Darth Wiki: The Nine Lives Of Michal Piech

Collection of Gaslamp Fantasy Graphic Novels and prose novels by Crowqueen set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture - the Insulan Empire (later the Commonwealth of Insula after a communist revolution). Influenced by China Miéville and Louis de Bernières, with the attention to cultural detail of the latter and the steam-punk setting, albeit with a little more optimism, of the former. Heavily influenced by British period drama written by contemporary authors; a lot of Desperate Romantics went into creating the version of Michal we see in the 2010-2011 rewrites (helped by Aidan Turner's rise to prominence through that and Being Human), and more explicit series such as The Crimson Petal and the White create a much more whimsical and caricatured steampunk setting (essentially, the worst of what 19th century Europe had to offer in one package) than traditional Victorian period drama based on Eng-Lit classics allows for.

It was originally written as a single prose novel during 1998-99, a pastiche of various works, including Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South and Émile Zola's Germinal (political outlook), Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (basic plot) and 19th century Russian literature such as works by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The novel spawned more and more side projects, mostly cartoon stories fleshing out the background of Michal Piech, and then lapsed into "what if?" stories about a moment in his past which took him in a different direction to the events of the novel, "The Night" (after a Yiddish song sung by June Tabor on her album Aleyn). The setting also got more and more consistent, thanks to the author's gap year spent living in Poland, and the timeline regularised into the more interesting direction, based on a communist revolution occurring about ten years prior to the events of the first novel.

Includes the following stories (in chronological order):

Anthologies

The main characters are:

  • Michal Piech - a young lawyer who has a nervous breakdown and wakes up in the infirmary of a workhouse without his clothes, money or identity papers and is forced to start his life from scratch. His life is the focus of the series, and he eventually realises he doesn't want to try and go back to his aristocratic parents - but try and make his own way in the world. A jack-of-all-trades, he tries a lot of different jobs until he finally establishes himself as a soldier in the revolution and a highly competent administrator.
  • Simon Seymour - Michal's main antagonist and the villain of the first two books, but also an invisible - or visible - presence throughout the series. Deputy Warden of the Lowe Road workhouse during Michal's first year as an inmate, he took advantage of Michal's drunkenness, robbed him for his incredibly valuable clothes and watch, and instead of killing him outright, took him back to Lowe Road and imprisoned him there. Although he is dispensed with when his manipulative behaviour explodes into direct cruelty, he is a shadowy presence in much of the rest of the series, partly through the trauma he inflicted on Michal and partly because he does actually manipulate some things. We see his last hurrah in Krovt...but death never stopped a good villain yet.
  • Caroline Sewell - Michal's first wife, a wealthy socialite and actress pushing back the boundaries of what is considered acceptable for a genteel woman to pursue. She leaves Michal before the story starts - shown in a flashback in Ludlin - for her lover Alexei Dobrovolsky (Alyosha), whose attempts to placate her and annul her first marriage quickly find support from Simon Seymour, posing as a disinterested party. She reappears after the revolution, a changed woman.
  • Zofia Brzeska-Piech - his second wife, a peasant. Her angry father and brother almost succeed in framing Michal for the murder of a fellow labourer. She is shocked to learn who Michal really is, but recovers from this and remains his wife.
  • Zbigniew Piech - Michal's uncle, seventeen years older and an Imperial general whose dramatic intervention in a public execution kickstarts the revolution. Young enough for Michal to consider him a brother or cousin rather than an avuncular figure. Openly gay, with a long-standing lover met as a POW during the First War. Homosexuality, while associated with the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie and not usually encountered as a relationship between equals, is not anything considered particularly unnatural or illegal, except by the various churches. However, during the run-up to the revolution, the Empire starts to lump it in with social and political deviancies such as heresy, sorcery and communism; Zbigniew acts out of self-preservation as much as loyalty to his family and to the revolutionaries.
  • Wladyslaw Piech - Michal's father, whose devastation at the loss of his son leads him to bankroll the communists and establish them as a credible disloyal opposition to the Empire.
  • Andrzej Siedlecki - antagonist number two, a political manipulator belonging to a Salvat secret society. Different to Seymour in that he has more definitely chosen sides, though the two work closely together prior to the revolution because of a shared grudge against the Piechowie.

