The Doctrine of Labyrinths is a series of four fantasy novels by Sarah Monette, largely featuring the incredibly dysfunctional Lord Felix Harrowgate, a very powerful wizard who nearly managed to put his baseborn past and unsavory history behind him, and his equally-dysfunctional younger brother Mildmay, whose personality is just asfractured and whose past isjustasdismal.The character-driven plot is too complex to relate here; there are many sub-plots, minor characters, and dangling plot threads. As a whole, the books mainly focus on the emotional and psychological trauma that accompany Mildmay and Felix (and, occasionally, the guest protagonists of the third and fourth books), and how they heal from said trauma, with a heaping helping of additional trauma, abuse, magic, murder, and emotional regression to keep things interesting.Felix is generally a vain, self-centered ass, and Mildmay generally attempts to protect him and keep him out of trouble, with varying levels of success. Combine their wildly different personalities, two more first-person narrators, more minor characters than you can shake a stick at, an assload of labyrinths, and you've got The Doctrine of Labyrinths.Amongotherthings, the series should be noted for its extremely realistic portrayals of post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disordernote Which, Word of God, Felix has, but lives in a world where diagnosis and treatment do not exist, clinical depression and the personality and behavioral consequences of childhood abuse; the characters never really get over what has happened to them, so much as... work through it to pass for halfway-normal, and slowly, eventually, heal.Set in a fantasy version of what roughly correlates to the Industrial Revolution-Era Francenote though in later books they hit a vaguely Victorian country complete with Steam Punk magic, the series goes out of its way to subvert, avert, and deconstruct as many tropes as it possibly can, especially the Standard Fantasy Setting. Perhaps due to the subjectmatter it covers, the series is not very well known, which is a shame. However, it is very well-loved by those who do know it.The series consists of the books Mélusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, and Corambis. Sarah Monette has also written an additional side story, A Gift of Wings, set in the same universe but involving no interlocking characters. note A septad is seven of something, usually seven years. A decad is ten days. An indiction is one year. Any other terms the reader is unfamiliar with can probably be found in a larger, more extensive dictionary; they are all historical in nature.
This series provides examples of:
Ab Urbe Condita: Stephen uses the phrase in The Mirador. Presumably he's referring to the founding of Marathat, although given that Rome+Atlantis=Cymellune (and thus Latin likely equals Cymellunar), he may be counting from the founding of Cymellune, in which case the date would probably be in the realm of legend.
Julian adores Cyriack, to the point that Isobel worries about him being "soppish" toward him, but the books never say whether his love is romantic or platonic. He's also notably more flustered than flattered when Corbie flirts with him, but Mildmay thinks that might be an issue of maturity rather than attraction.
Edgar St. Rose lets Felix flirt with him and they get along better than Felix does with many of his coleagues. Mildmay wonders if they're also sleeping together, but we never find out.
Animal Motifs: The magic of Felix's insanity causes him to see people with the heads of animals that represent them. Perhaps tellingly, Gideon is just a green blob.
Animal Theme Naming: Why hello there Mr. Mildmay the Fox. Likewise, Felix and Mehitabel share their names with famous cats. Corbie's name comes from the Scots word for raven.
And the Adventure Continues: The end of Corambis. The author has said she wanted to make it clear that the story didn't end with the narrative, and she definitely did.
And There Was Much Rejoicing: Over the deaths of a couple of blood wizards. Mildmay observes that Mrs. Fenris had "been praying for indictions for Vey Coruscant to choke on a fishbone and die."
Antihero: Felix is the Type IV variety, sometimes skirting type V (for example, when ordering Mildmay to kill Vey Coruscant or when losing control when dominating a sexual partner). Mildmay at his best is Type II, but he generally stays at Type III and his past indicates Type IV.
Arc Words: Arguably, "The doctrine of labyrinths", or "Every maze has a monster at its heart." The continued motif of "the heart and the center of a labyrinth are not the same" also deserves honorable mention.
Asexuality: Asked what he'd like to do with his life, Vincent answers, "Cut off my sex and go into a monastery," and Mehitabel "worried that he wasn't joking". However, given hismiserablehistory, it's hard to know whether this is a trait he was born with, or one he developed over time. We do know that in his youth he imagined that a "young, wealthy lord would see my sterling qualities behind the hard veneer of prostitution and take me away to his palace on Lighthill. But I was never in that story either."
Some of the brothers of St. Crellifer's, specifically Brother Orphelin and Brother Lilburn. Felix can see in his madness that celibacy is no trouble for Orphelin because he is much more interest in power and secrets than sex. And Lilburn... doesn't seem to feel anything at all.
Simon and Rinaldo similarly don't engage in sex, with each other or anybody else (despite rumors that they are lovers) and seem to be the only people in the Mirador to do so. This might be a consequence of the trauma they suffered, but they aren't about to think about that in depth.
Attempted Rape: Far less common than actual rape. Discussion continues over whether this is a subversion, making the story more realistic, or... not. Honestly, a lot of the criticism for the series comes down to how this trope is handled.
Aura Vision: While insane, Felix can see people's emotions in the colors that surround them. Gideon is an exception— he just looks green.
Back from the Dead: Always ends badly. At best you'll wind up with tortured souls making some mediums very unhappy; at worst, you've got yourself the above and some serious carnage.
Bad Liar: Felix and Mildmay both have moments of this, especially when dealing with each other. Mildmay in general doesn't lie very well.
Corbie is a terrible liar, to the point that just staring at her a little bit after one of her obvious tells (she'll talk too fast or lift her chin like she's daring you to contradict her) will make her crumble and tell the truth.
Badass Gay: Felix (who, most of the time, could burn you to a cinder with his mind) and Kay (longtime warrior and popular general). Malkar also qualifies as a badass bisexual, although he's hardly a positive example.
Badass in Distress: Mildmay is the resident Badass, but at one point he gets locked in a farmhouse cellar and has to get rescued by Felix who is completely insane at this point and fights like a little girl even at his best. Not to mention later, when the usually competent Mildmay has to be rescued Damsel in Distress style.
Badass Mustache: Bernard sports a braided one, saved from utter ridiculousness by the fact that he's actually a badass.
Badass Normal: Despite the fact that Mildmay is completely magicless, he never gets lost, he's a great street fighter and, according to Mehitabel, the best lover in the world, and he can get into any building.
Balance of Power: Marathat's position between two much greater powers (Tibernia and Kekropia) makes its more astute politicians acutely aware of this trope.
Ban on Magic: The Cabalines will burn you at the stake for using blood in magic, for contacting the dead, or even performing a magical healing... unless you're a blood wizard crime boss, in which case it apparently isn't worthwhile. The Corambins purged Caloxa of an entire school of magic, and while they don't explicitly forbid women to study magic, they certainly make it hard for them.
The Baroness: Kolkhis. Not only does she raise children to do her bidding as thieves and assassins, she also uses them as her sex slaves. By force if necessary. Oh, and she's in league with an Evil Sorcerer.
Barred from the Afterlife: Felix encounters a lot of poor souls with this problem: at Nera, in the crypts of the Cordelii, in Hermione, at the burning building in Caloxa, and possibly in St. Crellifer's as well.
Bastard Bastard: Played with. People keep expecting Shannon to do something evil on the grounds that he's the possibly-illegitimate son of the late, treasonous consort, Gloria Aestia. Luther Littleman's ghost essentially confirms that Shannon isn't a Teverius by blood. While he's no saint, his real offenses don't amount to much beyond sulking, sniping, and gossiping.
Bastard Boyfriend: Malkar is the Unconflicted Type. We know less about Ivo than we do about Malkar, but from what Vincent says, he's pretty nasty too.
Berserk Button: Felix has a number of triggers to set him off, namely Malkar, the Sim, Malkar, his Keeper, Malkar, that time when he was crazy, and Malkar. Mildmay's are people pitying him and people not understanding his speech. Shannon's is his mother and Stephen's is Felix. Thaddeus and Gideon's is the Bastion. Basically the people in these books have a lot of issues, mmkay?
More importantly, Felix and Mildmay are each other's Berserk Buttons. Mess with one, and the other will go batfuck on you.
Best Served Cold: Mavortian has spent years looking for Beaumont Livy, the many who seduced and abandoned Anna Gloria Pietrin. He's willing to resort to kidnapping, cross a continent with crutches, risk being burned as a witch, and walk into the lair of an Evil Sorcerer in order to get revenge. Unfortunately for Mavortian, Beaumont Livy is another pseudonym of Brinvillier Strych, and he just gets himself painfully killed for his trouble.
Bitch Alert: Kolkhis's entrance, at the Stag and Candles in The Virtu.
Bit Part Badguys: St. Crellifer's staffers, Astyanax, the Sunny Pingree band, not to mention a bunch of two-bit criminals scattered all over the story.
