The world of Dragaera is the brainchild of Steven Brust. It serves as the setting for two of his novel series — the Khaavren Romances (now complete) and the Vlad Taltos books (ongoing) — as well as the standalone novel Brokedown Palace.Dragaera is a fantasy world dominated by two major sentient races. The first are the Dragaerans, who are tall, long-lived, and vaguely elven. The second are the Easterners, who are human for all intents and purposes. Interestingly, both species call themselves "human," and use the formal name for the other. Most Dragaerans live in the vast and powerful Dragaeran Empire, which covers most of the main continent, and the rest inhabit some of the independent islands off the southern coast. Most Easterners live (surprise) to the east, in several small kingdoms, although some have emigrated to the Empire. Both the series take place largely in the Empire; Brokedown Palace takes place in the Eastern kingdom of Fenario.The Empire consists of seventeen houses/castes, each named after an animal on the planet. Although some houses are considered superior to others, a certain amount of peace between them is maintained by the fact that all seventeen get their turn to provide an Emperor or Empress. "The Cycle" determines the order; as each abdicates, the next house in line provides their Heir. Assassination of an Emperor is discouraged by the Orb, a mystic sphere that orbits the head of the current sovereign and protects him or her from harm... at least until it is time for the Cycle to change.The number 17 is of mystic significance in Imperial culture, and that extends to the books themselves, which all run for 17 or 34 chapters. Another common trait to the books is Devera, a little girl who appears in some form in literally every book Steven Brust writes; in the Dragaera novels, she's established to be the daughter of a major character, only she technically hasn't been born yet.The Vlad Taltos series describes the life of the Easterner Vlad Taltos, an Imperial citizen after his father bought their way into the House of Jhereg, which is essentially the "Mafia caste." Despite being a second-class citizen, Vlad makes his way through life as an assassin and a mid-level power player in the underworld of the Empire's capital. Most of the novels are written from the first-person perspective of Taltos himself, but Brust will sometimes experiment with other approaches.The Khaavren Romances series follows the swashbuckling adventures of four Dragaeren heroes. It is a deliberate homage to The Three Musketeers, told by a historian narrator who writes in a loving style-parody of Alexandre Dumas' Purple Prose. The plot closely follows the Musketeers series, including the same number and structure of books. The series takes place several hundred years before the Vlad books, though due to the long-lived nature of Dragaerans, there are a number of cross-over characters between the two series.A word of warning: spoilers follow.
These books provide examples of:
The Ace: Morrolan, the rich, powerful, famous Dragaeran duke with a flying castle and a Morganti sword. He's as powerful of a warrior as he is a sorcerer and witch. While Sethra Lavode is the most powerful character in Dragaera, Morrolan is the hot-shot prodigy who studies and excels in everything.
Action Girl: Dragaeran society is filled with them, due to the fact that women are just as likely to be fighters as men. Of the major characters, Tazendra and Aliera are most prominent. While Sethra is better known as a sorceress, she is also a potent swordswoman. Cawti and Norathar had long careers as this trope before moving on to other things.
On the one hand you have names like Morrolan, Loiosh, and Khaavren, while on the other are characters named Vlad, Mario, and Kelly. Common-sounding names mostly come from Eastern cultures and are even used by some Dragaerans. Loiosh is apparently a Dragaeran spelling of the Fenarian name Lajos. A few Dragaerans even have Serioli names, which sound no more fantastic than normal Dragaeran names to readers, but qualify as this trope in-universe.
The roster of named deities in the series include Verra, Barlen, Kelchor, Ordwynac, Nyssa and ... Trout.
Alien Sky: A perpetual glowing red-orange Overcast hangs over the Dragaeran Empire, blotting out stars and obscuring the sun, but also making night much brighter. It's magical fallout from millennia of sorcerers channeling power from the Imperial Orb. This is probably why Vlad describes the sea as orange in Tiassa. The sky outside the range of the Empire is a standard clear blue. Vlad has a particularly hard time getting used to the blinding days and pitch black nights outside the Empire.
The series itself is written out of chronological order, and the plots of some books are written out of chronological order. Dragon weaves three different timelines together, for instance, and Taltos alternates between two. Dzur has a fairly straightforward timeline, but each chapter is introduced with a course of the dinner that initially got Vlad involved. Tiassa's three sections take place at widely-spaced intervals within Vlad's life.
Lampshaded in Dragon:
First, I have to ask you to excuse me for starting in the middle, but that's more or less where it starts.
In-universe, Paarfi's first historical romance, Three Broken Strings, is implied to have used this trope heavily as well.
Anti-Hero: Vlad himself. In the earliest books in the he's not much more than a murderous thug, but he has a few redeeming features and he's always up against people who are worse than him. As the series goes along, he becomes more traditionally heroic.
Anti-Magic: Phoenix Stone, which comes in two forms that block sorcery and psionics.
Apocalypse How: Adron's Disaster is a Regional/Societal Disruption example. Paarfi points out that at the time, Sethra feared it'd be Planetary/Total Annihilation.
Arc Number: The number 17 shows up everywhere, and is considered a holy number by the Dragaerans. Every single book Brust has written has a multiple of 17 chapters, which started as a coincidence and then became a tradition. Brust originally chose the number because it has no pre-existing mathematical or numerological significance.
Armor Is Useless: No one wears armor in Dragaera, which fits with the swashbuckling style that Brust likes. A novel in the Vlad series eventually explains that metal armor attracts sorcery, making it worse than useless.
Author Appeal: Brust has stated that the key to writing interesting fiction is to simply write about whatever you think is cool. Brust thinks that swashbuckling, swirling-cape adventures are cool, and so that's what he writes about. He also obviously likes food. He's also proud of his Hungarian ancestry and puts a lot of Hungarian references into the world. A darker example comes from the organized crime angle in the first few books, which went by the wayside once a friend of Brust was killed by mobsters, making him realize that they aren't so cool after all.
