Darkover series

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Author Marion Zimmer Bradley
Country United States
Language English
Published 1958-1996
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)

The Darkover series is a science fiction-fantasy chronology consisting of several novels and short stories set in the fictional world of Darkover as created by author Marion Zimmer Bradley. The word "Darkover" is a registered trademark[1] owned by the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust.

Commenting on the significance of the Darkover series, science fiction author Baird Searles said that the books were "destined to be The Foundation of the 1970s".[2]

Darkover chronology

See also: List of Darkover books for a complete chronological bibliography of Darkover books, anthologies and series by date of publication.

This Darkover chronology uses the time period designations first provided by the author as "A Readers Guide to Darkover" in The Heirs of Hammerfell (1989). Some of these time periods overlap, particularly the Ages of Chaos and the Hundred Kingdoms eras.[3] It's occasionally the case that the official readers guide places a book in one era, but internal plot evidence places it in another (or both). Additionally, Bradley was not particularly sympathetic to her fans' need to organize the books into a consistent chronology, and the timeline evidence from one book to another is sometimes in conflict.[4] Commenting on this problem, Bradley wrote, "I have fiercely resisted any attempt to impose absolute consistency, straightforward chronology, or anything but the most superficial order on the chronicles of Darkover." [5]

The books written between 1958 and 1996 were intended to be stand-alone stories, that did not require the reader to be familiar with previous books in the series. This is less true of the books published after 1996. Bradley herself recommended that the books be read in the order in which they were written, rather than the Darkovan chronological order, as her writing style changed considerably over her career.

The Founding

At the end of the 21st century, Earth sends colony ships out to the stars.[6] One of these ships becomes disabled and crash-lands on Darkover, the fourth planet in a red giant solar system. Unable to repair their ship and equally unable to contact with Earth, the survivors establish a colony.

The colonists are primarily ethnic Celtic and Spanish, and this mix is reflected in the resultant blended culture. Bradley falls back on a standard "lost colony" gimmick: to increase the available gene pool and maximize the chances of colonial survival, the colonists intermarry extensively and produce as many children with as many different partners as possible. Psychic and psionic abilities are acquired through interbreeding with the native Chieri people.

Bradley is silent about the developments that followed the first generation of the colony, and does not make clear how many years intervene between the founding and the Ages of Chaos. The novels, Darkover Landfall and Rediscovery suggest that at least 2,000 years have passed between the founding of the colony and Earth's recontact. In The Planet Savers, Jason Allison says that the city of Carthon is 5,000 years old (pg. 24), but his observation is an outlier when considered in light of the evidence of the series as a whole.

Books describing this era:

  • Darkover Landfall (1972) - the first of the series, though not the first story published

Short stories describing this era:

The Ages of Chaos

Bradley's books constantly refer back to the Ages of Chaos, but few books are actually set in this era. In this era, the descendents of the original colonists have organized themselves into a feudal-type society, with laran (psionic) abilities as the determiner of which individuals are part of the aristocracy and which are commoners. This period is marked by incredible creativity, the development of laran-based technology and weaponry, and the creation of the system of Towers, remote settlements where those with exceptional laran abilities are housed and trained, dominate political and social life. Unfortunately these developments are accompanied by a period of nearly constant civil war, in which the Darkovans seem determined to exterminate themselves. Walter Breen's The Darkover Concordance indicates that the Ages of Chaos period begins about a thousand years after the colonization of the planet and lasts a full thousand years.[7]

Books describing this era:

The Hundred Kingdoms

Many of Bradley's books, and a large number of the short stories, are set at the tail end of the Ages of Chaos, in a period she called the Hundred Kingdoms. By this era, the laran breeding programs had been abandoned, and the many small principalities were beginning to consolidate into the seven domains that survived into Darkover's modern era. Bradley's innovation, the adoption of "The Compact," is a turning point in the development of Darkover's social order. "The Compact" bans all weapons that can be used without bringing the user into equal danger, effectively banning laran weapons, but allowing swords and knives. The Hundred Kingdoms may be read as commentary on the use of weapons of mass destruction in Earth's own endless conflicts.