    open/close all folders 

    Character Tropes 

Michal
  • Bi the Way - although Michal is definitely married and fancies women, there is a tinge of experimentation there with Wojtek and some of his male friends, elucidated strongly in Brother Wolf. Homosexuality in the Empire does not carry the same overt legal stigma as it did in the similar period in Earth's history, but it is something to which some people are still adjusting. Nevertheless Michal's generation have no issue with it - or not much, anyway - so Michal is free to appear closer to male friends than, say, the older Kumarin wants to. The relationship between gentleman and valet in some circumstances - particularly those under thirty at the time the story starts - is often close enough to begin experimentation in this manner.
  • Bleached Underpants - Michal. He used to jump into bed with every woman who got within draw distance of him. It's been drastically reduced, not because it might look unrealistic or unsavoury, but just to make the characterisation tighter and give him a bit more of a moral compass, as well as aim for some UST as well. In the current timeline, he is strictly monogamous, being rejected by Carrie and having gone through a lot of pain for Zofia, he can't bring himself to run off with anyone else.
  • Butt Monkey - Michal for much of the pre-revolutionary period.
  • Celibate Hero - in a world with limited contraception and strict moral codes, as well as gender segregation in many situations, Michal cultivates the art of being in love without actually consummating the relationship. Once or twice he begins to open his trousers, to be turned down. Homosexuality was introduced into the storyline in order to avoid both inconvenient pregnancies and Hollywood Sex (c.f. Bleached Underpants, above).
  • Character Tics - in the earlier books, when under stress, Michal plays with his clothes. Although what he's wearing isn't pristine to start off with, his dirty hands mean that he transfers dirt to his shirt tails and braces. Even Russell threatens to sew his shirt to his underwear to get him to stop.
  • Cosmic Plaything - Michal is given clues along the way that he might be destined to be someone great, but needed the experiences he has had in order to gain some sort of manifest destiny. This is played up in Achava where he comes into contact with the scheming clergy, one of whom refuses to play the game in order to get hold of the 10,000 guilder reward (representing the year's salary for an inspector-ordinary in the Service, and which would relieve the ecclesiastical - and probably personal poverty - faced by the Minster) offered for his safe return home because it might be Minerva's will that he takes the hard way through life. Given that he ends up in a position of significant political power, and is tested very hard by events at the end of the series, it might actually be true.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life - Michal tries a lot of different jobs over the course of the series, but either gets bored or ends up on the run. He is jack-of-all-trades; it's possible that since he was born into an aristocratic family but came down a few rungs on the social ladder, although he wants to fit in, he hardly ever manages a year or two in the same place before he throws it over for something new.
  • Failure Is the Only Option - Michal has to keep moving on - he can't settle down. Although there are several times when he could go home, he won't let himself return. But neither can he fit in with the people around him, nor does his marriage or the revolution solve most of his restlessness, though after he returns to Nowozyce after the events of Giedre, he does at least find a steady job.
  • Mystery Magnet - not so much mystery as flat-out murder magnet. Michal's friends have a habit of turning up dead. Thankfully, he's not always accused of their deaths, but in at least two cases (Going Home and Mielikovsk), Michal is directly blamed and has to protest his innocence. This is being worked on by the author to ensure that the stories don't repeat themselves, but it is the reason that Gosha in Achava, who can see spirits and auras, is scared of him.
  • The Drifter - Michal, for much of the saga. Most of the stories are centred around his varied attempts to carve out a niche for himself wherever he happens to be. Even after the revolution, he moves about quite a bit before settling down ultimately as the communist Governor of Salvatka.
  • Jade Coloured Glasses - Michal after the events of the first trilogy, having begun so idealistic his first capital case nearly kills him too. He rallies slightly in Achava, only to have his own laziness and inertia (just one more day, then I'll go home...) rebound on him.
  • The Magic Poker Equation - Michal's "talent" - his magic wild card - is to be exceptionally lucky at games and cards - except when doing it professionally, since talents cannot be exploited for profit, simply refusing to work or killing the exploiter (in particularly mercenary situations). He describes it in Going Home as believing that someone else is inside him directing his play for him. He is justifiably hated for it in the workhouse dormitory and few people ever deal him in as a result. It does not extend to pure games of chance, where there is no player skill involved at all; that put him off casinos in his youth, for instance, since he was unable to exploit the tables, even casually with no intention of becoming a professional or even habitual gambler.
  • You Can't Go Home Again - Michal begins by stumbling out of home looking for somewhere to get away from it all and clear his mind after the breakdown of his marriage. Although he could go home at any moment, he is initially prevented from doing so by Seymour, who has reasons to keep him apart from Carrie and his family, and then as he grows accustomed to his new life, realises if he did go home, he'd be a Stranger in a Familiar Land - and so intentionally stays away. The realisation is made by the time he meets Jan Jach's son Piotr in Achava, every inch the loathsome, arrogant snob he once was, and he therefore keeps people quiet regarding his origins and background, with devastating consequences in the planned Mielikovsk story.

Seymour
  • Big Bad - the closest thing the series has to this trope. The minor antagonists in the three books dealing with the workhouse are all in his orbit, even after his departure from Lowe Road. However, he also has an impact on the latter books of the series.
  • The Bully - a natural occupation for the supervisor of a workhouse. There are some colourful real life figures, but Simon Seymour makes Wackford Squeers look like Little Dorrit.
  • Classic Villain - Greed. He is motivated by trying to provide for his old age and envy of the gentlemen who run Lowe Road, but this is soon made hollow by the marriage of his niece to the heir to a land fortune (with connections to the main ducal family of Brest), and the money he makes from turning over Michal's estate is mentioned as setting him up for life with judicious investment. While he may be justified in worrying about his old age and is not paid nearly enough to save properly, the way he goes about it is purely evil.
  • Cultured Badass - Seymour has acquired a veneer of gentility since establishing himself at Lowe Road. As an NCO he wasn't considered a gentleman; his goals since the war, however, have been aimed at acquiring the trappings of wealth, particularly a private income. He is also well-read, can charm his way into the homes certainly of businessmen and maybe even the Earls Russell, and plays chess - the sign of culture - as well as the more demotic cards.
  • Even Evil Has Standards - Seymour won't - can't - kill. The reasons are very vague, but since he is a warlock, it seems to be an innate restriction on his abilities balancing out his other, quite significant, magic abilities so he doesn't become too powerful for the characters to outwit. He has organised hits, and manipulates people like Aushra into silencing those who know what he's doing, but he himself cannot take another's life.
  • The Jailer - to Michal, to others in the past and almost to Carrie and Alyosha.
  • Living Doll Collector - as above with The Jailer, Seymour is this; the workhouse is his collection. Being telepathic and a psychic hypnotist, he can also convince people such as Silnov and Dunn to do his bidding and then suffer the consequences.
  • Smart People Play Chess - Seymour doesn't notably play chess during the series - except when his card-playing team is reduced to two players following the arrest of William Latimer and the break with Hugo Montgomery), but he is mentioned as a junior enthusiast and tournament player. He plays cards because that is more prevalent among men of his own social class, though with the precision and calculation of someone playing chess he tutors Sam Morgan in whist, which also needs a similar appreciation of an opponent's and team-member's playing style. Of course, just like Michal's instinctual ability to play cards well translating into a resilience and survivability during his odyssey, the ability to play the game well bleeds into Seymour's traits as a villain - becoming The Chessmaster.

