Belisarius Series

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The Belisarius Series is an epic, and we do mean epic, Alternate History saga written by David Drake and Eric Flint.

Consists of the books:

  • An Oblique Approach
  • In the Heart of Darkness
  • Destiny's Shield
  • Fortune's Stroke
  • The Tide of Victory
  • The Dance of Time

The story follows the exploits and careers of the great Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius; except there is one minor difference from Real Life history. A war in The Future between two posthuman and transhuman factions has spilled into the past as both groups are attempting to alter history to establish a future more to their liking. On one side, you have the "New Gods", who are obsessed with genetic purity of the human race. They have sent a cyborg called Link (no, not that one) to aid the Malwa Empire in India in achieving global dominance and instituting the eugenics program to shape the future humanity more to their liking.

Link's primary target is the Eastern Roman Empire and its belief in meritorious accomplishment. Their opponents, the Great Ones, send a crystalline AI called Aide to advise the Roman general Belisarius and provide him the technology to defeat the Malwa.

Nothing to do with Donald P. Bellisario.


Tropes used in Belisarius Series include:
  • Alien Space Bats: The series being a prime example of this also makes a good example of Tropes Are Not Bad.
  • The Alliance: Against Malwa.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Invoked (with subdued bitterness) by Rana Sanga in mention of a battle from the Bhagavadghita. It was such a "glorious" battle, he notes; of such great religious and philosophical importance. Nineteen million common soldiers died in that battle. Not one of their names was recorded.
  • Angrish: Belisarius is reduced to this in Destiny's Shield, when Antonina refuses to take along guards on her trip to Egypt.
  • Alternate History: Roman and Indian wars were never this cool in Real Life.
  • Ancient Grome: Averted, but an author's note had to be put in to address fans who thought this was in effect due to the Byzantine Empire being a mostly Greek empire that still calls itself the Roman Empire.
  • Ancient Rome: With a few 'modifications.'
  • Anti-Villain: Narses, despite his treachery, retains sympathy through his good sense and his occasional Pet the Dog moments. In some ways he is a Tragic Villain overcome by his ambition.
  • Arranged Marriage: Photius and Tahmina, Eon and Rukaiya. And then Ousanas and Rukaiya, after Eon's death.
  • Badass: Tons. Beginning with Belisarius, but later in the series, there's also the Malwa general Rana Sanga, Belisarius' bodyguard Valentinian, Sanga's rival and Belisarius' ally Raghunath Rao, Ajatasutra the assassin--let's just say the series is full of Badasses and leave it at that.
  • Badass Army: Rome (well, yeah), Rajputs.
  • Badass Preacher: Michael of Macedon.
  • Balance of Power: After the war Belisarius supports Rome keeping areas of the Malwa empire that he had conquered, less for the glory of Rome then to make sure that there is another large faction in India to support the Balance of Power. On the other side the Malwa use the Kushans, the Rajputs, and the Ye-tai to balance each other and to jointly keep the proles in their place. Part of Belisarius' gigantic Xanatos Gambit is to encourage the defection of the first two, who aren't all that fond of the Malwa anyway.
  • Battle Couple: Belisarius and Antonina, Rao and Shakuntala. The Theodoran Cohort is full of Battle Couples.
  • Becoming the Mask: While entirely practical about not wanting to waste good talent or upset their notorious honor, after commanding a Rajput army not all of Damodara's decisions could be explained solely by pretending to be honorable.

Aide: A man who rides a tiger long enough begins to think like a tiger himself.
And Narses thinks He might as well have stripes himself.

  • Byzantines Speaking English: Not only is the story necessarily written in English Valentinian and Anastasius are constantly making puns in English which of course would not work in Greek or Latin.
    • The real Justinian(the gosh darnit Emperor of Rome) would have died rather then take the title Grand Justiciar(Plantaganet Supreme Court Justice) and associate himself with Frankish barbarians especially when the perfectly serviceable Questor Maximus was available. Just imagine how a President of the United States would feel on being offered the title of councilor to a third world dictator as compensation for losing a reelection attempt and multiply that several times. The only reason for using the title is that it comes from the language of most readers, but as it is archaic one might as well go whole hog and use a Roman or Greek derived title.
  • Big Bad: Link
  • Big Brother Instinct: When Valentinian and Anastasius and Ajatasutra come to "kidnap" Rana Sanga's family, they find Rajiv Sanga (who at this point is twelve years old), knife in hand, standing between his mother and siblings and three of the deadliest men on the planet. It takes a while to persuade him of the true circumstances.
  • Black Comedy: Just to start with, Venandekatra's exagerrated extremities of evil.
    • Pimps are Acceptable Professional Targets which prejudice most readers will naturally sympathize with. And every once in awhile someone will get annoyed with them and give them what's coming to them.