Back from the Dead: Fairly routine; as long as the person's central nervous system is intact and they weren't killed with a Morganti weapon or left too long before it's attempted, revivifying someone is just a matter of an admittedly expensive spell. The ease with which revivification can be achieved and the sure certainty of an afterlife is important in maintaining sympathy for most of the protagonists. The people they kill might not always have deserved it, but at least they're not dead dead.
Back in the Saddle: In Tiassa, Cawti briefly comes out of retirement to save Vlad from Jhereg assassins. Norathar puts on her Jhereg cloak on top of her Dragon uniform and joins her.
Badass Mustache: Vlad wears a signature mustache. Since Dragaerans cannot grow facial hair, it's a statement of racial pride and defiance.
Badass Normal: While Vlad does possess a number of magical abilities, he usually goes against foes who are larger, stronger, far older, and much more magically powerful than him due to their species and social standing.
Baleful Polymorph: The fate of the Dzur warriors who have challenged Sethra Lavode and never returned is to be changed into animals by her. She says so herself.
Aliera is very sensitive about her height, to the point that she will float a foot off the ground to hide it. Shortness in Dragaeran society is commonly associated with Easterners. Admittedly, Aliera is willing to fight to the death for just about any social infraction.
Morrolan takes it extremely poorly if someone insults Adron.
The Jhereg has certain rules you don't break, the major ones being: never kill someone in their home, or in front of their family; never steal from someone you were hired to kill; never give any information about who hired you; never go to the empire. They tend to take any violation of these rules very poorly, even if they come from people who don't have any reason to follow them. In Dragon Vlad views tracking down Fornia as a purely professional contract, until Fornia comes after him in his home. Then it gets personal.
The other thing Vlad doesn't take well is having his people screwed with. Sethra Lavode gets away with setting up one of his people to get his attention once, because she's Sethra Lavode. It's not recommended that anyone else try it. Ever.
Five Hundred Years After mentions a gender inversion. Rollondar e'Drien, who was the Warlord (commander of all military forces) fell in love with his wife after she defeated him in combat. It's noted that he receives a lot of ribbing in the barracks because of this.
And of course, inverted with Vlad, who has only casual relationships until he falls in love with the woman who bests him. Fatally. Though he gets better.
Bewitched Amphibians: In Yendi, it's mentioned that Sethra Lavode, one of the world's most powerful sorcerers, sometimes turns intruders into jhegaala, a creature that has attributes of a toad. Also, the Sorceress in Green threatens to turn Vlad into a newt in the same novel, in a Shout-Out to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
BFS: Many Dragaeran warriors, such as Aliera and Tazendra, fight with weapons nearly as tall as they are. As Aliera is short by Dragaeran standards, this makes her the sword equivalent of Small Girl, Big Gun. Vlad even makes a point of how he has to carry around a very heavy rapier. He uses a one-handed fencing style, so he has to use something durable or else it will break too easily.
Big Labyrinthine Building: Both the old Imperial Palace in Dragaera City and its successor in Adrilankha take this Up to Eleven, being bigger than many cities. Vlad gets lost repeatedly in the latter, and Tazendra in the former.
Bilingual Bonus: Fenario is based on Hungary, as is their language. In one novel, Vlad goes by an assumed name that a Dragaeran misponounces as "Mawdyear." This is an approximation of the pronunciation of "Magyar," which is a Hungarian surname and actually means "Hungarian."
Black and Gray Morality: Vlad is about as anti- as it's possible for a hero to get without being a Villain Protagonist, but we like him anyway because he's funny and the guys he's up against are usually as bad or worse. As the series goes on, Vlad experiences a crisis of conscience and becomes more moral.
Blood Knight: All members of the House of the Dzur are this type, constantly searching for individual glory in battle, especially against impossible odds. This is largely what distinguishes the Dzur from the other warrior caste of Dragaera, the Dragons, who yearn for military conquest rather than simply the challenge of combat.
Tazendra: "How, and miss a battle of six against thousands? When will such a chance come again?"
Vlad comments in Jhereg that the best way to avoid a fight with a Dzur is to look as helpless as possible, because Dzur don't like to fight unless the odds are against them. He also tells the Dragaeran equivalent of a Lightbulb Joke.
How many Dzur it takes to sharpen a sword? Four. One to sharpen it, and three to put up enough of a fight to make it worth his while.
A teckla is a California salt marsh harvest mouse.
There are a few mentions of animals called "mock-men", which from context sound like either monkeys or apes.
Issola appear to be herons or cranes, based on descriptions scattered through the books.
Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Orcas were originally described as much nastier and toothier than a real orca, although this is not reflected in official illustrations. Also, "Hawk" could refer to any bird of prey in the Dragaeran language.
Call Forward: In Yendi, Vlad realizes he should start changing his weapons regularly. By Jhereg, set later but published earlier, he does this routinely. Many others due to the Anachronic Order.
Captain Obvious: Paarfi is very good at this; often he will also, in addition to stating the obvious, precede it with a statement telling the reader he is about to state something obvious. At one point he writes, "...but the Khaavren of two hundred years before was younger, and younger, we should add, by the amount of two hundred years."
Cataclysm Backstory: The Viscount of Adrilankha books depict the slow recovery of the Empire from nation-wide devastation.
Catch Phrase: Sticks's "No future in it". Napper's "Don't matter".
In the novel Taltos, Vlad mentions being given the vial of a god's blood early in the novel, and this item ultimately proves important in the novel's resolution. Ironically, the climax of the book revolves around the fact that he didn't bring it with him, so he needs to invent a spell to teleport it there.
Paarfi explicitly references this trope in Five Hundred Years After, albeit with flashstones rather than guns.
Brust is a master of series-arc Chekhov's Guns — many books or subplots are based on a throwaway comment, cool fact, or inconsistency in a previous book.
Chickification: This happens to Cawti. Though she earns a fearsome reputation as an assassin, she leaves the life behind to join La Résistance and rarely uses her skills to help her. When she gets in over her head, Vlad barges in and fix things. However, Cawti resents Vlad's interference and seems to think she could have handled herself, and she kicks plenty of ass in Tiassa.
