The White Council: Background Notes

12 Oct

The White Council

In a sense, the White Council assumed it’s leadership role – such as it is – by default. During the days of the Empire, it was effectively a parliament (elected and/or appointed by wealthy or powerful voters); now, with the Emperor’s line apparently extinct and the senior aristocrats running kingdoms, it is the only transnational authority in the Allied Lands. Unsurprisingly, it’s actual powers are very limited. This is caused, most notably, by the political and patronage networks of the Allied Lands themselves.

On the face of it, the Allied Lands are divided into feudal kingdoms, independent city-states, magical communities and families and, the jokers in the deck, Lone Powers. However, it is very difficult to draw strict lines between them. A king’s land-holding noblemen may owe him allegiance, first and foremost, but they might also owe homage to monarchs in other countries, if they also own lands there. This was not a problem when the Empire was a going concern, as patchwork landholding was seen as a way of binding the lands together; now, it forces the majority of powerful noblemen to strike a balancing act between one monarch and the other. There have been some attempts to rationalise this in a number of kingdoms, with swaps arranged between various noblemen, but they haven’t been entirely successful. The net result is that it is different to say which way a given nobleman will jump, if it comes down to war.

This problem grows worse when city-states and magical communities are involved. Some city-states are effectively independent, others know that their independence rests on the nearby monarch choosing to honour their independence. The magical communities, by a set of compacts, enjoy more independence, but kings and princes are free to recruit sorcerers to work for them and to try to gain influence within the community. A number of Great Houses have close relationships with nearby monarchs, providing magical support in exchange for various other services. The patronage networks formed and maintained by city-state merchants and powerful magicians, again, make it hard to tell which way someone will jump, if pushed.

The White Council, therefore, can be seen as a cross between the Medieval Papacy and the United Nations. In theory, every independent political entity enjoys a voice in council and a vote; in practice, not all voices are equal. Indeed, the council itself is really a series of smaller working councils, with most decisions made in private and presented to the wider council as fait accompli. However, because most major decisions have to be sold to powerful monarchs and sorcerers, it is rare for anything significant to be agreed without a great deal of horse-trading. The White Council may grant legitimacy, but it has its limits. Forcing the powerful factions to go along with its decisions is not easy.

This happens, at least in part, because the White Council has few ways to enforce its will. It does call upon Mediators, who are trained combat sorcerers, and the Knights of the Allied Lands, but political forces within the Allied Lands would not allow a full-scale invasion to remove a monarch, regardless of his behaviour. The White Council cannot take strong action without uniting the Allied Lands against it. Kings and princes might see the target as unspeakably vile, but they would be reluctant to tolerate such a precedent. This is why the embargo on certain kinds of magic – the Black Arts, for example – is so leaky. The White Council does not have the power to hunt down and destroy every copy of every book dating back to that era, let alone search magical strongholds without a very good reason.

There are really only two things that keep the White Council and the Allied Lands from falling apart. The first is the constant threat of the necromancers, forcing the various kingdoms and city-states to forget their differences as they concentrate on the threat from the south. The second is the need for a forum where differences can be hashed out – or smoothed over – without triggering a continent-wide war. No rational monarch wants such a war, not when it would be utterly devastating. At the same time, both of these are very limited: the necromancers are a long way away, as far as most monarchs are concerned, and the concept of war on a modern scale is beyond their imaginations.

Unsurprisingly, very little gets done.

Technically, the White Council has a great many powers, ranging from border negotiation to choosing administers for magic schools. In practice, these matters are often debated in subcommittee, with favour-trading being more important than anything else. (Gordian became Whitehall’s Grandmaster because he called in a great many favours and made a number of promises … some of which will come back to bite him.) Indeed, as of The Gordian Knot, the White Council is still debating the adoption of universal measurements … when Emily’s CM/M/KM measurements have already spread across the continent and every forward-thinking artificer is using them.