    • Normal battlefield grumbling will sometimes contain a bit of this. They are soldiers, how do you think they entertain themselves?
  • Blithe Spirit: Irene.
  • Broken Bird: Theodora.
  • Breast Plate: Belisarius's wife, Antonina. This series lampshades the hell out of the trope, though the armor in question provides more coverage than most examples of the trope.

Antonina: [upon seeing how creatively the armorer interpreted his instructions] My tits are not that big.

  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Valentinian and Rana Sanga in a more genteel way. Others too.
  • The Butcher: Deconstructed. It is commented that if Venandektra had been called "The Cruel" or something similar it might imply that people think him a Magnificent Bastard even if they hate him. But no one respects someone called "The Vile".
  • Catch Phrase: "Deadly with a blade is Belisarius."
    • First used by Raghunath Rao, but then cited by several others: "Only the soul matters, in the end."
  • Chainmail Bikini: Belisarius' shapely wife Antonina receives a cuirass with gigantic boobs. It is immediately made a joke, she calls it "obscene", and her maidservant makes a joke about her gigantic tits scaring the enemy off. Said maidservant later imitates Antonina (while the real Antonina is elsewhere) to deceive the Malwa, mostly with the help of said obscene cuirass.
  • The Chessmaster: Narses is this in spades. Also covers Belisarius, not to mention spymaster-turned-queen Irene.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Photius
  • Child Soldiers: Under Valentinian's tutelage, Rajiv turns out to be an appallingly competent example.
    • Kid Samurai more specifically.
      • At the end of the series Rajiv's father Rana Sanga (who is himself one of the three deadliest men in the world) lampshades that when he was thirteen the only thing he'd ever successfully beaten up was a wooden practice target, and that if Rajiv is easily participating in battles and killing veteran warriors now the mind quite frankly boggles at what he's going to be like when he reaches his father's age.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Narses is the most loyal spymaster one can hire so long as there's something actually worth intriguing for, but betrays his current employer whenever the struggle is won and it's time to rest and enjoy the fruits of success. This is because he only cares about the game, and success bores the pants off of him. His final employer (and he goes through several in the series) proves Genre Savvy enough in the end to arrange for Narses to seek new independent business opportunities in a distant country, the instant the war is over. Not coincidentally, this is the only employer Narses didn't end up betraying and trying to have murdered.
  • Cincinnatus: Belisarius.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Plenty of them, starting with Belisarius, but none more than Valentinian.
  • Conservation of Ninjitsu: Malwa. Most of its soldiers were trained at the Malwan Hand-to-Hand Combat Academy.
  • The Consigliere: Aide
  • Consummate Professional: Belisarius, Narses, and others, especially Valentinian. Also the Roman Army in general by comparison with the Proud Warrior Races who make up both their allies and their Worthy Opponents, and by comparison with the Malwan Slave Mooks.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: Belisarius versus Damodara in Fortune's Stroke. Rana Sanga versus Valentinian.
    • When Rana Sanga is fighting Valentinian, the Rajputs consider this their special moment. To the point of shoving out any Malwa who wish to come and watch, except those few who have proven their valor by Rajput standards.
  • Crash Into Hello: How Irene meets Kungas. He's standing still, but she's walking so quickly that the collision nearly knocks her down.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Each side has at least one, but the Malwa one really takes the cake.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone. Even an unnamed Malwa bodyguard gets one; when Belisarius, reminded he's carrying a tiny knife for sharpening pens, says he supposes it could kill a chicken -- after a fierce battle -- the guard says the chicken would win.
    • Aide is one of the best at this.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Rana Sanga's Pathan guide. He is nominally a slave and serves Rana Sanga faithfully because Rana Sanga took him captive and treated him well. The Pathan figures that anyone who can defeat him deserves his Undying Loyalty.
    • The Kushan forces in the Malwan army do this for Belisarius.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Even the good guys can be remarkably cavalier about human life.
    • An interesting example of in-verse Values Dissonance comes toward the end when Belisarius orders rebelling Rajputs to burn out the country to deprive the Malwans of forage. Belisarius dislikes giving the order because it's hard luck on the peasants. The Rajputs dislike carrying it out because it is an unsportsmanlike way to fight.
  • Dope Slap: As dawazz to Prince Eon, it was part of Ousanas' job to deliver one of these whenever Eon needed correcting in his behavior.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: It became something of a tradition of Antonina's, when Belisarius goes away on a potentially hopeless mission against the Malwa, to get thoroughly trashed, accompanied by Irene.