Circling Vultures: Jhereg take the place of vultures for purposes of this trope. Loiosh and Rocza, seen circling Vlad's unconscious body in Tiassa, are mistaken for this by some guardsmen.
Vlad is put into a position where he must torture a sorceress to gain information. Though he mostly only has to threaten, he finds the episode extremely distasteful.
Vlad himself is subjected to extended torture in Jhegaala.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Each of the seventeen Houses' has official colors that their members almost always wear. The only House without identifying colors is the Yendi, and the only House whose members can seldom be bothered to dress the part are the Teckla.
Combat Pragmatist: As an assassin, Vlad always uses the most safe, practical and dirty way to defeat an opponent. This gets him into trouble in the Paths of the Dead, when he must defeat 17 Dragonlords in single combat. When he starts throwing knives at them, without the proper trappings of a duel, they abandon their mook chivalry and zerg rush him.
The Consigliere: Discreets are somewhere between this and therapists. Kragar also makes an excellent consigliere for Vlad because he's very competent and has no ambition to lead.
Cosmic Retcon: A number of plot inconsistencies in the early books were implied in Dzur to be due to Verra screwing with Vlad's memories.
Could Have Avoided This Plot: Vlad lampshades how Fornia's scheme in Dragon is unnecessarily complex; he fought a large-scale war just in hopes of fighting Morrolan or Sethra, whose weapons could break open his greatsword and reveal the more valuable blade hidden within. While he just couldn't ask them to help since he'd stolen the weapon from Morrolan in the first place, there were still plenty of ways to accomplish what he wanted easily. But Dragonlords never choose the easy path.
Creator Breakdown: Brust began treating the Jhereg more negatively after a friend was murdered by the Mafia, and also wrote a novel where Vlad's marriage was dissolving while he was experiencing the same thing.
Crippling Overspecialization: In Kelly's opinion, the traits and "virtues" of the houses are effectively this because the rigid expectations each house has for its members prevent other strengths from growing from within.
Crossover: Tiassa combined characters and writing styles from the Paarfi and Vlad novels.
The Khaavren books have a character named Pel who studies Discretion, an art which allows its practitioners to comfort the Emperor or Empress by listening to their worries and keeping them confidential. While it's difficult to tell to what extent this is more like psychology than religion, it's notable that Discreets dress in monk-like robes and that Pel is the equivalent of Aramis, who was a priest.
Also, Jhegaala, set in the East, features a Father Noji, a priest of Verra who could very easily pass for an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic village priest in our world. The East is basically a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Hungary.
Daddy's Little Villain: Aliera isn't a villain, but she's violent, destructive, and prejudiced, and her tendency to help her daddy's plans out was partially responsible for Adron's Disaster.
Deadpan Snarker: Definitely Vlad. He even lampshades it in one exchange where he states that he'll pass time by exchanging sarcastic comments with Loiosh. Many of the other characters in the Taltos books display at least a touch of the trope. Kiera, Kragar, and Loiosh all do it as well, and Sethra has her moments.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: One Jenoine dies in Issola by the simple expedient of becoming a snack for a dragon. In another scene, Tazendra notes with some amazement that she just defeated a Jenoine in single combat, then promptly dies.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Teckla rebels are strongly reminiscent of Bolsheviks. Verra implies that this may be because they actually found a stash of the writings of Earth philosophers.
Early Installment Weirdness: Some aspects of the world had not been completely fleshed out when Brust wrote Jhereg, resulting in a little bit of weirdness on rereads. For example, the Phoenix Guards are simply called Imperial Guards. Vlad also seems to characterize assassinations a lot more lightly than they're taken in the rest of the series, implying that you might get assassinated simply as a warning.
Well, Sethra is a vampire after all. But the fact that nobody noticed that she died for a few thousand years is rather telling.
The Necromancer probably is this as well; although her hair color isn't specifically mentioned, she's described as looking like a Dragon, and Aliera is the only blonde Dragon in the books.
Eldritch Abomination: The Jenoine are vastly powerful, extraplanar creatures who warp reality to unknown purposes and are generally considered hostile by everyone who is not Jenoine. The entire purpose of the Dragaeran Empire is to keep the Jenoine from coming back.
Epigraph: Brust usually opens chapters of the Taltos series with quotes from in-world documents or conversations, often hilarious ones. Sources range from court transcripts and legal memos in Iorich, to a list of instructions for Vlad's laundry service (mend cut in pants, remove bloodstains from shirt, etc) in Teckla.
Equal-Opportunity Evil: Vlad thinks of Dragaeran society as evil, but with only a few minor exceptions they have almost no division of gender roles. Eastern society, while actually shown to be equally as ruthless as Dragaeran society, does have a more real-world distinction between genders. Noish-pa once curses himself for going easy on a hostile Dragaeran simply because she was female.
Even Evil Has Standards: The Jhereg has a set of rigid rules that all members must follow. Some are obvious, such as never testifying before the Orb, while others amount to professional courtesy, such as never attacking someone in his home. To violate any of these rules even in matters of life and death is considered pretty outrageous.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Necromancer is a skilled necromancer who seems to have no name. The Khaavren Romances reveal why: she's actually a demon.
The Evil Prince: The Duke of Kana in the Khaavren series is a rather incompetent example of this; Probably Adron also, although Aliera and Morrolan would make you wish you'd never been born if you said so.
Evil Sorcerer: Loraan, with Grita/Orlaan of the Khaavren books being an evil sorceress. Sethra Lavode is a subversion: she fits a number of the stereotypical traits, but is actually quite a nice person.
Evil Weapon: Played pretty straight with Morganti weapons, although generally somewhat subverted with Great Weapons, which are are caring and protective of their wielders, and just happen to eat the souls of their victims. According to the short story "The Desecrator", this is played totally straight by the Great Weapon Nightslayer though.