The White Council does have the power to declare someone outlaw (and thus make them a target for every bounty hunter), provided no one with power tries to challenge the verdict. In that case, Mediators will be assigned to hunt down the target and capture them, dead or alive. (As most outlaws tend to be rogue sorcerers, it is rare to take them alive.) Beyond that, the White Council’s authority is very limited. It does provide a court of last resort when a powerful nobleman or magician needs to be put on trial, but that is very rare. Normally, such trials are handled by the local authorities.

It would be more accurate, in many ways, to say that the White Council exists to allow powerful monarchs and magicians the chance to save face. By providing a semi-neutral arbitration service, the council provides a fig-leaf of political cover for a monarch who wants to back down … while, at the same time, the council won’t try to press the losing side so hard that he feels, rightly or wrongly, that he has no choice but to fight.

That said, there is very little pretence at ‘fairness’ within the council. The strong have the power to compel the weak to do as they want, regardless of legal right or wrong. And all the weak can do is either find a way to prevent the strong from getting to them or bow the knee.

49 Responses to “The White Council: Background Notes”

  1. G October 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Thanks for the explanation. 1.) Is there even agreement on so called Black Arts?? Mountaintop seems to at least tolerate books on Demon summoning in Aurelious’ library (which Zed knows Emily inherited) while soul magic seems controversial; 2.) if Emily had fled to Void rather than duel with Master Gray what could the mediators have done? Attacked one of the Allied Lands greatest sorcerers on which their survival depends??

    • G October 13, 2017 at 3:14 am #

      Other than Kings and the head of Great Houses, how does someone “Join” the White Council, anyway–at some point, are they just invited??

      • chrishanger October 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm #

        Anyone with enough power would eventually get some kind of invitation, yes.


    • chrishanger October 16, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

      Not that much

      The whole system is very leaky in places.


  2. Mark October 12, 2017 at 8:42 pm #

    Chris: you left a hint! “with the Emperor’s line apparently extinct”.

    • steven house October 12, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

      Yes it sounds like he is going there, the lost descendant trope is a classic for a reasion.

    • FarWalker October 12, 2017 at 11:02 pm #

      I picked up on that as well Mark. 2–1 Emily is in the imperial line. Just a guess of course. Time will tell.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 12, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

        Not Emily. Now Jade might be and he might have the Legendary Silver Sword of the Emperor. IE The old sword that Emily inherited from Master Grey and gave as a Wedding Gift might be the Silver Sword.

        It doesn’t “look Silver”?

        It was just called “Silver” but may have that appearance under certain circumstances (which have happened … yet).

      • Wazman October 13, 2017 at 3:12 am #

        At some point didn’t Void inform Emily that someone was apparently hunted down and terminated when a possible heir to the Emperor was found. I forget how long has it been since the last Emperor died could have Void been alive at that around that time as a child perhaps? He has said more than once that he is over one hundred years old, could it be that he might be a descendant of that Royal bloodline. On numerous occasions he has tried to impress on Emily that true power comes from yielding magic as well as learning everything possible, not by ruling from a throne room. He even tried to encourage her to give up the Barony because it would prevent her own magical development.

  3. Bryce October 13, 2017 at 1:18 am #

    I assume the measurements symbols you used is for the metric system but |Emily is from the USA and they are still using the empirical system for most of there measurements the distance on roads is still in Miles as well as gas is in gallons. they still use feet and inches for Height and weight. So I am wondering why she would introduce the metric system when that was not her main measurement system?

    • Pyo October 13, 2017 at 2:34 am #

      Even in the US, when it comes to scientific stuff, SI units are common nowadays. I don’t think it’s a stretch she’d introduce those, as far as she can, anyway (as most definitions are pretty obscure and require some highly precise measurement techniques it’s probably mostly about the base-10 part of the system. That’s very convenient, the rest fairly arbitrary).

      The current definition for a meter for example is some really ugly number: the distance light travels in 1/299 792 458 s. I doubt Em knew this by heart. And it’s only coincidence: people thought it was 1/10 000 000 of the distance from the equator to the north pole. So hypothetically she could define a new meter for this world using that method. Or just use a nicer fraction of the distance light travels, if they know light speed.

