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Quite a few years ago, a person of my Internet acquaintance, who is known on the Net as The Plaid Adder, started writing one of the best fantasy series I have ever read. It grew to five volumes - a tight trilogy (Taken Child, Another Country and Darkness Bright), a sequel (Redemption) and a prequel (Better to Burn) - and it is in my opinion a great sadness that none of the books were ever published.

I've never really understood why my acquaintance was never able to get these published, unless it was that they were written from a deeply feminist perspective, featured mostly female protagonists, a goodly number of whom were lesbians, and provided, along with compelling stories well-written about interesting and fully realised characters, serious critiques about just about every aspect of Western culture and society, an invitation to really think seriously about things like love, good and evil, materialism and progress, religion, and other core stuff of life, and a meta-narrative about the process of creation. Plus, the core trilogy is somewhat of a genre-bender, encompassing elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, romance and political satire, and while this kind of blurring of the boundaries has recently come more into vogue, it wasn't as salable back when these books were written.

I was fortunate enough to read these books chapter by chapter as they were written, and then to acquire printed copies of the complete and edited volumes from the author - which I of course reread. Then came my increasing environmental sensitivities, which made my treasured spiro-bound print copies unreadable. But now the author is distributing the novels as ebooks to those who know where to ask for them, and I've had the absolute delight of starting to reread these books again.

The first volume I reread was Taken Child, which introduces the land of Ideire and its low-tech, telepathy and magic-reliant culture, its somewhat eccentric semi-deity Idair and her nemesis the Dark One, the women-only order of magic-using clerics known as shriia who follow Idair and serve the people of Ideire, and their enemies, the female dark users of magic who receive their power from the Dark One.

At the centre of the trilogy is Theamh ni hUlnach, a shriia - albeit a somewhat unconventional one. In Taken Child, we meet as she goes about her duties, including the training of her apprentice Aine. In the course of this, she is sought out by a woman whose child has suffered the supernatural theft of its soul. In the process of trying to save the child, Theamh uncovers a horrifying secret linked to both an old enemy and a long-lost love, and a corrupt plot that threatens the very future of Ideire.

The second volume of the trilogy, Another Country, sees Theamh and Aine following the tracks of Theamh's nemesis, Lythril, into the neighbouring, technology-reliant Cretid Nation, which is in many ways a dystopic distillation of much that is wrong with our own society, as civil war erupts at home. A deft blend of heroic quest, political thriller, biting satire, and poignant love story, Another Country is genre-bending at its best.

The final volume, Darkness Bright, sees Theamh and Aine returned to an Ideire in chaos. They join up with the resistance - both martial and magical - fighting corrupt shriia and their secular allies who have overthrown the legitimate leadership of the country. An unflinching portrayal of the horrors and sacrifices made in war and the tragedy of a country torn apart by lies and greed, Darkness Bright is also a story of courage, commitment to the good, and enduring love.

If anything in what I've written here seems interesting to you, the author can be contacted on tumblr as

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I've been feeling rather poorly for a large portion of the year, and when I get that way, I seek comfort reading. There are certain books - mostly fantasy - that I re-read again and again for comfort. This year I've been turning to Katherine Kurtz and Mercedes Lackey when things get rough and I want something familiar that pushes my buttons in comfortable ways. So far, the comfort reading re-read list:

Katherine Kurtz:
Deryni Rising, Deryni Checkmate, High Deryni
The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice, The Quest for Saint Camber
King Kelson's Bride
The Deryni Archives

Mercedes Lackey:
Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, Magic's Price
Winds of Fate, Winds of Change, Winds of Fury

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The Children of Kings (pub. 2013), focuses on Gareth Marius-Danvan Elhalyn y Hastur, the oldest son of Dani Hastur and Miralys Elhalyn, grandson of Regis Hastur and Linnea Storn. Last seen in Traitor's Sun as an angry adolescent manipulated by Javanne Hastur and Francisco Ridenow, Gareth has grown to be a more tempered young man, chafing as others of his kin have done before him at the restrictions placed on a Comyn Heir. As heir to Elhalyn, he is destined to inherit a wholly honorary title. Thanks to years of inbreeding and other misfortunes, the Elhalyn line is seen as being tainted by mental instability and a lack of intelligence. Thanks to his youthful mistake in listening to Javanne, many see him as either weak-willed and easy to manipulate, or a potential traitor. He longs to prove himself, to be useful, and to get away from sycophants hoping to entangle him in their marital or political schemes.

The novel begins with the departure of Mikhail and Marguerida on holiday to Armida. After seeing them off, Gareth inadvertently "overhears" snippets of a telepathic conversation between his cousin Domenic, acting Regent in Mikhail's absence, and Danilo Syrtis, advisor now to three generations of Hasturs. Domenic, who possesses a previously unknown form of laran which can sense geological activity, has perceived unusual tremors which may have been caused by the landing of a spacecraft.

Curiosity aroused, Gareth follows Domenic and Danilo as they slip out of the Castle, and observes their meeting with a Dry-Town merchant who appears to be their agent. Suddenly embarrassed over spying on his friends and seeing something he ought not to have seen, he wanders aimlessly around Thendara before, ending up in the city's caravanserai quarter - where he is struck with the idea of running away to Carthon, to be free of his life for a while and to see something of life. When he encounters the trader he saw meeting with Domenic and Danilo, he makes up a cover story and asks to travel with him.

Two days later, with only his grandmother Linnea and a household retainer having any idea of where he is headed, Gareth sets out on his adventure.

In Carthon, staying with the merchant Cyrillon (who has received a message from Danilo Syrtis alerting him to Gareth's identity) he hears rumors suggesting that Terrans have landed in the desert and are trading with the tribes for blasters. Cyrillon is equally concerned by this and agrees to take Gareth to Shainsa. Gareth is guided into the desert region that appears to be the source of these rumours by Cyrillon's daugher Rahelle, who travels with her father disguised as a young boy apprentice.

When he discovers the landing site of a group of offworlders, Gareth attempts to persuade them not to trade blasters to the local tribespeople. They dismiss his concerns, but take him on as a labourer. He learns that they are arms smugglers intending to use Darkover as a base for rendez-vous with customers - mostly planets rebelling against the remains of the Federation, now known as The Nagy Star Alliance. He also discovers that the blasters are no more than cheap trade goods, obsolete and nearly depleted.

Meanwhile, Linnea has discovered that the reclusive Silvana, Keeper of Nevarsin Tower is in fact her long-lost daughter Kierestelli - who believes that Regis and Linnea abandoned her, and wants no personal contact with Linnea. While Linnea mourns losing her daughter a second time, Silvana, in emotional turmoil, returns to the chieri who raised her. There she learns that Regis had in fact returned many times to look for her after the threat to her was over, but that her foster-parent had "closed the Forest against him" for reasons that are not entirely clear. She also learns that the chieri are aware of Terran spaceships near Darkover, and fear that eventually Terran ships will return to wreak horrible destruction on the planet. They give her a special starstone, a heartstone, imbued with memories of the chieri, and tell her to use it to contact them when the need is greatest. Silvana then returns to Nevasin.

What especially pleased me about this section is that Silvana's visit shows us what happened to s'Keral and David Hamilton from The World Wreckers. They are both living in the Yellow Forest, though David is now quite old - and s'Keral is pregnant again. More, their first child Lian is also pregnant.

Back in the Desert, a party of warriors from Shainsa led by Hayat, the son of the Lord of Shainsa arrives at the smugglers' camp seeking blasters, and Gareth acts as the go-between in negotiations, which take several unfortunate turns. When a message reaches the smugglers from their client that they are being tracked by a former Federation warship, the smugglers decide to abandon camp, leaving behind the "trade goods" for the Shainsa warriors. The captain gives Gareth a warning: "Get clear of this base but stay away from any place that has a space port. I know there’s one up toward the big mountain range. When the sharks catch up with the Castor Sector ships, they’ll like as not decide the rebels have set up a base there. The way things are going, they’ll bomb first and ask questions later.”

After the smugglers leave, Hayat takes the blasters, but before heading back to Shainsa, he takes a Dry-Town religious amulet Gareth is wearing - actually a hiding Place for his starstone - saying that in working for the Terrans, he disgraced his faith. Hayat and his men ride off, leaving Gareth reeling from the effects of losing contact with his matrix. Even so, he knows that even if he does not survive to see Thendara again, the Domains must be warned of these dual threats from Shainsa and from space. Trying desperately to reach Linnea, he instead manages to send the warnings to Silvana in a dream - demonstrating that he, like Silvana, carries the Hastur gift of the living matrix. Silvana passes what she has perceived on to Linnea, who realises that the message comes from Gareth.

Rahelle takes Gareth back to Shainsa, where her father waits for them, but once there, Gareth decides to challenge Hayat for his amulet, and also to accuse him of bringing useless weapons to his father, in the hope that he can dissuade the Lord from going to war against the domains. He mortally wounds Hayat, thus proving his challenge, and takes back his starstone - which he then uses to save Hayat's life, as explosions in the skies speak of battle in near space.

Back in Thendara, Jeram, whom we met in The Alton Gift, has received a distress call from a rebel ship, the Grissom - the smugglers' customer. Damaged in a fight with a Star Alliance ship (which they destroyed), they need to set down to make repairs, and present themselves as allies. Domenic, acting Regent as Mikhail is still on holiday, offers them sanctuary as long as they respect Darkovan neutrality and Darkovan law - including the Compact. The Captain of the Grissom reluctantly agrees.

Not long after they land, a warship from The Star Alliance hails them, demanding the Grissom. When Domenic asserts Darkovan neutrality, the starship refuses to recognise it, and gives them an hour to reconsider before the city is destroyed along with the Grissom. As the Comyn Tower circle prepares to attempt to destroy the ship, Linnea contacts Silvana to say good-bye. Silvana, knowing that no human telepath circle can succeed, uses the heartstone to contact the chieri, who are able to disarm the battleship, rendering it incapable of attacking Darkover. The ship retreats from Darkovan space.

As the novel ends, all three children of kings - Domenic, Silvana and Gareth - are together in Thendara, celebrating Midsummer as kin. Gareth resigns his claim to the Elhalyn Domain and the kingship, to be a liason between Domains and DryTowns - and to be free to marry Rahelle.

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Hastur Lord (pub. 2010) credited to both Bradley and Deborah J. Ross, but published a decade after Bradley's death, is one of the weakest of all the Darkover novels, at least in my opinion. Ross has said that she worked from a disorganised draft Bradley had produced after suffering several strokes, and that she believed Bradley had intended it as a rewrite of The World Wreckers. Certainly, after the sense of a new age coming that Ross gave us with the Alton Gift, it was rather disappointing to go back to a time well before those events, for no discernible reason.

It introduces (retroactively) a few new characters who will be important in the novels set during the era of Mikhail Lanart-Hastur's term as Regent - notably Francisco Ridenow and Kierestelli Storn - and sets up the beginning of the next major conflict between Terrans and Darkovans, but the main plotline is totally unnecessary, and relies on a great deal of out-of character behaviour on the part of both Regis Hastur and Danilo Syrtis.

First, the important stuff. It's set about ten years after the events of The World Wreckers, and about fifteen years before the events of Exile's Song. The Terran Empire is going through a major sea change in structure, leadership and philosophy. Now called the Terran Federation, it seeks to end the days of protected planets. As Lew Alton, still the Darkovan Senator, says in a message to Regis:
You will undoubtedly hear propaganda about how the new Federation will extend autonomy to all member worlds, increase interstellar cooperation, and promote free trade—all the persuasive phrases that people want to hear. Even people on Darkover. Don't fall for it, Regis. This whole process is a power grab by the Expansionist party. They want free access to developing worlds, and they've as much as admitted that their goal is to bring an end to what they call special privileges and protected status.
The political situation on Darkover is not promising. Between Sharra and the World Wreckers, the Comyn are nearly leaderless; those who survive are divided between those who want to become full members of the Terran Federation - led by Valdir Ridenow - and those who want as little contact as possible. The Telepath Council set up by Regis is unable to function as a governing body. If there is any real governing authority anywhere on Darkover, it is Regis himself.

On to the plot. The dying Danvan Hastur reveals that Regis has an older, illegitimate brother named Rinaldo who was shipped off to the Nevarsin monks at the age of three. Regis visits him, and despite the fact that Rinaldo is clearly the most unctuous and hypocritical creature you can imagine, oozing with jealousy and envy and spite, brings him home to Thendara and has him legitimated. Valdir Ridenow sees in Rinaldo an opportunity to mold Darkover's future. Believing that he will be able to manipulate Rinaldo, Valdir plots with him to force Regis to abdicate by holding Danilo and Mikhail - Regis' nephew and designated heir - hostage. Regis agrees, and Mikhail is freed, but Danilo remains a prisoner.

Valdir has misjudged his pawn, however. Rinaldo, seeing in his sudden accession to power the hand of God, embarks on a plan to purge sin and impurity from all of Darkover. Forming an alliance with Terran Legate Dan Lawton's wife Tiphani, a fanatical devotee of a religious group with links to the same church that was the foundation of the cristoforos, Rinaldo begins to enforce his own religious beliefs across the Domains.

He forces Regis to marry Linnea Storn - the mother of his daughter Kierestelli (who has been sent off to live with the chieri for her safety) and his unborn son Danilo - by threatening to have Danilo Syrtis killed. As his fanaticism increases, he has Comyn children taken from their families to be raised in the "true" faith. Regis finds and releases the children - a situation complicated by the arrival of Terran Spaceforce soldiers seeking to free Dan Lawton's son Felix, who has been taken from the Terran Zone by Tiphani.

Returning to Comyn Castle, he gathers whatever members of the Comyn he can find and challenges Rinaldo's kingship, but before anything can be decided, Tiphani tries to assassinate Regis and Rinaldo sacrifices his own life to save his brother. End of silly plot, press reset button but political situation remains dire.

What annoyed me the most about Hastur Lord was the total inability of all these telepaths to communicate. Regis and Danilo have spent at least 20 years together as friends and lovers, but they still doubt each other's love and haven't really talked about the fact that some day Regis must marry, and it must be someone he cares about or it's going to be pointless? Danilo still doesn't know he'll always be the one? And how is it that Regis is so blind to his brother's faults - and discounts Danilo's warnings as mere jealousy? How do they not trust each other completely after being open to each other, mind to mind, all these years? And then there's Regis' blunders with Linnea, who he's been in a relationship with before. None of this works, and that makes the book a grave disappointment, despite its solid pro-diversity stance.