Bittersweet Ending: They still have issues, but the main characters are no longer in imminent danger from others or, more surprisingly, themselves.
Black and Gray Morality: Pretty much the only kinds around. For example, one of the protagonists is Mildmay, the thief and former assassin, who justifies his current career by saying it's not "some great moral victory, but at least no one was dying."
Blessed with Suck: Most of the characters with any significant talent, be it magic, larceny or good looks, end up paying for it more than they benefit. If they don't end up losing those skills outright in the most thematically ironic way possible.
"For all things worthwhile, you must suffer."
Blondes are Evil: Appears to be the belief in Mélusine due to the legacy of Gloria Aestia. Her treason was so terrible she was the first annemer to be burned at the stake. Many are afraid that Shannon will be just as bad as his mother if he becomes Lord Protector.
Blood Magic: Malkar and Vey Coruscant are accomplished practitioners. Also Porphyria Levant, for historical figures. They have been using this to keep themselves young and vital for who knows how many years. Vey was terrorizing the Lower City when Felix and Mildmay were children, and when Mildmay killed her she didn't look a day over twenty. Judging by how long it's been since Porphyria Levant died, Malkar has been at it for at least two-hundred years. And Felix isn't above using a little blood in his own magic, if the situation's dire enough.
Book Dumb: While Mildmay is quite intelligent, he's also functionally illiterate… until Felix begins to teach him to read in 'Corambis'.
Corbie is similarly intelligent, and fortunate enough to be literate, but her grandmother pulled her out of school when she was eight. It is one of several factors that make her stand out at the Institution.
The students Felix was teaching in The Mirador. They have a little education, but they haven't had the kind of opportunity and access that would make them ready to be apprentices. This is implied to be the case with most non-Cabaline wizards in Mélusine.
Boomerang Bigot: Corbie's grandmother, who hated and feared magicians despite being one herself. Corbie herself was a softer version of this until Felix taught her better.
Brains and Brawn: This is what Felix and Mildmay are, respectively, to outside eyes. However, it's really subverted, because while Mildmay never had formal education, he's still more sensible than Felix. Felix, who was educated, but only pragmatically, and as such has huge holes in his knowledge and habitually makes terrible decisions.
Brother-Sister Incest: It's hinted that Mad Elinor slept with her brother to produce her heir, Henry Ophidius. The other possibility was her father. Either way, Henry was 'a little peculiar'.
And then there's Felix and Mildmay, and the fact that everyone thought Mildmay was Kolkhis's little brother.
Mildmay: "What was I doing wrong that everybody thought I was committing incest once a decad?"
Brought Down to Normal: While there doesn't appear to be any way to remove the magic from a wizard, there are several ways to keep one from accessing his power, and Felix gets hit with several: mental damage and the Curia's interdict in Mélusine, magic shackles in The Mirador, and drugs and later the binding-by-obedience (also called the "choke-binding") in Corambis. By this time, though, it's more a case of Brought Down to Badass, since he still manages to save the entire country from the engine under Summerdown.
Brown Note: The Titan clocks produce noirance-freighted tolling that drives people to commit suicide.
Buttmonkey: Just about every protagonist in the series is this to one degree or another. Most notably every character who gets a POV. And Gideon. And Vincent. And Hallam. And even Vulpes. And...
Calling Your Attacks: Felix can perform magic without motion or speech, but it's harder. Mildmay relates his knowledge that keeping a wizard from speaking is critical if you're trying to assassinate them.
Camp Gay: Felix is very fashion-conscious, refers to other people of both sexes as "darling" (usually when he wants to be mocking; it's something he picked up from Malkar), and also is extremely beautiful.
Cast Full of Gay: Felix, Kay, Shannon, Gideon, Astyanax, Sherbourne, Angel, Louis Goliath, and Murtagh are all definitely gay or bisexual; Edwin Beckett, Julian Carey, Cyriack Thrale, Edgar St. Rose, and Vincent Demabrien may or may not be gay.
Catch Phrase: "Fuck me sideways 'til I cry!" "Darling." "Acting the swan daughter."
Also: "Fuck this for the Emperor's snotrag!" and "Fuck this for a half-wit dog."
Not to mention "bitchkitty" and "Milly-Fox" and "eyes as big as bell wheels." Mildmay has a lot of these.
Character Development: The main arc of the story is centered on how Felix and Mildmay, and to a lesser extent Mehitabel and Kay accomplish this, becoming functioning members of society again, or... ever.
Chekhov's Army: If you see the name Vincent, Estella Velvet, Faith Cowry, Hugo Chandler, or Edwin Beckett, make a note. They're more important than they seem.
Chekhov's Gun: For parsimony excluding people, there's one in Mélusine, when Gideon tells Felix about the magic-powered machines of Corambis. Felix has trouble believing him, but Corambis proves Gideon right.
Chekhov's Skill: In The Virtu, Mehitabel says that she "worked in the Bastion at the time." Guess which citadel later needs infiltrating to rescue Mildmay?
Children Are Innocent: Averted constantly, as most of them are thieves, assassins, or self-aware sadists. The only straight example of an innocent child is Florian in The Virtu.
The Church: While most Mèlusiniens appear to be either henotheists with a vast pantheon or agnostics, the Caloxans and Corambins fall into two camps: Eadian and Caddovian, which seem to be fantastic variants on Catholicism and Anglicanism, complete with the Lady (not called a goddess) at the center) and "coralines" (strings of prayer beads) as accessories.
Citadel City: Damaging Mélusine's massive, 700-year-old walls qualifies as treason, which is odd, since they don't seem to serve much purpose beyond looking cool. Assaults are much likelier to come through magic than a physical invasion.
City Guards: The city watch if you're upper class. The Dogs if you're from the Lower City.
The City Narrows: Most of the Lower City is rough, but Simside, Queensdock, and the Arcane are even wretcheder than the rest of this Wretched Hive.
Classic Villain: Malkar, inverted/invoked/Lampshaded when Mildmay points out he was, "just like them evil wizards in stories," to which Felix notes, "he would have loved the comparison," implying Malkar was playing up a trope on purpose.
Cobweb Of Disuse: Found in the lower levels of the Mirador. Mélusine arguably subverts this trope, as the lack of cobwebs in an abandoned tower spooks out Mildmay, who thinks that means something worse is keeping the spiders out.
Come to Gawk: Felix is paraded through Mélusine after he was framed for breaking the Virtu.
Kay is put on display in public after he's blinded and forced to surrender his army.
Conveniently Common Kink: Felix's experiences in Mélusine and The Mirador suggest that finding a willing bottom for violent gay sex in Mélusine is about as hard as finding a stalk of corn in Iowa in July.
Costume Porn: For a non-visual medium, there's a lot of this. We hear about everything from Kolkhis's bustle to the lumpy socks that Mildmay wears on his return to Mélusine. Now and then we get bits of this with Mehitabel, but Felix probably gets the most clothing-related ink.
Creepy Basement: The lower levels of the Mirador. They're cobwebby, populated by ghosts and ghouls, and the final resting place of lots of really bad people. Even Shannon, who's lived his whole life in the Mirador, would get "nervous and unhappy" if Felix spent too much time down there.
Creepy Blue Eyes: Felix, whose right eye is most definitely a Creepy Blue Eye as it's a strangely pale, cloudy blue. In the Lower City with its superstitions, this is blended with Occult Blue Eyes. Given his left eye is yellow, it creates an overall eerie effect that even Mildmay refers to as "spooky eyes."
Creepy Cemetery: The Boneprince. It has the ghosts of murdered children and everything.
Methony was in one when Mildmay was born, thus the ridiculous name she gave him. Weird cults "come and go like mayflies" in the Lower City.
Gideon worships the rather spooky White-Eyed Lady, in a cult that dates back thousands of years (although the rituals have become somewhat tamer).
Edwin Beckett's fervor for starting the Clock of the Eclipses through having lots of kinky sex borders on religious, and his followers act as though they've been brainwashed. Felix refers to the way they used him as "sacrifice."
Curious Qualms of Conscience: Despite being raised as an assassin, Mildmay turns into someone who "has very high moral standards" (Felix, Corambis.) Well, relative to Felix, anyway.
Cynicism Catalyst: Joline is this for Felix. After she died, he never really trusted anyone until Mildmay.
Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Using blood for magic or ritual purposes, or drawing on someone else's energy. Felix does them both when the situation requires, but the latter leaves him unconscious for two days and Mildmay not much better.
Dark Is Not Evil: Felix is described as a noirant (black magic) wizard and a natural necromancer. Did I mention he's the protagonist?
Noirant magic in general is not evil, either. Coeurterrene wizards believe that it must be kept in balance with clairant (white) magic, not shunned or eliminated.
Dating What Daddy Hates: Shannon makes it a point to take as his lover the one wizard his older brother can't stand.