      Anyway, the important part is defining the prefixes as multiples of ten.

      • Bryce October 13, 2017 at 6:14 am #

        You are right that in the sense in high level scientific work the use the standard metric system. Just like all Air traffic controllers around the world work in English.

        But once a person moves out of that part of there life. The revert to there language of origin.

        Just like in the United state almost everything will work in the empirical system of measurement and weight and distance. So when you go to get some milk you buy a Quart or a Gallon. . when you travel distance you travel in miles. if you need to know how much something such as a concrete Colum will take it will be in lbs. per square inch. If a scientist is selling his home it will be described square feet. When you enter the Hospital you with have your Height and weigh taken in lbs. feet and inches not how many centimeters.

        So since the empirical system was her normal method of measuring that is the system that most would probable 85-90% of the people in the United State that is the system they would teach. And in simplistically of the 2 systems the empirical system was far easer to replicate. When I started school we used the empirical system of measurements. there were a few tricks tough to us the if on an average hand putting the first 2 fingers together will be an inch or close enough for government work. now ad 12 of those marks you have foot now add 3 on those you get a yard and so on. Weight was in lbs. and if you have 2000lbs you have a ton and so on.

        The metric system is just as arbitrary of a system some person or persons did not like the system so they came up with a change as you said the used some number that picked out to create the meter then carried on from there. With luck and a few strong backers the system was almost universally adopted in Europe quickly. Slower for North America.

        I am sure that we could go back and forth on this till way after Chris has finished his last book and still be no closer to resolving this issue that is why I used a question mark to ask the question and have the Author to answer the question maybe it was a oversight as he lived in the UK somewhere. Where the metric system is almost completely used. where even In Canada we are still not as far on a day to day place where we should be with the metric system it has only been the last couple of years that we have moved to advertising a house in square meters, and even that is not always used. This I think is because we live so close to the United States.

      • Stuart the Viking October 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

        Couldn’t it just be as simple as Emily thought people (especially the uneducated) would find it easier to grok a 10 based system rather than a 12 based system if they are starting from basically nothing? After all, people have 10 fingers.

        Frankly, I don’t think people would readily accept the empirical system of measurements. 12 inches? why 12?

      • chrishanger October 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

        I’ve always found the CM/M/KM system to be easier to use, so I figured it would be the simplest idea for Emily to introduce.

        It also has the advantage of not being local, so no one can say they were preferred over the others or vice versa.


      • Bryce October 14, 2017 at 4:08 am #

        For the same reason they still use Hands to measure a hoarse it is what she is use to using and to teach something you need to be very familiar with it if you are use to the metric system to use the empirical would be hard to teach and there is not some many terms you need to know in true scientific measurement there is no cm as is the only one used in all of the metric system. So to teach some one ounces inches feet and miles is a lot easier then to teach pico( nand yes I know pico is not started with a p it is a symbol I did not want to look up how to put in.), nano, mili, m or l, Mega, Giga , Tera and so on. if you do not use those term regularly like we do in hard drive sizes which she would not have had or bought, used yes but probably did not know the specs. If you go to the states and start to talk the metric system most people will look at you like you have 2 noses and 3 eyes. I was just there last year and ask people how many Km from LA to San Fran and they asked what a Km was this was just a gas attendant but still I had to say miles and then convert in my head.

        This is why I ended my last post with we can argue all day about this and never resolve the only reason I brought it up was in case Chris was so use to it he automatically used it or he meant to.

      • Pyo October 14, 2017 at 9:23 am #

        But you don’t really need much to teach a metric system. A meter is a large step for a male adult. That’s nothing exotic. Then everything else is just fractions and multiplications. So a kilometer is just a thousand large steps.

        Now here’s the twist: guess where mile comes from? It’s 1000 paces, 1 pace being two steps.

        So really the non-scientific explanation for either kilometer or mile to somebody not familiar with either of the systems is exactly the same.