Others
  • Aerith and Bob - played with. The mixture of ethnicities present in the Empire juxtaposes Nick, Jim, Caroline, Simon, Andrew, Michael and Bill against Biruta, Aushra, Zbigniew, Wladyslaw, Kazimierz (Casimir), Wlodzimierz (aka Vladimir), Beata, Giedre and Algirdas. This is intentional - all names are real given names in the various cultures portrayed. Without exception.
    • Furthermore, part of the plot of Ludlin involves Falls' quest to try and unravel Michal's identity. Because he named his butler as "Killian", Falls decides that Michal is at the very least channelling the spirit of the missing barrister; a less unusual name might not be indicative of intimate knowledge of his own household, but that Killian - along with his sister Yolanda, both names being Breston versions of names given in other parts of the Empire - is too strangely named simply to be made up off the top of a lunatic's head.
  • Angel Unaware - the goddess Minerva delights in messing with the world, whereas other deities stand aloof. Along with a cameo in Achava, in another short story/novella based around an extract from Maksim Gorkiy's notes and diaries, she comes into the world as a nurse in a sanitarium, and meddles in the life of the patients before becoming infatuated with both a fisherman and a patient at the same time, and being forced to choose between them. It is not in the revolutionary timeline, but is being stored up for a future cartoon strip.
    • In the second 2011 draft of Achava there are a number of miraculous occurrences driving the plot; they can't all be angels simply descending from Valhalla, but the woman who lives in the ferryman's cottage can't simply be handwaved by being revealed as a ghost. There are a number of theories, from simple human magical chicanery used to bolster the fortunes of the destitute, to an angelic "sleeper" conjuring money from thin air. The proximity of the river in both Michal's and Tom Moreland's encounters suggests at least one rusalka water spirit inhabits the Adra banks.
  • Ascended Extra - virtually everyone involved was created around Michal, but particularly Algirdas Jurkunas, who started off as a stray extra in a story completely unrelated to the current timeline, got his own story and was then inserted into the revolutionary timeline as a main character. The creative process slowed down after a while, but may well speed up if the author manages to get a publishing deal.
  • The Beautiful Elite - Michal's friends and their friends and their friends' friends. Anyone under thirty and rich is just this; the hedonism of his circle might come from being too young to fight in the war; those slightly older (particularly Alexei and Algirdas) and their parents (including Moreland and Russell, who were spectators, and the brothers Seymour) despair of their louche and disrespectful attitudes. Michal subverts this; he's been led astray by the general behaviour, but has a depth and emotional sensitivity that come out in captivity and poverty, and of course his excessive behaviour gets him into trouble the others won't ever experience. This causes issues during the later revolutionary war - as most of his generation are also the communist supporters...
  • Depraved Homosexual - played straight with some, averted with others. Silnov is a criminal who just happens to be homosexual and his case - and that of Jeremy Wells and his valet, a social scandal prompting Claudia Wells to leave her husband and move in with Thomas Moreland - prompts the press to take a strongly conservative line for the first time in decades and begins a slow and subtle persecution of homosexuality that ends with the defection of Zbigniew Piech to the communist cause and the revolution itself. This is parallel with the scandal over animal shapechangers which starts a much more conservative line being taken on "unnecessary magic".
  • Ethnic Magician - in-universe trope. The outsider societies - the vostochni and the tinkers in particular in these stories - are stereotyped as magicians and, in particular, fortune-tellers, even though the vostochni have a strong taboo on knowing the future.
  • Everybody is Single - a feature for some of the extras. This is not necessarily for the purposes of setting up love interests or sexual encounters, though some characters use prostitutes instead, but often from the law of conservation of detail and sometimes because they work in lonely professions that don't give the time and energy to have a spouse - domestic service, workhouse management (Andrew Russell forbade his deputy from being married after Alan Barton's wife died of "debility" in the gloomy lodge) and so on. Subverted in some ways by Moreland, who was married but is a widower courting a second wife, Solinski whose love for Jola and relationship with her is a central part of Achava, and Michal, whose complicated social life and the fraudulent dissolution of his first marriage make him wary about even beginning to fall in love. The author is actively trying to avoid writing just about relationships or love. She is not Asexual, but gets bored by the emphasis on sex in contemporary literature and wanted to try something else, as well as raising the role of women in the stories from mere love interests to characters in their own right.
  • Everybody Smokes - and the smoking materials are very class-based: cigars for gentlemen after dinner, cigarillos for during the day, while the poor have discovered cigarettes (which were a Victorian innovation and only gained common acceptance "above stairs" and with women during the early 20th century). Michal is addicted himself, though in original drafts he was asthmatic and therefore didn't "learn" to smoke until he reached the peasant village; now he learned to smoke under Gregor Bykov's tutelage who turns out to be the Big Bad of the war scenes. There are some token efforts by some characters, particularly doctors, to lampshade the health risks, and Celina worries about her brother smoking in a bedroom full of expensive fabric while drunk, but since this issue didn't catch on until the author's parents' generation, it's an acceptable period depiction. Plus it gave the author-as-cartoonist something for people to do with their hands.
  • Hey, You! - The paupers - and anyone of a lower social class - are often addressed as "man"/"woman" or "boy"/"girl" depending on age (the latter flexible but usually used to younger men and women up to the age of about twenty-five to thirty). No-one below the level of tradesman is referred to as Mr or Mrs, though Michal shyly addresses some of his pauper friends as "Mr", particularly the former dock-workers. Woolf and Giedre, when their secrets become known, are unkindly or patronisingly referred to as "Dog" and "Fox" respectively, even to their faces, though some people, notably Seymour towards Woolf, can get away with this.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - A whole Dysfunction Junction of them in every story, particularly since everyone wants a piece of the action and there are always people ready to exploit the situations created for their own ends. What starts off gently between two people - or even between Michal alone - snowballs as other people get involved.
  • Madman In The Attic - could apply in a metaphorical sense to a couple of characters and in a literal sense to others.
    • Russell has been found an occupation by his father after being turned down for the priesthood and rejected by his paramour. It's noted in Brother Wolf he very seldom goes out and his nephew calls him the Russell family "disappointment".
    • Mrs Barton, the wife of the former deputy warden, was confined to quarters during the last period of her life. Although not mad, people regarded her as imprisoned in the lodge, and Russell thereafter forbade his deputies to be married or bring women into the lodge, for fear that the same thing could happen again. He has some idiosyncratic views about women, however.
    • Averted with Ladziukas; the boy has been kept at home rather than institutionalised, and is a good artist and craftsman until the authorities force him to be incarcerated at Dembomiersk. Grazina is looking for a convenient attic at Dwor Kruczewski to place him in by the end of Brother Wolf, so he can live peacefully and as well looked after as possible with family able to house him discreetly. Unfortunately, being epileptic, the stairs pose a danger to his clumsiness, particularly after a fall after a severe fit leaves him with more direct brain damage than before.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero - Russell has heroic moments, most notably in Brother Wolf, but he is quite unforgivingly misogynistic. Moreland, too, has attitudes that directly confuse the relationship he has with Michal - and also Russell and Saunders - as he makes some things better after taking over from Seymour but other things a bit worse.
  • Sensual Slavs - inverted. The trope largely references women, but given the first two books and Achava particularly, the sexy ones are the men. Jola and Zosia are both described as beautiful Slovian women, but it's Silnov, Tarczowski and Michal who are the bishie boys here, with manly Alexei for a side dish. You can tell it was written by a woman...