  • Duel to the Death: Invoked, and averted. Valentinian fights Rana Sanga in a three hour duel, after which Rana Sanga cracks his skull and decides to end the duel without sullying it by executing a Worthy Opponent. Averted completely in Raghunath Rao and Rana Sanga's duel in The Dance of Time. They fought a legendary duel in their youth, which is described as a day-long affair they began mounted, on foot and finally, exhausted, exchanging philosophical barbs. In the second duel, Raghunath Rao disarms himself, leaving himself at Rana Sanga's mercy. Damodara intervenes and stops the duel, to Sanga's relief, as he's trapped between his duty to Malwa, respect for Rao, and his honour.
  • Due to the Dead: At the beginning of Fortune's Stroke Rana Sanga goes out of his way to make sure that fallen Persian warriors are treated according to Zoroastrian custom
    • It's mentioned near the end of Destiny's Shield that one Malwa officer died so courageously that the Persians gave him Zoroastrian death honors.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Eon.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted in the sense that the writer does go out of his way to introduce the effects of logistical problems.
    • Zig-zagged, though as while armies not unlike that of the Malwa have appeared both in India and Central Asia huge conquests of the type the Malwa were attempting historically have been done by much leaner armies which have greater mobility and less logistics demand. As is partly demonstrated in the book. However one wonders why a demon robot from the future can't figure that out. Of course it is also demonstrated that if the Malwa start to field a competent army the soldiers will start getting tired of their masters. Which makes one think that the Malwa really have contradictory goals as they can't Take Over the World without making their grip at home uneasy. It is implied that that was pretty much what Belisarius intended. Which shows what a Magnificent Bastard he was.
  • The Empire: Both sides, only the Romans (and later, the Persians and Ethiopians) are the nice guys and the Malwas are firmly in the villainous variety of empire, until the last novel.
  • Enemy Mine: Rome and Persia put aside centuries of warfare to ally against the Malwa.
  • Enemy Civil War: Damodara's coup
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Narses refuses to assassinate the families of Damodara and Rana Sanga, but instead spirits them away to where they can be safe. It is not said whether this is out of standards or because he thought he might have use for them later. Or maybe both. Or maybe he was just so disgusted with Malwan incompetence that he wanted to at least have an efficient master. It is hard to tell what lurks in his convoluted mind.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The other reason (see Indy Ploy below) why Link consistently loses battles of wits with Belisarius, despite being a hyperintelligent AI. Link is not human, cannot even remotely understand humans, and reduces all questions of human psychology to statistical analysis and amoral self-interest. This worked fine for it as long as Link was dealing with large masses of populations and/or the ruthless, self-centered Malwa royal elite. It failed to an epic degree when confronting actual heroes.
    • Ironically this is also why Link got schooled by Narses, despite the fact that Narses is himself thoroughly evil. He was just the kind of evil that comprehended good perfectly fine, thank you.
  • Exact Words:
    • Belisarius uses it on Damodara to get a quiet word with Narses, who then drops the hint to Damodara regarding Rana Sanga's oath to obey the emperor, and Damodara in turn uses it to give Narses the go-ahead to do what he does best.
    • In a minor moment of awesome Rana Sanga is told to flog the guards who let Belisarius escape. As Rana Sanga didn't really think it their fault he gave them each two nominal blows with his quirt. "It is conceivable that a fly might have been slain by those strokes. It is conceivable." In retrospect that might have been more dangerous for the guards as someone might have noticed the lack of scars -- although it's unlikely that the general who ordered the flogging would have any idea which guards they were, and no one else would care.
    • Ye-tai general Toramana promised Nanda Lal that he'd be at the general's wedding to Rana Sanga's sister. Toramana later points out to Sanga that he made no guarantees that Lal would be able to flatter the bride. His head attends. In a jar.
  • Exceptionally Tolerant: The main heroes sometimes come across as this even by twenty-first century standards.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Justinian and Calopodius end up blinded in messy ways.
    • John of Cappadocia, who blinded Justininan, has it even worse. The cataphracts arrive in time to see Theodora pissing in his empty eye sockets after blinding him in revenge.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Eon engages in a rather more explicit version than usual, which both hides the lady in question and embarrasses the soldiers looking for her into leaving quickly.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Belisarius
    • Antonina is a Mother to Belisarius' Men. In a vision of the future in Oblique Approach, Belisarius sees himself leading a charge and everyone shouting the Battle Cry "For the whore!"
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Lady Sanga
  • Femme Fatale: Again, Antonina. However, she is a semi-retired Femme Fatale and mostly has the position of an Ambadassador
  • Feudal Overlord: Malwa is this to the Rajputs and Kushans.
  • Four-Star Badass: Belisarius, even without the assistance from Aide.
  • Geeky Turn On : When Irene tells how many books she owns, John of Rhodes says "Marry me!"
  • Genius Bruiser: Ousanas, Eon, Raghunath Rao, Anastasius... there are almost more genius bruisers named in this series than ordinary ones. Rana Sanga and Kungas are also bruisers who are very intelligent, if not outright geniuses.