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The Alton Gift (pub. 2007), written by Deborah J. Ross from notes by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is the first book to deal with Darkover in the post-Terran era - and things are not good.

Darkover has clearly suffered in the three years since the departure of the Terrans. Only a generation has passed since the assault of the world wreckers, and the planet's ecology is still too fragile to sustain even the slightest of injuries. Forest fires have ravaged the hill areas, but without access to the fire-fighting chemicals of the Terrans, and with the numbers of Tower-trained leroni too depleted to fight fires in the old-fashioned way, with laran, whole villages have been destroyed, their inhabitants reduced to wandering the roads in search of work. The economy is faltering. And, harkening back to the very first Darkovan novel, a new strain of trailman's fever has appeared - and this time, the trailmen are dying of it too.

Not surprisingly, social unrest has reached levels previously unknown on Darkover. With the Comyn no longer able to uphold its part in the ancient feudal bargain, the social fabric of Darkovan culture is fraying. Added to this is the legacy of the self-imposed isolation that Regis Hastur adopted for himself and his kin after the wave of assassination attempts engineered by the world wreckers, which distanced the Comyn leaders from the people, and the effects of the Terran attempts to foment revolt through political satires spread by their agents among the Travellers.

Meanwhile, Lew Alton is having a crisis of conscience over his use of the Alton Gift to muddle the memories of the Terrans who survived the battle on the Old North Road. On the advice of Danilo Syrtis, he retires to the home of the cristoforo monks at Nevarsin where he hopes to find some peace of mind. Instead, he is directly confronted with his actions when the Keeper of Neskaya asks for his help in dealing with a Terran experiencing the awakening of latent laran as a result of being subjected to forced rapport. The Terran, Jeremiah Reed - now calling himself Joram - had remained on Darkover when the others were evacuated, and is, of course, one of those who attacked the funeral cortege. Lew restores his memories, helps him learn to control his laran, in the process both of them find a degree of healing and redemption - for Joram, a former biotechnician tasked with creating bioweapons, has his own demons to settle.

As the scene shifts from the Hellers to Thendara, Joram - and the knowledge that Lew and Marguerida have misused their power - falls into the hands of Mikhail Lanart-Hastur's enemy, Francisco Ridenow. With the Comyn Council in session, Francisco brings Joram to a council meeting, intending to use his story as a reason to challenge Mikhail's leadership. When Joram, despite being drugged, refuses to accuse Marguerida and Lew, Francisco declares blood feud against Mikhail. In the ensuing duel, Francisco is killed but not before he manages to wound Mikhail with a poisoned blade.

With Mikhail in a laran-induced coma to prolong his life in the hope that he will be able to fight off the effects of poison, Domenic convinces the Council to accept him as Acting Warden of Hastur and Regent in his father's place. Almost immediately he is faced with his first crisis - the trailmen's fever outbreak is spreading.

Under Domenic's leadership, The effort to save the people of Darkover from the plague brings together the diverse elements of society - Renunciate healers, Tower-trained leroni, matrix technicians from outside of the Towers, others of the Comyn, to nurse the already infected. Meanwhile, Joram, Marguerida, and some of those Darkovans who had once worked for the Terrans work to find a vaccine or treatment, drawing on Joram's knowledge and the records of the last outbreak of the fever.

In the end, it takes both Terran bioscience and Darkovan to create a vaccine from the blood of a plague survivor, but the process is difficult for the leroni involved, and it seems impossible to make enough in time to prevent the plague from killing off most of the population. Marguerida makes a desperate attempt, drawing on all the potential of her shadow matrix, to create enough vaccine to begin a treatment program - but in so doing, her consciousness is trapped in the Overworld, and none of the leroni are able to find her and bring her back to her body.

Domenic then makes his own desperate act, and joins the hands of his mother and father, both unreachable by any normal laran contact. While this allows Marguerida and Mikhail to find each other in the Overworld, it is Domenic who brings them back to the physical plane after they have healed each other with the power of Varzil's ring.

As the novel ends, the epidemic is under control, and the changes brought about by the need to find a cure are starting to ripple through the fabric of Darkovan society.

Darkover is changing, and so is the cast of characters that readers had grown used to over so many novels. Regis Hastur, who was introduced in the first Darkover novel Bradley wrote, died in The Traitor's Sun. The Alton Gift sees the passing of both Javanne Hastur and her husband Gabriel. Lew Alton suffers a heart attack, reminding readers that his days too are numbered. Marilla Lindir-Aillard succumbed to the plague. Yet as the old guard passes, Dominic Alton-Hastur is coming into his own as the heir to the Regency. And a new political landscape has been formed, with formerly unacknowledged nedestro heirs to the dwindling Domains - including Domenic's lover Illona Ardais (formerly Rider) - taking their places beside the remaining members of the older Comyn lines, and a Keeper's Council formed to advise the Comyn. Joram is teaching Terran science to a selected group of Darkovan students, with the goal of preparing for the eventual return of the Federation. The stage is set for the next stage of the Darkovan story.

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Traitor's Sun (pub. 1998) - the last Darkover novel published during Marion Zimmer Bradley's lifetime - is now generally credited to Adrienne Martine-Barnes, working with notes from Bradley.

It is this novel that changes everything about Darkover. In all the novels set in "present" time to this point, one of the key themes has been how to maintain a relationship between the technologically-based, galaxy-spanning Terran Empire/Federation and the planet-bound, laran-using, low-tech culture of Darkover. There have been changes, but for about a century, this dance between independence and reliance has been a major concern for both Darkovan rulers and Terran administrators. Now everything is changing.

The novel opens fifteen years after the events of The Shadow Matrix. Hermes Aldaran, the Darkovan Appointee to the Federation Senate, wakens out of nightmare - which he quickly realises is in fact a manifestation of the Aldaran gift. Trying to focus on the details, he "hears" the leader of the Expansionist party making an announcement that he knows will pose a serious threat to protected worlds like Darkover:
“I cannot permit the functioning of the Federation government to remain at a halt any longer,” Herm heard at last. “Since it is clear that the opposition is determined to hold the legislature hostage to their own inexplicable and selfish goals, I have no choice but to dissolve both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies until such time as new elections can be held and order restored.”
As Herm tries to determine for himself what this will mean, his thoughts reveal to the reader that much has changed for the worse over the past fifteen years. Both the living conditions and travel rights of both ordinary people and politicians have been curtailed - in fact, even Senators are only allowed one trip home every five years, for elections. All citizens are subjects of constant surveillance: "Like every other person on the planet, he was subject to constant observation. And there was nothing he could do about it, since disabling the spy eyes that watched and listened was a serious offense." Infrastructure and social and cultural programs are being ignored, while military spending is increasing: "New taxes had been passed for all member planets of the Federation, to build a fleet of dreadnaughts, great fighting ships, when there was no foe to defend against. Some worlds had protested, and even tried to rebel, and combat troops had been sent in to 'keep order.'"

Herm knows that this spells the beginning of a time of political and upheaval, perhaps even civil war, for the Federation, and that he, his family, and all of Darkover are in danger: "A handful of worlds were simmering on the edge of rebellion, and when the Premier disbanded the legislature, at least one of them would use it as an excuse to try to break with the Federation. He understood that, but he could not be sure that Nagy did."

Long aware that he might need an emergency exit strategy, Herm triggers the hidden programs that will enable him to leave at once for Darkover, when he realises that his gift has one more disaster to reveal - something has happened to Regis Hastur.

Herm and his family reach Darkover safely, only hours before Regis succumbs to the stroke which had incapacitated him a few days before - news which is being kept from both the populace and from the Terrans on Darkover, now commanded by Station Chief Lyle Belfontaine. Belfontaine has been plotting since his arrival to find a way to force Darkover into becoming a full member of the Federation - a change which he hoped would lead to his appointment as Planetary Governor. But now his plans are threatened by orders from Terra, announcing the closure of the spaceport in thirty days.

As the Comyn gather for Regis' funeral and burial at the rhu fead, Marguerida and Mikhail's oldest son Domenic (called Nico) discovers, purely by accident, that the Terrans have placed spies among the Travellers, that the Terrans now know of Regis' death, and that they are contemplating an attempt tp assassinate all of the Comyn during the burial procession. When Mikhail learns of this, he dispatches Herm - the least likely of his advisors to be recognised - to join Nico and continue surveillance.

Herm and Nico find further indications that the Terrans are planning some kind of intervention with the intent of destabilising Comyn rule. Mikhail calls a Council meeting, at which several members, including his own mother Javanne, question his fitness to succeed Regis - a conversation cut short by the remarkable appearance of Regis' spirit, returned from the Overworld with the aid of Varzil. Mikhail then informs the Council of the likelihood that the Terrans will attack the funeral procession on the way to the rhu fead.

The day following the funeral of Regis Hastur, the funeral procession set forth for the Rhu fead, leaving behind a group of defenders - including Lew and the telepaths of Arilinn Tower - in the event of an attack on the Castle. Mikhail and Marguerida ride with the procession, the long line of coaches carrying not the women and children of the Comyn, but armed Guardsmen, in addition to those riding openly with the procession.

The attacks come as expected. In Thendara, the telepaths, working through Lew and his gift of forced rapport, amplified by giant matrix screens embedded in the walls over the front gates, overwhelm the minds of the force arrayed against the castle, so that each soldier is faced with what he fears most. Thus made vulnerable, the Terrans - including Lyle Belfontaine - are easily taken captive by the Guardsman. The battle on the Old North Road is bloodier and more deadly. The Terrans, dressed as bandits, attack with blasters. Marguerida and Mikhail are able to protect most of the Darkovans with their combined power, but there is fighting, both with laran, and hand-to-hand, with deaths on both sides.

Afterwards, Lew and Marguerida use the Alton gift to blur the memories of the surviving Terrans, and when the last of the Big Ships finally comes to evacuate them, they leave without remembering how they were defeated. And for a time, the relationship between Darkover and the other children of Terra is ended.

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What I call the Marja and Mikhail trilogy - Exile's Song (pub. 1996), The Shadow Matrix (pub. 1997) and Traitor's Sun (pub. 1998) - was originally credited to Marion Zimmer Bradley when first published, although Adrienne Martine-Barnes was mentioned as having worked on the books with Bradley. In later editions, however, and on the MZB Literary Trust website, Martine-Barnes is now listed as the author of all three books, suggesting that Bradley's contribution was limited, due no doubt to her ill health.

The first two novels - Exile's Song and The Shadow Matrix - are essentially parts one and two of the same story. They deal with the return of Margaret Alton - the daughter of Lew Alton and part-chieri Thyra Darriel - to Darkover, and her relationship with Mikhail Lanart-Hastur, son of Gabriel Lanart-Alton and Javanne Hastur, and Regis Hastur's adopted heir.

In Exile's Song, Margaret Alton (also known as Marja or Marguerida), comes home to Darkover. Estranged from her father since she left her home on the planet Thetis to attend University, Margaret is a musicologist. Together with her mentor, Ivor Davidson, she has come to survey Darkover's musical traditions. Sadly, just days after they arrive, Ivor dies suddenly of a heart attack, and Margaret is left to continue his research alone - if she can, on a planet as relentlessly patriarchal as Darkover.

From the moment she lands, Margaret finds parts of her long-suppressed childhood surfacing, often with unexpected consequences. She is also thrown headlong into the complex politics of Darkover, since she is the heiress to the powerful Alton Domain, which has been under the Wardenship of Gabriel Lanart-Alton since her father Lew's departure from Darkover - and Gabriel is loathe to relinquish his position and power.

Travelling in the Hellers with a Renunciate guide, Margaret is struck down with a severe case of threshold fever as her long-dormant laran awakens. Rafaella takes her to the nearby Ardais estate. While struggling with her new abilities, Margaret realises that as a child she was overshadowed by the long-dead Keeper Ashara; she confronts Ashara in a psychic battle in the Overworld, and destroys Ashara's tower there, breaking the ancient leronis' power over her - but in doing so, the patterns within the great matrix at the heart of Ashara's Tower are branded into the flesh of her hand. While recovering from her illness, Margaret meets - and is deeply attracted to - Mikhail, who currently serves as young Dyan Ardais' paxman.

When Margaret's kinsman Gabriel arrives and demands that she return to Armida, she is at first inclined to ignore him and leave Darkover, when her father urges her telepathically to go to Armida.

While fending off pressure from Gabriel and his wife Javanne to accept a proposal from one of their older sons, Margaret discovers just how powerful and dangerous her laran is - woken by one of Gabriel's grandchildren, she accidentally uses the Alton Voice and sends the child's spirit into the Overworld. She also discovers that she has the Alderan gift of seeing the future, when she sees danger ahead for another of the children - which so distresses the child's mother that she insists on leaving Armida with her husband and family in the face of a growing storm. The child is gravely wounded in a carriage accident.

In the midst of this turmoil, Lew arrives at Armida, having given up his Senate seat and returned to Darkover with his dying wife, Diotima Ridenow, and brings Margaret back with him to Thendara.

The novel ends with Regis Hastur announcing that he is reforming the Comyn Council, and appointing Mikhail Regent of Elhalyn, in the absence of any suitable heirs.

The Shadow Matrix begins shortly after the conclusion of Exile's Song. Marguerida - as Margaret Alton is now called - is at Arilinn, but her training is not going well. Unable to tolerate the high-level matrices for long periods of time, she is living in a guest-house. An adult of a decidedly independent and questioning nature, she is surrounded by other trainees who mistrust and fear her, and teachers who have no idea of how to deal with her. Thanks to Lew, she is able to go instead to Neskaya, where Istvana, the leronis who helped her during her threshold sickness, is Keeper.

Meanwhile, Mikhail has been sent to test the laran potential of the last of the Elhalyn line; he discovers their mother deranged and in the thrall of an unethical leronis, her children neglected and emotionally damaged. Temporarily enthralled himself, he finally confronts the leronis, freeing the children, although their mother dies. He returns to Thendara with the children, but must report to Regis that none of the boys are capable of assuming the Elhalyn kingship - the two oldest are damaged too severely from their experiences, and Emun, the youngest, is frail and without laran. The girls, however, have better chances for a future, as Valenta has considerable laran, and Miralys has already attracted the attentions of Dani Hastur, Regis' son.