Expansion Pack World: The Isles, a group of Dragaeran kingdoms that exist outside of the Empire but never seem to get conquered. They aren't even mentioned until well into the series, when Vlad visits one.
Expy: The Khaavren Romances were conceived when Brust and a friend assigned Dragaeran Houses to the heroes of The Three Musketeers. In the resulting series, the main characters are obvious stand-ins for each of the original heroes. Khaavren is the young, ambitious d'Artagnan. Aerich is a consummate gentleman with a dark past, like Athos. Tazendra is a boisterous bruiser and dumb muscle, like Porthos. Pel is a cerebral schemer and womanizer, like Aramis.
Eye Scream: Vlad sometimes likes to hold a blade right up to someone's eye (usually the left) as he threatens them, and talks about knifing targets through the eye. It's convenient for jamming the blade into the skull, since brain damage is one of the few ways to make sure a person can't be resurrected by sorcery short of using a Morganti blade.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Eastern Kingdom of Fenario is heavily based on Hungary. Its language is Hungarian and its "klava" seems to be based on Hungarian egg coffee. This might be justified by the fact that Dragaera is sometimes suggested to have a science fiction background as a world populated by humans from Earth. Vague references are occasionally made to cross-overs between the universes. By the way, "taltos" means a shaman or wizard-like figure in Hungarian folklore and traditions.
Fantasy Gun Control: There are almost no projectile weapons of any sort in Vlad's time. In the Khaavren Romances, which are a parody of The Three Musketeers, magical "flash stones" take the place of muskets, being short-ranged and single-fire weapons. Word of God explains that flash stones have fallen out of use by Vlad's time because magical advances have made them too easy to sabotage.
Fetish-Fuel Future: Brust seems to like Action Girls, and Dragaeran society's almost total lack of separate gender roles makes this a lot easier to accomplish.
First Name Basis: Regardless of how formally they might address one another at other times, folks who communicate psychically always use first names, which maintains the necessary intimacy for a mental connection.
Food Porn: Brust is a noted gourmand and Vlad is a cook who spends a lot of time in restaurants, leading to some obvious Author Appeal. The framing tale of Dzur is a single meal at the world's most luxurious restaurant. Each chapter represents a course. You will get hungry reading it.
For Want of a Nail: Paarfi references a story, "The Tale of the Smudged Letter", in which a single drop of water on a letter causes the sinking of islands. He also deconstructs the concept, pointing out how incompetent all the people who fell prey to the resulting chain of mishaps must have been to succumb to those mishaps.
In Taltos, the first time Vlad talks to Sethra psychically, he notes that it was remarkably easy to set up the mind-to-mind contact given that they'd only met once before. A few books later, we discover that Vlad's been friends with Sethra for years in her guise as Kiera.
In Jhereg, when Vlad mentions Kiera having once found him dead and took him to Sethra for revivification. Once you learn who Sethra is, why even a very accomplished thief should be taking her dead assassin protege to her for resurrection might seem mighty off.
Four-Star Badass: Sethra takes this and runs with it. She's not just a general, she's one of the greatest military minds ever known, and she's not just a badass, she's a vampire wizard who orders gods around.
Sethra: It is good to find one's self in agreement with the gods. Vlad: Is it? Sethra: Yes. It shows the gods have some wisdom.
Fragile Speedster: Vlad must fight this way against Dragaerans, who are larger and stronger than him. His Eastern style of fencing is focused on speed and evasion.
Friendly Enemy: The Demon and Vlad are this toward each other. While the Demon is still devoted to killing Vlad for betraying the Organization, he respects him a lot for risking death to help Cawti, and agrees to order his subordinates to leave her alone. For his part, Vlad thinks that if he was still in the Jhereg, he would like to work for the Demon, and is willing to take his side against other contenders to rule the House.
Frying Pan of Doom: The weapon of choice of Lar, Piro's lackey. Not to be outdone in terms of ridiculous weaponry, Mica, Tazendra's lackey, uses a goddamn barstool.
Gaining The Will To Kill: Inverted in Orca, when death-on-two-legs Sethra Lavode reassures Vlad that she'd decided long ago that keeping her alternate identity as Kiera secret was not worth taking a life for. She's quite willing to kill for honour or necessity or a cause, but not for that.
Gender Is No Object: The Dragaeran Empire places almost no distinction on gender, allowing women to participate equally in all professions, even the military. Most people in high office during Vlad's lifetime happen to be female. There are a few minor exceptions, such as the Jhereg Organization, which is traditionally divided into the male Right Hand of mobsters and female Left Hand of mercenary sorceresses. In the Khaavren Romances, two Dragaeren women discuss whether a male Dzur would really be attracted to a woman who could defeat him. They ultimately decide that he could. Even the Dragaeran language has gender neutral pronouns, so that they do not need to use male pronouns as a default.
Genderbender: Drien, one of Morrolan's ancestors, is said to have changed sex at some point in his/her life. S/he lived so long ago that nobody's sure which sex Drien was originally.
Gentlemen Rankers: In Dragon, Baronet Taltos serves as a private in Morrolan's army. Most of the other troopers are this trope as well, as Dragonlords ignore social rank in military context.
Hide Your Children: Paarfi claims to have done this in Five Hundred Years After, to minimize the reader's horror at Adron's Disaster.
Hitman with a Heart: Vlad and Cawti Taltos, as well as Mario in the Khaavren book Five Hundred Years After.
Honor Before Reason: The House of Dragon in general, Morrolan in particular. The House of Dzur especially, to the point of pride.
Horse of a Different Color: Dragaera has a lot of odd creatures, such as the named but never described winneasaurus, which seem to be similar to Earth animals.
How Do I Shot Web?: Vlad has little understanding of Spellbreaker's full properties beyond its ability to negate spells. When it becomes Godslayer, he learns its properties on the fly, doing things like accidentally breaking memory modification spells put on him by a goddess and destroying the soul of a sorceress who's trying to kill him.