  • Genre Busting: At first glance it is simply intended to be a series of entertaining thought exercises in geek militarism. However it really goes on to become something very close to an epic.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Literally. Aide actually does give radio to the Romans.
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Although an extraordinarily competent administrator, Empress Regent Theodora's temper is such that she's repeatedly just on the verge of lapsing into this and having to be restrained from it by her loyal advisers. By the end of the series her immediate subordinates have resorted to simply deciding things on their own and then spending the rest of their time planning how to talk Theodora into it ex post facto. This ultimately leads to the hilarious extreme of "Send Justinian in first, he's the only one of us she won't try to have executed."
  • Good People Have Good Sex/Sex Is Evil: The good guys have good and pleasurable sex between Happily Married couples who use it as a vehicle to display romance and affection toward each other, often making a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming and Shakuntala's wedding night in a besieged city was a Crowning Moment of Awesome. The bad guys have ideas about such things which require considerable Brain Bleach -- especially The Vile One who regards slave girls rather like "chewing gum", to be chewed up and discarded, and thinks sex is no fun without torture to enliven it.
  • Grey and Black Morality: The good guys are medieval people and tend to act like it in most ways. However the author goes far out of his way to make sure the bad guys are properly "evilized".
  • Hand Cannon: Antonina gets a hold of a double-barreled pistol about half-way through the series.
  • Historical Domain Character: Belisarius, Antonina, Justinian, Theodora, Sittas, Narses, John of Cappadocia, Kaleb of Axum, Khusrau, and Baresmanas were all real people.
    • For the matter of that the Nika revolt was a real historical event, though under very different circumstances, and not manipulated by agents of a time-traveling monster robot as far as we know. Likewise the Battle of Mindouos is almost a copy of the Battle of Dara, and Belisarius caught the Persians in a similar if not exact ambush in that battle in Real Life.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: Link. The actual machinery, it's pointed out, is elsewhere, while Link itself lives in specially prepared dynastic females when their predecessors die. Noted by several characters are the hosts' empty eyes. Of course, without the machines, it's stuck in the body until it dies or it manages to build new machines.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: It's significant to the backstory that both the Empress Theodora and Antonina start this way. One of the reasons Justinian seized the throne was to rewrite the laws to allow him to marry Theodora.
    • It is, however, debatable whether Theodora in fact has a heart of gold; see above. Despite her temper, though, she is thoroughly devoted to her husband.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Rajputs. Which is why they don't like Malwa as their Feudal Overlord. Malwa has no honor.
    • Romans have a different sort of honor, as the Rajputs note. It is a reasonable honor and thus not as extreme as the Rajput variety. But it is there. Which is why Rajputs like Romans better then Malwans.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: In a possible future, Belisarius and Justinian ask Rao to kill them to so that they won't be captured by the Malwa and won't have to commit the mortal sin of suicide.
  • I Gave My Word:
    • Rana Sanga swore to obey the emperor of Malwa. This proves to be vulnerable to a certain amount of fudging as to who the emperor is, exactly.
    • Belisarius, meanwhile, would never have betrayed his vows to Justinian, even to defeat Link and the Malwa.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Belisarius keeps thinking back to his original desire to become a blacksmith throughout the series, particularly while he is killing large numbers of people.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The Malwa Empire's favorite method of execution.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Sudaba and Anna both come from these kinds of families; they marry lower-status but much richer men. (Naturally these turn out to be Perfectly Arranged Marriage.)
  • Indy Ploy:
    • Belisarius is just as good at inspired improvisation as he is at detailed planning. Lampshaded in that this specific quality is pointed up as to how he is able to consistently outperform a hyperintelligent cyborg capable of calculating all foreseeable contingencies to the zillionth decimal place -- Belisarius is capable of improvising brilliantly when the "fog of war" throws up an unexpected complication, and Link isn't. As soon as Belisarius figures this out he starts deliberately encouraging chaos and confusion in the war, as he's far better at functioning in it.
    • While Link itself is probably as good a general as any in the series and reacts pretty well when surprises do come, the entire Malwa leadership structure is handicapped by their over-reliance on the supercomputer cyborg and a tendency to punish independent thinking and capability. This leads to the situation where the Malwa government is riddled with incompetents aside from a few, and since Link can't be everywhere at once, it allows Belisarius' side to pick away at the Malwa empire.
  • Jeanne D'Archetype: Shakuntala
  • Lady of War: Antonina, Empress Shakuntala, Irene especially toward the end; for most of it she was mainly a lady of intrigue.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The author often uses this whenever it is starting to feel like a convention from a traditional epic. For instance when horsemen go on a glorious charge, it is commented that Upper Class Twits are too obsessed with these, glorious charges are rather rare, and this instance was only because a perfectly sensible general had managed to see one of the few occasions where it was a good idea.