Dead Person Conversation: Felix has them with Magnus Cordelius, the fantôme in the tower, Grendille Moran, and the fantôme in the burning building; Mildmay observes one between Augusta Fenris and Luther Littleman.
Deconstruction: The series is a massive, excruciatingly realistic deconstruction of the fantasy genre in general and the over-the-top traumatic pasts most (suspiciously well-adjusted) fiction characters have in particular. In general, it relies on invoking the tropes in question (traumatic pasts especially) and then playing them as realistically as possible, showing it's not so glamorous to have been raised as a beautiful prostitute, a deadly assassin, a skilled spy, or a noble warrior.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Mildmay "won't be a pimp," but he has no problems patronizing prostitutes, who are, in this particular Crapsack World, frequently slaves. Stephen's search for a wife involves searching for appropriate families with more or less eligible women, whose consent, based on the actions of their relatives, may not be free and willing. Shannon lampshades this by calling his brother's methods "barbaric," but no one seems to view it as criminal. Further, everyone knows that bear-baiting is a common sport; the POV characters tend to look down on it, but don't feel any apparent compunction to outlaw it.
In-universe, Felix struggles to understand and adapt to the local culture in Corambis, which is significantly more sexist and homophobic than that of Marathat. Even in Marathat, people disagree bitterly over the acceptance of homosexuality ("The Lord Protector was known particularly to not like molls," even though his younger brother is out and proud), torture of criminals, and what qualifies as heresy.
Malkar. He kept a teenage boy as a sex slave, seduced and betrayed a lady of the Mirador, rapes a man, and kidnaps and tortures another man. Oh, and then there are the burning a woman alive, driving another to suicide, and attempting to bring down an entire country that was pretty much minding its own business. The two-bit gangster Sunny Pingree is another example—although he apparently pays women for consensual sex more or less regularly, he also tries to shake down an (assumed) male prostitute for sex.
Simon averts this trope: according to Mehitabel, he's "janus." He's also kind, understanding, and surprisingly brave in The Mirador.
Disappeared Dad: Neither of the brothers knows who their father was. Felix's could be anyone in the Gardens of Nephele and Mildmay's could be... well, anyone in Mélusine. Possibly with green eyes.
Disc One Final Boss: Vey Coruscant is certainly formidable enough in her own right, but defeating her isn't the endgame.
The Don: Kolkhis and Vey Coruscant. Unusual in that both are female
Don't Call Me Sir: During a fight with his lover, Lord Shannon, over the revelation that Felix used to work as a prostitute (and lied to Shannon about it for more than four years), Felix calls him "my lord." Given their longstanding relationship, Shannon snaps back, "Don't call me that!"
Downer Ending: All of the books have quite somber endings, but The Mirador takes the cake in the 'depressing ending' department.
Dramatic Irony: Used very well; unsurprisingly, Monette has a Ph.D in English Literature. For example, in The Mirador, Felix doesn't want Mildmay to go to the St. Dismas Baths in the Arcane, and uses the obligation d’âme to enforce his wishes. Mildmay thinks he's being a dick (which he is), but that's not the only reason. The St. Dismas Baths are where Felix goes to clean himself off after he gets done having extremely violent S&M sex with random men and getting spattered with their blood.
The Dreaded: Any given blood wizard inspires terror in even the most Badass heroes, partly due to the fact that their techniques enhance their power beyond its normal limits and partly because they thrive on other people's pain and suffering (and, of course, blood).
Dream Land: There is an implied wide dreamworld out there, though Felix mostly sticks to the Khloidanikos.
Dream Walker: Many magicians are capable of this. Its forms can range from a benign sort of long-distance communication to outright Mind Rape; the latter is known as a "sending," and Gideon regards it as a particularly heinous act.
Driven to Suicide: One of the side-effects of mikkary, Titan Clocks, and a certain thaumaturgic engine.
Stephen and Victoria's mother, Lady Dulcinea, committed suicide when Stephen was eight. Later revealed to have been the handiwork of Vey Coruscant.
Isaac Garamond commits suicide in Corambis
Dysfunction Junction: Powers and saints, where to start? Fucking everyone in this series is screwed-up beyond repair. But Felix and Mildmay, due to their horribly miserable childhoods, really take the cake, with the other two POV characters, Mehitabel and Kay, as close runner-ups. Thaddeus and Mavortian get honorable mention: we never quite find out what happened to them, but it's implied to be bad, or at least soul-crushingly depressing.
Felix can only correlate love with sex, is mean and hateful to even those he loves (even when he recognizes it and knows he should stop), is a sadist when it comes to sex, is manipulative and controlling, and has a Guilt Complex the size of a horse's small intestine.
Mildmay has horrible self-esteem and huge trust issues, is self-degrading, only wants to be loved in a non-sexual way, and still hangs around Felix even after Felix does and says seriously horrible things to and about him. While he was Kolkhis's assassin, he was clinically depressed. He falls back into that after Ginevra dies, pulls himself out of it when he meets Felix, and then falls right back into it again after Felix sends him, using the obligation d’âme, to murder Vey Coruscant, which he does. Malkar catches him and tortures him for around a month.
Gideon joined a death cult at fifteen because of a longing for suicide, fell in love with a horny wizard but finds sex degrading, and spends a year and a half being openly, humiliatingly cheated on by Felix before he develops a backbone. And even then, he's so in love with Felix that he walks into Vulpes's trap.
Shannon and his siblings do not get along— to the extent that he fears Stephen will have him burned at the stake for treason, even in the absence of any incriminating evidence.
Methony hated her father so much that she ran away and lived out her life on another continent, at least if you believe Diokletian's explanation. She later sold her sons into slavery, and they spend years dealing with and dishing out incest, physical abuse, and Mind Rape... frequently between each other.
The Teverii are so dysfunctional that Shannon fears Stephen will have him burned at the stake on a false charge of treason. Not to mention that the family rose to power when Michael slaughtered every single Cordelius, including a cousin and the cousin's infant son.
Mehitabel's parents ignored her, her uncle molested her, and the only thing she regrets about running away at 15 is leaving behind her siblings to deal with the situation.
Kay's mother "had little interest in [him]," and his father turned him into a ruthless soldier when he was 14, though not before leaving him with a good deal of internalized homophobia.
After the death of Vincent's father, his older brothers abandoned him and his mother sold him into prostitution. He apparently has no idea what happened to any of them afterward.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Done very well in the ending of Corambis. Felix and Mildmay are technically being banished again, this time out to the back of beyond, but they've both (mostly) come to terms with themselves and each other, and promise to try to be happy with each other.
Eating the Eye Candy: Despite Mildmay's supposedly hideous scar, plenty of people seem to like ogling him— notably Felix, Mehitabel ("Well, I certainly like what I see"), the Fawn daughters, and various people at the baths (although he attributes this to his red body hair).
Played straight in Mélusine. Meeting a blood witch in a graveyard? Surrounded by millenia-year-old tormented ghosts? You're about to get drenched.
Possibly played with in The Mirador: Although getting exiled from the Mirador for gross heresy certainly makes for a turbulent experience, Mildmay doesn't mind the accompanying rain becaues he's just happy to be leaving.
Equal-Opportunity Evil: Kolkhis is perfectly happy to use or serve men, women, and heretics, provided that they do good work or pay her on time.
Even Evil Has Standards: Kolkhis doesn't do much for free (and isn't above sex with thirteen-year-olds or assassination for hire), but if the Cabalines are persecuting you, her heads-up comes gratis.
Everybody Has Lots of Sex: True with regard to the POV characters— Felix will "fuck anything in trousers," Mildmay sleeps with Ginevra, Mehitabel, Corbie, the prostitute Anna Sylvia, and, it's suggested, random chambermaids; Mehitabel is "an actress of known immorality"; and Kay makes no secret of enjoying the men of the Clowder Palace, in addition to a fling with Angel Vyell.
Everyone Loves Blondes: Corbie is exceedingly popular with the boys at the Institution and seems to have them wrapped around her little finger before Felix or Mildmay even set foot on campus.
Felix makes constant references to how beautiful Shannon is and he seems to get a lot of attention from the guys.
"She's mostly there expressly in order for Felix to reject getting embroiled in That Kind of Fantasy Novel." Says the author herself.
Evil Matriarch: Kolkhis. She claims to love her children, Mildmay especially, but she seems to love making them suffer for her amusement more.
Blood wizard Vey Coruscant heads up organized crime in Dassament, and even Mildmay notes that he's always "gone pretty far out of my way to make sure me and the lady never met."
Gloria Aestia, although she's long dead by the start of the series. She plotted to restore monarchy in Marathat with her son Shannon when he was fourteen or so, so she would have several years to consolidate power and make Shannon into a puppet king. Years after her execution, Shannon still flips out when people so much as mention her.