    Story Tropes 
  • Civil War - the Empire dissolves into this when Wladek starts bankrolling the communists. Divisions occur on political lines in the northern provinces, but Brest is racked by ethnic tensions as those of the indigenous nationality try to attack those of Slovian or Deutsch extraction. The imperialists in the province try to secede from the Commonwealth but the communists force them to remain within the old imperial framework, now given a communist makeover.
  • Dances and Balls - there are quite a number of social gatherings where plot is advanced, though given the characters we are talking about, they tend to be lower-key social gatherings - such as the meals Biruta hosts in Achava or those that Russell and Seymour host in the first two books at which Michal serves - rather than fancy parties. However, it's nonetheless a good place for characters to meet, and the trope is played straight in two stories, with a third (Ludlin) having part of the climax take place at an opera recital.
  • Great Offscreen War - the Lenkish invasion of 1,971-1,974 IC. Everyone older than Michal - who was in his early teens during it - has some experience of it or some connection to it or its combatants. For some, it was hell. For others, it defines their whole lives in a good way, whether having given them a new purpose and insight into life (Algirdas Jurkunas, Leo Henderson, Wlodek Ciesla, Lyubov Morozova), a new lover (Zbigniew Piech and Konstantin Prilukhov, Graf and Grafin Gryczewscy) or a chance to scam, swindle and perfect techniques before returning to civilian life (Sergeant Seymour and Captain/Major Siedlecki).
  • One Steve Limit - played with. "Michal Piech" is said to be a common vostochni name, Piech roughly meaning "foot" or "footman" and connected with the word piechota, or infantryman. One of the reasons Michal is never "outed" as himself is because his name is too common: the militia records show three in Ludlin alone, as part of the Salvat migrant worker community associated with the station, registered at their addresses prior to Michal's actual disappearances; they unwittingly hit the jackpot with the Lowe Road Piech but Seymour heads this off at the pass when Carrie comes to call in order to eliminate the possibility Michal is Hidden in Plain Sight there. Thus, for most intents and purposes, One Steve Limit is adhered to at least as a One Stevenson Limit (see the entry for Going Home) but is played upon to give Michal the ability to slip anonymously into a crowd - or to be forced anonymously into that crowd.
  • Miscarriage of Justice - the reason why Michal has the nervous breakdown which leads to such a radical change in his lifestyle is because he believes Wilfred Young - his client as a naive young barrister - is innocent. Young is convicted of the murder of Pavel Ustinov and hanged. The author herself has yet to decide whether Young really did do it, someone else did it and framed Young, or someone else did it and Young was just a bystander. Simon Seymour ends up living in Young's old house in Going Home. He's got to have something to do with it. Has he?