  • Lensman Arms Race
  • Like Father, Like Son: Rajiv, son of Rana Sanga
  • Magic From Technology: The Future Factions.
  • Man Versus Machine
  • Manipulative Bastard: Narses, bordering on full-fledged Magnificent Bastard.
  • The Medic: Anna. While going through Belisarius's supply lines she visits field hospitals plagued by lazy surgeons and gives them a full-out Drill Sergeant Nasty treatment.
  • Mugging the Monster: Several times, when some petty thug or other takes it into his head to win the unfriendly attention of someone above his pay grade.
    • A friend from Antonina's old days is bullied by a would-be pimp. So she wheedles Belisarius into sending a couple of soldiers to beat him up.
    • Belisarius is attacked in a bad neighborhood in India by several ill chosen thugs. None survives
    • Later a similar group attacks Antonina in the street. She runs to a butcher shop, cooks a stew(sticky with flour) and throws it at them. While they are recovering from this "chemical attack" she chops them up with a meat cleaver until help arrives.
    • Three mercs handling security for Lady Damadora's escape tunnel decide there is better money in ratting to the authorities. They do this just in time for Rajiv Sanga -- a teenaged boy but the son of one of the greatest warriors in the world, and also trained by one of the only two men in the world who have survived fighting his father in single combat -- to find them. Rajiv takes all three on with a spade and a miner's pick and easily kills them all.
  • My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Rajiv is very proud of how great a warrior Rana Sanga is.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Valentinian (The Mongoose), Belisarius himself, Rana Sanga and most of all Raghunath Rao.
  • Nice to the Waiter:
    • Eon's servants are questioned about this before his coronation. The idea is that a ruler who is not nice to his servants probably won't be nice to his subjects. As it happens, Eon passes perfectly.
    • It's noted that weapons designer John of Rhodes is the sort of man who's only rude to his social equals or superiors.
    • And then there's Kungas, whose character is revealed to Raghunath Rao when he walks into a room, swiftly assesses where he'll need to post guards, curtly gives his soldiers the orders to post those guards, and then leads them slowly and carefully across the room ... so they won't scuff the floor a servant was polishing just then.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Damodara.
  • Off with His Head: One of Valentinian's jobs.
  • Old Soldier: Valentinian, just to start, although Maurice fits the trope slightly better. He's eternally pessimistic (to the point where it's a Running Gag) and he's been Belisarius's XO since the latter joined the army.
  • Only Sane Man: Damodara is the only sane Malwa.
  • Onrushing Army: Done only a few times by the good guys. One occasion is at the end where the Malwans are battered and the defecting Rajputs are eager to gallop down on them and Belisarius has set up a good opportunity.
  • Outside Context Villain: Link, especially in the timeline without Aide.
  • Pay Evil Unto Evil: Ajatasutra mails Dadaji the hands of the now-deceased owner of Dadaji's daughters, who'd been enslaved as prostitutes. He does this for no particular reason other than that he doesn't like pimps.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage:
    • Photius and Tahmina, Eon and Rukaiya, Rana Sanga and his wife, Damodara and his wife. In fact, pretty much every Arranged Marriage in the series, whether on the Indian or Roman side, is perfectly happy.
    • Played with with Callopodius the Blind and Anna. Theirs was a purely politico-economic marriage, and neither particularly cared for the other. He had one night with her before going off to war, and she stews bitterly afterward until she decides to track him down to the front to demand a divorce. To get there, however, she needs to pretend to be the dedicated wife of the now-popular Callopodius to get soldiers to help her. To do that, she grudgingly begins a correspondence with him. In the course of their long correspondence, they fall genuinely in love.
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain: Link goes back in time to make sure bigotry is assured in all its glory. Even to the point of having a militarily incompetent empire.
  • Prince and a Gentleman: Rana Sanga. He is an awesome Warrior Prince but he is courteous and chivalrous, A Father to His Men, and tender with his family. He is a sensitive guy and a manly man at once.
  • Police Are Useless: Apparently if someone is on the run in the Malwan capital the only thing the local garrison knows how to do is to mill around like an ant colony after someone poked a stick into it.
    • Which is odd considering that the Malwa have an extremely competent espionage/counter-espionage service. Of course, there may have been other reasons why they didn't want their spymaster also having control of municipal police power.
  • Professional Killer: Assassins appear in various guises. Some are thugs-for-hire who usually regret their job but Indian ones often appear in the train of powerful people, and it is sometimes implied that they are martial arts experts similar to Ninja. Rao for instance is highly trained in assassin skills ... and he passed that training on to Shakuntala.