        The advantage of the SI system was that a) you had a strictly defined proto-meter and proto-kilogram, instead of dozens of local variations. Look up “measurements in the HRE” – it’s absolutely friggin’ crazy! Nothing standardized whatsoever. It’s this standardization that’s key. The actual measurement system is secondary, but b) 10-factors are very convenient for a number system that goes from 0-9. Which makes the SI system which is based on them also very convenient for calculations. Since Em introduced those numbers (if I remember that right) it only makes sense she’d also go with this system.

      • Mark October 14, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

        And yet, in the US, when you shop, you see on products BOTH Metric and Imperial Measurements (except for clothing).

      • Bryce October 15, 2017 at 3:02 am #

        Maybe Chris would just let us know and then the debate would be over.

  4. Wazman October 13, 2017 at 3:39 am #

    Ok hopefully I can put my nagging thoughts into words. The White Council barely can keep a semblance of order through out the Allied lands and the only threat that keeps them all from fighting among themselves are the Necromancers. So I am going to ask the obvious question what is going to happen once Emily finally defeats the last of them?

    So with that in mind I think that there is another possible threat that has been hiding in the shadows waiting for its chance. IMO the Faerie and Dwarves are about to return possibility from the third continent or from deep underground. In either case no adventurous souls have apparently never returned from voyaging across the sea or exploring the depths of the tunnel networks from either the one near Whitehall or the lower depths of Mountain Top.

    But are they actually a real threat? Emily has more than once observed that the record keeping of the Allied Lands are poor at best. Is it possible that as the victors over the Faerie the human’s had written the history and hid or obfuscated what really had transpired so long ago.

    • Bryce October 13, 2017 at 6:16 am #

      And then there is dragons.

      • Pyo October 13, 2017 at 6:59 am #

        Might actually be a setting where putting “here be dragons” in random, far-off locations might turn out correct …

        Although so far the setting seems to be “fairly humanistic”, in the sense that not very many sentient beings that aren’t human play much of a role.

    • Paul W October 14, 2017 at 7:05 pm #

      There is a virtual unending supply of Necromancers. Any magic wielder can decide to become one. Interestingly with new knowledge the normal’s may decide to stage a rebellion and eliminate the threat.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 14, 2017 at 7:27 pm #

        In theory you’re correct that there will always be Necromancers (as the spells involved are so simple).

        In practice, the current situation for the Allied Lands is that there are too many Necromancers to be “manageable”.

        If something happened to the currently existing Necromancers, magical society might be able to prevent any new Necromancers from becoming a problem.

        As for non-magicians gaining the “upper-hand” over magicians, IMO that would take a level of technology greater than currently exists in our world let alone what’s likely to happen in the near future of the Nameless World.

      • Wazman October 14, 2017 at 9:48 pm #

        Yes there will always be Necromancers in the Nameless World but there is such a Taboo about it that very few will actually consider traveling down that path. But if a effective means of defeating them were introduced by Emily than their numbers would be severely curtailed.

        Now consider a possible spin off, where the main character slowly starts down that path. Mind you not in the current era but during the times where the humans were losing the war against the Elves

  5. Ann October 13, 2017 at 4:22 am #

    The weak do have an option and that has always been to appeal to the rivals of the strong they maybe in conflict with.

    The White Council isn’t Emily friendly – she had a future vision of being chained and possibly taken to a place her magic is removed from her.

    • Wazman October 13, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

      I think that particular vision might finally make an appearance in the next book or at least the events in those pages may very will lay the ground work for the Damon’s vision to become reality.

      On to other matters I am starting to feel symptomps of Nuttall book withdrawals. I find myself checking this page several times a day when I am waiting for my code to compile.

      I have to honestly thank Chris for providing this to us and more importantly interacting with us as a whole.

      In counter point its refreshing to have some knowledge on how things are progressing. I don’t think we will have to deal with. “Winter is coming!” catchphrase. Just my two bits

    • Paul W October 16, 2017 at 3:40 am #

      I would be incredibly ticked if I got dragged through 14 books centered on Emily learning to use magic and then have her loss it.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 16, 2017 at 3:51 am #

        ::Checks Snerk Collar::

        Only if that’s where the series ended. 😈

      • Jared October 16, 2017 at 4:11 am #

        It shows her kneeling it doesn’t show her actually haveing her Magic striped. We shall see what happens

      • Pyo October 17, 2017 at 12:32 am #

        In any superhero story it’s basically a classic component that the hero at some point loses their power and has to regain them.