    Setting Tropes 

  • Against My Religion - the vostochni are against usury, rather than allowed to practise it. This doesn't have a lot of impact on the series as currently written; however, it is a major distinction between them and the Ashkenazi Jews they resemble. More obviously and explicitly, they are puritanical and conservative, in the manner of many insular religious communities. Krovotka ditched the taboo on usury a long time ago, but the Salvat Minervans retained many of the old dogmas in the face of persecution, repression and inability to get credit.
  • Alternate Calendar – the calendar naturally takes after pagan and agricultural practices rather than Roman and Norse deities (well, those ones which don’t exist in this particular world). The Polish and Lithuanian calendars were lifted mostly wholesale, while the Russian calendar is based on the Ukrainian calendar, and the English and German calendars have been reconstructed from Old Norse and Old English versions prior to the adoption of the Roman names. As far as dates go, the calendar is expressed as an ordinal number (for example, Achava takes place over the Yuletide of the 1,985th year of the Insulan Calendar, or the 1,985th year IC for short), as Real Life years are commonly expressed in Slavic languages such as Polish and Russian. This is believed to date from the establishment of the state of Allemund.
  • All Myths Are True - explored. Certainly, as in the Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory trope, fairy tales and legends are treated as hidden prophecies (for example, the hero of the Cinderella story in this world is male, not female). Also, the folk superstition regarding photography - that a piece of the soul is trapped within - is taken to its logical conclusion, particularly when William Latimer puts up photographs of his dead sons on the stairway and constantly feels their presence.
  • Ambiguously Human - prior to 2010 and a major overhaul of the setting, the vostochni were actually descended from elves and named wilokrewni, or "elfbloods". Reclusive elves still lingered in the forest and one short story reflected on a mixed marriage. However, the difficulty in establishing how elves and humans would interact in a steam-punk setting, and what social niche they would fill even if they were feral led to a complete stripping of every last non-human sapient species from the stories. Religion is enough to divide the vostochni from the rest of the Salvatkan community, but in Achava Lipka does somewhat crassly speculate that the vostochni did descend from an ancient tribe - which he calls "elves". Their ethnic identity is distinct, as they have certain physical characteristics (dark hair and green eyes), but they are definitely fully human.
    • The city of Alfenberg in the original novel, which still exists in the 2010 version of the setting, was deliberately called "Elfmountain" for this purpose.
    • The elves were named Lutin, fulfilled the "niche" of a French-based society and language and were implied once to have spoken Latin, but the author started to believe they were a non-starter way back in 2001 when a friend reacted to "my setting has French elves" with a rather bemused stare and a hastily changed conversation topic.
  • The Artifact - Panczewo was named for the town in Serbia. The first story was written just before NATO's raids on Milosevic's Yugoslavia in 1999 and the town names were chosen to evoke that sort of ominous setting. Prior to spring 1999, Salvatka was a mish-mash of non-Russian Eastern Europe; it didn't gain its uniquely Polish flavour until the author asked a Polish friend to help with some regularising of the setting. (Had she asked another friend, it would have ended up Slovakian.)
  • Ban on Magic - played with. There cannot really ever be a ban on magic, since the priestly hierarchy, shamans and healers are readily accepted as using magic, and in areas such as medicine, at-will magic has become vital to the military as well as to public sanitation. However, the Empire begins to get hysterical on the use of non-useful or spontaneous magic (including shapechanging, suppressed by Giedre Laputaite out of the fear of being called a witch) and witchcraft and sorcery among the general, non-clerical, non-medical population are the targets of increasing paranoia.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" - averted for the most part now, but in the past, the words for many objects were transformed from their current Latin-Greek hybrids (e.g. television, which makes an entrance at the very end of the saga, telegraph or photograph) into more Anglo-Saxon variants such as farseer, farwriter or lightsketch (along the lines of the German word fernsehen). One current usage of this trope is "automobile" for car, as this is a more faithful English rendering of the Polish word samochod, literally "self-mover" or, yes, automobile. Selfmover was used for a while but sounded awkward to English ears and was dropped once the author seriously thought about writing her novels for a definite audience rather than her own pleasure.
  • Clarke's Third Law - magic and science co-exist, but the social paradigm is still overwhelmingly in favour of magic and traditional remedies. Andrew Russell in Going Home calls for solution of willow-bark, which we would know better as soluble aspirin. The drug given to William Latimer in the same novel is described as magical "goddess-milk"; however, the author herself experienced the same effects by mixing beta-blockers with anti-histamines, concocting a good anti-depressant and sedative in the same package (don't try that kind of self-medication at home, kids). She was not only able to sleep, but the effect of the cocktail allowed her to keep going on election day, a situation particularly nerve-wracking, until seven in the evening, when the drugs dramatically wore off, and she went from being serene and happy (ish) to fractious and upset. The extent to which science is taking over from traditional and faith-based medicine, or how much of the magic of Insula actually is magic is actually unexplained technology is unclear from the characters' point of view. However, the spiritualism and second sight, and the shapechanging in Giedre is definitely magical and cannot be replicated by science or mechanical techniques, averting this trope fairly conclusively. The author believes in the ability of reiki to relax a person and relieve pain (having had it work on particularly severe eczema which conventional ointment could not relieve) but does not claim to know how much magick is actually involved or whether reiki could be simply called a relaxation therapy. Dealing with a directly and openly magickal world experiencing the upheavals of the industrial revolution is nevertheless interesting.
  • Constructed World - speaks for itself. Although the cultures are close to real-world cultures, there is no connection with Earth. It expanded outwards from Michal.
  • Crapsack World - the original stories were full of this trope, being based on the "dark satanic mills" school of thought. It has abated a bit, given the author's observation that people tend to try and make the best of what they have and will go a long way towards trying to find good food, or pretty clothes, and use their free time a lot more frivolously than sitting around moaning about how terrible life is. However, the world itself is pretty grim and by the end of the revolutionary war, two cities are in complete ruin and one is locked up in a military dictatorship. Can't get much crappier than that.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus - All the various religions are based on various national denominations of Christianity (Odin - Lutheranism, Fricka (Frigg) - Anglicanism/Anglo-Catholicism, Lisak (Loki/Freyr) - Roman Catholicism, Minerva - Russian Orthodoxy). Even the Salvat vostochni, which could be mistaken for the Ashkenazi Jewish presence in Europe, are part of Minervanism, and thus a Christian expy sect. In a lot of respects, worship is closely tied to an understanding of Christian practices. However, it is essentially a Fantasy Pantheon in other areas where the gods are forbidden to directly intervene in the affairs of mortals, but mortals openly acknowledge the existence of spirits (governed by shamans, typically of either gender), the divine (the purview of priests, mostly male but with an increasingly female presence) and healing magic (attributed to prayer but also connected with wise-women and healers, mostly female but with men). Priests, being healers, themselves are more often Good Shepherds rather than any other type; any significant deviation from this is seen as a human feature rather than just the normal priestly character. There are a few Sinister Ministers and worse, however.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture - the Empire/Commonwealth is made up of five provinces and a number of satellite countries. Allemund (Germany), Salvatka (Poland), Krovotka (Russia), Brest (England) and Galtargh (Ireland) are the core provinces, located on the continental island of Insula. Lenkija (Lithuania) and Vesgale (Latvia) are across a narrow stretch of water on a separate, much larger continent; about 100,000 Lenks form a large immigrant community and political force within Insula, particularly in Salvatka and Krovotka. Other countries exist (such as the Czecho-slovak Moratovia) but for various reasons do not make much of an impact on Piech's story directly. Note that none of these cultures owe more than their language and folklore to their real-life counterparts; they are not connected to Earth in any way and their people did not originate on Earth. It is possible that the way it is presented to us is through an elaborate Translation Convention.
  • The Federation - The Empire has become this since the extinction of the monarchical line and the rise of provincial governors and the use of local languages by the establishment. There is tension between the Imperial government, such as it is, and the stronger local Governors and their cabinets and bureaucracies, and of course the communists exploit the growing Imperial paranoia after the First War (against an ill-advised Lenkish invasion). It is a typical Victorian-era conservative, authoritarian version of the Federation, but it is not in itself ideologically similar to The Empire as it is troped here until the absolute end of the line when the revolution breaks out. In the latter books, it slowly decays into a Vestigial Empire, and eventually in the post-war series, is a precursor to the new communist Commonwealth.