  • Proper Lady: Lady Sanga
  • Plunder: Belisarius has specific rules about this. It is all right to take this from the enemy when fairly distributed after the campaign is over. If soldiers just go off on their own they will hurt civilians and hurt the army's discipline as well.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Persians, Rajputs, Axumites--oh heck, this story is crawling with proud warrior race guys.
  • Punch Clock Hero: The Roman Army. What do they care about saving the universe? That's the business of their betters. They are concerned with the fact that soldiering pays well.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: The manliness in this book is so intense that it could be used to fuel the space shuttle.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • While the good guys have them in charge, generally speaking, the notable example is Damodara simply because not only is he on the side of the bad guys, he's one of their most senior leaders.
    • Even Theodora and Justinian are generally reasonable in the sense of being rational. They aren't kind, but they are sensible, not usually sadistic (except when going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, as Theodora did at the end of the second volume), and if they are not good rulers per se, they at least have a good understanding of the Evil Overlord List.
  • Religion of Evil: The Mahaveda cult.
  • Renowned Selective Mentor: An emperor hires one of the greatest warriors in India to train his daughter as a Badass Princess. Later she and her mentor get married and they become a Battle Couple.
  • Rising Empire Malwa though their Deadly Decadent Court is really more common with Vestigal Empire. Kungas and Irene's Kushans in the later books follow this trope more closely.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Axumites administer this after their king's palace is destroyed with many casualties. They intended to go to war anyway but now it was personal.
  • The Roman Empire: The good guys.
  • Royal Brat: Malwa princes are this--to the point of bringing ridiculously luxurious and impractical mobile palaces to the battlefield. They stay too far away from any danger and hardship to be effective commanders.
  • Rousing Speech: Shakuntala is good at this.
  • Ruling Couple: Justinian and Theodora, Shakuntala and Rao, Kungas and Irene after the founding of a new Kushan empire.
  • Running Gag:
    • Maurice's gloomy pessimism, especially when things are going well.
      • Abbu (see Scarily Competent Tracker below) is much the same way.
    • Sittas' affection for cavalry charges.
    • Muttered comments, to which a third party says "I think he said <obscene commentary about second party>, but maybe it was <irrelevant, semi-nonsensical statement that sounds similar>"
    • People also have a tendency to use a quick repetition of a single word, saying of a situation, "It's difficult, difficult," or the answer is "obvious, obvious."
  • Scarily Competent Tracker:
    • Abbu, chief of Belisarius' bedouin mercenaries.
    • Rana Sanga has a Pathan scout that fulfills the same purpose. Belisarius once escaped Sanga using a plan relying on the latter having some in his service.
  • Scary Black Men: The Axumites
  • Schizo-Tech: Roman Legions coexisting beside steam-powered ironclad gunships and riflemen, as the entire premise of the series. It's handled in a realistic manner too - as we see Link and Belisarius attempting to one-up each other throughout the series. Belisarius makes a point of grooming the officers who can see the potential in the new weapons.
    • Justified, in that both sides have huge armies, and neither side has enough of an industrial base to equip more than a few elite units with the new weapons.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Aide's purpose to time travel. Later subverted into not just fixing history, but making it better. A stable Roman Empire in the 6th century with extensive trading networks across the middle east to India and Ethiopia.
  • Sex Slave: The normal fate of any woman in the path of the Malwa. In the good guy empires, concubinage is also practiced, but in that case it means roughly "woman a little like slave, a little like mistress, and a little like wife," and is often an honorable position -- being invited to be a concubine can be an honor among the Axumites, Maratha, or Persians ... whereas no one sane would possibly find the position of Malwan Sex Slave attractive.
  • Slave Mooks: The main part of the Malwa army in point of fact.
    • The Kushans captured by Belisarius are called slave soldiers. This is for the most part a euphemism to cover the fact that they have defected. They have long only fought for themselves and been forced to fight under Malwa's banner, and Belisarius happens to be a better commander, not to mention a more gracious one.[1]
      • In any event everyone in the Malwa empire is a slave or intended to be when Link's Evil Plan develops. In fact, the Romans, no great humanitarians, probably have less disdain for their slaves then Link would for any human even if he was Socrates.
  • The Smart Guy: Aide
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Averted as often as not. Female characters are as apt toward badassery as male ones, at least the major characters. Lady Sanga stays in the kitchen when she can. But then she actually likes the kitchen.
  • The Stoic: Kungas, to the point where he sometimes qualifies for Frozen Face despite having nothing physically wrong with him. He eventually lightened up a little after marrying Irene. When Irene first met him, he happened to be standing motionless, and she literally mistook him for a statue.
  • Story-Boarding the Apocalypse: Aide allows various characters to live through detailed visions of the future if Link and the Malwa win, as well as visions of the untampered timeline. Used to Set Right What Once Went Wrong in the case of Justinian's doubts about Belisarius's loyalties.