Evil Sorcerer: Malkar Gennadion, Vey Coruscant, Beaumont Livy, Brinvillier Strych, Porphyria Levant, and Edmund Beckett. Although a couple of those actually turn out to be Malkar under another name.
Expository Hairstyle Change: Once for Felix in the beginning of Mélusine, and once again at the end of Corambis. Once for Mildmay, when Mavortian pays him to take the dye out of his hair.
Face Your Fears: Felix is utterly terrified of Malkar. So who does he have to fight to the death in The Virtu's climax? Guess.
The Fagin: Margot is the more sympathetic type; most thief-keepers, including Kolkhis and the unnamed one who raised Felix, are considerably nastier.
Fake-Out Make-Out: Mildmay and Mehitabel pull this one in The Virtu. Apparently, it's funner than they expected.
Fantastic Drug: Phoenix, spiderweb, and roseblood. It isn't clear what they're made of, but normal drugs like laudanum do exist in this universe, so magic seems like a real possibility.
Fantastic Racism: People in Marathat really freak out over Felix's odd coloring (white skin, complete heterochromia with one eye being gold, and deep red hair) and unusual build (tall and very slender). His Keeper evn used to beat him for being bad luck. Over in Corambis, people mistreat "aethereals," or psychics, and female magicians.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: More or less, the Troians = Ancient Greek, the Marathines = Anglo-French with a dash of Renaissance Europe, and the Kekropians = Modern Greek/Roman. Norvenans are obviously German, and the Merrows are obviously Russian. What little there is hints that Ygres is Spanish. Midlanders may be Italian? Mind, this is mostly in terms of naming, architecture and language, instead of actual culture... with the exception of Cymellume and Lucere, which seem to be the spiritual ancestors of Ancient Rome and Byzantium. Clear as mud? Cool!
In Mélusine, Mildmay subverts this, noting that, despite his misfortunes (being sold into slavery, raped, and trained as an assassin without ever getting the money for it, plus now having no viable options better than life as an on-the-run thief), his life "beats the fuck out of dying." Felix plays the trope straight: after Malkar uses him to break the Virtu, he hopes Malkar will choose to end his misery by killing him.
Fictional Currency: Often named for mythical creatures. Marathat uses centimes, gorgons, septagorgons, and decagorgons, while Bernatha uses such denominations as banshees and angels. Apparently unlike the former nations/regions, Corambis uses paper money.
Frameup: Felix is wrongfully jailed for treason in Mélusine, and for treason murder in The Mirador.
Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow: The sevenfold oath of the Cabalines. Robert breaks it by attempting to steal Felix's magic (Mélusine), nearly the entire Cabal breaks it to seal Felix's magic (Mélusine), and Felix himself breaks it at least four times in The Mirador. This, despite the fact that Mildmay describes the Cabalines' oath as "put[ting] their soul in hock to the Mirador''.
Gang Bangers: Most, if not all, of the Mèlusinien packs fall under this description. While a few of the smartest and most ruthless members, such as Kolkhis, may wind up living a more comfortable existence, the gangs mostly are hungry, badly-dressed, and on the verge of killing each other.
Gayngst: Gideon feels this for enjoying sex with Felix.
Kay feels no conflict over enjoying sex with men, but falling in love with men is about the worst thing he can think of.
Geas After you cast the obligation de sang or the obligation d’âme on someone, you can essentially cast as many gaesa as you want on them.
Genre-Busting: At first glance the series seems to be fantasy, then a horror trip into a crazy guy's head, then a book about people trying (and failing) to overcome the incredible traumas in their lives. Then it throws in some murder-mystery-conspiracy-politics and a whole assload of psychology, and then it ambles on over to Steampunk territory.
Except for Felix, the entire government is genre-blind, most dangerously with regard to the fantôme in the tower at Hermione.
Even when they find out that the Mirador was built on a necromantic foundation, and even though Stephen knows that crypts of the Mirador are full of ghouls, the Cabalines continue to regard even acknowledging the existence of ghosts as heresy. Likewise, Ivo Polydorius who has been in league with a blood-wizard for at least fourteen years can't believe that Vincent actually sees ghosts and considers him insane.
For some reason, the Caloxan brass actually thinks the ritual (involving blood and a mysterious, ages-old machine of destruction) that takes place in the beginning of Corambis is a good idea.
Genre Savvy: Mildmay, mostly acquired through his extremely rough-and-tumble life.
In order for Malkar to embrace his self-titled "evil wizard for a story" persona, he'd have to be this.
Gentleman Snarker: Felix especially, but in general it doesn't seem as if the wizards of the Mirador do much more than bicker and gossip amongst themselves and attend parties.
Gentleman Wizard: Nearly all wizards. Having proper magical training is often—though not always—shorthand for class.
Geometric Magic: An evil pentagram, a protective circle, spirits travelling a maze— it's all here.
Get It Over With: Mildmay, suffering from the Mirador's curse, and not expecting much salvation from the wizards around him.
Good Scars, Evil Scars: The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Mildmay is the large scar that distorts his upper lip and stretches up the entire left side of his face (just missing his eye), which has left that side of his face nearly dead. He also has minor scars on his hands and acquires another serious one on his right leg. Felix's back is a mess of ugly scars, though they're easily hidden under clothing.
Heroic BSOD: Felix when Malkar rapes him and uses his magic to break the Virtu, and again throughout the course of Mélusine as he bobs in and out of insanity, then again in The Mirador when Gideon is killed. Mildmay suffers one in The Virtu when Malkar tortures him, and then again in The Mirador as he remembers all, exactly, what was done to him. And Kay's arc in Corambis is basically one BSOD.
Ginevra would never use such a vulgar word as "whore" for herself, but she definitely sleeps with men for money.
Felix becomes the male variant in Corambis.
Mildmay instantly recognizes Vincent as "a high-class hooker."
Hitman with a Heart: Mildmay, who in his teens was arguably the most feared and notorious assassin in the city. Yes, you read that right. He's given it up by the start of the series (he's all of 20), though it keeps coming back to haunt him...
Honor Before Reason: Stephen hates people causing trouble in his court. Robert of Hermione pretty much only exists to cause trouble (everything from malicious gossip to heresy); he's a bully and an idiot. But Stephen never so much as reprimands him because he vowed to his late wife, Robert's sister, that he would protect Robert.
Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Corbie. And, after Mildmay gets sick and Felix has to prostitute himself to get money for a doctor in Corambis, Felix himself. Again. Also Vincent Demabrien, in The Mirador. Averted with Methony (who sold her children into slavery) and young!Felix.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Felix and Corbie. Felix is explicitly stated as standing 6'2", taller than anyone in Corambis. Corbie, even in comparison to the slightly shorter (than Marathines) Corambins, is exceptionally small judging by Mildmay calling her a "little tiny gal."
Hypercompetent Sidekick: Mildmay becomes this to Felix after Felix casts the obligation d’âme on him. Mehitabel becomes this to both brothers in The Virtu, since she can switch between languages and accents with ease, is familiar with the Grasslands culture, and even knows the layout of the Bastion.
I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: When Mildmay fishes Felix out of a river in The Virtu and a dripping wet Felix clings to him in terror.... well, Felix's lust for Mildmay makes itself known in an, uh, very awkward way.
I Gave My Word: Felix is incensed when Mildmay suggests that they break the conditions of Felix's commuted sentence by not going to Corambis.
I Have Your Wife: The way that Vulpes coerces Mehitabel back into spying for the Bastion.
I Know Your True Name: In Mélusine, Mildmay warns Ginevra not to use her real name when they go to meet Vey Coruscant. At one point she says his name out loud, but at the time she only knew him by an alias.
Informed Attractiveness: Mehitabel calls Susan "extremely beautiful" and Shannon "disconcertingly beautiful"; she also compares Felix with Mildmay: "Felix might be breath-stealingly gorgeous, but Mildmay had his own beauty..." Felix describes Vida Eoline as "tall, beautiful, and imperturbably soignee" and desires Shannon's "fragile gold and alabaster beauty." Vincent claims to have been, among the Demabrien brothers, "the youngest and most beautiful of the three." Mildmay calls Kolkhis "gorgeous" and Ginevra "so beautiful it hurt to look at her." As for Gloria Aestia, AKA the Golden Bitch, she nearly pulled off a coup d'etat based largely on her seductive beauty.
Mildmay's full name, Mild-may-your-suffering-be-at-the-hands-of-the-wicked. Mildmay arguably suffers more at the hands of the wicked, including his own brother, than any other character. Lampshaded by Mildmay himself who can't figure out if it was a prayer for his own or other people's protection, but either way he doesn't think it worked.
It Gets Easier: Subverted, as time goes on, it gets more and more difficult for Mildmay to murder, until he refuses to do it at all, for any reason. Like most of the things in the books, this reaps terrible consequences.