Regis has been matchmaking for political gain - he has invited Lord Damon Aldaran and his daughter Gisela to Thendara, hoping that Mikhail can be persuaded to marry her, an alliance that would bring Aldaran back into the Comyn Domains. Mikhail suggests to Regis that one of his older brothers would be a better match.

Both Mikhail and Marguerida - who have been in frequent telepathic content throughout these events - have been hearing a strange voice calling to them, speaking of Hali and Midwinter, underlying the eerie portent of the time they both saw the Tower of Hali, undamaged, on their journey together from Armida to Thendara.

Marguerida comes to Thendara for Midwinter, and on the night of the Ball in Comyn Castle, the voice commands them to go to Hali immediately, while some unknown force holds the others motionless and unable to prevent their departure. Racing to Hali, they find the Tower seemingly undamaged again, and entering it, are drawn into the past, to the time of Varzil - and Ashara.

Varzil is dying, and he dares not allow his matrix - which is both powerful and enhanced - to fall into Ashara's hands. He has called Marguerida and Mikhail into the past because they are in some way similar to the people who would have been his allies and successors, had they lived. Instead, it is Mikhail who receives Varzil's matrix, in a ceremony in which he and Marguerida are married di catenas.

After the wedding, Varzil vanishes, after giving Mikhail a final message to they must return to the rhu fead, the repository of powerful artefacts at Hali, in forty days. After foiling the plan of a local lord to start a nuclear war with laran-refined uranium, they flee to Hali, plunging into the strange substance that fills the lake there in order to escape pursuit. When they emerge, they find Ashara there, but they enter the rhu fead and return to their own time, to learn that only hours have passed.

With their marriage an established fact - and with Marguerida a month into a pregnancy that did not exist the day before - most of the Comyn eventually accept their account of what happened. When Dani Hastur, Regis' son, declares his love for Miralys and his opposition to being his father's heir, Regis declares him the heir to Elhalyn, and appoints Mikhail his heir. Marguerida renounces her claim to the Alton Domain in favour of her kinsman Gabriel, and it is decided that Istvana of Neskaya will come to Thendara to reform a Keeper's circle there, and to train Marguerida and Mikhail. And using her new understanding of her powers, Marguerida is able to partially cure her step-mother Diotima, giving her parents a few more years together.

And thus the new generation - Mikhail and Marguerida, Dani and Miralys, and other young Comyn - is set in place to begin the next phase of Darkover's history.

These two books are significant in the story of Darkover because they signal the coming end (at least for now - who knows what might happen if the series continues to grow in other hands) of the period of contact between the Terrans and the people of Darkover. Looked at in order by internal chronology, the relationship has seen many changes between the events of Rediscovery and those of Exile's Song and The Shadow Matrix. On the Terran side, there was a tension for many years between a policy of allowing planets like Darkover to choose the nature and extent of their ties to the Terran Empire, and a desire to exploit whatever the planet might have to offer, for profit, or for the use of the Empire. On the Darkovan side, the predominant response to the presence of the Terrans - held to firmly by successive generations of Hasturs - has been a desire to minimise contact and preserve Darkovan culture, while at the same time selectively and cautiously incorporating certain technologies and perspectives that will benefit the people of Darkover - though there has always been a faction that sought to fully embrace Terran technology and culture.

As Exile's Song begins, the Terran Empire is in difficulty. Most of the easily habitable planets within the sphere of the Empire's galactic reach have been discovered and colonised. Population pressure continues to push for new colonies, but unclaimed real estate is becoming hard to find and expensive to develop. The Expansionist Party is pushing for austerity on the one hand, and opening up to new settlements and development the various protected worlds - such as Darkover. As Lew Alton explains in Exile's Song:
"There are a number of parties in the Federation at present, but the largest are the Expansionist Party and the Liberals. For the past several decades, the Liberals, who believe that planets should choose the sort of government they wish, have been the majority in both houses. Now this has changed. There are just barely enough votes in the Senate to prevent the Expansionists from changing policy so that the needs of the Federation take precedence over the wishes of any individual planet. If the Expansionists have their way, no world will be safe from the greed of the Terrans."
By the time of the events of The Shadow Matrix, the Terran Federation is clearly having problems. Marguerida learns from Ida Davidson, who has come to Darkover to retrieve her husband's body, that grant and positions are being cut at the University, and that travel in the Federation, especially to Protected worlds such as Darkover, has become difficult to arrange and uncomfortable to experience. Even more troubling, when she goes to the spaceport to meet Ida, she finds security has been tightened in response to an uprising on another Protected planet. When she discusses these things with Lew, he responds:
"The Federation is starting to crack, Marguerida. It is too large to govern, and those who imagine they can run it are deluded. What is needed is not a return to the greedy policies of the past, but instead a whole new form of government, instead of the muddle we have now, a patchwork of agreements that no longer serve. Only the vision is lacking. The Terranan have expanded their horizons without enlarging their imaginations."
Later, Rafe Scott - Marguerida's uncle, and a Captain in the Terran spaceforce, talks about the changes he is seeing in attitudes toward the Protected worlds:
"The Federation does not like having protected planets that it cannot order about, and there are rumors that all the Protectorates will be changed soon. It is a ploy to force places like Darkover to give up their status and become full members, and they can do it, too. ... Quite simple, really. Stop trade, ruin the economy for a generation, and then come in and take over."
Meanwhile, running through the books is a hint that there is growing discontent among the people of Darkover, most notably in the growing presence of the Travellers - itinerant entertainers whose offerings increasingly include satire.
They came to Thendara during the Midsummer and Midwinter Festivals, and the rest of the time they drove around the countryside, offering their entertainments in the smaller cities, and at places like Armida. His father did not approve of them, saying quite truthfully, that they were not respectable folk. But Mikhail found their little plays, which satirized lord and farmer with equal generosity, very amusing. He had wondered about them a few times, since they were a relatively recent development.
These glimpses into the larger state of things, embedded as they are in what is otherwise a highly personal and largely character-driven narrative, set up the dramatic changes to come in the next novel, TheTraitor's Sun.

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Rediscovery (co-written by MZB and Mercedes Lackey, pub. 1993) tells the story of the rediscovery of the planet Darkover by the Terran Empire, more than 2,000 years after the original colonists crashed there. The crew of the survey ship that finds the planet try to follow basic First Contact rules, but when the flyer they send down to make an exploratory visit crashes during a storm in the Hellers, and the powerful young leronis Leonie Hastur senses their plight and sends a telepathic warning to the nearby Aldaran Comyn, that intention evaporates. Fortunately for the Terrans, crew members Elizabeth Macintosh and David Lorne have some telepathic ability, which enables Kermiac Aldaran to communicate with them. Before long, it's been verified that the Darkovans are descended from the colonists of a Lost Ship, the planet has been assigned Restricted Status - meaning a spaceport can be build if local government agrees, and limited trade may be permitted - and Lord Kermiac has granted the Terrans land to build their port near the village of Caer Donn. Lorill Hastur, Leonie's twin brother, is sent by the comyn of the other domains to investigate the situation.

There are, of course, many complications, including a secondary plotline involving Lorill Hastur, Leonie's twin brother, another Terran telepath, Ysaye Barnett, and Leonie, who is in telepathic contact with both of them during much of the novel. This ends in death for Ysaye and complete withdrawal from outside telepathic contact for Leonie after Lorill and Ysaye are inadvertently exposed to kiresith pollen intended as a trap for Elizabeth.

Meanwhile Elizabeth and David, now married and planning to remain on Darkover as Spaceport personnel, are captured for ransom by bandits while on a field trip. When the Terrans rescue them using aerial weapons that violate the Compact banning weapons that operate at more than an arm's length distance, setting off a dangerous forest fire in the process, only the Aldarans - who do not follow the Compact - remain interested in contact with humans. And so the first Terran spaceport on Darkover is built in the Hellers, at Caer Donn, and the pattern of relations between the Empire and the six Domains of the Comyn is set.

With respect to sexual politics, we see clearly the patriarchal family structure that has developed on Darkover, with occasional references to the exceptions (or escapes) to the restricted place of women in Darkovan society - life in the Towers, or life as a Renunciate (Free Amazon). Leonie lives in a secluded world where women have power as Keepers, and the Keeper of Arilinn has power at the highest levels as the representative of the Towers. But all other women must have a man to acknowledge their legitimacy or they are without any place in society. All the Darkovan women we see at Aldaran are in some way connected to, legitimated and protected by men - Lady Aldaran, Mariel, Felicia, Thyra. Indeed, the worst thing one can say of a child is that her father is unknown. And as women under the protection of a man, they cannot function as equals. Kermiac tells Elizabeth: "to tell the truth, I am not accustomed to discussing serious business with women."

Terran society, however, appears relatively egalitarian. Because the novels were not written in chronological order, in Rediscovery (written in 1993) which takes place several generations earlier than The Bloody Sun (written in 1964), the Terran Space Service is more integrated, with more women in positions of authority (Ysaye Barrett is the senior computer analyst, Aurora Lakshman is the Chief Medical Officer).

Contraception is freely available, as is abortion, at least within the Service. While sexuality in the Service seems to be a matter of personal choice, it's clear that the various planets in the Empire have varied cultural norms with respect to sexual behaviour. Ysaye comes from a culture that values monogamous marriage and frowns on contraception and abortion. On the other hand, various references are made to planets like Vainwal, where sex work is legal and attitudes seem very permissive.

One of the particularly enjoyable aspects of this novel for me is that many characters who play major roles in the saga of Darkover are shown here as they were before the events that made them crucial characters in the history of Darkover - Leonie and Lorill, but also Kadarin, and Thyra. Jeb Scott will eventually marry Felicia Darriel, and father Rafe and Marjorie Scott. Kermiac's younger sister Mariel will marry Wade Montray; their daughter Elaine will marry Kennard Alton. Elizabeth and David will stay on Darkover and raise their child Magda Lorne. In this book, written well after many of the novels dealing with the generations of contact with the Terrans, Lackey and Bradley have worked into the narrative a host of references to things to come. The narrative itself is rather on the thin side, but for the devoted fan of Darkover, the joy of seeing how it was in the beginning makes Rediscovery a book worth reading.

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City of Sorcery (pub. 1984), takes place seven years after the events in Thendara House, and there have been changes. Peter Haldane is now Legate, and Renunciates and women of the Terran Service working together have created The Bridge Society, a means for Terran and Darkovan to share knowledge and learn to work and live together. Jaelle and Magda are sworn freemates, living mostly at Armida, each having born a daughter by men of the Forbidden Tower - Dorilys nHa Jaelle, now five, and Shaya n'ha Margali, aged two. In addition, Magda and Camilla are lovers, though not sworn.

During a visit to Thendara, Magda is called to the Terran Zone by a request from Cholayna Ares - a survey plane has been lost in the area between the Hellers and The Wall Around the World, but somehow, the pilot, Lexie Anders, has appeared, her memory gone, regressed to childhood, at the gates of Terran HQ. Magda is able to use her laran to restore Lexie's memories - including a familiar image of robed women and crows calling - and the pilot reports having seen a previously unknown city hidden in the mountain vastness.

Driven by ambition to make a name for herself, Lexie hires Renunciate and mountain guide/trail organiser Rafaella - Jaelle's former partner - to take her into the Hellers in search of this mysterious city. Rafaella - who has been nursing resentment against Magda for taking Jaelle away from their partnership and the Guild - leaves a message for Jaelle, begging her to follow with extra supplies.

Jaelle shares this message with Magda and Camilla, both of whom have some thoughts on the hidden city. Like all Renunciates, they know that there is a secret society of Renunciates with laran called the Sisterhood; Magda has accidentally intruded on their meetings, and associates them with the imagery in Lexie's memories, while Camilla has heard tales of a hidden city of wise women who can grant the successful supplicant the answer to one question.

Driven by their various loyalties, responsibilities, and personal desires, five women - Jaelle, Magda, Camilla, Cholayna and Vanessa ryn Erin, a Terran Personnel Officer who is a member of the Bridge Society and an experienced mountaineer - set out after Lexie and Rafaella. The journey is fraught with difficulty and danger - bad weather, treacherous mountain trails, altitude sickness and savage cold, bandits and wild animals, and eventually a cult of women who oppose the Sisterhood and seek to use the travellers to gain power.

In some ways, City of Sorcery is a Pilgrim's Progress for the feminist, a journey toward a legendary place of wisdom and solace that can only be found by facing and overcoming trials and temptations. It is certainly no accident that almost all the characters in the novel are women, with even glimpses of men limited to street and group scenes.

In the end, not all the women who set out to find the hidden city survive; of those who do, some are invited onward to enter the city, others decline to go further, but all have had the depths of their own courage, self-knowledge, and sense of sisterhood tested, and found, not necessarily the path they most desire, but the path they freely and knowingly choose.

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Thendara House (pub. 1983) is a direct sequel to The Shattered Chain - it details the events immediately following on Jaelle n'ha Melora's freemate marriage to Terran (but Darkovan born and raised) Peter Haldane, and the entrance into the Thendara Guild House of Terran Intelligence Agent Magda Lorne (known among her guild-sisters as Margali n'ha Ysabet) for six months of training and seclusion.

For both women, it is a time of self-discovery. Jaelle, who has repressed her early life in the Dry-Towns, and who has lived since then among Renunciates, finds that her relationship with Peter raises those early memories. She is faced with an internal struggle between the deep, repressed conditioning that drew her to Peter - who is slowly revealed as a domineering and potentially abusive mate - and her identity as a Renunciate - a struggle that is only exacerbated when she realises that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Magda is challenged to question her Terran values and sense of privilege, and is brought face to face with the reality that she is more deeply attracted to women than she is to men.

In addition to struggles with conditioning and culture shock, both women are dealing with the adult onset of powerful laran - Jaelle because of the resurgence of her childhood memories, which were shut down along with her laran when she experienced her mother's death while in rapport with her, and Magda as a result of her increased contact with other telepaths, including Jaelle.

Thendara House is not only a sequel to The Shattered Chain, however. It is also part of the story of the Forbidden Tower, in which both Magda and Jaelle will play a part. For both women, the connection that leads them to Armida is Andrew Carr, now known as Ann'dra Lanart.