  • Stupid Evil: Actually, the Malwa come across as way too stupid for an Empire commanded by a superbeing from millions of years in the future, even granted the fact that Link doesn't care about the lives of its minions. It helps that it discourages initiative and independent thought. In the sixth book, it's even noted that most of the competent or intelligent officers were sent to the front and killed.
    • As it turns out, the Stupid Evil was deliberate policy on Link's part -- if the Malwa power structure was too stupid to survive without it, then Link's absolute control of Malwa society could never be threatened. The problem with the scheme, of course, is that span-of-control limitations eventually rendered the Malwa empire too stupid to survive even with Link for the simple reason that Link can only be personally present in one crisis zone at a time.
  • Suddenly-Suitable Suitor: Rao and Shakuntala -- she decides, after talking with Irene and Kungas, and some soul-searching, to ignore India's rules and marry him anyway for the sake of strengthening her political position. Marrying Rao is what she really wanted to do anyway. She spent 4 books pining over not being able to marry him, and then Irene and Kungas pointed out that Rao was the best choice.
  • Suffer the Slings
  • Techno Wizard: Rome. The Malwans have a head start, but once the Romans understand what's going on they actually make better versions of future weapons.
  • Tempting Fate: In The Tide of Victory, the allied fleet attacks a Malwa harbor with their new cannon-armed warships. When the Malwa siege gun guarding the harbor finally fires, John of Rhodes assures a companion that they couldn't possibly hit anything on their first shot, in a night engagement. A moment later, the companion finds himself knocked on his back by the cannonball striking the ship, killing John as well with a direct hit where he was standing.
  • Terminator Twosome: Link versus Aide, on a grander scale than usually covered by the trope.
  • Time Travel: Central to the Plot Premise, although never actually on stage.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: The Theodoran Cohort
  • Transhuman Aliens: all of humanity millions of years in the future, diverged into uncountable descendant species; in particular the New Gods and the not-even-biological Great Ones.
  • True Companions: Belisarius's subordinates. Belisarius notes this himself several times, and attributes his victories to his ability to select intelligent subordinates and to instill loyalty in his Thracian cataphracts.
  • Try to Fit That on A Business Card: While Eon's full name, Eon Bisi Dakuen, is brief, that of his father, the king of the Ethiopians, is not. The formal name: Kaleb Ella Atsbeha, son of Tazena, Bisi Lazen, King of Axum, Himryar, Dhu Raydan, Saba, Salhen, the High Country and Yamanat, the Coastal Plain, Hadramawt, and all their Arabs, the Beja, Noba, Kasu, and Siyamo, servant of Christ.
  • Unfortunate Implications: At Eon's marriage, Antonina speculates that she just changed history so that Islam would not exist. Whether that is possible of course depends on whether you consider Islam a merely human phenomenon which in turn depends on whether or not you are a Muslim.
    • More accurately, she realizes that by having converted the entire Beni Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe to Christianity[2] less than a century before Mohammed was born, she significantly changed the religious environment he'd be raised in and thus making it vastly unlikely he'd create Islam in its current form. However, she also concludes that Muhammed is still very likely to be born (after all, she's only several generations out from him and nothing she did will materially affect the probability of his grandparents meeting and getting married) and still likely to become a major religious figure given his talents and proclivities.
      • Ironically, the likeliest probability given his situation is that he'd start an Islamic-influenced version of the Protestant Reformation, 1000 years early.
  • The Uriah Gambit: Khusrau thinks cavalry charges against fortified defenders armed with rifles is a great way of dealing with disloyal and/or arrogant reactionary nobles, and to provide a distraction for more useful forces.
  • Victory by Endurance: Valentinian's usual strategy. His attempt to defy this in battle with Rana Sanga does not work out so well.
  • Waif Fu: Played realistically with Shakuntala. Yes, she was trained from age seven by one of the most fearsome warriors in India. Yes, she is extraordinarily fast and nimble. Yes, she is phenomenally strong for her size. However the inherent limits of being a short and slightly built (read: 90 pounds soaking wet, tops) woman are routinely addressed.
    • Shown most effectively in her fight scene at the end of the first book -- she easily kills two men with one blow each because she's striking from surprise, but needs 30 whole seconds and four or five solid hits to put down the last mook because now that he's alerted to her presence she can't just punch him in the throat and get it over with, she actually has to take him down with muscle power... which she simply doesn't have. Meanwhile, Raghunath Rao kills a similar mook with one casual punch without even looking at him because he not only has comparable skill but also has the muscle mass to break bones every time he hits.