Jerkass Gods: The White-Eyed Lady (even one of her followers admits that "she is not a kind lover") and the God of the Obscured Sun (naturally; with a name like that, how could he be anything but a jerkass?) The suspicion that a friend worships Cade-Cholera, a death goddess, scares Mildmay, although he may be less concerned about the goddess herself and more concerned about what rites her followers might perform.
Jerkass Has a Point: So Glimmering—whose brother Kay killed—is the world's least impartial judge, and he comes across as a manipulative, sexist bigot even when dealing with Vanessa. That doesn't mean no one should punish Kay for the mass slaughter of prisoners of war, a point that even Kay concedes internally.
Jerk Justifications: Of the third type. To quote Felix, talking to Mildmay about why he isn't able to treat Mildmay any better:
Felix: "It's what I do. It's not you. It's... how I've always been. And it's not going to change. I'd tell you that I'd treat you better, but that'd be a lie."
Just Eat Gilligan: Seriously, what does anybody want with a Titan clock? They don't seem to do anything except keep time, which other clocks could do, drive people to suicide and, in one case, kill a bunch of sheep, keep trains from functioning, and nearly destroy the country where a clock is located, most of which don't really sound like pluses. The Marathines wised up and destroyed theirs centuries ago, but the Kekropians are hanging on to theirs for some reason. (It proves very useful to Mildmay and Felix, but not in a way the Kekropians wanted.) Edwin Beckett also thinks restarting the Bernathan clock is a good idea, but at least his compatriots have their doubts after it starts killing people.
Just in Time: Felix, Mildmay, and Corbie's arrival to Summerdown.
Karma Houdini: Edwin Beckett. Despite abusing a prostitute/wizard to restart a clock that drives people to suicide, then having the nerve to ask said prostitute/wizard to help him keep the clock going, he doesn't suffer anything worse than getting chased out of a town he visits.
Kick the Dog: Nearly everything Malkar ever does falls under this trope, but most other characters get a turn, and Felix gets several.
Killer Robot: The Automaton and Titan Clocks, including the extra-big one under Summerdown.
Knife Nut: Mildmay is an expert knife-fighter, specifically with butterfly knives. He flips them absentmindedly when upset or annoyed or just thinking.
Knowledge Broker: Mildmay's former Keeper, Kolkhis. Elvire, the madame of the Goosegirl's Palace, too.
Kudzu Plot: Done very well in The Mirador. The other books, while still complicated, aren't quite so complex.
Lampshade Hanging: Mildmay frequently mocks many conventional fantasy tropes and cliches: "Duels are just fancy knife-fights and just as fucking stupid." "I didn't know there were rooms like this outside of stories about evil wizards."
Mehitabel also gets in on the action, telling Felix his life is "like something out of a roman".
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In The Virtu when Mavortian is teaching Felix how to read the Sibylline, the Knight of Swords (Mildmay) and the Sibyl of Swords (Felix) keep reappearing. Mavortian's comment? "You and he are at the heart of the matter, as you have been all along." The Sibylline knows and is telling them who the main characters of the story are. But it's a fairly natural conversation, because Mildmay's observed for a long time now that Mavortian is convinced that he's the protagonist of a great and terrible romance.
Ley Line: Mentioned by a Tibernian wizard, with regard to the tower in Hermione, in The Mirador.
Lie Back and Think of England: Played straight with Mehitabel and Stephen: he's rather boring in bed, and she's only doing it to gain intel for Kekropia: "I spread myself on the bed and tried not to think of Mildmay." However, he eventually recognizes his ineptitude and asks her to teach him how to please a lover.
Lighter and Softer: Corambis, while still very dark, is a freaking carnival ride compared to the other books in the series.
Limited Wardrobe: Mildmay never had really high-class clothes, but after he returns to Mélusine, he dresses all in black except for a white shirt to match his role as Felix's esclavin.
Living Labyrinth: The Mirador may have spontaneously changed its architecture, and certainly it produces spooky, improbable meetings in its hallways.
Loads and Loads of Characters: There are at least 50 characters who play a significant part in the plot and that's just from the first two books. Confusing is an understatement.
Lysistrata Gambit: A group of prostitutes save Felix from a gang beating by reminding the thugs that they will raise their prices if they find out potential customers are being brutalized on their turf. It works.
Mage Tower: There are a lot of these, notably the Mirador, the Bastion, and the tower in Hermione.
A Magic Contract Comes with a Kiss: When Felix puts the binding-by-forms on Mildmay, it's sealed with a kiss—which he doesn't warn Mildmay about first. When Mildmay reacts with shock, Felix just tells him he would probably prefer it to the alternative.
Magic Is a Monster Magnet: Pretty much every ghost, semi-ghost, evil wizard, or death god on the continent is obsessed with Felix.
The Magocracy: Marathat's government is comprised largely of the Cabal, a group of wizards who receive the titles of "Lord" and "Lady" upon initiation.
Malicious Slander: Shannon drops hints that Felix and Mildmay are engaging in incest— a rumor that Felix finds "all the worse" because Felix actually wishes it were true.
Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: It's entirely possible that Shannon isn't biologically a Teverius, but he's legally one and the family's sticking to that. Augusta Fenris's conversation with Luther Littleman seems to confirm that Shannon is not of "the blood of the Teverii.
Also, while Felix and Mildmay are certain that they have the same mother, Mildmay firmly states that there's no possible way they share a father. Justified since Methony was a whore and they were born six years apart on different continents.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Strongly implied to be averted with Thamuris and Julian. Otherwise played straight by most of the cast.
Manipulative Bastard: Malkar and Kolkhis both. And Felix counts, too. And Mehitabel. And Mavortian. And Lorenzo, probably. And Shannon. And...
Mark of Shame: Felix's scarred back reminds him of his time as a kept-thief, and the scar in his eyebrow is a reminder of his experience being Shamed by a Mob. He finds both intensely humiliating.
Master-Apprentice Chain: Corbie's will stretch back to Porphyria Levant. On another branch it goes back to one Rosindy Clark who taught Iosephinus Pompey. The former is what provides conflict and drama. The latter is what makes teaching her seem possible.
Master of Disguise: Mehitabel, justified since she grew up in an acting troupe and later worked as a spy.
Misery Builds Character: Played with. In general, the horrible things that happen to our leads only make them paranoid, isolated, and/or vindictive. However, when they go through horrible things together, the demonstration of loyalty may make them closer.
Mistaken For Prostitute: Happens to Felix in Corambis, due to the fact that respectable locals don't wear bright clothes. An odd case in that Felix actually does have a long history as a prostitute, but isn't one at the time.
Modest Royalty: Stephen and Victoria, who detest pomp in all its forms. Shannon doesn't share this trait.
The Mole: There are a few. First, Felix turns out to be Malkar's mole in the Mirador, although it's unusual in that Felix didn't actually know he was a mole. Later, Vulpes appears, and not only becomes a mole himself but also coerces Mehitabel into becoming one too. Thaddeus thinks Gideon is a mole, too, but he's probably wrong.
More Than Mind Control: worked on Felix by the Big Bad Malkar and on Mildmay by Kolkhis, they spend most of the series trying to escape it and rebuild themselves, even after the people who'd been controlling them weren't a regular fixture in their lives (outside of their own constant thoughts, memories and nightmares).
Felix could be the poster boy for this trope. He experiences self-loathing horror after he finds himself contemplating sex with a young prostitute, after he returns to Malkar, and on many, many other occasions. In particular, he struggles with the knowledge that he forced Mildmay to kill again, and sent him straight into Malkar's tortuous clutches. He says it himself: "What I did to him could not possibly be described as anything other than rape." Interestingly enough, though, he still orders Mildmay to kill again later. Oh, Felix. Of course, it doesn't end there—he's also haunted by his negligent role in Gideon's death and his deliberate choice to drive Isaac to suicidal insanity.
This is how Mildmay reacts to killing anybody, deserving or not.
Within the Lower City, Mildmay the Fox. Yes, even after he's been crippled and bound to a wizard of the Mirador.
Necromancer: Augusta Fenris. Felix also dabbles in the art, although he usually just does it to put some poor soul to rest.
While this flavor of magic is forbidden in Mélusine, Mildmay notes that there is a furtive but thriving group of necromancers in the Scaffelgreen district.
No Antagonist: Unlike the previous three books, Corambis doesn't have a Big Bad. The big threat of the book the engine under Summerdown that Gerrard partially awoke, which is only trying to do what it was made to do and get enough energy to fire.
No Tell Motel: The good folks of The Doctrine of Labyrinths spend a lot of time in these. Mildmay calls the Spinning Goblin "about halfway between a hotel and a whorehouse," and even specifically notes that the clerk won't ask what you're doing there.
Noodle Incident: Played for drama. Gideon has some kind of leverage over Thaddeus, but he never tells anybody what it is.
