran workers, have to keep their channels free of sexual impulses during heavy laran work or risk serious injury. During the First Age of recontact, this was enforced for women by keeping them virginal or even making them sexless via surgery.