Humans by Any Other Name: Has a very weird relationship with this trope. Both what we consider humans ("Easterners") and the elflike Dragaerans refer to themselves as human and call the other something else.
Hypocritical Humor: Paarfi's lengthy rants about how he will waste no words in his storytelling. He also tends to go back on his promises to the reader, e.g. saying he'll refrain from describing horses and explaining why he won't, then describing Khaavren's steed later in the same chapter. Heavily lampshaded by an essay following one of the novels in which the case is made that Paarfi really is being terse and laconic by Dragaeran standards. The entire novel is presented as being "one of his notebooks" for a work that needs expanding "by an additional eight or nine volumes" before publication! Jhegaala suggests that a "brief" survey for a Dragaeran is at least six volumes.
I Call It "Vera": All the great weapons have official names. Vlad, however, insists on referring to Godslayer as Lady Teldra, and for good reason.
I Like Those Odds: The entire House of the Dzur. Tazendra gets most of them on the page, but that's just because she's the most prominent Dzur character.
Improbable Weapon User: Mica and Lar, the lackeys of Tazendra and Piro in the Khaavren Romances, both use ridiculous weapons to surprisingly good effect, mostly from shock value. Mica wields a barstool, while Lar goes for a Frying Pan of Doom.
Impromptu Tracheotomy: Vlad has to do this to himself with a knife in Hawk, when a Jhereg assassin punches him hard in the throat and collapses his windpipe.
Innocent Bigot: The Empire is a hierarchical and fairly racist society, and lots of perfectly nice characters will say unintentionally offensive things about Easterners or Teckla without realizing it.
Kansas City Shuffle: In Hawk, Vlad arranges a meeting with Jhereg leaders to try to arrange an end to their pursuit of him. They quickly discover and negate the spell on the meeting room that would've compelled them to be agreeable, but don't find out until too late that Vlad's actually setting them up to get busted by Khaavren for threatening Imperial security.
Lightbulb Joke: The Medieval Stasis version is apparently a sword-sharpening joke. After Vlad made several in Yendi, the fans took it upon themselves to write a whole lot more.
A later book illustrates the differences between the houses by describing how they'd deal with rotten onions, from Jhereg selling the onion regardless of its spots to Dragons throwing out the whole basket.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Played with on a massive scale in the peripheral material of both series. In one Vlad book, he refers to a "fool" who is paying him for his stories, and in another novel describes how he's speaking into a "tube" to narrate the story. In the Khaavren Romances, Brust even interviews the series's fictonal author, Paarfi, and talks about the changes he's had to make in "translating" the original text. Paarfi reacts with outrage at the liberties he's taken.
Lonely at the Top: Vlad describes his life before Cawti like this - successful though he was, the only ones who could understand his life were Dragaerans, whom he hates, while most Easterners saw him as too Dragaeran because of his Jhereg title. He had little problem getting dates but they were little more than pretty arm-candy there because he had money and a modicum of power. Cawti, as a fellow Jhereg assassin and Easterner, was the one person who could understand him, and he offered her the same in return. And the loneliness starts again once their marriage goes on the rocks.
The Mafia: The Right Hand of the Jhereg, the male half of "The Organization" in House Jhereg, behaves much like the real world Mafia. Contrary to in-world as well as fan perception, most Jhereg are not actually in the Organization, and are law-abiding citizens of the Empire.
Magitek: In the Empire, everyone can cast at least minor spells by drawing power from the Orb, and magic takes the place of most technology. The simplest function of the Orb is to act as the Empire's official timekeeper. In the Khaavren Romances, based on The Three Musketeers, "flashstones" are the magical equivalent of flintlock pistols.
Medieval Stasis: Both averted and a Justified Trope. Magical "technology" leaped forward after the Interregnum due to changes in the Orb. Otherwise, the Dragaeran Empire's Great Cycle system is deliberately designed to keep it in stasis.
The Mentor: Vlad's grandfather probably is the most obvious example, but Kiera the Thief also played an important part in making Vlad who he is, as does Sethra Lavode.
Metaphorically True: After murdering his boss, Vlad bare-faces his way through his trial for the killing by testifying, under the lie-detecting Orb, that he believes his superior killed himself. He can truthfully claim this because, in his opinion, anyone treating him as badly as his boss did is just asking for Vlad to kill them.
It is revealed in the novel Orcathat Vlad's friend, the cat burglar, Kiera the Thief, is in actuality another of his friends, the feared vampire and near-goddess, Sethra Lavode. With this revelation, Vlad realizes that, far from acting out of free will, he had been manipulated into many of his life choices, including becoming an assassin.
Not to mention in Dzurwe find out that the goddess Vlad was raised to worship has been screwing with his memories, and not even Vlad is sure what's true about his past anymore. This also functions as something of a Cosmic Retcon, since Verra's messing with his memories could explain certain inconsistencies.
Monster Shaped Mountain: Dzur Mountain's name describes it perfectly. Paarfi suggests Adrilankha was named for how the cliffs there resemble a bird's outstretched wings, although Adron's Disaster subverted this when one of them collapsed into the sea.
Morph Weapon: Godslayer, which turns into everything from a knife to a rapier.
Moses in the Bullrushes: The prequels reveal that Morrolan occupied this role, being raised as an Easterner and not discovering his true identity until some time later. There was a rather hilarious scene in which Teldra has trouble keeping a straight face while explaining his species to him in The Paths of the Dead.
Vlad's main source of income while he is on the run is a gold coin he shows around in some shady taverns. Then he takes the money of the bandits that inevitably show up. From what is left of them.
Happens to Grita in the Khaavren Romances, when she's approached by a group of highwaymen, and eventually recruits them to be her thugs. ...and again later when she runs out of uses for them and kills the leader.
Paarfi cites an occasion when a cutpurse tried to rob the sleeping Greycat, only to have him wake up long enough to slit the would-be thief's throat, then resume his nap as if nothing untoward had happened.