        It also pops up in fantasy, for example Khanani’s Sunbolt loses her magic, and in scifi it can be stuff like Honor temporary losing her place in the Manticoran military.

        So I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it came up in this series, too 😉 It’s usually good stuff, so I’m looking forward to it, in fact, heh’.

      • Wazman October 17, 2017 at 4:42 am #

        I wonder if Emily’s physiology might be somewhat different from the other human’s in the Nameless World. We did see a hint of that in the first book when Healer Kayla commented about strange variations in her blood. While that just might be the result of all vaccinations she received through out her childhood, but considering how much neglect she experienced this point could be moot.

      • Jared October 17, 2017 at 9:48 am #

        Vaccinations would only build antibodies, or so I assume. I would think that wouldn’t be a significant seeing as the allied lands would have them as well.
        My guess would be pollution or chemicals some kind of modern contamination that we live with everyday.

    • G October 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

      Demons see possible futures, not certainties–in an endless multiverse, anything is possible–personally, I would walk away from the series if after 14 books in being schooled in magic, Emily lost her magic…

  6. Sprout October 14, 2017 at 1:04 am #

    Somehow I can’t stop having the “white council” and “Emily” and “nukes” in the same train of thought. I know I’m projecting, but hell, it’s fantasy. Who wouldn’t want Emily blowing up her opposition in a violent bloody coup and then proclaiming herself to be the empress of the world?

    • Jared October 14, 2017 at 1:25 am #

      It certainly sounds cool! But I wouldn’t want to be Emperor, to much work

      • Sprout October 14, 2017 at 3:14 am #

        I know right ^^

      • Sprout October 14, 2017 at 3:37 am #

        I mean, we’d just procrastinate and probably feel horribly guilty about it. This emperor business should be left to book characters and workaholic crazy people (like Chris).

  7. Mark October 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    IMO, Emily would NEVER go that route…unless her back was to the wall, all allies dead, and opponents REALLY PISSED her off!!!

  8. William Ameling October 14, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    I have felt for a long time that SIM is heading towards the restoration of the Empire, although I thought it be Alassa as Empress, but it could be Jade or Jade and Alassa. The sword that Emily gave Jade as wedding gift that Emily got from Master Grey’s estate does draw a lot of attention.

    Remember that a Child of Destiny does not have to be a Ruler, they just have to find and support that Ruler, i.e. a new (or restored) ruling dynasty for a revived Empire in the persons of Alassa and Jafe. To be a Child of Destiny, they also have to bring change and break the stagnation that was gripping the social, political, and magical world, i.e. the Allied Lands, as well as defeat a major menace, i.e. the Necromancers.

    A really Great Child of Destiny (Emily) will do more than defeat the Necromancers and reestablish the Empire, she will defeat the Faerie as well.

    • Pyo October 15, 2017 at 1:56 am #

      Going by “narrative rules” the sword will surely come up again, otherwise it probably wouldn’t have been mentioned in the first place, but I personally just don’t see a path towards a revived empire.

      We don’t really know too much about the global situation, but what we know of the various countries/cities/nobles seems to me very fractured and antagonistic against each other. They won’t just randomly decide to bow to some Emperor because he’s suddenly there. The military route I don’t see Emily supporting. But for some sort of diplomatic thing it’d need to have some convincing reasons why some unification happens and also very different from the novels so far – I mean, usually, per book, you have a dozen or so characters, but imagine the politics to gather together everyone who has some hypothetical say and implementing some new Imperial constitution …

      Plus, Emily doesn’t strike me as a big fan of monarchies. And the people seem to start to be more aware that there’s alternatives, too. So I’m not sure how that’d work either.

      But, eh, who knows. Maybe it’s the bad guys conquering an Empire and the good guys only take over from them afterwards or something like that.