Jaelle, in her role as cultural consultant in Terran Intelligence, is tasked with helping a visiting Terran official, Alessandro Li. Li is a Special Representative of the Senate, sent to investigate whether Cottman Four should retain its Closed World status or be reclassified, and to make recommendations about a Legation. Li is at first very interested in finding out all that he can about the Comyn and the rumours of telepathic abilities among the Darkovan ruling class. When the wreckage of Andrew Carr's downed plane is discovered and it is learned that Carr survived the crash, Li becomes fixated on finding out what happened to him.

Meanwhile, Magda meets Andrew when, along with a number of other Renunciates, she travels to the Kilghard Hills near Armida to help in fighting a fire. While they do not know each other, she recognises him as Terran - and vice versa. She believes him to be an Intelligence agent in deep cover, and later on, when she meets Alessandro Li, she innocently mentions seeing an agent at Armida. Li makes the connection between this unknown Terran and the missing Andrew Carr, and when all other attempts to contact Carr are thwarted, he sets out alone, unaware of a severe storm coming, to travel to Armida and confront him.

When Jaelle discovers what he has done, she determines to go after him, knowing the danger he is in. Peter attempts to stop her, threatening to have her declared temporarily insane due to her pregnancy, and placed in restraints. Jaelle lashes out and Peter is rendered unconscious (though Jaelle believes she has killed him). Jaelle, in emotional turmoil and psychic distress, heads out after Li, stopping briefly at the Guild House where she tries to see Magda. Magda, unfortunately, is in a meeting with the House Guild-Mother, and doesn't learn that Jaelle was asking for her until much later. Reaching out with her untried laran, she is able to discern where Jaelle is headed and why. Coming suddenly to understand that she is in love with Jaelle, she rides out after her. Magda finds Jaelle just in time for them both to find shelter from a sudden flood, but they are trapped by the rising waters. Jaelle miscarries and once more, Magda's laran enables her to reach out for help. A rescue party led by Andrew arrives, having also found and rescued Alessandro Li. During Jaelle's recuperation at Armida, both women realise that they have grown beyond both the limitations of their respective cultures, and the oppositional renunciations that form the essence of the Guild. Possessed of powerful laran, the next step for them is to join the Forbidden Tower - thus bringing together in Jaelle and Damon Ridenow the parents of Cleindori Aillard.

In Jaelle's experiences, we see through her encounters with other Terrans and with the cultural assumptions inherent in the way life and work are structured in the Terran Zone, the sexism of the Terran culture.

From the Terrans, Jaelle must deal with having her identity elided in a way that goes against her Renunciate's oath - among the Terrans, she is no longer Jaelle n'ha Melora, but Mrs. Peter Haldane. She is Haldane's wife, Haldane's girl, even Haldane's squaw. On the other hand, she encounters men in the Terran Service who accept her competence without question and work beside her without concern that she is a woman.

However, because Peter is Darkovan-raised and (as we are reminded several times) psychosexual development is fixed before adolescence, Peter's responses in intimate relationships are more typical of a Darkovan man who has acclimatised to Terran surroundings, than of a citizen of the Terran Empire. As Peter and Jaelle embark on their marriage, we see how the patriarchalism of Darkovan society affect relationships between men and women. Jaelle herself comes to think that it is the Darkovan in Peter, not the Terran, that creates problems between them: "Maybe it is not the Terran in Peter I find objectionable; maybe it is his Darkovan side which insists I must be no more than his wife and mother of his children… other Terran men are not like that."

Jaelle faces endless criticism from Peter over her inability to behave like a good wife, in either the Terran or Darkovan sense. When she acts "inappropriately" due to culture shock or the need to preserve her sense of autonomy, he lectures her on how this reflects poorly on him:
"I'm working under Montray now, and I'm in enough trouble with him without having him think—" he stopped, but to Jaelle, surprisingly, it was as if he had spoken aloud what was in his mind; think I can’t manage my wife.

As their relationship worsens, Jaelle comes to see that for Peter, love is equivalent to possession, and that he expects her as a matter of course to see to all his needs: "...and suddenly she knew him as Magda had known him, he really believed that he could treat her as valet, comrade-in arms, personal servant, breeding-anima, and somehow repay it all just with the ardor of his lovemaking..."

Nor is Peter's sexism limited his attitudes toward Jaelle. Because her heightened laran enables her to sometimes read his thoughts, Jaelle gains awareness of how he thinks about the new head of Intelligence Cholayna Ares, and his former wife and colleague Magda.
Not fair, dammit, I spent five years setting things up so that when Darkover got an Intelligence service I'd be at its head, and now some damned woman walks in and takes over. Bad enough playing second fiddle to Magda..."
When she finally tells Peter that she no longer wants to remain married to him, he responds that he will not allow her to leave - asserting his belief that she belongs to him and cannot break their connection without his permission, despite the fact that in Terran marriages, a married woman is not property, as she is under Darkovan law.
She detected a glimmer in his mind of logical resentment; women were damned unreasonable creatures, yet a man was at their mercy if he wanted children, and how else could they have any immortality? It almost made her pity him. “Don‟t be silly, Jaelle. I‟m not going to let you divorce me, not with a baby coming. I owe it to my child at least, to protect and look after his mother, even if we‟re not getting along too well.”
Thus in the short space of a few months, the intimate portrayal of the deterioration of their relationship brings into sharp relief the glimpses we have had previously of the traditional Darkovan marriage and the attitudes that shape it.

Magda's experiences in the Thendara Guild House mirror in some ways the early years (late '60s and early '70s) of the feminist movement - in particular the use of consciousness-raising groups to become aware of - and change - internalised sexist conditioning and to examine gender roles, institutionalised sexism, and nature of the differences between male and female. The other significant themes explored through Magda's life as a new Renunciate are lesbianism and transgender issues (through the emmasca character Camilla).

As a newly sworn Renunciate, Madga is expected to go through a period of training and seclusion, during which she may only leave the Guild House with permission of on the Elders of the House. At one of the first group meetings, the Guild Mother tells her and the other trainees "... you will learn to change the way you think about yourselves, and about other women.”

During her time in the Guild House, Magda comes to realise how pervasive same-sex attraction is on Darkover - and not just among Renunciates, although same-sex relationships between women are taken more seriously in the Guild than outside it, where such relationships between women are seen as adolescent fancies or secondary relationships, insufficient to keep a woman from her primary function, to marry a man and bear children.
Men may swear such oaths. And yet for women, such an oath is always taken, it seems, as a thing for untried girls, and means only, I shall be bound to you only so long as it does not interfere with duty to husband and children…”
In this perspective, it would appear that the frequent accusations against Renunciates, that they are all lovers of women and seduce honorable wives away from their husbands, refers not to the fact that many of them are in fact lesbian or bisexual, but that they value such relationships - and indeed, all relationships between women, sexual or not - as highly, or even more highly, than they do relationships between women and men. It is not that they love women, but that in doing so they choose not to be available to men.

Through the struggles of both women to find their true selves and desires, MZB explores much of the feminist analysis and praxis of second wave feminism of the 60s and early 70s. The nature of the patriarchy, the role of cultural conditioning, attitudes toward child bearing and rearing, alternative family structures, instititionalised sexism, the effects of sexism on men, the question of living separate from men as much as possible, even the debates over the role of lesbians in the movement, all have their expression in the inner journeys of Magda and Jaelle. It would be a rare woman of that era who did not see something of her own experiences and struggles somewhere in the pages of this novel.

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Sharra's Exile (pub. 1981) is an extensive revision of Bradley's second Darkover novel, Sword of Aldones (pub. 1962), and the immediate sequel to The Heritage of Hastur. In Sharra's Exile, the consequences of the Sharra rising on all the participants are examined, and a final resolution is finally found to the threat of another Sharra rising.

Lew and Kennard have been offworld for five years. Kennard is aging and in poor health. Lew has learned that using Sharra has distorted his very genetic structure -Terran regeneration techniques can not restore his hand, and when he meets and falls in love with Diotima Ridenow, a Darkovan Comynara travelling offworld, their child is born premature and fatally deformed, which strains the relationship past the breaking point.

Then comes news from Darkover - the Comyn Council is preparing to void Kennard's lordship of Alton and, ignoring both Lew as his declared heir and his younger son Marius, choose a new lord of Alton. But before Kennard can return to defend his claim, he suffers a fatal stroke - and his dying act is to use the Alton gift of forced rapport to compel Lew to go back to Darkover and secure Marius' rights.

With both Lew and Sharra on Darkovan soil again, Sharra wakes, and the former members of the Sharra circle are drawn to it. Kadarin steals the Sharra matrix from the Alton residence in Thendara; Marius is killed in the attack. Meanwhile, rumours about a child of Alton blood are circulating; the child - a girl named Marja - is found, and proves to be Lew's child by Thyra, conceived while he was drugged and under Kadarin's control.

Meanwhile, the question of Terran-Darkovan relations is still a key issue, with several factions - including the Ridenow Domain - pushing for closer ties and others urging less involvement. The isolationists have gained influence over the young and mentally unstable Prince, Derik Elhalyn, who has, behind the Council's back, made a treaty with the Aldarans, to be sealed with a marriage between Beltran of Aldaran, and Callina Aillard, underKeeper of the Comyn Tower in Thendara.

Lew, after consulting the two Keepers - Callina Aillard and the unbelievably ancient Ashara - learns that the only force that can stand against Sharra is the ancient Hastur relic, the Sword of Aldones. But the Sword is guarded in an ingenious fashion. It lies within the Comyn Chapel, the rhu faed, which is so shielded that only one of Comyn blood can enter - but the Sword itself is warded such that no one with the slightest hint of Comyn blood or laran power can touch it. Callina and Lew use a giant matrix screen to "call" to them a person who will be best suited to help them reach the Sword. This person is Kathie Marshall, a Terran nurse from the planet Vainwal, who was present when Diotima and Lew's child was born, and who is also a perfect double for Linnell Lindir-Aillard, Camilla's half-sister, Lew's foster sister, and the betrothed of Derik Elhalyn.

In an attempt to bring Lew back under Sharra's control, Kadarin and Thyra attend the Midsummer Festival in disguise, but Regis, who has discovered that he has an instinctive gift that can counter Sharra's influence, manages to keep Lew from succumbing. Sharra strikes out, killing Linnell; Prince Derik, weakened by a mysteriously spiked drink, dies in the psychic backlash.

Callina, Lew and Kathie succeed in retrieving the Sword of Aldones from the rhu faed, but Lew is seriously wounded when Kadarin and Thyra try - and fail - to take the Sword from them. A Terran helicopter, authorised by Regis, arrives in time to transport Lew, Callina, Kathie, and - under arrest - Kadarin and Thyra - to Terran Medical, where Regis heals Lew with the power of the Sword.

Using the powers of Sharra, Kadarin teleports himself, Thyra and Lew to the forecourt of Comyn Castle. Lew is almost drawn into Sharra, but Callina and Regis arrive, and challenge Sharra's power, weakening its hold over Lew. A psychic battle begins, Aldones against Sharra, with Lew torn between them, unable to lend his power to either side. Suddenly Dyan Ardais arrives, and, driven by his ambition, arrogance, and jealousy of Lew, joins Sharra and cuts the ties that draw Lew to its fires. The final battle is joined, with Kadarin, Thrya and Dyan sealed to Sharra, and Regis, with the support of Callina and Lew, wielding the Sword of Aldones. In the end, Sharra is broken, Kadarin and Thyra drawn bodily into the vortex of its passing, and both Callina and Dyan lie dead or dying on the cobblestones. Only Lew and Regis remain alive, and Regis' hair has turned white.

As the novel ends, the loss of so many of the Comyn and the collapse of the treaty with Aldaran forces Darkover into a closer relationship with the Terran Empire. Lew, reconciled with Diotima, goes back into space with his wife and daughter, to serve as Darkover's first representative in the Empire Senate. And Regis, once more, takes up the Hastur mantle as Lew goes out among the stars.

This is in many ways a novel of character and relationship rather than plot. All of the large cast of characters - including many who do not appear in the summary above, such as Lerrys and Geremy Ridenow, Merryl Aillard, Danilo Syrtis-Ardais, Dan Lawton, Jeff Kerwin (aka Damon Lanart-Aillard), Gabriel Lanart-Hastur and his wife Javanne, Danvan Hastur, Rafe Scott - are interrelated by blood, fosterage, love, hate, loyalty and power. And it is through these relationships that we see the changes occurring in Lew and Regis, and in the structure of Darkovan society.

Sharra's Exile has little new to tell us about Darkovan society, but much to say about how flesh and blood people interact within that society.

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The Forbidden Tower (pub. 1977) is the story of the creation of the "heretical" circle of telepaths who, choosing to work outside of the Towers of Darkover, challenge the two most strongly held beliefs that underlie the Tower system - that a Keeper must be essentially asexual, and that only the members of the ruling Comyn caste have enough laran to work in the Towers.

The novel begins where The Spell Sword left off - with the clearing of the catmen and the planned union of Damon Ridenow to Ellemir Alton, and of Terran Andrew Carr to Callista Alton, formerly a Keeper of Arilinn under Leonie Hastur. Much of the main plot of the novel deals with the fusion of these two couples into a fourway bond, linked telepathically, emotionally and sexually. There are two main obstacles to this, and MZB deals with both in great detail. First, the realisation that not only has Callista been conditioned to have no sexual awareness or response, but that early in the training, Leonie performed a kind of psychic neutering on her, so that it would be impossible for her conditioning to ever be undone. Second, the painful misunderstandings and problems of culture shock brought about by the differences between Terran sexual mores and those found in a society of telepaths. In order to overcome the first, Damon must engage in the dangerous discipline of timesearch to find clues to a centuries-old tradition that could restore Callista's frozen sexuality. And only endless love and patience can overcome the second.

At the end of the novel, the four of them, fully bonded, are faced with a telepathic duel to prove Damon's right to namr himself Keeper and to direct the way his Tower will operate according to his own conscience and not the laws of Arilinn.

While largely focused on deconstructing the rigid role of Keeper and the assumption that only the Comyn can be effective telepaths, many of the Darkovan attitudes toward sexuality are clarified through the exploration of the differences between Terran and Darkovan sexual culture.