Multiple Choice Past: Vlad's explanations for losing one of his fingers include "a very heavy weight," "too slow with Spellbreaker," and "a wound that got infected," among others. The real reason is given in Jhegaala.
Muscles Are Meaningless: Draegarans typically have long, lean builds. It's unusual for them to be noticeably muscular. Nevertheless, they're all stronger than most Easterners across the board.
Vlad and Cawti also got together after she successfully killed him once, which proved to be a massive turn-on for Vlad in a particularly demented Meet Cute. Even after she retires from the "work" she's strongly suggested to be the more dangerous of the pair.
No Name Given: There are a number of characters who are Only Known by Their Nickname. The Sorceress in Green is never referred to by name. Pel, the Duke of Galstan, goes by a fake name and a fake title. No duchy of Galstan has ever existed. Both characters are Yendi, who are famous for their webs of deception.
"How many Yendi does it take to sharpen a sword? Three. One to sharpen it and one to confuse the issue."
Non-Human Sidekick: Most witches seem to have a familiar. Vlad is notable for having a jhereg familiar with human-level intelligence.
Nonindicative Name: Vlad often Lampshades how South Adrilankha is on the west side of the city.
"We'll need a sorcerer who specializes in light extraction from candlebud, a smith who can fabricate a foot-long surgical-quality needle, an acrobat who can do both wide-spar and high-rope, a swimmer who is fluent in Serioli, a-"
Vlad spends much of Hawk assembling a bewildering array of obscure supplies for the scheme he's cooked up, and refusing to explain what they're all for to either his associates or his audience.
Noodle Incident: The guy wearing the wrong sort of boots, who could jump an eleven-foot crevasse. Paarfi cites a lot of historical examples in passing, a few of them (e.g. the 22-horse carriage that almost jumped an even bigger crevasse) better imagined than witnesses.
Not So Different: While Vlad hates his father for toadying to Dragaerans, Vlad's refusal to join Cawti's rebellious activities demonstrates that he is more within the system than he would like to admit. Jhegaala is a book-length example, where Vlad, who had an idealized vision of life in Fenario, encounters just as much corruption and cruelty there as he had among Dragaerans.
Oblivious Adoption: Morrolan was raised as a human and didn't realize he was different, even as he remained youthful looking at over 100 years old, despite everyone else around him getting older and dying. The fact that he was at least a foot taller than anyone he knew should have been another clue...
Oh, Crap: Kragar has exactly this reaction when he and Vlad realize that Mellar has intentionally set himself up to get assassinated in order to spark another Dragon-Jhereg war and destroy both Houses, as well as utterly humiliate House Dzur in Jhereg.
Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: The paratext before each chapter of Teckla is Vlad's laundry bill, and seems inconsequential, until you realize that the book shows how each item got dirty, torn, or covered in Vlad's blood.
Ominous Floating Castle: Castle Black. Most people are a little too nervous to create more, for good reason - they were relatively common before the Interregnum, but Adron's Disaster sent them plummeting.
One Steve Limit: Averted by the three women in the books named Ibronka with no connection to each other—the Dzurlord in the Khaavren Romances, Vlad's grandmother (named in Teckla) and a minor girlfriend of Vlad (named in Taltos).
The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: In Teckla, Easterner revolutionary Kelly narrowly stops Vlad from taking out rival Jhereg lord Herth because he believes the defeat of Herth and what the Jhereg represents belongs to the revolution - they've been fighting Herth too long to just let someone with a new grudge swan in and stick a knife in Herth's brain.
Only Known by Their Nickname: Vlad always refers to his grandfather as Noish-pa, which means grandfather in Fenarian. A number of Dragaerans are also referred to only by their nicknames or titles, such as the Demon, the Sorceress in Green, the Necromancer, and Sticks.
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Subverted in that Easterners are called "dwarfs" by Dragaerans outside of the Empire. Easterners are essentially real-world humans, and their society is based somewhat on Medieval Eastern Europe. Serioli are a short crafting people, but otherwise have no similarities to classic fantasy dwarves.
Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons in Dragaera are giant, powerful reptiles that do not breathe fire. Instead, they have tentacles that pick up psychic impressions from other animals. The House of the Dragon was named after dragons for their aggresive and warlike demeanor. Giant jhereg found around Deathsgate falls look more or less like classic wyverns. The smaller, more common jhereg look like cat-sized wyverns. They have human level intelligence and a poisonous bite.
Our Elves Are Better: Dragaerans are called "elfs" by Easterners in the eastern kingdoms. They are tall, slender, extremely long-lived, highly magical, and some strains have pointed ears. Their Empire is based on the Protestant Reformation era of Europe. Dragaerans come from all walks of life, from peasants to criminals to tradesmen to professionals to nobles.
Our Vampires Are Different: Sethra Lavode has the traditional need to drink blood, but from what description is given, it seems to be small quantities and there's no indication of her preying on Dragaerans or Easterners. She is also able to consume at least small quantities of normal food and appears completely human (or Dragaeran) in her Kiera identity. Loraan in Athyra is also undead and fits the traditional vampire idea better, having a number of Glamour Failure traits which reveal he's no longer alive.
Overly Long Name: The god Tristangrascalaticrunagore, who's usually (fortunately) called Tri'nagore for short.
Patronymic: Members of the House of the Dragon are the only Dragaerans to use them. Sometimes they'll change them if someone they're related to becomes more famous than their previous patronymic. They're also used in Fenario.
Pet the Dog: Vlad gets a massive one in Teckla when he drops almost all of his fortune from Jhereg into buying control of South Adrilankha off the Jhereg lord he'd previously been fighting with, so he can help clean it up and be a good "landlord" for the Easterners who are forced to live there due to poverty.
From Dragon: "I think I will soon begin taking it personally everyone telling me I'm taking things personally."
Planet of Hats: Each house has distinctive personality traits. It's suspected that the different houses actually have different strains of animal magically included in their bloodline by the Jenoine. The Jhegaala are unusual in that their hat is that they change hats over time. Dragaerans outside of the Empire do not have houses, which can be confusing for citizens of the Empire. Kelly, a human within the Empire, accuses the House hats of being artificial constructions.
