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A Shared Universe anthology series edited by Will Shetterly and Emma Bull. The other contributors included, among others, Steven Brust, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Megan Lindholm, Gene Wolfe, Patricia C. Wrede, and Jane Yolen. The series begun with an eponymous book in 1985.
Liavek is a city-state with both a fairly detailed magic system and technology on the edge of the Industrial Age- for example, there are railroads, but no factories.
Liavekan magic is based on the concept of "birth luck", inherent magic that most people can use only on their birthdays, and then only during the hours that correspond to the time their mother spent in labor. In order to become a magician, a person must put their magic into an object, a process called investiture. If they succeed, they are able to practice magic as long as their luck object is nearby and isn't destroyed. If they fail, they die.
Magicians have to reinvest their magic every year. If their luck object is destroyed, they're Brought Down to Normal until their next birthday. If it's destroyed on their "ill-luck time", the day of the year opposite their birthday, they're Brought Down to Normal permanently.
All spells come undone on the birthday of the magician who created them. Permanently magical objects do exist, but they're extremely rare, since the magician has to sacrifice their magic in order to create one, and if it's destroyed during their lifetime, they die.
Tropes in Liavek:
- Action Girl: Snake, Ler Oeni.
- Affectionate Parody: Jane Yolen's "The True Tale of Count Dashif's Demise" from book 5 is an Affectionate Parody of Steven Brust's four Count Dashif stories.
- All There in the Manual: Or rather, All There In The Appendixes. The first two appendixes to Book One contain information ranging from geography, food, and politeness to the complexities of magical medicine, as well as descriptions of two more sentient species than actually show up in the books.
- Alternative Calendar: Liavek uses a calendar based very closely on the French Revolutionary calendar. (In-story, it's said to be an import from Tichen- probably as a way to explain why a place where it never snows has a month called "Snow".)
- Amazing Technicolor Population: Queen Brinte in Deleon's first play is bright blue, and this is vital to the plot. (We are not informed how it is vital to the plot, however.)
- Baleful Polymorph: Rikiki, the S'Rian blue chipmunk god, can turn people into nuts. So can his high priestess/guardian, the Ka'Riatha. It's subject to the usual restrictions of Liavekan magic; if the nut survives intact for a year, the person turns back to human.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Benedicti family. Oh holy blue chipmunk, the Benedicti family.
- Bi the Way: Deleon Benedicti.
- Blessed with Suck: The titular magical artifact in Cenedwine Brocade protects its owner from harm, but does this by deflecting any attack from them- possibly onto the people or objects nearby. This can result in people getting hurt or killed, or just worried that they would be if they don't avoid the brocade's owner... which makes life rather difficult for said owner.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Several of the Liavekan religions are this. Liavek's most prominant religion, the Way of the Twin Forces, involves a balance between good and evil- in some interpretations, choosing one or the other is undesirable, while in others the important thing is to pick a level of goodness/badness and stick with it. The Church of Truth, prominant enough that one of its priests becomes a co-regent for a child ruler at one point, has as its stated goal the destruction of reality. Which various members of the Church- including the eventual co-regent- had tried to carry out in the series proper. And of course, there's also the House of Responsible Life, apparently a minor but respected sect whose members are united by their desire to commit suicide (but only once they've divested themselves of any and all worldly ties, of course).
- Brought Down to Normal: Any wizard whose luck object is destroyed. If it's during their ill-luck period (the time opposite in the year to their birth hours) it's permanent; otherwise, they can restore their powers on their next birthday. In the latter case, a very skilled wizard can still work magic for the few minutes each day that correspond to their birth. Both Trav Marik and Quard can do this. Wizards may also choose to stop renewing their powers each year: for example, Thrae, the head of the Desert Mouse theater company, gave up practicing magic because she had more and more trouble investing her luck each year.
- Cast Incest: All the time in the Desert Mouse company.For example, Deleon and Aelim as Queen Brinte and her daughter in the play in "The Last Part of the Tragical History of Acrilat".
- Chekhov's Gunman: A certain garbage picker puts in an appearance in one of the later Count Dashif stories. If you don't know what's going on, the story still makes sense... but if you recognize Elmutt, that scene seals Dashif's fate.
- Clingy MacGuffin: The magical garment in Cenedwine Brocade. It can't be lost, stolen, or sold. It is possible to gamble it away, but only in a contest that requires skill as well as luck- if it's left purely to luck, the brocade's magic will interfere to keep it with the current owner.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Silvertop.
- Crosscast Role: Several actors, since Liavekan theatre doesn't divide roles by gender.
- The Dragon: Dashif is this to Resh, although Resh is neither evil enough nor plot-important enough to be the Big Bad of the series.