Books describing this era:

The Comyn

Many of the books refer to or suggest a period of time following the Hundred Kingdoms but prior to the arrival of the Terrans, in which Darkover's society is guided by the Towers and the Comyn.[8] Bradley did not give this period an official name and did not define its length. However, textual evidence suggests that the period between the reign of King Carolin of Hastur (A Flame in Hali) and the regency of Stefan Hastur (Rediscovery) is a separate era, lasting between 100 and 250 years.[9]

Recontact (Against the Terrans: The First Age)

Eventually Darkover is rediscovered by the Terran Empire, which establishes a spaceport, first at Caer Donn, and later at Thendara, the only large city on Darkover. This re-contact takes place a little more than 2,000 years after the events described in Darkover Landfall [10][11]

Books describing this era:

After the Comyn (Against the Terrans: The Second Age)

Books describing this era:

Modern Darkover

At the conclusion of Traitor's Sun, Bradley describes the Terrans abandoning their foothold on Darkover, and the restoration of Comyn control over the government. Books after Traitor's Sun therefore fall in their own category, which the publisher is calling Modern Darkover.

The Renunciates

In the introduction to Free Amazons of Darkover, Bradley wrote that her Renunciates have become “the most attractive and controversial of my creations.” The Guild of Oath-Bound Renunciates, called Free Amazons and com’hi letzii in earlier books, were women who had opted out of Darkover’s traditional gender-based roles, including marriage, obligations to clan, and the expectation of male protection.[12]

The origins of this guild during the Hundred Kingdoms era are described in Two to Conquer as the merger between the Sisterhood of the Sword, a military-mercenary guild, and the Priestesses of Avarra, a cloistered order that offered medical and other care to women, primarily abused women. Towards the end of Two to Conquer, Carlina di Asturien comes to believe that the two guilds need to work together for the benefit of all women on Darkover. Bradley acknowledged a Patricia Mathews fan story as the origin of the Sisterhood of the Sword, and described the Priesthood of Avarra as a counterforce.[13]

Bradley noted that most of the fan fiction she received was inspired by the Renunciates, that she had met individuals who had taken Renunciate-style names or were attempting to live in women's communes inspired by the Renunciate guildhouses.[14]

Books in the world of the Renunciates:

  • The Shattered Chain (1976), (Reprinted as Oath of The Renunciates, the 1983 omnibus of The Shattered Chain and Thendara House)
  • Thendara House (1983), (Reprinted as Oath of The Renunciates, the 1983 omnibus of The Shattered Chain and Thendara House)
  • City of Sorcery (1984), (Reprinted as Oath of The Renunciates, the 2002 omnibus of The Shattered Chain, Thendara House, and City of Sorcery)

Darkover Anthologies

In addition to novels, Bradley edited and published twelve short story anthologies in collaboration with other authors, known as the Friends of Darkover. The period of cooperative collaboration, which started in 1970, ended abruptly in 1992, when Bradley's interaction with a fan rendered the novel Contraband legally unpublishable.[15] The anthologies are now out of print owing to the publisher's concerns regarding the ownership of the copyrights of the individual stories.

In the 1990 anthology, Domains of Darkover, Bradley stated that the only short stories that she considered part of the official Darkover canon, were those by herself, Diana Paxson and Elizabeth Waters, and a single story by Patricia Floss, The Other Side of the Mirror. All of the other short stories published either in the anthologies or in fanzines she considered unofficial.[16]

The publication of the anthologies of Darkover was restarted in 2013.[17]

The Comyn: Darkover's Ruling Families

Bradley's first Darkover books contrasted the laran/feudal-based society of Darkover with the rational/technological society of the Terrans. In these books, the Comyn are the surviving laran-gifted families of Darkover who are ruling at the time of recontact with the Terran Empire. They are descendants of human-chieri pairings, who have learned to use native matrix stones to focus their laran powers. Each Comyn family controls part of Darkover's landmass, known as a Domain, but strategic inter-marriage and feudal land issues result in fluctuating domain borders. Comyn families are also ascribed a gift — a family-specific laran power, though in reality, not every member of the family has the family gift. The gifts may skip generations. Of particular note is that twins often have differing amounts of the family gifts. One twin usually has more of the gifts than does the other twin.