Not So Different: Felix becomes convinced that this is the case with him and Malkar, particularly in regards to how he treats Mildmay.
Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: While some Cabalines, such as Giancarlo of Novalucrezia, take their responsibilities seriously enough, most are too bogged down in personal disputes, persecuting heretics, and enhancing their own power to care about taking down the city's crime lords or reforming discredited laws.
Oh Crap: Happens to often to recount all the instances, but a few stand out:
Felix has this reaction on realizing that Malkar plans not just to rape him, but to use him to destroy the Virtu.
Mildmay, when he realizes that Felix is actually going to force him to murder Vey Coruscant and again when he finds himself captured by Brinvillier Strych.
Mehitabel, when Vulpes reveals that he knows her code name.
Oh My Gods!: Powers! Kethe! God and the thirteen crimson devils!
Old Master: Iosephinus Pompey. Despite being "terrifically old," he took Felix as an apprentice after the latter broke away from Malkar and imparted crucial knowledge about forbidden magic.
The Ophelia: A definite gender inversion in Felix in Mélusine. The trope gets played with in Vincent (The Mirador)— people think Vincent is crazy, what with all that getting distracted by ghosts, but he isn't. Interestingly, both characters have delicate physical builds and are very pretty despite being male.
Overly Long Name: Once again, Mild-may-your-sufferings-be-at-the-hands-of-the-wicked. No wonder his Keeper insisted on shortening it.
Also, the prostitute in Pharaohlight that Mildmay mentions in passing: Fly-from-fornication-and-blasphemy.
"She went by Butterfly, which went down a whole lot better with her tricks.
Parental Abandonment: Felix and Mildmay's mother, Methony, sold them at the ages of four and three, respectively, to their incredibly sadistic Keepers. They never find out who their fathers even were. Not that they care.
Parental Incest: Diokletian lusts after Felix because Felix reminds him of the woman he loved, who happens to have been Felix's mother. Which means there's a definite chance of Diokletian being Felix's father. Oddly, this bothers Diokletian a lot more than it bothers Felix, who doesn't seem to have an issue with incest.
Kolkhis and Mildmay, though they are not blood related, considering that Kolkhis raised him from the time he was three, and began sleeping with him when he was fourteen.
Parental Neglect: Kay had a much less traumatic childhood. His mother simply wasn't interested in actually being a mother.
Parting Words Regret: The last thing Felix said to his friend Sherbourne Foss was, "But if you want the truth, you bore me, darling." He never got to apologize.
Felix and Gideon's final conversation was a quarrel, much to Felix's regret.
The Penance: Inflicted on Kay by Glimmering (although Kay had confessed to a priest), early in Corambis.
Perma Shave: Troians do not grow beards. Due to their Troian ancestry, neither do Mildmay and Felix.
Perpetual Poverty: The Mirador is the only book of the series where Felix and Mildmay don't have to worry about money at all.
Persona Non Grata: Mildmay and Felix, not only in Mélusine, but also at the end of The Mirador and in Corambis.
Pet the Dog: One of few indications we get that Kolkhis isn't a complete monster is that after the Fire she made flower crowns for all of her surviving kept-thieves.
Place Worse Than Death: Felix apparently regards St. Crellifer's as worse than prison, at least, and Isaac throws himself out of its third-story window.
The Plan: The plot to put Shannon Teverius on the throne, as formulated by Vey Coruscant, Kolkhis, and a spattering of the Polydorii.
Platonic Prostitution: When they first meet, Felix pays Corbie a considerable amount of money to learn about Bernatha. Corbie is stunned.
The Plot Reaper: Claims heavy casualties, including Sherbourne Foss, Gideon Thraxios, and Gerrard Hume.
Police Brutality: When the Dogs receive a tip that Mildmay is staying with Margot's pack, they use it as an excuse to clean out (read: haul off or outright murder) a group of social undesirables, including small children.
Power Nullifier: Big surprise: it's called the "Nullity." It makes Felix a little uneasy, but eventually he finds a use for it.
The Power of Blood: Blood itself is very powerful, and blood wizardry is one of the ways for a wizard to cast a spell that requires more power than he or she can muster alone.
Power Tattoo: Cabaline wizards are tattooed from elbow to knuckle to show they have magic and status.
Pragmatic Villainy: Louis Goliath mind-rapes minions for information, sexually exploited at least one underling, and locked a would-be runaway in an oubliette with his thumbs cut off. However, he always keeps his eye on the goal and "never does anything out of spite." His sheer pragmatism intimidates Mehitabel.
Present Tense Narrative: Most of the story is told in past tense, but there are notable shifts into the present to signify a shift in reality. All dreams are told in present tense. If it's not a dream though, something is horribly wrong.
Felix is insane through most of Mélusine, but even before getting into details, the reader can tell when he's "topside" because he's using past tense vs. "down the well" because he's using present tense. After he is raped in Corambis there is a brief switch to present tense to show just how badly the events are hurting him.
When Mildmay is tortured nearly to insanity in The Virtu, he too narrates in present tense.
Pride Before a Fall: The very first chapter of Mélusine sees Felix, supposedly the gentleman son of an exiled noblewoman, revealed as a lowborn ex-prostitute. Overlaps with Break the Haughty, since Felix's  long string of misfortunes continues throughout all four books.
The Prima Donna: Susan Dravanya, lead actress of the Empyrean and Mehitabel's "personal bete noire".
Professional Killer: Mildmay is a deconstruction of this. He's neither well-dressed, nor educated, and all the money he got for his jobs never touched his hands. He was the most terrifying and capable assassin in the city, though, and he takes excruciating pains to keep that fact under wraps, because he's ashamed, and because it's dangerous to let that information float around in the breeze.
Properly Paranoid: A variant. Mildmay refuses to allow strangers to walk behind him for fear of being stabbed in the back, gets jumpy when he can't see everyone around him, surveys each room he enters for escapes and weapons, and has to keep himself from attacking people who sneak up on him. Felix hates it when people walk on the side of him that has his blind eye.
Psychic Link: Caused by the obligation de sang or the obligation d’âme.
Puberty Superpower: Magic tends to develop at some point during adolescence, sometimes as late as nineteen. Felix was fourteen when his power came in.
The Quest: Mainly averted in Mélusine, as the major goals are to survive and stay or become sane; in The Virtu, repairing, well, The Virtu; in The Mirador, overcoming a coup to overthrow Lord Stephen; in Corambis, stopping the machine under Summerdown. While most of the books feature a quest that would be the ultimate plot in typical fantasy, the series is somewhat unusual in its degree of focus on the characters outside of just questing.
Questionable Consent: A recurring trope in this series. Is the first-chapter sex between Malkar and Felix (who deliberately drinks drugged wine beforehand) rape or just kinky? Does Felix rape Vulpes by having sex with him after discovering that the Bastion has coerced him into his role as a honey trap (which Felix isn't supposed to know)? How meaningful is a prostitute's consent to Mildmay, given that she's likely indentured to the madam?
The Quiet One: Mildmay. In fact, whenever he says more than around two sentences in a row, there's a 50-50 chance that the character he's speaking to is going to make a (usually snide) comment about his sudden loquaciousness.
Rape as Drama: There is at least one rape or implied rape every book. Most of the criticism for the series comes down to how this trope is handled.
Rape Leads To Insanity: Subverted. Felix goes mad after suffering a combination of Mind Rape and, well, the other kind in Mélusine, leading Mildmay to worry about a relapse following Felix's gang rape by Edwin Beckett's followers in Corambis. Since mind rape wasn't involved this time, Felix is able to assure him he won't go crazy again.
Felix. Gideon comments (accurately) that Felix doesn't even know the names of all the men he's slept with in the past two months.
Mehitabel also qualifies. Aside from Lord Stephen, who she sleeps with out of necessity, her list of lovers also includes Mildmay, Hallam Bellamy, Jeremias Tantony, Drin Baillie, Lionel Verlalius, Barnabas and Harcourt Malanius, Arthur Lelius, Rudolph Novadius, Antony Lemerius, Ashley Demellius, and Peter Jessamyn. That we know of.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Few and far between, but Mildmay thinks Giancarlo of Novalucrezia, the head of the Curia, is "as fair as a hocus can be," and Virtuer John Ashmead's decisions all seem basically sensible.
Religion is Magic: Popular perception separates them (Mélusine's poor are okay with some priests but hate wizards), but the rituals performed by Felix at Nera and in the crypt of the Cordelii indicate they are, at least, closely related. Nonetheless, he remains unattached to any particular religion throughout the series.
Retired Outlaw: Mildmay. It keeps creeping up on him despite his best efforts, though.
Ring of Power: Cabalines wear an expensive ring on each finger, and use the rings to focus their magic. Long use of potent magic can infuse them with its essence, leading to a serious Mineral MacGuffin issue for Felix in The Mirador and Corambis.