      • Jared October 15, 2017 at 4:27 am #

        I really don’t see the empire angle happening. I think that even with the silver sword missing it would still be recognized by people. By all accounts it can recognize the heir so I assume it can only be wielded by the heir. Also, in book two when Alassa sees inside of Emily’s head- by the way Chris it would be nice to read Melissa’s reaction to Emily’s mind.- Emily told Alassa that it was her choice to remake her world, Not an exact quote. I think Emily will leave the big political questions to Alassa. which is why she gave Alassa the book on different political ideologies.

        But that’s not to say she won’t have to have political power. In fact I believe this next book will be the first time Emily will get off her butt and use what power she has to help Freda. And perhaps at the end when Fulvia’s machinations are in taters Emily will chalanger her to a dual to the death!! That would be nice to see.

    • G October 15, 2017 at 4:47 am #

      One of the elements that makes reading the series a fun read is that the constant in-fighting and competition among kingdoms, nobles, great houses, and sorcerers is even fiercer than their fighting with the necromancers…but it makes re-unifying the empire less likely. (FYI–if Chris reads this please make it clear in the Gordian Knot what Melissa and Samra learn about her from soul magic–otherwise the readers don’t understand the implications…)

  9. georgephillies October 15, 2017 at 5:32 am #

    Perhaps the alumni of the deceased school will demand that the White Council make Emily give back the power source. Perhaps Emily will convince the White Council that they are losing the war with the necromancers, and this outcome is not good. Perhaps someone will harness the building full of wargamers to show how badly the good guys are losing to the necromancers.

  10. G October 15, 2017 at 5:46 am #

    If the mediators are the White Council’s enforcement mechanism, then the White Council’s power and authority depends on 1.) the White Council being able to reach agreement (powerful Kings, Lone Powers, families, or factions could prevent it); and 2.) the mediators being more skilled and powerful than the judged…what happens when those to break the rules are Kings, heads of Great Families, or Lone Powers…individuals more powerful than the mediators?? (As a side note, where is Emily’s power/skill level relative to the typical mediator now?)

  11. Bryce October 16, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    So I am re-reading Sgt’s Apprentice. How ever I have always had a problem with Sgt. Miles social standing. This may have been answered already but I do not know it. I take it he is a Sgt for the Allied lands but also a Combat Sorcerer. I am wondering why he is treated so low compared to the other Combat Sorcerers. That do not come from a large magical family or from and Aristocratic one either. Show he not get the treatment of being a Noble when he is not doing stuff directly for the Allied lands?

    • Wazman October 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      What’d you know I re-reading the Sargent Apprentice too, small world. I think that Sgt Miles is more like a Sargent Major. He obviously could climb much higher in rank and prestige, but I think he has never lost sight of who they (as in the Alllied Lands) really preparing to fight. The Necromancers will sacrifice everyone given the chance.

      He treats his superiors with respect and if they are veterans like himself they will listen to his advise. Did you notice how at ease he was around Void? Which I will be honest does sometimes make me question if he is not aware of what Void had done to his lover.

      I think he sees the leadership potential buried within Emily and is trying to nurture it. Remember the exam he had Emily take (I doubt he was using that to prepare her for going to war since he is like the late Sgt Harkin that believes in practical experience) I think he just wanted to have and frame of reference to baseline Emily’s knowledge.

      He has always seemed very fond of Emily and has pushed her at times to succeed. Recall that he was the first to recommend Emily for Head Pupil.

  12. shrekgrinch October 19, 2017 at 1:19 am #

    Surprised you used the term White Council since Jim Butcher already snagged that for his Dresden Files novels.

    • Jared October 19, 2017 at 1:22 am #

      It’s not to big a deal. I believe it was in the Lord of the rings Novels as well.

  13. Bryce October 22, 2017 at 6:58 am #

    So since you have been under the weather which I hope you get better soon being sick sucks. Will this affect the next book where we see Emily and Fulvia enter the dueling ring so Emily can kick her ass….In Graduation day?

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