Darkovan society is to some degree polyamorous, and despite the strongly patriarchal nature of family relationship, women appear to have some sexual autonomy, but on strict class lines. As well, women must be discreet, and if unmarried, must be careful about pregnancy. The greatest shame seems to lie in bearing a child who has no acknowledged father. Some of the contradictions are shown in this account Ellemir gives to Callista about her sexual experience:
“It was that winter,” said Ellemir. “Dorian begged me to come and spend the winter with her; she was lonely, and already pregnant, and had made few friends of the mountain women. Father gave me leave to go. And later in the spring, when Dorian grew heavy, so it was no pleasure to her to share his bed, Mikhail and I had grown to be such friends that I took her place there.” She giggled a little, reminiscently. Callista said, startled, “You were no more than fifteen!” Ellemir answered, laughing, “That is old enough to marry; Dorian had been no more. I would have been married, had Father not wanted me to stay home and keep his house!” Again Callista felt the cruel envy, the sense of desperate alienation. How simple it had been for Ellemir, and how right! And how different for her! “Were there others?” Ellemir smiled in the darkness. “Not many. I learned there that I liked lying with men, but I did not want to be gossiped about as they whisper scandal about Sybil-Mhari—you have heard that she takes lovers from Guardsmen or even grooms—and I did not want to bear a child I would not be allowed to rear, though Dorian pledged that if I gave Mikhail a child she would foster it. And I did not want to be married off in a hurry to someone I did not like, which I knew Father would do if there was scandal."
There is some indication, however, that the circumstances in which women may engage in pre- or extra-marital sex are partly for the convenience of men. There is a reluctance among Darkovan women to engage in sex during pregnancy. As Callista explains, “Biologically, no pregnant animal desires sex; most will not endure it. If your women have been culturally conditioned to accept it as the price of retaining a husband's sexual interest, I can only say I am sorry for them! Would you demand it of me after I had ceased to take pleasure in it?”

While a man may take a concubine or mistress at his pleasure, and it is expected that he will do so if his wife is unavailable or unable to provide sex, it is considered not quite proper if he brings into the household a woman who is not acceptable to his wife. The kinswoman of one's wife is traditionally one of the more acceptable choices in such circumstances.
"This is our custom. If you were one of us, it would be taken for granted that my sister and I should… should share in this way. Even if things were — as they should be between us, if there was a time when I was ill, or pregnant, or simply not… not wanting you… It is very old, this custom. You have heard me sing the Ballad of Hastur and Cassilda? Even there, even in the ballad, it speaks of how Camilla took the place of her breda in the arms of the God, and so died when he was set upon. It was so that the Blessed Cassilda survived the treachery of Alar, to bear the child of the God…”
There is also a sense that men's desire should not be allowed to go unfulfilled, and that women are responsible for seeing to this when they arouse a man's sexual interest.
In both The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower, Callista tells Andrew that she is responsible for the fulfilment of desire he feels toward her. “I have been taught that it is… shameful to arouse a desire I will not satisfy."

Despite the suggestion of some choice in sexual expression, it is also clear that women, like children must always be under wardship - except, of course, for the Keepers. Women in the Towers are under the wardship of their Keepers - at one point, Leonie states that it is her responsibility to find suitable marriages for women who have given oath to her as Keeper and have worked in the Tower (this does not include young women who are sent to the Towers for a few years training in the use of laran) if they later choose to leave. Women outside the Towers are seen always as under the authority of father, husband, brother, or other kinsman.

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In The Shattered Chain (pub. 1976), Marion Zimmer Bradley explores both the quality and nature of relationships between women and the dimensions of power, control and equality (or lack of equality) in relationships between women and men in a manner that recalls the consciousness-raising of the early years of feminism. Set after the events of Rediscovery, in which a Terran survey ship finds the lost colony on Darkover 2,000 years after it is founded, The Shattered Chain covers a period of 12 years, and is the first novel to deal in depth with the Guild of Renunciates, or Free Amazons. The novel, divided into three parts, focuses largely on on the relationships of women - Rohana Ardais, Magda Lorne, and Jaelle n'ha Melora - with each other and with the men in their lives, but also provides glimpses into the lives and relationships of other women.

The Shattered Chain opens with a daring rescue of a Comyn woman, Melora, and her daughter, Jaelle. Kidnapped twelve years ago by a Dry-Town chieftain, Melora, pregnant with her kidnapper's only son, is desperate to escape or die before her daughter is chained, as all Dry-Town women are, at 13. She manages to telepathically contact her childhood friend Rohana Ardais, who defies the Comyn and her husband and hires a band of Renunciates, lead by Kindra, to free Melora. The rescue is successful, but Melora dies in childbirth on the way back to the domains, leaving her children in Rohana's care. Jaelle asks Rohana to foster her with Kindra, and Rohana agrees.

The second part of the narrative begins 12 years later, and tells the story of Magda Lorne, a Darkovan-born Terran Intelligence operative who spend most of her field time observing and reporting on the nuances of Darkovan culture from a woman's prospective. When her ex-husband Peter Haldane is held for ransom by bandits who mistakenly believe him to be the son of Rohana and her husband Lord Gabriel Ardais, and her superiors refuse to mount a winter expedition to save him, she turns to Rohana for help. Rohana advises her to pretend to be a Renunciate and deliver the ransom herself. While travelling, Magda's disguise is exposed by group of real Renunciates, led by Jaelle, and she is required to swear the Oath and become one of them in fact. Jaelle and Magda, now oath-mother and oath-daugther, complete Magda's mission but Jaelle is wounded. The three seek assistance from Rohana at the Ardais family seat.

The third part of the novel details the developing love affair between Jaelle and Peter, as they remain at Ardais over midwinter, and the consequences of this relationship for Jaelle, Magda and the others around them. This section of the novel is the most intimately focused, as both Jaelle and Magda examine their feelings for Peter, the relationship they have with each other, and their own needs for autonomy. Meanwhile, Rohana is assessing the costs and rewards of her own sometimes troubled relationship with Gabriel. As winter breaks, Magda, Jaelle and Peter return to Thendara, where Magda enters the Thendara Guildhouse to begin training as a Renunciate while Jaelle and Peter marry as freemates and Jaelle goes to work for the Terrans, in much the same capacity as Magda before her.

In many of the Darkover novels, MZB sets up contrasts between the status of women in different cultures and situations - Terran and Comyn, Comyn and Tower, Comyn and Renunciate, Tower worker and Keeper. This is perhaps the most fiercely feminist of the Darkover books, and takes a close and critical look at the roles, lives and status of women in mainstream Darkovan society.

In the first section of The Shattered Chain, we see the most marked of these contrasts - between the women of the Dry Towns and the Renunciates. The Renunciates dress practically, carry and are trained to use weapons, and unlike other women on Darkover (outside of the Towers), work and mingle freely with men, although not without having to endure sexist comments and jokes, and sexual invitations, polite and otherwise. Dry-Town women, on the other hand, live in chains.
The square was deserted for a while, then some of the Dry-Town women, wrapped in their cumbersome skirts and veils, began to drift into the marketplace to buy water from the common well, moving, each of them, with the small metallic clash of chains. By Dry-Town custom, each woman's hands were fettered with a metal bracelet on each wrist; the bracelets were connected with a long chain, passed through a metal loop on her belt, so that if the woman moved either hand, the other was drawn up tight against the loop at her waist.
Marriage for women in the Dry-Towns - at least as Melora experiences it - is a life of submission in which the man may grant his wives, concubines and other more temporary partners as much or as little freedom as possible. There is no hint of the (limited) possibilities for sexual expression available to women of the Domains, and no alternatives to marital submission, such as exist for other women on Darkover in the Towers or in the Guild of Renunciates.

In the Domains, there are three recognised forms of marriage. The most formal is marriage di catenas, which is the common form of marriage for Comyn women given as primary wives to Comyn men. There is also a legally recognised form of concubinage, in which a woman enters the household of a man as a barragana - her children will be legitimate, but she holds lower status in the household than a wife married di catenas. Finally, there is freemate marriage, which is a form of marriage declared between two people (not just a man and a woman, but also two women, and perhaps two men, though I don't recall any mentions of such in the novels, may enter freemate marriages) and considered legal upon consummation. Freemate marriage can be easily dissolved, unlike marriage di catenas, but as in the other forms, while it endures, the woman is seen as being under the guardianship and protection of the man, and at least to some degree as his property.

In Dry-Town or Domain, marriage of any form is seen primarily as a means of producing children who can be clearly identified as the legitimate offspring of some man. To have no acknowledged father is the most shameful thing possible for a man, to bear a child no man will name as his the most shameful for a woman. For some men, children - and particularly sons - are the only reason for children, and a barren women can expect to be set aside, or to have her husband bring a barragana or mistress into the home, and to be required to bring up his children by other women.

We see this focus on having children as the main reason for marriage, and as the most important function of women, in Kindra's story of how she came to be a Renunciate:
"I bore four children before I had turned twenty. I was given in marriage very young, and my first child died before I could bring him forth; the midwives said I should not try to bear another, but my husband was eager for an heir. My second and third children were daughters both, and he cursed me. I came very near to death with my fourth child-he was three days in the bearing-and this time, instead of curses, when he saw our son, he showered me with gifts and jewels. And then I knew a woman's lot in our world was wholly accursed. I was of no value; the daughters I bore him at risk of my life were of no value; I was nothing but an instrument to give him sons. And so when I could walk again, I left my children sleeping, one night, and cut my hair, and made my way alone to the Guild of Free Amazons, and there my life began."
Even Rohana, who as regent for the Aillard Domain has a seat on the Comyn Council, and who essentially runs the Ardais Domain for her husband, is constrained by the demands of Darkovan marriage, even though she has come to accept it, and to care for him.
"I did not want children, Jaelle. Every time I knew myself pregnant, I wept and raged. You weep because you are not to bear a child, but I cried more when I knew I was. Once I flung a silver bowl at Gabriel's head, and I hit him, too, and I shrieked at him that I wished I had killed him and he could never do this to me again. I hated being pregnant, I hated having little children around to trouble me, I feared childbirth worse, I think, than you feared the sword that gave you this." With light fingers she traced the still-crimson scar across Jaelle's smooth cheek. "Had I been free to choose, I would never have borne a child. And yet now that the children are grown, and I see that they are a part of Gabriel and myself which will survive when we are gone-now, when it would have been too late to change my mind, I find I am glad that the laws of my caste forced me to bear them, and after all these years, I have forgotten-or forgiven-all the unhappiness."
This is the context in which the Guild of Renunciates must be understood. Darkover is a feudal society - everyone has his or her place in the web of allegiances and wardships, loyalties and obligations. In this society, women and children gain their place from relationship to a man, and men from their relationship to a man of higher status, with the exception of men and women in the Towers, who gain their place from their oaths to their female Keeper, who in turn owes allegiance to the Keeper of Arilinn. Ultimately, all people owe their place in society, through this chain of allegiances, to the King (or Regent). This is why a child without an acknowledged father is in such a difficult situation - until they are old enough to marry or to swear allegiance to an employer or overlord, they have no legitimate place in this web.

In this kind of society, any woman who attempted to live outside of the restrictions of the patriarchal family would be without place or status of any kind, and unless she could pass as a man, would be unlikely to survive. Indeed, we hear that many women who do attempt to do so, seek out the normally illegal procedure that turns them into emmasca, enabling them to pass more easily.

The Guild of Renunciates is the only way for non-conforming women to leave the stifling environment of the family and still hold a recognised place in society as a woman. The Guild is a formally organised institution, holding a charter from King and Council. Its members must formally renounce their position as women with rights and obligations within the family structure. While readers of the Darkover novels often interpret the Oath of the Reunciates as a woman's decoration of independence, it is in fact seen within Darkovan society as a disavowal of the protections, rights and obligations that are otherwise legally binding on a woman. It is the price of freedom, not a definition of it.
Oath of the Guild of Renunciates

From this day forth, I renounce the right to marry save as a freemate. No man shall bind me di catenas and I will dwell in no man's household as a barragana.
I swear that I am prepared to defend myself by force if I am attacked by force, and that I shall turn to no man for protection.
From this day forth I swear I shall never again be known by the name of any man, be he father, guardian, lover or husband, but simply and solely as the daughter of my mother.
From this day forth I swear I will bear no child to any man save for my own pleasure and at my own time and choice; I will bear no child to any man for house or heritage, clan or inheritance, pride or prosperity; I swear that I alone will determine the rearing and fosterage of any child I bear, without regard to any man's place, position or pride.
From this day forth I renounce allegiance to any family, clan, household, warden or liege lord, and take oath that I owe allegiance only to the laws of the land as a free citizen must; to the kingdom, the crown and the Gods.
I shall appeal to no man as of right, for protection, support or succor: but shall owe allegiance only to my oath-mother, to my sisters in the Guild and to my employer for the season of my employment.
The Renunciate gives up her right to a secure marriage, and to the protection and support of a (male-governed) family or clan. She acknowledges that if attacked by force, she can expect no aid from men but must defend herself. She has no family, no regular place in society - by taking her mother's name, she announces herself to be fatherless. She is freed of her obligation to bear children into a family, but she also acknowledges that her children will have no automatic right to a position within a family - that they will be fatherless, as she is. The only family she has a place in, the only family she can turn to for anything, the only thing that connects her to society, is the Guild.

For Darkovan women who chafe under the restrictive codes of behaviour they are expected to observe, there is no middle ground other than that which they may be able to negotiate with the man who had wardship over them. Freedom is an all or nothing proposition.

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The Heritage of Hastur (pub. 1975) and its immediate sequel, Sharra's Exile (pub. 1981) are in some ways the heart of the Darkovan cycle - they mark the end of the Comyn and the sociopolitical structure of Darkover as it was and, as Regis Hastur comes into his own, the beginnings of a new Darkover (which would be penned, not by Bradley, but by her successors Adrienne Martine-Barnes and Deborah J. Ross from outlines and notes).

The Heritage of Hastur details the events surrounding Regis' coming of age, amid the unleashing of Sharra, the powerful matrix we saw before in The Winds of Darkover. It is also a key part of the ongoing conversation about the position of Darkover within the Terran Empire. In all these strands of the narrative, the one common theme is responsibility for and abuse of power. In a sense, the true heritage of Hastur - and all Comyn are called the children of Hastur - is a heritage of extreme privilege and power, and its potential for abuse, as much as it is a heritage of responsibility. As Danvan Hastur acknowledges, "In the far-back days, we were given power and privilege because we served our people, not because we ruled them. Then we began to believe we had these powers and privileges because of some innate superiority in ourselves, as if having laran made us so much better than other people that we could do exactly as we pleased."