Sacrificial Lion: Gideon, who was a major figure in Mélusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador. His death continues to haunt Felix well into Corambis.
Sadistic Choice: If Felix is "very good" to Malkar, Malkar may not force him to watch as he tortures Mildmay to death. On the other hand, if Felix is very good to him, it'll likely result in the destruction of an entire country.
Safe, Sane and Consensual: Ideally, this is the sex that's supposed to happen between tarquins and martyrs (or, in Corambis, flames and shadows). Unfortunately, Felix has a hard time adhering to the rules. Some people, such as Malkar and Edwin Beckett, don't even bother trying.
Safecracking: Mildmay can do it, but suggests that he's not one of Mélusine's fastest safecrackers.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Or magic. Works either way, more or less, especially when considering that only rich wizards can afford good training.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Felix does this several times, breaking from law and orthodoxy by saving a repentant assassin from the Mirador's curse, putting the ghouls in the Mirador's lower levels to rest, and using blood to lay a ghost.
Secret Circle of Secrets: The cult of the White-Eyed Lady. Initiates don't even want to guess who their fellow initiates are. However, this subverts some expectations of such secret circles— Gideon belongs to it, and isn't evil. While blood rites were probably a part of the cult in the past, the rituals are now symbolic.
Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Again, one could categorize Felix and Mildmay into these roles, being a genius bookworm aristocrat and a street-smart ex-assassin respectively, but on a closer look Mildmay is more sensitive and kind-hearted as opposed to Felix's ruthless cruelty.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Felix. Dear God, Feeeeliiiiiiix. And most other wizards, to an extent. Every pages, Felix would use some new, incredibly obscure word.
Sex Equals Love: Averted. It's rare for there to be any loving sex in the series. Interestingly, though, Felix seems to believe that people have to have sex with him in order to love him, which Mildmay calls him on.
Mildmay: "I ain't stupid enough to think sex has to mean something, and most of the time, it don't."
Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: A massive problem for Gideon, and to some extent for Felix as well: at an S&M sex club, he observes that "in some sense we were all predators. As we were all prey."
Sex Is Violence: Felix and Mildmay have serious run into serious problems with this trope.
Sex Slave: Definitely young!Felix and Vincent; young!Mildmay is a borderline case, since sex wasn't his initial (or perhaps primary) use for Kolkhis, but he certainly didn't have much say in the matter. By implication, the Kekropian army treats young draftees this way as well.
Sexy Shirt Switch: Felix wears Isaac's nightshirt when Mehitabel surprises them during an intimate moment.
Shout-Out: The author seems to love referencing literary works for geographical names (and occasionally characters). This can be extremely disorienting for some people wondering when the significance of places called Britomart and Gilgamesh will kick in. (Hint: Never.)
The beginning line of The Mirador is a shout-out to Charles Dickens.
Sibling Yin-Yang: Felix is beautiful, arrogant, well-educated, and useless at anything that's not academia. Mildmay is scarred, has serious confidence issues, looks and talks like a thug, and academically stunted but terribly world-wise and clever.
Stephen Teverius and Vicky Teveria are cold, ruthless, and savvy in the ways of the court, while their younger half-brother Shannon is spoilt, naive and hotheaded.
Mavortian and Bernard. The former is an aristocratic wizard with crippled, nearly useless, legs. The latter is his (strongly implied to be) lowborn half-brother and hired muscle.
Single Issue Psychology: Painfully, painfully averted. Life in general would be so much easier for Mildmay and Felix if all their defense mechanisms and dysfunctions could be traced back to one thing, but they can't.
Skepticism Failure: The Cabalines experience this at Hermione, barely in time to avoid getting killed. Of course, then they act as if it'd never happened.
Sliding Scaleof Idealism Vs Cynicism: The series falls pretty evenly down the middle of the scale; despite the horrific abuses that happen to the characters, it still seems to believe that people can heal, and do good things if they put their mind to it.
A rare male example—people seem to enjoy humiliating Felix by talking about his past as a prostitute. Malkar and one of his rapists at the Clock of the Eclipses even call him a "slut"... either right before or right after having sex with him.
Mehitabel gets fired from her job as a governess for fornication and later observes that gentlewomen view actresses as "little better than prostitutes." Even Vulpes sneers at her "wide "acquaintance among the court" before telling her to "[g]o trawling."
Small Town Boredom: According to the Duke of Murtagh, Vanessa's tastes are far too cosmopolitan for Grimglass, and she would rather spend her time in Esmer.
Smart People Know Latin: Philosophers and wizards use Latin words a lot, although the language is never mentioned; given the apparent similarities between Cymellune and the Roman Empire, it seems likely that our Verse's Latin is this series' Cymellunar.
Smarter Than You Look: Mildmay is a shining example of this. People tend to think that because his speech is slurred, his mind is slow. In fact he's a better judge of character than just about everybody and is usually well aware of what people are trying to do when they think they're being clever.
Soiled City on a Hill: At some point in the past, a general of the Bastion decided Lamia was too sinful to exist, so he had it torn to the ground. Of course, the sinners came back, only now they live in tents.
Spell Book: De Charon's Principia Caeli and Ynge's Influence of the Moon.
Squishy Wizard: Pretty much every wizard in the story, in keeping with the image of magic as something akin to a scholarly field. Felix's physical awkwardness is often mentioned— he's a useless fighter without magic— but he's actually less clumsy than some of his colleagues, who ride horses "with all the grace of so many sacks of potatoes." Mehitabel even notes that he's "a surprisingly good dancer, as long as you avoided the critical error of mentioning it."
STD Immunity: All the narrators have apparently unprotected sex with more people than they could probably count, and nobody mentions the possibility of catching diseases this way.
Stepford Smiler: Felix, Mildmay, and Mehitabel all seem good enough to get by on when viewed from the outside. Inside is a
Straight Gay: Kay. Murtagh. Heck, most of the gay characters besides Felix and Shannon.
Student Teacher Romance: Mildmay believes Corbie has a huge crush on Felix and the reason Corbie sleeps with him is because Felix is gay and thus off limits. Felix both loves and hates Malkar, a relationship that ends badly for everyone involved.
Supernatural Gold Eyes: People in Mélusine associate Felix with the legendary Sunlings because of his red hair and yellow left eye. And, guess what: Wizard. Freakishly powerful wizard.
Surreal Symbolic Heads: While insane, Felix sees Malkar's as a dog's, Stephen's as a bear's, Thaddeus's as a raven's, and Mildmay's as a fox's. Interestingly enough, Felix considers both Malkar and Mildmay to be "dogs" in the symbolism of the Sibylline.
Swamps Are Evil: It's full of poisonous plants, alligators, and dumped bodies, but all those pale in comparison to the ghouls that inhabit St. Grandin's Swamp and will try to kill you For the Evulz.
Sympathetic Murderer: Mildmay, who took up the career under the direction of his creepy mother/lover figure when he was fourteen years old.
Talk About the Weather: Felix does this with a boatman in Bernatha (Corambis), but less for small talk than because he genuinely wonders if the weather in Bernatha is often this miserable. As it turns out, it's usually worse.
Talking in Your Dreams: Felix meets with Thamuris and Diokletian in his dreams through magic— oneiromancy. Sendings, meanwhile, are a related but more malevolent version of this.
A Taste of the Lash: Felix has permanent scars as a result of being whipped as a child; he also gets off on flogging sexual partners to the point of bleeding. Mildmay is covered in whip-weals when Malkar Sends an image of him as a captive to Felix.
Tearjerker: Let's see, shall we? Basically anything involving Felix or Mildmay's childhoods, but especially Joline and Zephyr (who, as Mildmay says, "never did anything to hurt nobody"), and Gideon's death and Felix's reaction. Also everything with Mehitabel and Hallam, and the implication that Gerrard never loved Kay and may have mocked him with his wife.
Technical Pacifist: Mildmay. As of the ending of The Mirador, Mildmay has decided not to kill anymore, but that sure as hell won't stop him from kicking your ass six ways to Dimanche, especially if you even think about harming Felix. But no killing!
Terms of Endangerment: Malkar taunts Felix with such nicknames as "my darling child", and Felix likes to call people who annoy him "darling." Usually before insulting them or even threatening them with ghastly death.
There Are No Therapists: Justified in that the story takes place in societies with roughly Renaissance/Industrial Revolution-era technology and societal mores; therapists just plain don't exist. And it's not like our boys open up to anyone anyway; it's nearly a miracle they can admit their plethora of issues to themselves.
There Is Only One Bed: First, Felix and Thaddeus have to bed down together in Mélusine; later, Felix and Mildmay spend much of The Virtu and Corambis dealing with this trope.
Thieves' Guild: Subverted and averted directly by Mildmay telling Simon, "There ain't no assassin's guild. Never has been."
Averted also with the kept thief system, which is not at all organized. There are people you don't want to piss off, but it's not because there's a hierarchy.
