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Over one hundred years ago in another world known as the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice, an emperor was deposed. To preserve their families' safety and livlihood, his twelve advisors took his young son and accepted exile from their homeland. An exile which brought them to ours.
These exiles, who came to call themselves the Thirteen Orphans, represent the twelve animals on the Chinese zodiac, with their emperor representing the cat. They settled in our world, doing what they could to preserve their magical knowledge until the exile was rescinded for either themselves or their descendants.
Today, Gaheris Morris, great-grandson of the original Exile Rat, had planned to impart this knowledge to his heir apparent, his daughter Brenda. He brought her to California to visit the current Tiger, their Honorary Aunt Pearl Bright, and introduce her to the current Cat, Albert Yu. What they find when they arrive is an Albert Yu lacking any memory of the Thirteen Orphans and the start of a journey that will eventually lead them and the other Orphans into battle against enemies from the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice.
The Breaking the Wall trilogy was written by Jane Lindskold, author of the Firekeeper series, has three books: Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, and Five Odd Honors which detail the Orphans' quest to defend themselves from attack from the Lands and make their return to it and discover the cause behind them after all this time.
This series features examples of:
- Action Mom: Nissa. Though a few of the Orphans are mothers themselves.
- Alliterative Family: The Nitas. Besides Nissa and (No)Lani, every person in the family also has an N name.
- An Arm and a Leg: Righteous Drum, early in book two.
- The Atoner: Loyal Wind.
- Book-Burning: An instance of this taken Up to Eleven is what created the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice and is the reason people from the lands call earth the Land of the Burning.
- But Not Too Foreign: Every Orphan who isn't pureblooded Chinese. Given the nature between earth and the Lands, probably not even then.
- Cheerful Child: Lani
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The various magical traditions possess this to one extent or another. The Lands' very existence comes from it.
- Cool Big Sis: The Ox's daughter, Hua was this for the second generation Orphans.
- Cool Old Guy: Both of the Monkeys we meet, Waking Lizard and Bent Bamboo. Shen Kung.
- Cool Old Lady: Pearl & Deborah.
- Eastern Zodiac
- Former Child Star: Pearl Bright, though she subverts the usual definitions of what occurs to these characters in old age.
- Genre Savvy: Brenda, at one point rushing along a messenger in her dream specifically to avoid waking up before she learns anything useful. Also, nobody makes the mistake of assuming Brenda's message was All Just a Dream.
- Gotta Catch Em All: Tracy Frye's attitude towards learning magics from other traditions. She's compared to a magpie collecting shiny trinkets with little regard for their actual worth.
- Heir Club for Men: A particular issue with Pearl and her father.
- Human Resources: The Mahjong sets handed down the Orphans' family lines.
- Mahjong: The Thirteen Orphans' magic is based around various Mahjong hands. Early training has apprentices hand-making tiles to use their spells with.
- Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Anyone and everyone associated with the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice. Up to and including the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice.
- Never Mess with Granny: Pearl Bright. When your first on-page action in one of the books is beheading an attacker who took you by surprise, you've earned your place in this trope. Deborah Van Bergenstein tries to invoke this as the Pig by pointing out that boar spears were invented for a reason.
- Power Copying: The Cat can temporarily replace any of the other Orphans in the course of rituals.
- Smug Snake: Honey Dream and especially Tracy Frye.
- Spanner in the Works: Brenda's tendency towards Wrong-Context Magic tends to throw a spanner into many of the plans the protagonists' enemies craft.
- Straight Gay: Albert Yu.
- Talking in Your Dreams: Brenda tends to get this a lot.
- Well Done Daughter Gal: Pearl, before waking up to what a Jerkass her father was. Honey Dream as well, though her father is far more acknowledging.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Righteous Drum, Honey Dream, and Flying Claw. Also, if you take his word for it, Franklin Deng.
- Wrong-Context Magic: Brenda's major trait throughout the story. She's able to call upon the powers of the Rat, despite the fact that she shouldn't have access to those powers while her father yet lives.