    • During the initial siege of Amaravati, Shakuntula (wielding a spear) kills the first four Ye-tai to rush at her in about that many seconds. Then her spear gets stuck in the body of the fourth one, and in the moment of time it takes her to pull it out the fifth Ye-tai manages to get a grip on her. Despite her being substantially more skilled than her opponent, the disparity in size and strength between them means the fight ends right there -- from that point on she manages to inflict nothing worse than cosmetic damage, and is down on the floor and pinned in less than five seconds.
  • Warrior Prince: Rana Sanga, and Eon, and others.
  • War Is Glorious: Rajputs in general are all about this. Rana Sanga knows war to well to have any illusions about it. But even he feels like this again after winning an honorable duel with Valentinian and hearing the cheers of his fellow Rajputs.
    • Of course this(though the unpleasant side is not hidden) is a tough fight between strong men perfectly capable of taking it so yeah one can see how it could be glorious, as glorious as an athletic event if more dangerous. Whereas the most hellish part of war is the fact that so much of it is not so much "fighting" as taking turns bullying each others helpless people.
  • War Is Hell: War is not just unpleasant for soldiers but for innocents forced to fight whether they want to or not for tyrants whose rule they have no interest in upholding. Not to mention for bystanders who are inculcated with plague and famine by passing soldiers, plundered by drunkards(even when there is a commander like Belisarius who takes unusual efforts to prevent it, and sometimes savaged to deprive an enemy of resources(the Malwa of course are the worse in that department and the good guys at least try to avoid for whatever that is worth).
  • We Have Reserves: The Malwa; Link just doesn't give a damn about human life.
  • Wife Husbandry: Empress Shakuntala marries Raghunath Rao, the great warrior-assassin who raised her and trained her. Marrying her was never part of his intention, though, even after he fell in love with her. He agreed with those who thought he was unsuitable. Also, Shakuntala was twenty years old at her wedding, at least one of her other possible royal suitors was Rao's age, and Rao at least was the man she loved and wanted to marry instead of one of her many possible arranged marriages -- not to mention that the marriage firmed up her alliance with the Maratha, who were better fighters than any of the other suitors could command.
    • The Indians in the book were less troubled by the age difference and more by the caste difference.
    • While arguing down Rao's own initial objections, Shakuntula specifically points out that not only are at least some of her 'respectable' suitors comparable to Rao in age, but that outside of perhaps Eon (who, unknown to her, is already married by this point) no royal suitor her own age has the skills and experience necessary to lead a war against Malwa.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Shakuntala.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Partly. All the good guys and Worthy Opponents agree that Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, though some Old Soldiers take it as an unfortunate inevitability that soldiers will get out of control. Belisarius occasionally has to use extreme measures to prevent atrocities by Romans and once threatens to turn his men on a Hunnish mercenary unit (thus saving the daughter of a Persian Prince). Rajputs, being honorable folk, never touch a captive woman. Malwans are different of course. They love Rape, Pillage and Burn.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Rana Sanga, to Belisarius, Raghunath Rao, and Valentinian. He has the latter healed and treats him as an honored guest after (just barely) defeating him in single combat and taking him prisoner; when Sanga's army is forced to retreat from the invasion of Persia, he releases Valentinian. In the last two books, Valentinian's role in protecting Sanga's wife and children from a plot against them by Link and the Malwa dynasty is key to Sanga's Heel Face Turn, and he eventually sends his own son and heir to be Valentinian's apprentice in the art of combat.
    • In the first book, Kungas to Raghunath Rao, prior to Kungas's Heel Face Turn.
  • Xanatos Gambit: First rescuing Shakuntala, then stopping the Malwan invasion by trapping Link's army in Mesopatamia without supplies, and checking Damadora's army (but leaving it intact), then collaborating in Damadora's defection and Narses' re-defection, the whole series is like a giant Xanatos Gambit, almost reaching Gambit Roulette territory. Indeed Narses seems to have believed Belisarius plotted the whole thing even if some of it happened by good luck.
  • You Have Failed Me...: Malwa are very fond of this. Particularly The Vile One.
  • You No Take Candle: Subverted with Ousanas; he initially speaks this way, but halfway through the book it's revealed as a ruse; he's actually quite eloquent and well-spoken. He sometimes drops back into the pidgin as a joke, however.
    • Ousanas will also use pidgin to emphasize an important point. "Fool prince!"
    • "Not pidgin, baby talk. All fool prince understands."
    • Oddly, at least once King Kaleb seems to drop into this ... while talking to Ousanas: "Dawazz be a bloody pulp, Prince give any other answer." And yet Ousanas is never shown to have spoken that way in Kaleb's presence.
  • Zerg Rush: Done often by the Malwa. Usually leaves a mountain of corpses.
  1. Also, he told them "about some slaves of the future.... They will be called—Mamelukes."
  2. It was a side effect of arranging an alliance between them and Christian Ethiopia.