Walter Breen cites Christopher Gibson for the observation that comyn is derived from the Gaelic word, comhionnan, meaning equal, and appears to refer to the communal origins of Darkover.[18]

The Comyn families include:

Hastur of Hastur

  • Gift: living matrix
  • Other names associated with this domain: Di Asturien, Syrtis
  • Crest: silver tree on a blue background

Hastur of Elhalyn

  • Gift: ability to see all possible outcomes from every decision made or choice presented to its wielder
  • Crest: crowned silver tree on a blue background


  • Gift: ability of forced rapport
  • Crest: eagle perched upon a tor
  • Other names associated with this domain: Castamir, Lanart, Leynier


  • Gift: catalyst telepathy
  • Pronunciation: In Thendara House, Jaelle says the name is pronounced are-dayze (pg 96)


  • Gift: Never mentioned in any of Bradley's novels and short stories, except that it only manifests in women. In the Clingfire Trilogy, it is mentioned that Aillard males capitalized on their recessive Aillard Gift, making them better Keepers in a working circle of telepaths. According to The Darkover Concordance, the Aillard gift is extinct.
  • Other names associated with this domain: Lindir
  • Pronunciation: Ale-lard, with a long "A" in the first syllable and the accent on the second.[19]


  • Gift ability to see into the future, sometimes to see multiple future possibilities; weather-working.
  • Other names associated with this domain: Darriell, Delleray, Hammerfell, MacAran, Rockraven, Scathfell, Storn
  • Notable for: Aldaran is not a formal member of the Comyn Council, because they never ratified the Compact, and were the first domain to interact with the Terrans. In the early Ages of Chaos, Aldaran was responsible for The Cataclysm, the destruction of the original Hali tower using a laran weapon that created the heavier-than-air, cloud-filled, Hali Lake.[20]

Ridenow of Serrais

  • Gift: empathy and the ability to sense and communicate with non-human intelligences
  • Notable for: During the Ages of Chaos, Serrais was overrun by a Dry Town clan, the Ridenow, who intermarried with the Serrais women (probably against their will). This rejuvenated the strain, and allowed the Serrais gift to survive in the Ridenow bloodline.[21]

Laran, Chieri and human interbreeding and Kireseth

Having handicapped her colonists with a boreal climate, limited metal resources, a short agricultural season, forests with a tendency to wildfire, and several hostile native species, Bradley gave her human colonists one survival advantage: laran.[22]

At least one of the original colonists, Judy Lovat, has cross-species sex with a Chieri, resulting in pregnancy.[23] This event is proposed in Darkover Landfall as the origin of psychic abilities in the human population of Darkover. Individuals descended from this union become the ruling class, the Comyn (a corruption of commune), owing to their laran abilities.[24][25] This cross-species breeding apparently continues for thousands of years, with certain domains (Hastur, Ardais, Aillard) notable for strong physical Chieri characteristics.

The other actor in the humans’ acquisition of psychic abilities is the pollen of the star flower, called Kireseth.[26] Under the right weather conditions (several warm rain-free nights in a row), vast clouds of psychoactive pollen blow off of fields of Kireseth flowers, causing a phenomenon known as a “ghost wind.” A number of species, including humans, Chieri, and Ya-men, appear to be susceptible to the psychotropic effects of “ghost winds.”[27] Humans eventually learn to manipulate this pollen, into the form of kirian, an alcoholic distillation used to treat Threshold Sickness and other laran-based conditions.[28]

Finally, Elizabeth Mackintosh, a character in the novel, Rediscovery, proposes a genetic basis for the development of laran on Darkover, noting that the original population of the colony also derived overwhelmingly from north-west Europe (the Scottish highlands, Ireland and the Basque country) where a belief in supernatural abilities such as the second sight is common.[29]

Religious traditions of Darkover

On the whole, the inhabitants of Darkover are not particularly religious and do not celebrate any obvious religious rituals.

They believe in four local deities: Avarra (goddess of birth and death), Evanda (goddess of life and warmth), Zandru (lord of the nine hells - each hell colder than the one above it) [Darkovans have a concept of a cold hell as opposed to the hot hell concept of the Terrans], Aldones (lord of light). These entities are believed to have power in the world, but no particular interest in individual persons. The Darkovans may have absorbed these ideas through interaction with the Chieri, a native intelligent species.