Possession Implies Mastery: Subverted. One of Vlad's weapons, Spellbreaker, was stolen from a wizard; Vlad has no idea of its complete powers, and simply uses it to the best of his ability. He's even less competent with Godslayer.
Power Glows: Iceflame's blade is light blue, and glows the same shade.
Power Nullifier: Spellbreaker negates magic that it touches. Sorcery also does not work on the Isles, which is probably why they never get conquered by the Empire.
Pretend Prejudice: Vlad says he hates Dragaerans, and in fact he got into his line of work just so that he could beat on them. However, as time goes on, he begins to realize that nearly all of his friends are Dragaerans, and that the really revolutionary human factions just irritate him. Aliera, too, is not especially fond of Easterners, but she likes Vlad and Cawti just fine.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Houses of the both the Dzur and the Dragon, with the former aspiring to be heroes and the latter aspiring to be conquerors.
Punctuation Shaker: House Dragon's patronymics take the form of "e'Something". It's probably a contraction, since the double-whammy "e'Marish'Chala" was a shortened form of a very long name. Terms like "S'yang stones" are explicitly shown to be contractions.
Purple Prose: Paarfi gets a little overenthusiastic sometimes. This is usually both intentional and played for laughs.
Rage Against the Heavens: Vlad really doesn't appreciate Verra deciding to make him useful. There isn't a whole lot he can do about it, but that doesn't stop him from being very, very angry.
Real Men Wear Pink: Aerich, a stoic and sober-minded Lyorn warrior, wears a skirt and crochets in his spare time.
Reincarnation: Being "revivified" is a rather simple procedure with a high chance of success, provided that your central nervous system is intact. Dead Dragaerans are reincarnated if they are not judged worthy to pass on to the next level of existence. Vlad is revealed to be a reincarnation of the founder of the House of the Jhereg.
The "sword-sharpening jokes"— one for every House, at least by implication— and Vlad teasing Loiosh about lacking opposable thumbs in Yendi.
In Taltos, whenever anyone in the Paths of the Death notes that Vlad and Morrolan are alive, Vlad replies "How can you tell?" Only Verra likes the joke.
Sacred Hospitality: Jhereg in the Organization will never mess with someone in his or her home. Also, anyone who kills someone who is the guest of a Dragon is likely to cause a war between Houses. This has happened twice between them and the Jhereg.
Sassy Secretary: Subverted, as Kragar is not just a rare male example, but knows full well that he could run the operation on his own. Moreover, given that he is wisecracking and refers to Vlad as boss, Loiosh might be argued as an example both male and animal.
Science Fantasy: The series plays like Low Fantasy, but there are occasional glimpses of a science fiction background to the setting. In Dragon: a Serioli refers to Easterners as the "Old People," then "clarifies" this as "people from the small invisible lights." As the overcast hides the stars, this suggests the aboriginal Serioli remember humans coming to Dragaera from the stars. Sethra has admitted to Vlad that the Dragaerans were engineered from humans by the Jenoine.
Screw Destiny: Kelly and his followers take this attitude towards the Cycle, believing they can force a change in the Empire even though it's thousands of years too early for another Teckla Republic.
Seemingly Profound Fool: Vlad has a hard time figuring out whether the drummer he meets on the Isles is incredibly profound or just a goofball who takes drumming too seriously. Ultimately it's left ambiguous. The character was based on Brust's friend, who really is that into drumming.
Selective Historical Armory: Weaponry is mostly Renaissance-era or thereabouts, but with a lack of projectiles that encompasses not only Fantasy Gun Control, but Fantasy Bow Control as well. The one time Vlad encounters archers (in Dragon), their bows are called "javelin-throwers", and their rarity in the Empire is such that Vlad doesn't even recognize them as weapons.
Servile Snarker: Loiosh is Vlad's familiar and obeys his orders, but that doesn't stop him from constantly busting his chops through their telepathic link. Loiosh is quick to blame Vlad's Deadpan Snarker personality for rubbing off on him.
She Is the King: Inverted with the court office of Lady of the Chairs, which is referred to by that exact title even if the incumbent is male. Played straight with the Lord of the Keys, for whom the same rule applies.
Sherlock Scan: Khaavren and Aerich take turns doing this to Chaler's corpse in Five Hundred Years After, to Tazendra's mystified amazement.
Lefitt and Boraan, the detectives in the play Six Parts Water, which provides chapter quotes in Jhegaala, have a rather Nick and Nora Charles tone to their dialogue. In particular, the play's title refers to Boraan's intended drink at one point: six parts water ... to one hundred parts "oishka" (whiskey).
Paarfi is apparently familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome, which he calls the Malady of the Tingling Hand in Five Hundred Years After.
Shrouded in Myth: Sethra is a bit mysterious. She has a reputation for, say, turning Dzur heroes who showed up to kill her into lizards, yet she's usually a fairly nice person, if kind of creepy. Vlad has on a couple of different occasions considered a list of Sethra myths and commented on which ones he thought were really, really stupid; in particular, if she actually does have a secret path to the Halls of Judgment in her basement, she owes him an apology.
Silly Reason for War: Morrolan goes to war with Fornia in Dragon over the theft of a fairly worthless sword; lampshaded numerous times by Vlad, who can't understand it and feels like the Only Sane Man even though he's in the war for an similarly stupid reason. Subverted when he suggests the alternatives, like assassinating Fornia or stealing it back or negotiating, and all of his ideas are shot down immediately. Later justified by Sethra by explaining that both Morrolan and Fornia are ambitious Dragonlords with a common border - war was inevitable, the sword was just a convinient pretext for both of them. Fornia wanted also to fight with the sword against a great weapon to reveal the great weapon hidden inside the sword, but that was just a bonus.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: Vlad and his wife Cawti meet under an... extreme case of this.