  • Final Solution - the deportation of the Lenks to Galtargh after the first war. A genuine attempt to extradite a specific category of people - the residual Lenkish population of the formerly occupied territories, rather than any Lenkish resident of the Empire. However, had a genocidal effect as many died in the process and after resettlement.
  • God's Hands Are Tied - the deities exist but are forbidden from meddling in the world. So they give humanity a certain amount of magical power themselves, with psychic talents, healing gifts that resemble faith-healing or reiki techniques (not so much cure-alls but a way of relaxing the body in order to allow nature or medicine to take its course) and outrightly magical gifts usable at-will such as shapechanging. The gods keep an eye on magic used for personal gain or profit - there can be nasty consequences, painfully averting this trope in those situations. This may well explain why technology has advanced to the industrial age, albeit slightly slower than on Earth.
  • Magic A Is Magic A - averted. Magic is temperamental and based for the most part on unconscious desires or needs rather than being usable at will. Those lucky few who have tapped into magic usable at will are either shamans, shapechangers vilified by society or, if they have abilities usable at-will, exhausted by the use of their abilities. Exploiting a psychic talent for personal gain is also taboo and can bring unfortunate consequences. Essentially, magic is highly individual in strength, the precise nature of an ability, and outside a few specific uses is pathologised. This has resulted in the advance of technology, safeguards imposed on jurisprudence to protect against shamans claiming the dead are accusing a particular suspect, and an increasing wariness.
  • Magical Queer - a justification for homosexuality being legal in a 19th century setting is the element included under "Mythology" on this page: the setting is Norse and, obliquely, that might account for more tolerance of homosexuality and better opportunities for female clergy. The trope itself is averted; Silnov is gay and a criminal, and Yuri Shargunov, Solinski and Ellis are definitely perverts who happen to be bi. Michal himself is bisexual, and in fact Wojtek, who could be said otherwise to be an example of this trope, was seduced by his employer rather than being naturally gay. Bisexuality is probably more common than definite homosexuality; however, Zbigniew Piech is out from the beginning of the story and sexuality does not in this series define characters.
    • This is explicitly set out as part of established mythology in one story, The Orderly from Vignettes From The Old World, although the story itself is porting a conventional hospital romance to a gay rather than straight relationship.
  • Magic Versus Science - averted, particularly in the world of medicine. Doctors, who see the powerful spiritual effect priests have on their patients, including the alleviation of fevers, and know a wisewoman has hundreds of medicinal herbs at her disposal, some of them directly magical in nature, have no qualms about appropriating this knowledge for themselves and using it to explore the restorative properties of restfulness themselves. They acknowledge that many women who go into nursing have healing hands, and even exploit it for their own ends in communities believed to possess more than their fair share of talented individuals (such as the Lenks before the war, and, erroneously, the vostochni).
  • Microts - The Brestons have many more divisions of time than standard English allows for. As well as days, weeks, fortnights and months, they divide the week into "fiveday" and "twoday" (the weekend), and talk about tendays for numerical convenience. They also express relative time by discussing "first-day", "second-day", "third-day" and so on. See Hugo in Going Home when he is calculating how much time he has left before he has to release Edwin Atkins. They also talk about quarter-hours (fifteen minutes) and have followed the other Insulan language cultures into talking about "half to six" rather than "half past five" (compare "halb sechs" /German/ and "wpol do szostej" /Polish/).
  • One True Faith - averted. The Empire is basically made up of five separate provinces, four of them with their own "state" religion and one - Galtargh - having adopted the religion of Lisak or Frey - which is the only faith that goes out of its way to evangelise and convert, having footholds in at least two of the other provinces. They are all basically expy sects of Christianity, based around a family of deities. There is a friendly rivalry between the faiths - none considers themselves the "true" faith, though Lisak's cult, representing nature, is attractive because of its deification of happiness. The vostochni-lisachni problem in Salvatka is expressed through a national rivalry rather than conflict between faiths.
  • People of Hair Color - the dark-haired vostochni to a large extent. Michal is recognisable as vostochni to other Salvats at the very least. Lisachni do come in all hair colours but tend towards the lighter-haired, with a lot of red hair as well as blonds amongst them. However, Michal's family does have red hair as a trait, and Witek is blond - it's not absolute that the vostochni all have dark hair, simply common. Meanwhile, the Lenks too tend towards red hair, with all three prominent Lenkish women (Grazina, Giedre and Aushra) having it.
  • Public Execution - Michal's story is bound up with the judicial system and its advantages and flaws, particularly with capital and corporal punishment, but this is not what happens in the Empire - at least not initially. It is the shock of political rebellion that prompts the Empire to start using it...with deadly (pun intended) consequences.
  • Religion Is Magic - magic is bound up with the deities. The gods giveth; the gods taketh away. There are different types of magic, but enough is demonstrably connected with religion that even the communists are believers and simply want to harmonise and unite religion, rather than extinguish it.
  • Ruritania - mostly averted. The story originally created this trope, but since Michal was always intended to be of the Ruritanian nationality, there is an element to which the Ruritanians actually see the Brestons as examples of this trope. Allemund, Krovotka and Salwatka are industrial powerhouses. Despite Ludlin's cosmopolitan atmosphere, Brest is a rural backwater compared to the great cities of the north, including, particularly, Achava.
  • Skeleton Government - Think a version of Switzerland the size of the old Russian Empire. The bureaucracy is quite large and efficient, as is the legal system, but the executive of the Empire is this: provincial governors with their own cabinets and a centralised Imperial Diet legislature, effectively a talking-shop which carries out the collective will of the governors when needed. There is no overarching figurehead, prompting nationalist movements to fill the vacuum with their demands to reform the Empire as five independent nations rather than the current confederation.
  • Steam Punk – the technology is late Victorian in nature (by the 1880s, most of what the characters use and wear would have been around, with the exception of female dress, because the author likes drawing women in 1830s garb rather than 1880s dress), with religious magic and evolved shamanism co-existing happily alongside rudimentary automobiles and aircraft (explicitly mentioned as reserved for military use), electric trams, steam locomotives and expanding consumer industry. Because the setting is explicitly not Earth, the author can create a happy Anachronism Stew without too much difficulty.
  • There Are No Therapists - it wouldn't be a pseudo-Victorian setting without the nightmare of a sane patient treated as a lunatic. The two characters acting as psychiatrists or psychotherapists, Drs Falls and Motylecki, both dabble in trying to treat the mind as well as the body. Falls' attempts to cure Michal are barbaric and primitive. Motylecki's aren't, but he falls foul of the communist authorities for trying to go beyond socio-political reasons for Michal's continuing depression even after he has seemingly made it to a settled, normal life. However, as an antidote to this trope, there are dedicated psychiatrists (Keaton) and psychotherapists (Wiseman and Clarke) and their treatment of Carrie Sewell and Shackleton overcome the Psycho Psychologist trope, in order to make up for badmouthing the mental health establishment and elucidating some of the need for the restraint of lunatics or the ways in which physical treatments for mental issues actually do work. Seymour's assumption that all psychologists are automatically sociopathic towards their patients actually proves to be his downfall rather than his apostheosis.
  • Victorian Stasis - averted. The technology level advances from mid-1880s to early 1920s to even into the post-WWII era into the age of televsion during the series. Michal at twenty-five has only seen one motor-car belonging to his uncle Colonel Zbych (they exist but were reserved for the military by the Empire) and at the age of fifty is appearing on the first television thanks to more technology - the use of wireless radio waves - suppressed by the military and revealed to exist when the communists take over and begin permitting civilians to exploit it. Electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy, which didn't exist in the real world until the 1930s and 1940s, are explained as having been at least explored and used by Osbourne House. The period is shorter and the revolution brings many innovations of the early twentieth century into the hands of the late Victorians earlier than happened in our world - but it is implied that this society has had the approximate longevity it had in our world, even by the calendar used it got going slightly later than with us, implying that a pre-industrialised society did maybe have a period of technological stasis.