The Forge-Folk worship the "form of fire", known as Sharra, who appears as a chained, red-haired female figure to those who have interacted with the Sharra matrix. Bradley provides multiple explanations for Sharra. In The Sword of Aldones, Sharra is described as a powerful matrix in which an Alton leronis had become trapped eons ago. However, in the rewrite of that book, Sharra's Exile, Bradley describes Sharra as a portal to another dimension, though which a powerful alien energy is able to gain a foothold on Darkover. Breen describes Sharra as an anthropomorphized matrix weapon, left over from the Ages of Chaos.[30]

Bradley offers multiple conflicting explanations for Darkover's native deities, deliberately leaving the answer open to interpretation.

Some Darkovans also follow a Terran-originated belief system. These are the Cristoforos, whose beliefs derive from the work of a Catholic monk, Father Valentine, who accompanied the original expedition. Cristoforo is a corruption of St. Christopher of Centaurus, and the central figure of the belief system is the Bearer of Burdens.[31]

These two belief systems operate side by side. A Darkovan may believe in one or the other, or frequently both, without difficulty.


  1. Trademark
  2. The Reference Library, pg. 169, Lester del Rey, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 1977, Vol. XCVII No. 3
  3. A Note From The Author, Two to Conquer, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1980, paperback
  4. A Note From the Author, The Heritage of Hastur, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1975, paperback
  5. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Forward, pg vi, Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  6. Marion Zimmer Bradley, 69, Writer of Darkover Fantasies, New York Times, 29 Sep 1999, http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/29/books/marion-zimmer-bradley-69-writer-of-darkover-fantasies.html
  7. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 1, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  8. Introduction: In the Days of the Comyn, pgs 143-144, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sword of Chaos, DAW Books, 1982, paperback
  9. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 162, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, paperback. Breen names Regis IV and Regis V as Stefan's predecessors. He does not name Carolin at all, because the character did not exist at the time of the concordance's publication.
  10. 2000 years: Leith, Linda, "Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover," Science-Fiction Studies, Volume 7 No. 1 (1980), pg 28, DePaw University
  11. 5000 years: Jason Allison refers to the city of Carthon as 5,000 years old. The Planet Savers, pg 24, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ace Books, 1962, paperback
  12. The Oath of the Free Amazons, pgs 16-22, Walter Breen, Free Amazons of Darkover, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
  13. Introduction: About Amazons, pgs 7-14, Free Amazons of Darkover, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
  14. Introduction: About Amazons, pgs 7-14, Free Amazons of Darkover, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1985, paperback
  15. Coker, Catherine. 2011. "The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 6. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0236. Texas A & M University, College Station, TX
  16. Introduction: And Contrariwise, pgs 9-12, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Domains of Darkover, DAW Books, 1990, paperback
  17. [1]
  18. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance", pg 26, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  19. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance", pg 1, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  20. A Flame at Hali, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross, DAW Books, paperback
  21. Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stormqueen!, pg 167, DAW Books, 1978, paperback
  22. Priscilla W. Armstrong's The Tower At New Skye in Leroni of Darkover proposes that psychic abilities arose in the first generation offspring of Judy Lovat and Camilla MacAran. These abilities were known as the Lovat-MacAran effect, which later descendants slurred to laran.
  23. Darkover Landfall, Marion Zimmer Bradley, DAW Books, 1972, paperback
  24. Linda Leith, "Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover," Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Mar 1980), pp. 28-35, McGill University
  25. Annika Bysveen, "Setting Free the Dragons: Feminist Fantastic Fiction as Protest Literature," pg 8, University of Oslo, Norway, Spring 2007
  26. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 72-72, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  27. The concept of a "ghost wind" was introduced in the 1970 novel, The Winds of Darkover. Incidents involving ghost winds appear in Two to Conquer, Darkover Landfall, The Forbidden Tower and several of the short stories.
  28. Bradley introduces kirian in the 1964 novel, The Bloody Sun, and it appears in nearly every book in the series thereafter that deals with Towers or Threshold Sickness.
  29. Elizabeth MacKintosh makes this statement in Rediscovery while trying to explain how the Darkovan language appears to be derived from old Terran languages.
  30. Breen, Walter; The Darkover Concordance, pg 116-118, Pennyfarthing Press, 1979, trade paperback
  31. The Fall of Neskaya, Marion Zimmer Bradley, pg 55, DAW Books, 2001, paperback

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