As the novel opens, relations between Terrans and Darkovans have once more grown tense, and the key issue is the Compact - an agreement banning all long-distance weapons that holds sway throughout the six lowland Domains. The Empire has technically agreed not to allow such weapons to be taken out of the Terran Zone in Thendara, but Terran officials do not really take the agreement seriously, or enforce it rigorously, and they have allowed the sale of range weapons in Alderan territory - realising that the compact exists to protect all Darkovans from the devastating matrix weapons - like Sharra. Again, this conflict adds to the themes of responsibility, power and abuse that inform all the narrative strands of the novel.

This narrative focuses on two young men - Regis Hastur and Lewis Alton - whose circumstances and experiences are in some ways counterpointed, but in other ways parallel. Regis is the grandson of Danvan Hastur (and great-grandson of Lorill Hastur), heir to the most powerful family on Darkover, the hereditary Regents of the Crown - a vital role, as many of the Elhalyn, hereditary Kings of Darkover, have been incompetent or even mad in recent generations. But Regis doesn't want to be the de-facto ruler of Darkover, he longs for the stars. Unlike the Comyn he is destined to lead, he appears to be almost completely lacking in laran - testing indicates he has the potential, but that it has been blocked from normal development.

Lew Alton is also the heir to a powerful Domain, but unlike Regis, he has had to fight to be recognised. He is the son of Kennard Alton (last seen as a boy in Star of Danger) and Elaine Montray, who is half Terran, half Darkovan, but of the outcast Aldaran Domain, who Kennard met and fell in love with on Earth. Although Kennard married Elaine di catenas - the most formal style of marriage - the Comyn refused to acknowledge his marriage and Lew has always been treated by most as a bastard, carrying both the barbarian blood of the Terrans and the traitor's blood of the Aldarans. In order to have his son declared as his heir, Kennard was forced to prove before witnesses that Lew carried the Alton Gift of forced rapport by forcing rapport on him - an act that might have killed Lew if he did not in fact have the gift. Only in the Towers, where Lew proved to be a powerful and skilled matrix technician, has he felt truly welcome, although he has won some degree of acceptance among the Guards, where he serves as an officer and his father's second - the Altons being the hereditary commanders of the Guard.

The events of the novel do in fact begin in the Guard, where Regis is beginning his duties as a cadet, where Kennard is Commander and both Lew and Kennard's cousin and childhood friend Dyan Ardais - the Lord of that Domain - are officers, as is Regis' brother-in-law (and Lew's cousin) Gabriel Lanart-Hastur. Also in his first year as a cadet is Danilo Syrtis, son of a minor Comyn house whose older brother was paxman and sword brother to Regis' father - both of whom were killed by bandits carrying Terran weapons.

As new cadets, Regis and Danilo initially become friends, but are driven apart by the actions of Dyan. As cadet master, he has the power to make any cadet's life a living hell, and when Danilo refuses his sexual advances, Dyan uses not only his official power but also his laran to torment the young man. At the same time, Dyan attempts a gentle seduction of Regis - the difference in his approach to the two being that he sees Regis as a social equal and Danilo as a social inferior. Before too long, Danilo has rejected Regis' friendship and, driven to desperation by Dyan's action, draws a knife on Dyan and is sent home in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Kennard has asked Lew to travel to Aldaran to investigate the situation with respect to Terran weapons there, under the pretext of visiting his Lord Kermiac and his other Alderan kinfolk. When Lew, who has seen Dyan in action before, witnesses the public disgrace of Danilo and senses what was behind Danilo's reaction, goes to Kennard in protest, his father will not listen to him. Lew leaves for Aldaran, but with a heart filled with anger and disgust at the abuses of power he has witnessed. Arriving at Castle Alderan he is welcomed into the family as the grandson of Kermiac's sister Meriel. Here he meets his cousin, Kermiac's son Beltran, Kermiac's wards, Thyra, Marjorie and Rafe Scott, and the mysterious Raymon Kadarin, and is drawn into their plan to recreate the old pre-Compact matrix sciences, using the Sharra matrix. As he works with Kadarin and the others, training them to be a working circle, he and Marjorie begin to fall in love, despite the fact that Lew has determined that Marjorie is the one best suited to serve as the circle's Keeper.

Regis, having completed his first year of training, travels to visit his sister; en route, he stops at Danilo's home, where the two renew their friendship, and Regis, learning what really happened to him, swears to make it right. On his return to Thendara, despite being ill with threshold sickness, a malady that often strikes telepaths whose laran has awakened, he confronts first his grandfather and then Kennard with the knowledge of Dyan's abuse. Kennard, reading his mind and the images he carries from Danilo's mind, is shocked, but accepts Dyan's guilt. He also realises that Danilo is a catalyst telepath, a rare gift thought to be extinct, and contact with him can stimulate latent laran - and that contact with Danilo is what has woken Regis' powers.

With the promise that justice will be done, Regis returns to Syrtis with Gabriel who is to take Regis to Neskaya for laran training and then bring Danilo back to Thendara, but they discover that Danilo has been kidnapped by the Aldarans. Gabriel returns to Thendara to report the crime. Regis promises to wait for Gabriel at his seat in Edelweiss, but instead, he pauses long enough to name Gabriel and Javanne's youngest son his heir, and sets out to find Danilo.

In Alderan, Lew is horrified when he learns that Beltran has kidnapped Danilo, particularly since he himself, having guessed Danilo's gift, had speculated about asking Danilo to join their circle and use his gift to help more latent telepaths find their powers. Kermiac chastises Beltran, and when Regis arrives, assures him that both he and Danilo are guests under his roof and will come to no harm, and will be allowed to leave when the weather is better.

Lew comes to the realisation that working with Sharra is corrupting all of them, awakening lust for power and dulling their consciences, he decides that they must return Sharra to the forge folk and find another way to bring about their goals. But when Kermiac dies suddenly, Beltran imprisons Regis and Danilo, and tries to force Lew to continue working with the Sharra circle. Marjorie rescues the three captives, and they flee Aldaran Castle. Lew and Marjorie set out to bring word of the Sharra circle to Arilinn, while Regis and Danilo head toward Thendara. Lew and Marjorie are recaptured, and Lew is drugged and, now controlled by Kadarin, returns to the Sharra circle. As Sharra rages, destroying the city of Caer Donn and the Terran Spaceport there, telepaths across Darkover feel the impact, and a force is sent from Thendara to stop the fires, no matter what. Regis and Danilo meet the party, led by Kennard and Dyan, on the road, and head back with them toward Alderan.

Marjorie convinces Kadarin to let Lew recover from the drugs, and together they decide that Sharra must be stopped, even if it takes their deaths - and the deaths of everyone in the Sharra circle - to close the dimensional gateway that fuels it. As they enter the circle and prepare to attempt it, Kennard finally reaches Lew and adds his power to theirs. The gateway is sealed, but Lew is gravely wounded and Marjorie close to death; with the strength of desperation, Lew manages to teleport himself and Marjorie to Arilinn, but it is too late for Marjorie.

Despite the closing of the gateway, the Sharra matrix remains too powerful to be left on Darkover where its power could be raised again; Kennard decides to leave Darkover, taking the matrix and Lew with him, hoping that Terran medicine can heal wounds that Darkovan psi power cannot. The Terrans, now aware of just what kind of long-range weapons the Compact was made to control, promise to do their part in keeping it. Dyan accepts responsibility for his abuse of Danilo, and names him heir to Ardais as recompense. And Regis relinquishes his dream of the stars and takes his place as the Hastur heir on the Council. Hard lessons have been learned - at least for a time.

The Heritage of Hastur is the first of the Darkover novels to deal extensively with male homosexuality. It is also the novel that many readers point to as one that embodies Bradley's personal philosophy as an enabler of the sexual abuse committed by her husband, and an abuser herself. I am going to first discuss attitudes toward male homosexuality in general as presented in the novel, and then look at the instances of sexual abuse and how they are dealt with. But first, I want to summarise certain aspects of what has been revealed so far about Darkovan attitudes toward sex in general.

Sexuality on Darkover has two aspects, social, and reproductive. Social sex is by necessity non-reproductive, as it is a great disgrace to produce a child without a father to claim it. It occurs between men, between women, and between men and women. It is common in the Towers, but is also found outside of them. It is a personal matter, and is expected to take second place to the duty of proper procreation.

Reproductive sex is heavily controlled, because a child without an acknowledged father has no place in the community. Paternity is also important, especially among the nobility, because of the role that inheritance rights play in a feudal society. In Heritage of Hastur, we learn that having at least one heir, if not more, is a legal necessity for an adult male in direct line to the overlordship of a domain.

Thus men are expected to concern themselves with having heirs, and for this they need recognised relationships with women whose fidelity can not be questioned. These relationships span a wide range of options, including a highly formal style of marriage, legal concubinage, a form of common-law marriage, and the taking of mistresses. As long as the man is sure enough of the paternity of his child to acknowledge it, the mothers are not stigmatised and the children have a place in the family and in society. The higher the social status of the woman, the more likely it is that she will be married formally to a man of equal or higher status.

Women are often married young, well before the age of 20, unless they are marked for some training in a Tower, in which case their marriages may be put off for two or three years. Man may also be betrothed, or even married, at an early age. When discussing sexuality, it is important to remember that on Darkover, adulthood arrives early - around the age of 15. At this age, Darkovans take on adult responsibilities - they start work, get married, have children, begin training in Towers or in the Guards, whether they want to or not. As Regis says in speaking of the expected actions of a Comyn son: "It's all planned out for us, isn't it, Lew? Ten years old, fire-watch duty. Thirteen or fourteen, the cadet corps. Take my turn as an officer. Take a seat in Council at the proper time. Marry the right woman, if they can find one from a family that's old enough and important enough and, above all, with laran. Father a lot of sons, and a lot of daughters to marry other Comyn sons."

Nor are matters any different for women, as Lew thinks while watching Regis' sister Javanne at a party: "Javanne was dancing again. Well, let her enjoy herself. She had been married off at fifteen and had spent the last nine years doing her duty to her family."

Among the Comyn, sexuality and telepathy are strongly linked. Laran generally develops in early adolescence, and as Bradley constructs the physiology of psi, sexual and laran "energies" travel along the same "channels" in the body. As well, it is often mentioned that for telepaths, living in close contact is like "living with your skin off" - in a state of intimacy unimaginable among non-telepaths. It's also mentioned that telepathic men are often uninterested, or even impotent, with "head-blind" women. Telepathy both mimics and intensifies sexual bonding. As Lew says, in explaining why he refuses to marry at the command of the Comyn:
How could I tell Hastur, who was old enough to be my grandfather, and not even a telepath, that when I took a woman, all her thoughts and feelings were open to me and mine to her, that unless rapport was complete and sympathy almost total, it could quickly unman me? Few women could endure it. And how could I tell him about the paralyzing failures which a lack of sympathy could bring? Did he actually think I could manage to live with a woman whose only interest in me was that I might give her a laran son? I know some men in the Comyn manage it. I suppose that almost any two people with healthy bodies can give each other something in bed. But not tower-trained telepaths, accustomed to that full sharing.
With the exception of the cristoforos, whose attitudes toward sexuality, and particularly sexual expression between persons of the same sex are based on a remnant of Christian religious belief, Darkovans appear to have a relaxed attitude toward male homosexual expression - at least as long as the persons involved are either young, or if older, have done their duty to society by marrying and fathering children.
It was not considered anything so shameful to be an ombredin, a lover of men. Among boys too young for marriage, rigidly kept apart by custom from any women except their own sisters or cousins, it was considered rather more suitable to seek companionship and even love from their friends than to consort with such women as were common to all.
The Heritage of Hastur explores two instances of homosexual contact that may be characterised as abusive. The first, which occurs within the timeline of the novel, involves Danilo Syrtis, who comes to the attention of the sadistic hebephile Dyan Ardais while a cadet. While Danilo is not physically forced into sex, when he rejects Dyan's attentions, the older man responds with what essentially constitutes mental rape, by using his laran to infiltrate Danilo's mind - something telepaths are sworn not to do. There is a clear suggestion that Dyan has done this before, and that he has also had relationships with other young men, who may have been willing but were also under his authority as an officer of the Guard. Among his Comyn peers, his relations with consenting young men are not seen as problematic, but they clearly see his telepathic assault as wrong. In this context, it is important to remember that Darkovans are considered adult at 15, and capable of consent. By Darkovan standards, Dyan is guilty of abuse of power, but not of child abuse.

The second instance involves a single incident from the past, between 12-year-old Regis and Lew Alton, who is, as Bradley states in the text, "five or six years older than Regis." (It's interesting to note that reviewers have tended to cast Lew as ten or more years older than Regis.) Lew and Regis are foster-brothers, and Regis loves and worships Lew like the older brother he has never had. Lew is a telepath, Regis at twelve is just beginning to develop his laran. The two are out on the firelines together, in a situation of great stress.
And Regis had known Lew was afraid. He'd touched Lew's mind, and felt it: his fear, the pain of his burns, everything. He could feel it as if it had been in his own mind. And Lew's fear hurt so much that Regis couldn't stand it. He would have done anything to comfort Lew, to take his mind off the pain and the fear. It had been too much. Regis couldn't shut it out, couldn't stand it. But he had forgotten. Had made himself forget, till now.
Struggling with the simultaneous onset of puberty and telepathy, feeling Lew's distress and wanting to comfort him, Regis makes an effort to offer comfort that is both psychic and sexual in nature; Lew, not yet trained to control his telepathy, hurt and afraid and in need of comfort, responds in kind. Is this child abuse? Is Lew a homosexual pedophile? There is certainly no indication in the text that Lew has more than a minor interest in males as sexual partners; in fact, when he thinks of expressing his sexual desires, it is women he considers. Regis is the one who is drawn more to males than to females, who falls in love with Danilo. Regis is 12, Lew is no older than 18. The situation is, to my mind, ambiguous. Nor is it pictured as without consequence, for it is the intensity of the connection that causes Regis to block out the memory, and with it, his developing laran - until it is awakened three years later by the young man who will be his next lover.