    Sliding Scales, Laws and Formulas, etc. 
  • Five Races - fits neatly, although as of the beginning of 2012 only three peoples of Insula have been extensively detailed.
    • Stout - the Deutsch/Allemund. We don't see too many of them to start off with but as the author doesn't speak or write German, that's possibly understandable for the moment. They are the main offscreen culture but the industrial and bureaucratic powerhouse behind the Empire.
    • Fairy - Salvatka. Not surprisingly, Michal is from this culture despite living in Brest when the story begins. Veer between magical (lisachni) and more magical (vostochni). The name was a corruption of Slav, but ironically came out sounding a bit like salvation, and they are the culture that take religion most seriously. Since religion is the source of much of the regulated magic on Insula...
    • Mundane - Brest. Write What You Know. Try as she might, the author being English has a lot to do with the setting for the first three books, and although effort is made to give them a slightly more Scandinavian culture, they end up being English to a T - or tea.
    • High Men - Krovotka. Owing as much to Graeco-Roman culture as to Imperial Russian culture, they have cornered the market in exploration and trade with the east, which has also meant a strong military establishment. However, there is a strong bishonen cohort.
    • Cute - the Galtarai. Irish, effectively; the Lenks could also be in this position if you look beyond their violent psychotic episode which led to the invasion.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate - the in-universe reckoning is that fate is like a mountain - you can see the summit but not the path up it. In reality Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory holds sway, particularly for the religious characters like Halina and Biruta and other shamans or wannabe shamans. Folklore is reckoned to be subtle prophecy, although its meaning is obscure and the stories are usually symbolic Beast Fables in which it is impossible to see any of the characters as themselves. Type 2 is generally the way things work; Michal strives to escape his fate but his hardship is caused for a reason and as he comes to accept that there are reasons for his situation he begins to re-establish himself as a master of his own fate rather than in thrall to everyone else's.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality - Type 5, or at least the author thinks so. She has been trying to write this as Type 5, but recognises that such a judgement is best made by another reader. Even in the Insulan Empire, rich women have obtained a degree of emancipation higher than their real-life Victorian counterparts - they are well established as scholars, particularly theologians; the church and the role of shaman and witch are important to Insulan peoples and women have always played a dignified role in these; and they are allowed to sit on charitable boards. Carrie is a respected artiste, though she fights with Michal to be allowed to go back on the stage once she is married. However, they are still unable to have a profession or be taken seriously in their own right and thus there are still some social tensions.
    • The protagonists are men, at least, but there are female characters who go beyond a stereotypical Victorian setting. It is not an adventure story, but the plan is for women such as Julia Seymour, Carrie Dobrovolskaya, Halina Piech, Biruta Berzina and Grazyna Piechiene to become stronger protagonists in their own right when faced with the war and their menfolk's distress. Walentyna Olszewska holds an unusual position as a woman but of the preferential lisachni majority, which means she has won a divorce suit which she may otherwise not have done thanks to successfully prosecuting Jan's adultery even while committing it herself. Giedre Laputaite becomes a political figure in her own right in a story explicitly dealing with post-revolutionary feminism. Claudia Wells acts as a detective. However, statistically the women in the story are outnumbered by the men; we may be seeing the world through a man's eyes.
    • Poor women, of course, are given voice, and they have always worked. Hilda Grafton and Zofia Brzeska-Piechowa are two such women; the later story Babie Lato is told from the point of view of women who have always in some way been emancipated, having been the generation of peasants for whom the revolution brought meaningful change.
  • Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement - tries to make the police force in an authoritarian 19th century imperial setting look humane.
  • Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness - quite high. Seymour's actions literally change history, although no-one really realises it at the time, some of his actions, not even simply his abduction of Michal but, for example, his denunciation of Shackleton, turn the whole tide of politics against the Empire. Seymour largely succeeds because he is opportunistic and happy to turn failure into success, since he is not specifically out to get one particular person - he's done it to other people than Michal in the past, and even a vendetta against Piech doesn't preclude him pursuing other avenues - Frinton and Alexei included - in the meantime as part of his simple, blind greed.
  • Sliding Scale of Villain Threat - personal threat to Michal and others; national threat in that some of his actions precipitate larger repercussions because of whom he targets, particularly with regard to the influence of messing with the Piechowie, but also with what the media does in the wake of the Shackleton affair to increase paranoia and suspicion of those with magical talents that aren't used for healing or passive communing with the spirits.
  • Super Weight - Seymour, by dint of having magic that he can use at-will, is level 2 - possibly level 3. Michal starts out as a Muggle, level 0, but ends up getting out of so many scrapes by dint of sheer luck and charisma that this could be level 1 or even encroach on level 2. His only magic is passive, like most people's, but he does have specific talents that usually win him any battle of wits or charm.