This Is Reality: Mildmay comments on how some people, like Mavortian, constantly seem to "think they are in a story" when in reality, nothing ever works like it does in the stories.
Thrown Down a Well: Felix in the Verpine; Hallam in whatever impregnable jail Louis Goliath threw him in in the Bastion.
Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Kay is an exceptionally short man, taking after his Usaran mother. The newspapers even describe him as "dwarfish." Vanessa is a few inches taller than Mildmay, making her very tall for a Corambin woman.
Title Drop: The title of the series is the (translated) title of a book in the books.
Token Minority/Token White: Played with. Most people in Marathat and the surrounding countries are brown-skinned, dark-eyed and dark-haired, meaning Felix and Mildmay with their pale complexions and red hair look exceedingly odd and out of place. Shannon being blue-eyed and blond also stands out.
Truce Zone: Even gangsters don't fight in Mélusine's baths because, as Mildmay said, "you [...] don't want someone getting knifed in the water with you and your soap." The entire "free city" of Bernatha perceives itself as beyond the petty (and bad-for-business) wars of Corambis, Caloxa, and Ygres.
Trying Not to Cry: Mildmay after breaking up with Mehitabel and Mehitabel after Felix and Mildmay get exiled.
Two-Faced: Apart from his scar, Mildmay's face strongly resembles beautiful Felix's. Of course, the scar down the left side of Mildmay's face is serious enough to keep him from properly moving his face to eat, speak, or smile.
Tyke Bomb: Mildmay's skills as a cat burglar were trained into him starting around the age of three when his Keeper bought him from his mother. His training as an assassin started when he was fourteen, and as an older teenager Mildmay the Fox was known through the lower city as one of the most skilled and dangerous killers around (two different and powerful wizards, three men in three different districts in three different ways in one night) and he was still entirely subservient to his keeper, Kolkhis, until he ran away at seventeen.
Un Equal Rites: There are different schools of magic in each country, so a lot of the rivalry is tied up with politics. Most wizards don't study other schools of magic for this reason, even though they would probably be capable of more than one type of spells. Also, wizards visiting another country have to be very careful what they do—for example, in Mélusine it's considered heresy to cast a spell of any kind on a person.
Felix and Mildmay look shockingly like each other and Methony, and shockingly unlike everyone else.
Shannon looks exactly like a male version of his mother, which causes no small amount of awkwardness.
Played with in the case of Mildmay and Kolkhis— as long as Mildmay dyed his hair, people assumed they were related because of their striking resemblance, but they presumably aren't. note We don't know the identity of either character's father, but Mélusine is a big enough city to make such a coincidence unlikely The incestuous implications unnerve him.
However, this comes up most notably with Shannon: note how Shannon is a terrible prick in Felix and Mildmay's narration... but a self-aware, kind and remorseful guy in Mehitabel's.
In Corambis, Felix claims that "every man who had ever touched me" trained him for a degrading sexual situation. But there's plenty of evidence that he had enthusiastic, enjoyable sex with Shannon, Gideon, and a lot of other random people throughout his adult life. He also claims to have lost his virginity at auction when he was eleven, and doesn't appear to consciously be lying, but internal narrative in The Virtu claims that he was even younger (depending on how you define virginity).
The age at which Felix arrived at the Mirador changes from 17 to 16, depending on which book you're reading. This may have to do with the fact that he invented his birthday and is changing his estimate, or it may be a continuity error (Shannon's age, which should be known by everyone in Marathat, doesn't match up in the accounts of Felix, Stephen, Mildmay, Augusta Fenris, and the author, who admits her grasp of the characters' ages is a little sketchy.)
Unscrupulous Hero: Felix. He risks life, limb, and sanity to save Mildmay from a horrible death... only to mind-rape Mildmay into a situation that leads to his being tortured to the edge of sanity. He leads a pack of human-eating ghouls through a maze so their spirits can rest... and coldly manipulates a friend's unwanted ability to talk to the dead for the benefit of his own curiosity. He swears apparently terrifying oaths so that he can help repair the Virtu... but casually breaks his oaths when he feels like it.
Unwitting Pawn: At the beginning of Mélusine, Felix thinks he's been free of Malkar for six years. As it turns out, Malkar still has enough of a tie to him to steal his magic for the destruction of the Virtu and much of the city.
Urban Segregation: There's the poor, run-down and dangerous Lower City, which is separated from the fairly well-to-do rest of the city, which is separated again from the towering and imposing Mirador where the Cabaline wizards and aristocracy live/visit.
War Is Hell: The aftermath, anyway, for Kay: nearly all his friends have died, he's permanently blindied, and, as punishment for his sins, he winds up chained to his late beloved's coffin on public display.
Was It All a Lie?: Shannon to Felix, after Robert drops the bombshell that Felix isn't any of the things he claims to be.
"How do I know that any of it was even real?"
Weasel Words: Mavortian von Heber does this constantly, to the point where Mildmay actually calls him out on it, literally telling him, "them's weasel words." Inverted when, just afterward, Mildmay notes that kind of talk 'sounds great in stories', but in real life you have to watch the guy who's doing it very carefully regardless of what you said, or you'll get fucked over.
Welcome to the Big City: Ginevra is really, really clueless about how to survive in Mélusine. Averted with Mehitabel, who's equally in awe of the cultural amenities, but has no problem handling the locals.
Wham Line: "Otherwise and formerly known as Brinvillier Strych".
What the Hell, Hero?: Mehitabel calls out Felix a lot for his atrocious treatment of Mildmay. Felix just... keeps on keeping on.
Gideon also gives Felix down the road a few times: for pretending not to suffer from amnesia, for not looking after Mildmay after a traumatic incident, and for constantly cheating on Gideon.
Mildmay does this when Felix torments him with questions about his past in The Mirador, and again in Corambis after Felix tells Mildmay to leave him to drown in a river.
Whatevermancy: We've got necromancy, hydromancy, geomancy, oneiromancy, and who knows what other -mancies to worry about.
When She Smiles: Corbie is a pretty enough girl, but Felix says she's absolutely lovely when she smiles.
The same can be said about Mildmay's 'not-smile' (he avoids smiling because it does weird things to his scar), which is said to light up his face. The first instance of this is the first time Felix finds him beautiful and thus begins the awkward incestuous crush.
Mildmay describes Mehitabel's smile as being like "a handful of diamonds in the sun," although she's a very ordinary-looking woman in other regards.
Vincent is getting over the hill, but, quoth Mildmay, "The hooker smiled, and for a moment he looked way younger."
Wicked Cultured: Malkar, although Felix approaches this at his worst (most closely in The Mirador).
Will They or Won't They?: Kind-of, due to Felix's lust for Mildmay. They don't. Also with Mildmay and Mehitabel... They do. But are they in love? Uh...note (it should also be noted that in early drafts of the books, Mehitabel and Mildmay get married). And then again with Mildmay and Kay they don't, and then with Kay and Felix they don't.note But, again, in earlier drafts of the books? They totally do.
Windows of the Soul: Felix spends a lot of time bolstering his emotional courage with the kindness in Mildmay's eyes. Mehitabel spends a lot of time watching Felix's eyes, so much so that she's developed the fancy that each controls different emotions.
Wise Beyond Their Years: Everyone with a traumatic past. Which is all of the POV characters. None of which are over thirty.
Wizard Duel: Vey Coruscant tries to blackmail Felix into one in The Virtu.
Wizarding School: The Gardens of Nephele in Troia and the Grevillian Institute in Corambis. All other references to schools of magic in the series—Cabalines, Eusebians, etc.—have to do with schools of thought, not the actual training of wizards.
Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Averted. Mildmay comments to Mehitabel that he wouldn't have any problem with hitting a woman who "deserves it". However, he does instantly apologize for saying it. Felix also mentions, several times, wanting to strike some woman or other for being flip. (Of course, Felix wants to strike everyone from time to time, so...)
Wretched Hive: Mélusine's Lower City, as well as its Kekropian counterpart, Lamia. The Upper City is kind of the same, but with better clothes.
You Imagined It: Gideon's initial reaction to Felix's claim that the tower in Hermione is haunted.
You Kill It, You Bought It: After killing Malkar, Felix for some reason takes his gems, which unsurprisingly turn out to be "saturated with noirance."
You Taught Me That: Played with, in a confrontation between Felix and his ex-lover, Shannon.
Felix: "[Malkar] is responsible for most of my bad habits."
Shannon: "You give yourself too little credit."
Felix: "I was forgetting your excellent tutelage, my lord."
Younger than They Look: Due to his scar and his emotionless expression, Mildmay is consistently taken for being much older than he is. By the time Mélusine starts, he's a little over 19; when they meet, Felix thinks he's much older than that. And throughout the series, Felix often makes comments to himself about how young Mildmay actually is.