It has become almost an article of faith in our society today that persons under some magic age - 16, 18, even 21 - are children, lacking in judgement and agency, incapable of freely consenting to sex. The problem is, that there is no sharp divide between childhood and adulthood and that not all people are alike or develop at the same rate. Even very young children are sexual beings, and it is not unnatural for age peers to engage in sex play. As children enter puberty, sexual interest increases, and many adolescents engage in sexual exploration. Consent is a situational thing. Can two 5-year-olds consent to "playing doctor"? Can a 12-year old consent to sexual exploration with a 13-year-old? A 15-year-old? A 17-year-old? A 25-year-old? The boundaries of free consent are fluid - at some point on this spectrum, the age range becomes too great, and issues of power and influence come into play, but at what point?

I think of my own personal experience. My first consensual sexual relationship occurred when I was 12, with a girl who was four years my senior. It was one of those boarding school romances - and anyone who tries to suggest that same-sex boarding schools are not full of same-sex sexual exploration doesn't know what they are talking about. Was my relationship fully consensual? As I look back, some 50 years later, my memories are of love, desire, longing, wanting to be with my lover as much as possible - to the best of my recollection, I was quite active in trying to seduce her, gain her affection. I was willing, and the only harm I took from the relationship came later, when my lover's parents pulled her out of school and put her into an institution because they discovered her same-sex desires.

This question of consent is particularly important for young people who are queer, because we may not always have age peers able to experiment in the ways we need to. Often we don't exactly know what we are or what we want, only that it is something different - and it may well be that the only people we can find who know what we want are older than we are, having gone through the stages of coming out to themselves that we are only just beginning. Regis' early experience with Lew may well read quite differently to such people, who have had to take different paths to owning their sexuality than most straight people do.

For my part, I read the narrative thread that deals with Regis' sexuality as a coming out story, with Regis and Danilo as a young gay men reaching an understanding and an acceptance of who they are and who they love. That's what made me love this book when I first read it, some 40 years ago, and that's still how it affects me.

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The Spell Sword (pub. 1974), tells the story of the beginning of the Forbidden Tower, introducing Ellemir and Callista Alton, Damon Ridenow, and Terran Andrew Carr. It begins when Carr, on a four-day layover at Thendara spaceport, goes out into the Trade City for some fun and patronises a "fortuneteller." In her "crystal ball" - probably a matrix - he sees a vision of a young woman which so captivates him that he immediately applies for a permanent posting on Darkover. Following a crash in the Hellers, while on a Mapping and Exploration Survey flight, he is contacted telepathically by Callista, the woman whose image he saw. She is being held captive - where and by whom she does not know, but she is able to help him to survive the storms of the Hellers reach safety at Armida, the house seat of the Altons. Meanwhile, Callista's twin sister Ellemir has called for help from their Tower-trained kinsman Damon after Callista's abduction while on a visit home from Arilinn Tower, where she is UnderKeeper to Leonie Hastur. Damon, having survived an attack by the catmen, sentient non-humans native to Darkover, deduces from the details of the raid on Armida that the catmen have not only abducted Callista and somehow blocked her from contacting them, but are also responsible for a strange blight in the nearby region of Corresanti. When Andrew arrives, his story, once told and accepted as true, fills in the remaining blanks.

Immediate rescue is out of the question, as there are few men-at-arms at Armida and Damon is not a warrior. While they wait for the arrival of Ellemir and Callista's father, the powerful Dom Esteban Alton, the telepathic rapport brought on by their searching for Callista and their attempts to train Andrew's latent laran to the point where he can help them find Callista has led to a deep emotional contact between all three of them, but particularly Damon and Ellemir. Meanwhile, Callista's total reliance on Andrew for any shred of human contact seems to be wearing down the barriers she built as Keeper, and Andrew is falling in love with her.

All seems lost when Dom Esteban is ambushed on his way home by the catmen and severely injured, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. However, Dom Esteban has the Alton gift of forced rapport, and he is able to use this gift to control Damon's reflexes, giving the younger man all the skill and experience of an expert swordsman. With Damon now able to lead Esteban's guardsmen, and Andrew's connection to guide them, Callista is rescued and the leader of the catmen, who has been using a huge unmonitored matrix left over from pre-Compact days, is defeated and the immediate menace ended.

The Spell Sword is a relatively short and plot-focused novel, but like most of MZB's novels, it explores aspects of relationships, sexuality, and gender roles. One theme that runs through much of MZB's Darkover writing is the intense nature of communication between telepaths, and how closely linked it can be to love and sexual desire. Both Andrew and Damon have been reluctant to enter into serious relationships, Andrew because every contact her has had, has seemed somehow lacking in something important, and Damon because he has been fixated on Leonie for years, at least in part because of the close rapport they had when he was a matrix worker at Arillan. Telepathic contact between Callista and Andrew, and between Ellemir and Damon, is enough to create an intense emotional and sexual bond in a matter of days, if not hours.

Interestingly, we see indications that while young Darkovan women are generally treated as though they were untouchable - Damon has to caution Andrew that on Darkover, men do not look directly at young women who are not their kin - this may be more appearance than fact. We have seen that women in the Towers, with the exception of Keepers, enjoy sexual autonomy. It must be assumed that if a woman who has worked in a Tower decides to retire and marry, the possibility of her bearing children with laran outweighs and issues of a possible lack of virginity. But when Damon begins to think of Ellemir as a lover, it is clear that he does not expect her to be virgin.
So young, Ellemir was not. She was old enough to care for this vast Domain when her kinsmen were away at Comyn Council. She must be nearly twenty years old. Old enough to have a lover; old enough, if she chose, to marry. She was Comynara in her own right, and her own mistress.
It may be that Damon's Tower experience has made him less insistent on sexual purity in a potential bride; certainly there are other passages and incidents in the Darkover novels that indicate that a woman who has been raped or who has been sexually involved with a man of a lower social status is often seen as defiled and disgraced. On the other hand, it also appears that a woman who becomes mistress or concubine to a man of higher rank is not, as long as he openly acknowledges her and any children she may have with him.

We also see confirmation of the tradition of group marriage and polyamory that dates from the very beginnings of Darkovan history - at one point Ellemir says "when she [Callista] went to the Tower, and was pledged, I knew we could never, as so many sisters do, share a lover, or husband."

The necessity for the absolute virginity of a Keeper is mentioned several times - an interesting irony since it is these four people, and later the child of one of them, who will prove that such virginity is not necessary at all. Damon tries to explain the tradition of total chastity among Keepers to Andrew:
... it's a matter of nerve energies. People have only so much. You learn to protect your energy currents, how to use them most effectively, how to relax, to safeguard your strength. Well, what uses most human energy? Sex, of course. You can use it, sometimes, to channel energy, but there are limits to that sort of thing. And when you're keyed into the matrix jewels—well, the energy they will carry is limitless, but human flesh and blood and brainwaves can stand only so much. For a man it's fairly simple. You can't overload with sex because if you're too heavily overloaded, you simply can't function sexually at all. Matrix telepaths find that out fairly early in the game. You have to go on short rations of sex if you want to keep enough energy to do your work. For a woman, though, it's easy to, well, to overload. So most of the women have to make up their minds to stay chaste, or else be very, very careful not to key into the more complex matrix patterns. Because it can kill them, very quickly, and it's not a nice death.”
However, the combination of powerful laran and the sensitivity to mesh completely with others that makes a woman so valuable and revered as a Keeper seems to be a liability for a man. Damon suffers from insecurity and concerns about his masculinity so severe that it actually keeps him from being able to allow himself competence in masculine areas such as weapons training because he has been told by Leonie that he could have been a Keeper had he been a woman.
... you are too sensitive, you cannot barricade yourself. Had you been born a woman, in a woman's body,” she added, laying a light hand on his shoulder, “you would have been a Keeper, perhaps one of the greatest. But as a man," faintly, she shrugged—“you would destroy yourself, tear yourself apart. Perhaps, free of the Tower, you may be able to surround yourself with other things, grow less sensitive, less”—she hesitated, groping for the exact word—“less vulnerable. It is for your own good that I send you away, Damon; for your health, for your happiness, perhaps for your very sanity."
This underscores the occasional glimpses seen in this and other of the Darkover novels of a certain degree of contempt shown by Comyn men who have devoted themselves to the Guard or have gained some recognition for weapons skill toward men working in the Towers or lacking inclination or skill to be trained fighters. It is clear that the strict imposition of gender roles impacts men as well as eomen in Darkovan society.

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Darkover Landfall (pub. 1972) is the series' origin story. In this novel, set 2,000 years before contact, a space ship carrying colonists to an established Terran colony is thrown light-years off course by some gravitational anomaly and crash-lands on an uncharted world. The survivors make attempts to repair the ship, but without the ability to recreate the technologies required, even the crew - most of whom are highly resistant to the idea of being planetbound - accept that their only hope is to build a viable colony.

The portrayal of gender roles in this novel is wildly contradictory. There are professional women among both the crew and the colonists, who perform their tasks with competence and autonomy. The society they come from has, at least technically, adopted gender equality - "Do I have to read you the Terran Bill of Rights? No law shall be made or formulated abridging the rights of any human being to equal work regardless of racial origin, religion or sex--" - although we also learn that female colonists are normally required to give up some of this equality for the good of the colony.

Women - at least women on settled planets and in space - appear to have a fair degree of reproductive freedom. Contraception is readily available - indeed, compulsory on shipboard, as FTL flight is apparently harmful to children. While abortion is at one point described as "unthinkable" due to the universal availability of contraception, when it is discovered early on that the standard contraceptives are not working, due to the effects of being on an alien planet, one of the doctors worries "... we've been relying on hormones so long that no one knows much about the prehistoric kind any more. We don't have pregnancy-testing equipment, either, since nobody needs it on a spaceship. Which means if we do get any pregnancies they may be too far advanced for safe abortions before they're even diagnosed!" Later, one of the women who finds herself pregnant feels comfortable in approaching one of the medical staff to request its termination,

However, the attitudes of the men whose viewpoints we are treated to are overwhelmingly chauvinist, to use a phrase that was in common usage when the book was written.

Rafe MacAran, one of several POV characters, on being informed that one of the necessary personnel to accompany him on an exploratory expedition into the nearby mountains is astrogator Camilla Del Ray, protests "May I ask what for?" MacAran said, slightly startled. "Not that she isn't welcome, though it might be a rough trek for a lady. This isn't Earth and those mountains haven't any chairlifts!" Later, after learning two more women will be on the expedition, he thinks "Hell of a way to start a trip! And here he'd been, despite the serious purpose of this mission, excited about actually having a chance to climb an unexplored mountain--only to discover that he had to drag along, not only a female crew member--who at least looked hardy and in good training-but Dr. Lovat, who might not be old but certainly wasn't as young and vigorous as he could have wished, and the delicate-looking Heather." Ironically, MacAran also thinks to himself that he's "no male chauvinist."

As tenuous a concept as gender equality seems to be in this version of the early Terran Empire, it disappears completely under the supposed necessities of establishing a viable colony. Once it is obvious that there will be no way to repair the ship, restrictions on reproductive freedom are imposed based on regulations regarding government-sponsored colonies. When Camilla Del Ray requests an abortion, she is told "Surely you know that in the Colonies abortions are performed only to save a life, or prevent the birth of a grossly defective child, and I'm not even sure we have facilities for that here. A high birth rate is absolutely imperative for at least the first three generations—you surely know that women volunteers aren't even accepted for Earth Expeditionary unless they're childbearing age and sign an agreement to have children?"

Camilla's horrified reaction to being told that she must bear an unwanted child is answered by a patronising set piece that enshrines as "scientific truth" the notion that all women really want babies more than anything else.

"Camilla," Ewen said very gently, "this is biological. Even back in the 20th century, they did experiments on rats and ghetto populations and things, and found that one of the first results of crucial social overcrowding was the failure of maternal behavior. It's a pathology. Man is a rationalizing animal, so sociologists called it "Women's Liberation" and things like that, but what it amounted to was a pathological reaction to overpopulation and overcrowding. Women who couldn't be allowed to have children, had to be given some other work, for the sake of their mental health. But it wears off. Women sign an agreement, when they go to the colonies, to have a minimum of two children; but most of them, once they're out of the crowding of Earth, recover their mental and emotional health, and the average Colony family is four children--which is about right, psychologically speaking. By the time the baby comes, you'll probably have normal hormones too, and make a good mother. If not, well, it will at least have your genes, and we'll give it to some sterile woman to bring up for you. Trust me, Camilla."

Bye, bye, any pretense at gender equality and reproductive autonomy. Of course, it does make sense that a high birth rate and as much genetic diversity as possible would be vital to an isolated community's viability - but can't it be framed in some other fashion than medical authorities and legislators making pronouncements specific to women about forced repeated pregnancies? Why not a general meeting where the issues are discussed and men and women voluntarily agree to contribute as fully as possible to the production of a genetically diverse base population?

Another aspect of sexuality that is a common theme in the Darkover novels is that of polyamory, whether it be the open sexuality of the Towers or the custom of legal concubinage that develops among the Comyn families. In Darkover Landfall, it is the influence of the hallucinogenic pollen from the kirseeth flower that causes several instances of sexual play between multiple partners. However, by the end of the novel, the need for a diverse gene pool means that people are beginning to form polyamorous families and women are bearing children by several men.

Over the course of the series, we see that there are several different views of homosexuality on Darkover. The largest source of homophobic sentiment appears to be found in the teachings of the Cristoforo religious sect. In Darkover Landing, we meet the originator of the Cristoforos, Father Valentine Neville, a Catholic priest of the Order of St. Christoper of Centaurus. In the novel, Father Valentine participates in group sex with six other men while under the influence of kirseeth, and in the fog of recovery, murders the other men because he can't face the enormity of his sin.

The events of Darkover Landfall set the stage for the kind of society that will develop over the next two thousand years on Darkover. The importance of children, the tendency toward polyamorous relationships, the sacrifice of female autonomy to the needs of community survival, the use of matrix jewels to enhance psi ability, relationships between human and non-human inhabitants of the planet - all these will be seen again throughout the series.

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The World Wreckers (pub. 1971) is, in terms of internal chronology, the last book set in post-Contact Darkover written by Bradley alone, without a collaborator. It is a story of catastrophic endings and unlooked-for new beginnings, and is the book that gives us the most information about the original non-human inhabitants of Darkover, the chieri.