- Exact Words: Be very careful asking Elmutt a question.
- Fantasy Contraception: Worrynot, which can be eaten raw or brewed as a tea, is an infallible contraceptive for men, women, and cats. Tastes awful, though.
- Fantasy Gun Control: Averted, mostly. There are guns, and although they're said to be unreliable, most people shoot what they're aiming at. However, it's entirely possible to use magic to prevent guns from working, as established in the very first story.
- Freaky Friday Flip: In "A Well-Made Plan", Silvertop's spell accidentally switches his mind with Koseth's...the day that Koseth is kidnapped by old enemies. Bad move all the way around.
- Gender Is No Object: Liavek is like this, and possibly Tichen and Ka Zhir as well. The exceptions so far are Ombaya (matriarchy) and one Farlander country that has an all-male military.
- Happily Married: Verdialos and Etriae.
- He Is Not My Boyfriend: Thyan claims something in this line regarding the Cloudcuckoolander magician Silvertop, unconvincingly.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: The entire street of Wizards' Row may or may not be in its usual location (or anywhere else) depending on whether the wizards want business just then. No one can ever find it on a holiday.
- Magic A Is Magic A: The whole "birth luck" system, which remains fairly consistent despite the complexities.
- Miles to Go Before I Sleep: The House of Responsible Life is a religion built around this trope. They seek to rid themselves of all earthly reponsibilities before actually killing themselves. Very few of them succeed. The only Green Priests who actually get around to committing suicide in the story are Verdialos and Etriae. Nerissa seems to be moving out of this trope as the series ends.
- Never Mess with Granny: Granny Carry.
- No Ontological Inertia: Spells last only until the magician's luck is released, either on the magician's birthday or when his or her luck object is destroyed. When they're undone, things generally go back to how they were- or even worse. For this reason, mixing magic with medical practice is not recommended.
- Odd Job Gods: Bree Amal, Goddess of Keepers of Disorderly Houses, and Ghologhosh, God of Small Curses. (Rikiki is once referred to as the god of chipmunks, but he probably isn't.)
- Oh My Gods: "Kosker and Pharn!" (whatever they are), "By the Red Faith!". Also "By the Levar's future tits," and "Rikiki's nuts." (That last probably refers to literal nuts, although it's still a Double Entendre.)
- POV Sequel: Twice, although both were story pairs in the same volume. "Mad God" retells the events of the Benedicti family story "The Last Part of the Tragical History of Acrilat" from Granny Carry's point of view, and "Act of Trust"/"Show of Faith" are likewise the same set of events from Dashif's and Jolesha's POV respectively.
- Reality Subtext: In-story example. In "The Last Part of the Tragical History of Acrilat", Deleon writes a play about a family that has a great deal in common with his own. The terrifying priest-queen is his mother, the poetry-reading and ineffective king his father, the younger royal siblings are himself and his favorite sister (different in personality from their templates because he was basing them partially on the actors he wanted to have play them), and two older royal siblings who represent the combined personal flaws of Deleon's two older brothers and three of his older sisters.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Despite the difficulties of using birth luck magic to preserve one's life (when by definition no spell lasts longer than a year, and anyone who creates a magical artifact loses their powers for good), a lot of the powerful magicians are several hundred years old, including Trav Marik, Gogoaniskithli, the Ka'Riatha, and some of the Tichenese magicians as well. It can be accomplished in one of two ways: have a partner you trust enough to maintain your youth during your luck period (Trav and Gogo prove to be doing this and she still does it for him after they break up); or you can use someone else's artifact of immortality.
- Secret Diary: There's a weird example in Book 3. One of the more sympathetic Benedictis steals her sister's diary in the hopes of finding out why she's been acting so weird lately, only to find that it's written in a language she doesn't know. She takes it to an older relative for translation, and said relative refuses with great indignation. Up until she got that reaction, it didn't occur to her that what she was doing was questionable at all.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Granny Carry/Karhi.
- Story-Breaker Power: If you ask Elmutt a question, an answer to that question will become true. By the end of the story he stars in, the answer that becomes true is always the most benevolent. For obvious reasons, his existence is ignored almost completely for the rest of the series. Of course, if the person asking the question isn't careful with the wording, or doesn't know what's going on...
Dashif: Will she kill me quickly or slowly?
- Sword Cane: Granny Carry.
- Throw It In: Deleon's writing process, apparently. In an effort to control who is cast as the evil queen (It Makes Sense in Context), he promises to make her bright blue. Then he has to make this integral to the plot, so the company manager won't throw it out...
- The Unfavorite: Nerissa Benedicti.
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Nerissa is able to see what her cat sees. Since she has no other power over the cat, and since it is a perfectly ordinary cat in all other respects, she doesn't find this very useful.