Yes, run away now, all you people who fear getting sucked into that site. It is one of the original black holes of the internet.
I really love tropes. Examining them, fiddling with them, figuring out how to fit them into my world — or looking back at stuff I wrote without them in mind and crossing my fingers that I didn’t trip on a bad one. For a little while, I was a contributor to the site, but I’m easily distracted and wandered off. Maybe some day the War of Memory series will have a page of its own.
Anyway, the idea of Trope Roulette is just to go to the main TVTropes page and hit the Random button until you find something you can write about (since many of the tropes either won’t apply to your particular work or won’t generate more than a sentence or two). This time, I eventually ended up on Colour-Coded For Your Convenience.
I have a lot of color-related stuff going on in the series, and if you click through that link, you can see that this is a big trope with a lot of related subtropes — many of which I hit, or purposefully avert. I won’t touch on the diversity aspect of it in this post, even though the Good Colors, Evil Colors subtrope has a bit of that; I mostly want to talk about magic and clothing.
Most of the action in the series takes place in the Risen Phoenix Empire, with its three separate (and sometimes antagonistic) armies: the Crimson Claw, the Golden Wing, and the Sapphire Eye. Each is named after a part of the phoenix crest and, as can be seen here, of the ‘phoenix’ form of the Ravager spirit — though I suppose those wings are more orange than gold. Each also wears a uniform in its color, thus hitting an easy primary color motif. Hurray!
This has implications for more than just those armies though. They’re easy to distinguish from each other, but they also have to be easy to distinguish from local militias and conquered/enemy forces. To accomplish the first, the Empire has declared those three dyes to be Army-only; no civilian can wear anything that uses one of those colors. It can be thought of as a kind of sumptuary law, and while it isn’t directly addressed in the text, it is regularly on display. City militias end up in secondary or off-colors like olive, rose, brown or pale blue; Trifolders can be identified by and remarked-upon for their use of a crimson-like red; non-Army mages have to pick their robe- and energy-colors carefully.
If not for the Crimson General’s disinterest in enforcing Imperial laws he thinks are stupid, it would probably have been a much bigger issue, because the Crimson Claw only recently conquered Illane — a land known for its loud, colorful clothing, with a considerable population of Trifolders. However, Illanites are also used to adapting to occupation, so it’s likely that distinctly-crimson articles of clothing were discretely packed away when the army rolled into town.
The Army colors altered the Imperial provinces’ flags as well. The Trivestean flag used to be white-on-black, but after the formation of the Sapphire Army they chose a blue as close to sapphire as they could without being penalized; the Wynds switched to bronze-and-maroon to reflect an attachment to both the Gold and Crimson armies; Amandon made its grain sheaf gold because it’s very much controlled by that army; and the other provinces made sure their flags had anything but those colors. Riddian picked green and orange specifically because they were not blue — so that even though it supplies more than half the manpower in the Sapphire Army, it asserts its unwillingness to identify with that army, unlike its eternal rival Trivestes.
There is a fourth army, the White Flame, but the Empire has no edicts against wearing white because it’s also the color of the Imperial Light religion. If the priesthood had their way, everyone would be in white whether they liked it or not; mostly though, the layfolk only wear full white during the Midsummer and Midwinter Festivals, or when on pilgrimage.
It’s an established fact (in Book 2, I believe) that arcane energy is given color by its user. It has no native hue; in fact, if wielded most efficiently, it is invisible. There are very few practitioners who can use magic so well that it doesn’t leak into the visible spectrum, though, and most don’t even try. Instead, they color-code themselves based on allegiance, preference, mood or intended impact.
Army mages are the only ones allowed to use sapphire-blue, gold-yellow or crimson-red energies. In fact, while they’re within the ranks, they’re not allowed to use any other color. This is meant to foster a feeling of camaraderie among the mages, and also to make it difficult for an enemy practitioner to pick a single mage out of the gestalt web. Every mage has an individual energy signature, like a fingerprint, that can be analyzed and tracked, but this takes focus and effort; twisting many mages’ energies together into a single-colored mass helps protect all of them.
Non-Army mages who are dragged into the Armies — such as mercenaries or temporarily-drafted civilians — are not allowed to wear Army-colored robes, but may be allowed (or required) to colorize their energies to match their comrades’. This is the case for all of the Crimson Army’s mages; it has vanishingly few trained Army mages which it supplements with hirelings and foreigners, who use crimson-colored energy when gestalted and their own individual colors otherwise.
The Imperial Armies aren’t the only ones to do this; the enemy city of Kanrodi mounts emerald-green energy defenses powered by its own mob of mages.
Outside of allegiance, mages can color their energy any shade they want. Some pick a favorite color and stick with it forever; some adjust it daily to suit their wardrobe; some add color-coding to individual spells or physical conduits, such as having each finger emit a different shade. This is most often used by Artificer- and Summoner-type mages, who may use this color-coding as a quick reference for energy-strands of different strengths and purposes.
Other mages color their magic for impact — as demonstrated by Morshoc in Book 1, while at the Riftwatch Towers. Dark colors such as black or violet, or ‘violent’ colors like blood red or fiery orange, can add an intimidation component to any display of energy-handling. Likewise, pastel colors and gentle radiance can give energy a soothing look — even if there is nothing soothing about its effect. Evoker-type mages often use strong brights or darks for the intimidation factor, but some of the nastiest mages are those that use soft light to hide killing spells.
The only energy that is automatically color-coded is that which is drawn from a wraith spire. Each spire has a resonance that ‘flavors’ its energy, which can damage or disrupt a wielder with an opposing resonance or who is not used to wielding resonant magic. This ‘flavor’ can be stripped from the energy along with the spire-specific color, and become no different from any other loose energy.
I’d talk more about specific characters and their color choices, both in magic and in clothing, but I think that’s a discussion for post-Book 3.