Andrea Closson is a world wrecker. For a fee, her company will destroy the economy of a planet, making it easier for her clients to step in and take it over. And she has been hired to damage Darkover so badly that the planet will have to give up its protected status and beg for Terran assistance. Her methods are ruthless. She targets three key resources - forests, soil, and the Darkovan telepaths - with arson, poison and assassination. The irony is that Andrea Closson is a chieri, and the world she is destroying is her home, the telepaths, her distant cousins.

Regis Hastur knows that something is wrong. The Comyn are dying, through illness and assassination, and the people are starving as forest fires and other disasters wreak havoc on Darkover's fragile ecology. Desperate to keep the knowledge of Darkovan matrix sciences alive, Regis offers to teach these sciences to Terran telepaths. The pilot project brings together Darkovans - Regis, his paxman and lover Danilo Syrtis, the elderly Desideria (from Winds of Darkover) and her granddaughter Linnea - and Terrans - David Hamilton, David Connor, and Rondo - and most unexpectedly, two chieri - Keral, one of the last fertile members of a dying race, and Missy, a foundling with no knowledge of her background who has wandered the Terran Empire for centuries, living by her ability to project a powerful femininity but so psychically damaged that she is barren. Supervising the project, which seeks to understand what makes a telepath, is Jason Allison (whom we met in the very first Darkover novel, The Planet Savers).

As matters grow worse, Regis puts out a call to bring together all the telepaths of Darkover - not just those of known Comyn heritage, but anyone with a trace of laran - to form a new Telepath's Council to replace the Comyn Council. Closson sees this as her chance to put an end to all the telepaths of Darkover, and plants a bomb to explode during the Festival of the Four Moons, when her spy within the project, Rondo, has reported that all the telepaths will be celebrating at Comyn Castle.

When the Festival begins, Closson conceals herself nearby, to see the end of the those she thinks of as the usurpers of the place her own people once held. When the remaining chieri teleport into the festival, called by the newly pregnant Keral's joy, Closson's shock allows Rondo, to read her mind and discover her plan. A powerful telekinetic, he calls the bomb to himself and in a desperate attempt to save the others, hurls himself upward, still holding it; the bomb detonates high above the city, and Closson comes out of hiding to face her long-lost kin.

Now knowing that the Darkovans carry the heritage of her own people, Closson puts her knowledge and fortune to work saving Darkover; finally at peace, she dies holding the child of Keral and David Hamilton in her arms.

There is relatively little action in the novel; much of it is focused on a topic Bradley would return to again and again, the link between telepathy and sexuality. This is explored primarily in the relationships between David Connor and Missy, and David Hamilton and Keral. In both cases, there is the added dimension of the androgyny of the chieri, and the complex processes that result in a change from a neutral state - in which the chieri may appear somewhat male, somewhat female, both or neither - to a fertile state in which a male or female state becomes dominant, allowing the chieri either to inseminate or to conceive.

We learn that the chieri are almost extinct because their telepathic sensitivity and its relationship to the biological transformation necessary for reproduction makes it almost impossible for them to reproduce except in an environment of close telepathic bonding. (Many of the Darkovan telepaths also display such a sensitivity, though not to the same degree.) Most historical cases of interbreeding between chieri and human have been the result of a kind of madness and desperation to have a child. Add to this their relatively infrequent cycles of fertility and the fact that there is no guarantee that when a bonded couple both come into a fertile phase, the change will end with one in male phase and the other in female phase.

Many thousands of years ago, the chieri, already seeing the inevitable end of their species, took to space to try and find another species they could be compatible with. Failing to do this, most withdrew to Darkover, let the signs of their civilisation disappear, and prepared to die,leaving the planet to other developing species. Some, like Closson, remained on other worlds. There is a strong indication in the novel that Missy is Closson's child, the product of an episode of madness.

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The Winds of Darkover (pub. 1970), which takes place a few years after Star of Danger, begins the tale of Sharra that will be continued much later in The Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile. Though we never really learn exactly what Sharra is - goddess, half-sentient rogue matrix, metaphysical psi focus, or something even stranger - it is a powerful force that was once worshipped by the forge-folk (yet another of the many non-human peoples of Darkover) and it plays a large part in the resolution of the novel.

The book opens with two apparently unrelated events. First, Terran Dan Barron, the high-tech version of an air traffic controller, makes a serious error in which a major crash is narrowly avoided only by the skill of the pilots. Decertified from his former position, he is given a chance to redeem himself when the Lord of Armida asks for Terran assistance in setting up a warning system using telescopes to watch for fire and bandits. What Barron has not said - because he can't understand it himself - is that he has been having involuntary visions of places and thing he has no context for, including a chained woman wreathed in flames. As it happens, one of his guides to Armida is Lord Valdir's foster-son Lerrys, aka Larry Montray. Lerrys picks up on some of Barron's visions and is prompted to offer him a knife, thus firming a bond of brotherhood between them.

Meanwhile, in the high Hellers, the bandit leader Brynat Scarface has succeeded in his siege of the ancient castle of Storn, forcibly wedded the Lady of Storn, and seeks to solidify his position. The Lord of Storn, blind from birth and thus incapable of mounting a defence, is nonetheless a powerful telepath, and after warding himself against all physical harm, has entered a trance. He is able to communicate with his younger sister Marietta, urging her to escape and travel to Carthon. He is also able to enter Barron's mind, and plans to take over his body and meet Marietta in Carthon. In fact, it is his efforts to build the necessary link with Barron - who Storn views as a legitimate target for a psychic invasion that would be unthinkable if directed at any Darkovan - that have been causing Barron's visions.

Long story made short - Marietta escapes, Storn overshadows Barron, they meet in Carthon. Finding no help there, they head to Aldaran. While the Lord of Aldaran offers no help, they meet Desideria, a powerful telepath trained to act as a Keeper, who upon learning that there are still forge-folk who worship Sharra at Storn, offers to help them by focusing the energies of the worshippers through Sharra to fight Brynat and his men. On the way to Storn, Barron regains control but upon figuring out what is happening, agrees to help Marietta and Storn of his free will. They defeat Brynat, take back Storn, and it seems very likely that there will soon be a double wedding - Barron and Marietta, Desideria and Storn.

This story is essentially self-contained, with only a few links to other installments in the Darkover series. The presence of Larry Montray in the opening sequences - and the brief mention of Valdir's foster-daughter Cleindori - place the story on the timeline. And we will see a much older Desideria in The World Wreckers. The most important element is the introduction of Sharra.

From time to time in the Darkover series, we are told that the women of the Hellers are not as sheltered as women of the lowlands. Here we see Marietta as a strong woman, competent in riding, capable of travelling by herself between Storn and Carthon without suffering insult. While we could argue that Desideria's independence comes from her status as a telepath with the power and skill of a Keeper, Marietta's actions suggest that at least some women of higher class - especially those who are unmarried and take part in the management of their family's estates have certain freedoms to act, and the confidence and experience to do so when needed.

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Star of Danger (pub. 1965) is one of the earliest written of the Darkover books, but in terms of the internal chronology of the series, it falls well after the time of first contact. Lorill Hastur, who is well advanced in years in this novel, was a boy of 15 or so when the Terrans came to Alderan. Valdir Alton, who was a child when the Forbidden Tower was formed, is now the father of two sons, the younger of whom is 16. And the third generation of Montrays comes home to Darkover. There are inconsistencies between this early novel and many of the ones that follow, but as with The Bloody Sun and The Planet Savers, certain key elements of Darkovan history were already well formed in the author's mind when the book was written.

In Star of Danger, Wade Montray returns to Darkover with his teenage son Larry after spending more than a decade on Earth. Larry, a curious young man with a desire to explore this new world, ventures into the Trade City and makes friends with Kennard Alton, son of Valdir, cadet guardsman. But when Larry is invited to spend the summer with Kennard at Armida, disaster strikes - Larry is kidnapped by bandits who mistake him for Kennard. Feeling personally responsible for Larry's fate, and knowing that if harm comes to Larry, his father will be caught up in a major diplomatic incident, Kennard sets out to rescue him.

The rescue succeeds, but in evading pursuit, Kennard and Larry are lost and must find their way through the rugged terrain of Darkover - forests inhabited by the non-human trailmen and mountains harbouring dangerous predators - to reach safe territory. During their difficult journey, Larry's latent telepathy is awakened and he and Kennard bond more deeply - although the harmony of that bond is often threatened by cultural issues. Eventually the two find ways to work together, relying on both Kennard's psi training and Darkovan survival skills, and Larry's scientific knowledge, to survive in the wilds.

As they near the territories of the Hastur domain, they encounter a lone chieri, who takes them in, offers them hospitality, tells them of the true history of humans on Darkover, and then teleports them to safety, just in time to ward off the brewing diplomatic firestorm. Larry's father explains that his late wife - Karry's mother - had in fact been a Darkovan woman, kin to the Alderan clan, who had followed him to Earth, and that Larry's laran comes from her. There is great hope that the friendship Larry and Kennard have formed will help to improve relations between Terrans and Darkovans.

As a "boy's adventure" story with no female characters at all, there is little to comment on in terms of portrayals of gender and sexuality in this novel. One thing that does strike me, though, is the odd history of Terran knowledge of and attitudes toward the Comyn and their use of laran. All through the series (at least up to the time of the waking of Sharra at Alderan, which is still to come at this point) the Terrans are portrayed as knowing very little about these issues, and by turns disbelieving, or desperately curious, about them. Even in this story, where one of the main characters is the product of a marriage between a Terran man who spent his youth on Darkover and a Darkovan of the ruling classes and a telepath in her own right, the Terrans see Larry's invitation to Armida as a chance to learn something about the Comyn and their abilities. One would think by this time the Terrans would have more clues than they appear to. But perhaps Darkovans have been more successful at keeping quiet, even when they marry Terrans, than one would think possible.

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Continuing with the great MZB re-read project, the next available novel is The Bloody Sun (pub. 1964, rewritten and repub. 1979). MZB did write a Darkover novel between The Planet Savers and The Bloody Sun - Sword of Aldones - but she later withdrew it from publication, including an extensive revision of the material in the later book, Sharra's exile. Sword of Aldones has been out of print for a very long time, and while I'd love to re-read it (having little memory of the original, which I read almost 50 years ago), it's been impossible to find. So... on to The Bloody Sun, which was itself revised from the original 1964 edition, but I've read both versions and the revision retains most of the character of the original.

In The Bloody Sun, Jeff Kerwin Jr, born on Darkover, returns to the planet of his birth to uncover the mystery of his parentage. He learns that he is the son of a former Keeper of Arilinn, Dorilys Aillard, who challenged ancient traditions about the use of laran (psi abilities) and was murdered for it. One of the traditions she challenged was the belief that a Keeper must be an asexual being, virgin in body and untouched by sexual feeling in order to keep her psychic "channels" free of energies that might make her unable to focus the power of a circle of working telepaths through her own mind and body, which is required of a Keeper. Her own background as a child of the "forbidden tower" - a community of polyamorous telepaths, including both high-born Comyn and commoners with laran - had taught her that anyone with sufficient ability, man or woman, could be a Keeper and keep their channels clear with various mental disciplines - rendering the ritual virginity of a Keeper unnecessary. When Kerwin is found to have inherited his mother's laran, he is invited to join one of the few remaining Keeper's circles, at Arilinn, where he falls afoul of all the sexual mores of the Tower community.

Keepers in Darkovan society at the time of Contact are heightened examples of the Madonna/whore split. A Keeper is a totally de-sexed being, presented as pure in mind and body, trained to have no sexual awareness or response. While a Keeper can "give back her oath" and retire from the Towers into an "honourable marriage" with one of her peers, any Keeper who becomes sexually involved outside of such a formal retreat, and especially one who continues to use her laran after asserting her sexuality is seen as a whore, a focal point of lust and depravity, a threat to society. It is interesting that it is only the Keeper - the most powerful of laran-gifted women - must live so completely constrained, either as virgin or as wife, under patriarchal control. Aside from the Keeper, other telepaths in the Towers, men and women, share sexual contact as freely as they do any other gesture of affection.

Taniquel, a powerful empath, offers comfort and healing freely to any of the other telepaths at Arilinn (we only see her interacting sexually with the men, however). When Kerwin joins the Tower circle, he is insecure, in culture shock, and finds that some of the other telepaths, Auster in particular, are hostile to him, Taniquel initiates emotional and sexual connection in an attempt to help integrate him into the community and make him feel better. He interprets this as a love affair and responds with jealousy and anger when she later offers comfort to Auster. From her reaction, and that of the other telepaths, to his slutshaming, it is clear that Tower women who are not Keepers are seen to have full sexual autonomy. Unlike the Keepers, they are free to have sex when and with whoever they choose, and Nyrissa confirms that Tower women are free to bear children by whoever they choose within the Tower community - attitudes at odds with the role of women outside of the Towers, where marriage or concubinage are the cultural norm for women, and where men control the lives, finances, fertilty and sexuality of their wives (with one strange exception, the Comyn-caste Ailliard family, where women hold political power).

We also see something of gender politics among the Terrans in The Bloody Sun, in the regulations regarding marriage between Imperial citizens and "native" women. This passage seems to sum things up:
The Empire Civil Service consists largely of single men; few Terran women care to accompany their men halfway across the Galaxy. This means that on every planet liaisons with native women, both formal and informal, are taken for granted. To avoid endless complications with various planetary governments, the Empire makes a very clear distinction. An Empire citizen may marry any woman, on any planet, by the laws of her own world and her own customs; it is a matter between the individual Terran, the woman, her family, and the laws under which she lives. The Empire has no part in it. Whether the marriage is formal or informal, temporary or permanent, or no marriage at all, is a matter for the private ethical and moral standards of the parties involved. And that man is carried as single on the Records of the Empire, making such provision for his wife as he privately chooses; although he may, if he wishes, file for citizenship for any child of the marriage, and obtain certain privileges for him.... But if he chooses to register the marriage through Terran records, or signs any Empire document speaking of any native woman on any world, legally, as his wife, she is so in fact.
It appears MZB's conceptualisation of the gender roles in the Terran Empire at this point is of a society where men do things and "their women" follow them - consistent with real life in Western society in the early 60s. While she has been able to imagine a particular subculture in which women (at least, women from the Comyn families with laran who choose the life of the Towers) are viewed as autonomous individuals with useful skills who own their bodies and their sexuality (as long as the virgin Keeper gives up hers completely), she cannot at this stage in her writing create a human society in which women are free and equal.


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