    Meta-Tropes 

  • Action Prologue - most of the books have been written to have these, even if they are simply either continuations of the events of the previous books (a recap, in effect) or the same events from different perspectives. A list:
  • Antiquated Linguistics - Averted, for the most part. the author writes as naturally as she can. This includes putting modern slang into the mouths of 1880s gangsters. Taking into account that the translations she read of Zola at high school were specifically put into modern English in order to convey some of the original meaning without sounding comically outdated, this is not without precedent and may be a Translation Convention of sorts, particularly when dealing with people who wouldn't be speaking English.
  • All Just a Dream - explored as a possible source of the revolutionary plot in an early work, Der Schlemiel, where Michal suffers from delirium tremens after being prevented by his father from wandering into the workhouse, and he sweats out what could have been in a fever. Removing this made it much less heavy-handed and much more natural. Since at the point where Michal has his breakdown, the First War has already happened and the Empire is on the slippery slope towards some kind of political apocalypse, having a revolution sparked by a father's attempt to replace a missing son may have been more inevitable than it seemed when the author began writing the series. So the revolution is not just a dream after all.
  • Author Tract - the author admits that the communist elements were added to the story because for about two minutes in 1998 the author was one herself. The author was also at one point putting real-world philosophy into the mouths of her fictional characters, and one of the early pro-Empire characters was named Hobbes after the 17th century philosopher. All that went out with the desire to tell the actual story and not get lost in philosophy. Similarly, a Tolstoyan phase where Michal deliberately - in-universe - set out to re-create Tolstoy's rejection of high society was thrown out, proposing instead that Michal becomes a revolutionary through simple happenstance rather than having a heavy dose of Epiphany Therapy. In-universe, when trying to write the story the other way, Michal's first wife who'd gone through hell to try and find him again, literally slapped him out of it.
  • Deliberately Monochrome - originally the "real" timeline was written in colour cartoon strips and the "alternate" timelines in black and white. However, since the communist timeline is now the "real" timeline, the cartoon strips are still drawn in black and white. Lampshaded when the characters appeared in The Liberal Cuckoo, as scenes on Insula were done in either sepia (pre-revolution) or black-and-white (post-revolution) - and when the Generalissimo wandered in and out of Insulan scenes, he needed to take a shower to get back to his previous, coloured, appearance.
  • Early Installment Weirdness - In the latest conception, writing four books (at least) before any are likely to see publication has kept things tight in terms of continuity and averted much weirdness. However, the evolution of what someone does when they leave the workhouse was fluid until at least the beginning of the 2011-12 draft of Achava. In the first three books, Seymour and then Moreland are happily able to keep the able-bodied young man Michal in the workhouse without a problem, initially under Seymour by insinuating he is mad, but later, when Michal proves that he is at least capable of working, because there is no system of indenture which re-circulates labour around those needing positions. Instead, labour in a Breston workhouse is sold to various firms and government departments as menials (cleaners in a factory, clearers of derelict land, brick-kiln workers and so on); for example, Michal is parcelled out to Mlynarczyk without actually being formally put out. Astrid Franklin also mentions men sent down from Brescester to the countryside as farm labour while still attached to the workhouse there, in order to showcase life on the farm to them. Moreland is shown to have been working in Achava in a similar way to Michal, although he voluntarily committed himself. When the story moves north, however, the use of able-bodied male workhouse inmates as cheap labour doesn't exist; labour-brokers exist for single men otherwise in danger of having to commit themselves. Like in a lot of multinational states, however, practice may differ from region to region according to local tradition. The Brestons are supposed to be bucolic and relatively under-industrialised, implying no lack of peasant labour. The northern provinces are richer, industrialised and mechanised to the point where their bureaucracies may not tolerate the wasting of male labour when it could be put to work in the fields; the main clients of Przeworski are landlords like Jerzy Zakowski and their stewards. Also, the whole Breston situation is challenged at the end of Going Home, and the plan for the next book dealing with Lowe Road and Ludlin demonstrates Moreland's own move towards a northern system of labour exchange rather than allowing men to languish. It comes at the price at dramatically tightening admission procedures to ensure men cannot commit themselves on a whim just to get a free meal while unemployed.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory - largely in-universe. The situation with Michal is ambiguous. Is he some sort of Cosmic Plaything, the Messiah, or just a very naughty boy? Is Seymour really The Devil? Find out next time on...
  • For Want of a Nail - the original comic strips were sorted into three timelines, with Michal's nervous breakdown in 1,983-84 IC the butterfly event - Michal changing his legal specialization from criminal law to become a legal adviser to Flussfabrik, Michal ending up in the workhouse (originally wittingly, or at least consciously, as a result of losing his way in the middle of delirium tremens and seeking shelter there, not as Seymour's kidnap victim), and Michal consciously and wittingly escaping from wealth into poverty by taking a job as a porter at the station. The current novels are based on the second timeline, as they seemed more exciting from a political point of view. The whole Empire is changed, violently, because of his disappearance, rather than just his own life being transformed or stopped from transforming and a peaceful route to personal power mapped out so this timeline held the most potential for external readers.
  • In Spite of a Nail - some key things happen in all the timelines. First of all, the same characters have been born by the time the three timelines diverge, so it's reasonable that they should all play roles in Michal's story. Furthermore, because of the vostochni fortune-teller, Frank Palmerston is a key rival to Michal and Michal becomes Governor or President in all three timelines because he is prophesied to end up a ruler. The Insulan idea of fortune-telling is based on a proverb, however: "You can see the top of the mountain, but not the route up it." So even then, the prophecies existing does not tell Michal how his life will end up playing out.
  • It's for a Book - the internet browsing history for the research, particularly of Google Images, is pretty damn scary. Moreso even than the number of modern images that searches for flogging, hanging, executions in general and mental health "welfare" brought up.
  • Life Imitates Art - the author started writing the stories at university. Three years after graduating, she had the same breakdown as Michal, though luckily managed to avoid a lot of what the stories describe happening to him. She stopped writing the stories until she had recovered enough not just to write an autobiography. This makes Michal an unintended Author Avatar.
  • Meanwhile in the Past - a way of telling relevant back-story is employed frequently, sometimes as "dream sequences" - interspersed as if the characters were dreaming about their own histories as a way of filling the reader in on important narrative; for example in Going Home, with Michal under arrest, shackled to his infirmary bed in an influenza-induced fever and facing the death penalty if convicted, we see his previous brush with Pole Bay's utilitarianist executions. Since the series opens with Michal already delirious in Seymour's lodgings, most of the events leading up to Michal's committal to Lowe Road are described thus, but it is also used to explain (so far set down) the back-stories of Jan Jach, Jola Bielanska and Giedre Laputaite in their respective stories.
  • P.O.V. Sequel - originally, Michal was the lawyer from Joan Aiken's original book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase given his own book and his own universe to play around in. It was an attempt to play devil's advocate with a book that downplayed the political and social consequences of the girls' riches-to-rags-and-back-again escapade. Michal very soon became a good guy fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, but as the author explored him a bit more, she found all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies to him and eventually the original premise was nixed entirely.
  • Punctuation Shaker - varies from book to book. In the books set in the "English" province, everything is Anglicised. In the "Polish" provinces, Polish spellings, particularly where "w" is used for the "v" sound, are more faithfully adhered to (Achawa, not Achava). No diacritics are used, however, leaving the author to anglicise Polish clusters and diacritic marks into representations of the sound, e.g. the street on which Michal lives is called Ulica Kepna, with a Polish "tail" on the "e"; it is rendered as Kempna Street to remove the diacritic marks and nicknames are given as pronounced (Gosha, not Gosia; Jashek, not Jasiek; Jash, not Jas'; Mish, not Mis'). In the last graphic story, Krovt, "Russian" has been "romanised" as part of communist reforms, though the "cyrillic" alphabet is used as a subtitle to assist the older generations to cope with the change in orthography, in the manner of Japanese usages to differentiate kanji titles. The use of the apostrophe to mark palatization, as mentioned in this trope's page, is alive and well and living in Droitwich. The author felt that for ease of reading, some of her pedantic streak had to be reined in.
    • Woolseyisms also make an appearance. From region to region as the books progress, the idioms shift, for example the euphemism for workhouse changes from 'spike' in the south to 'dipsek' in the north. The name of the city of Silverbury/Silberburg/Zylberbork changes from province to province, given the multi-ethnic nature of that particular region.
  • Victorian Novel Disease - the author tries hard to avert this. If someone's in a fever, it's usually not "brain sickness", it's usually something real. Once or twice stress or ill-treatment directly causes something that resembles it, but it is usually symptomatic of something else - particularly fainting, as in the case of Jan Jach in Achava, or being locked in a cellar for days on end without food, as with Michal at the climax of Brother Wolf.
  • Weather Report Narration - the weather seems to be important, particularly if you live life at the mercy of the elements, and a lot of scenes open with this as a contextual, mood-setting piece. Particularly snow. Lots of snow.
  • You ALL Share My Story - Michal's relationship with most of the other characters. He touches lives, often negatively, but this is largely because the stories are mostly about who he meets and their stories as much as the series is about him himself.