Small Name, Big Ego: Paarfi, who Lampshades this shamelessly in The Phoenix Guards with his digression on how an historian (i.e. him) can feel equal or greater pride in recounting past great deeds than did those who simply performed them.
The Sneaky Guy: Kiera the Thief has a reputation as being able to steal anything and relies on stealth rather than combat prowess.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Kragar is so easy to ignore that people are constantly getting surprised by him. Born a Dragon, he considers it a curse because it made it impossible to lead troops. Even as a Jhereg crime boss, he has to leave notes for his subordinates.
Suicide by Cop: This is Mellar's scheme in Jhereg, hoping that his assassination would cause a civil war.
Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Jenoine are interdimensional beings who popped into the Dragaeran universe and warped everything around for their unfathomable experiments. The actual gods of Dragaera are mostly comprised of their helpers, who rebelled and kicked them out. Lesser beings can ascend to godhood if they become powerful enough.
Sympathetic P.O.V.: Only the fact that we see things from Vlad's perspective (or Paarfi's rose-tinted view of history) makes the cast seem anything less than a bunch of total bastards.
The Syndicate: House Jhereg specializes in illicit businesses, such as drugs, assassinations, theft and fencing, untaxed gambling, loan sharking, prostitution, and illegal sorcery are just what's been mentioned so far.
Teleportation Sickness: After the Interregnum, magical teleportation is easy, safe, and relatively cheap. However, almost all Easterners suffer motion sickness when teleported, whereas Dragaerans don't.
Teleport Interdiction: Sorcerous teleporation blocks, which can be configured to either only keep people from teleporting in, or to prevent teleportation both ways. The blocks are always placed over battlefields, to prevent teleportation from being used in war.
Terminally Dependent Society: The loss of the Orb to Adron's Disaster left the Empire in chaos, as sorcery failed and the Cycle was disrupted. Only its return could stave off the resulting anarchy, plagues, and invasions.
This Is Gonna Suck: Vlad lies paralyzed, staring down a mass of advancing chaos that is dissolving everything in its wake.
Time Abyss: Sethra Lavode. She's commonly believed to be around twenty thousand years old (a typical Dragaeran lifetime being two to three thousand)...and that's off by a factor of ten. She is quite literally as old as the Dragaeran Empire—somewhere around 250,000 years. And she only became undead relatively recently. (How she did it is unknown, but she has said something about "merging with the rock of Dzur Mountain again...")
To Hell and Back: The gateway to the afterlife for Dragaerans is a physical location that mortals can enter. Some Dragaerans become undead and walk back out again. Mortals have walked out of the Paths of the Dead twice so far.
Trouble Magnet Gambit: In Jhereg. Kiera uses her pickpocketing skills to replace Mellar's regular daggers with Morganti daggers (which destroy the victim's soul). Aliera then picked a fight with him and got stabbed, causing Mellar to panic and flee Morrolan's castle, allowing Vlad to kill him. Mellar didn't know that Aliera's soul was protected by her sword, allowing her to be resurrected.
Vlad. He learns that most of his life's choices have been influenced by Verra and Sethra in order to make him useful. In Issola, Sethra even states outright that facing the Jenoine in their own place in order to rescue Morrolan and Aliera is "the kind of activity Vlad is trained for." It is not yet clear if he is targeted against the Jenoine, or an all-purpose Tykebomb.
Possibly also the case with Devera, who actually engineered her own conception at Verra's instigation.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Aliera is famous for her beauty, but her lover Mario Greymist has unexceptional looks and might even be a little paunchy. He makes up for it by being the most feared assassin in the world. (He was apparently better-looking as a young man in the Khaarven Romances, however.)
Uncoffee: While regular coffee does exist, a variation called klava is an import from the Eastern kingdoms and very popular with Dragaerans. It's based on Hungarian egg coffee, and involves coffee being filtered through egg shells. For some reason, Dragerans serve it in a glass, which burns your hand if you don't let it cool. Vlad is a particular connoisseur of good klava, but prefers it in a mug.
The names of Serioli. Vlad's description of someone saying a Great Weapon's real name in Serioli is, "He made a sound that, if it had been louder, would have made the staff think he was choking to death."
Also, Dragaerans from a certain part of the Empire have bizarre, consonant-littered names that Vlad can only approximate. One of his old bosses gets a new spelling on his name every time Vlad mentions him. In Orca, he doesn't even try with "Hwdfrjaanci."
Unreliable Narrator: Vlad's messed-up memories. Also, the Khaavren Romances are fictional accounts of historical events within the world of Dragaera. Word of God states that Paarfi embellishes and makes some things up. In one particular clash of unreliable narrators, the confrontation between Aerich and a Teckla is given vastly different accounts by the Teckla in Teckla and Paarfi in Sethra Lavode. Paarfi also completely ignores the Dragon-Jhereg War.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Used by Vlad to greater or lesser extents, as he usually narrates coming up with a plan but glosses over some of the details. For example, only a few details are left out of his big plan in Jhereg, while in Teckla he barely explains anything to do with his plan before carrying it out at the climax.
Uplifted Animal: The jhereg species wasn't originally intelligent, but gained these qualities due to Jenoine experimentation. Loiosh isn't exactly thrilled to learn this.
Utility Magic: Dragaerans use sorcery for almost everything they can, and Vlad is certainly no different. He's used it to light candles, chill wine, and clean chamber pots. In Orca Kiera checks for security spells on a mansion and mostly finds fertility spells on the land, "spells that kept the latrines from smelling, spells that kept the mansion from sinking into the ground," and others that take the place of basic maintenance and gardening. The peasant Teckla, however, are kept largely ignorant of sorcery on purpose, barring a few spells useful for keeping up farmland. Magic is so wrapped up in everything Vlad can knock chunks of masonry off buildings by gently slapping Spellbreaker (a small golden chain) against them.
Values Dissonance: Discussed in Yendi, when Vlad tells Cawti what it's like to have Dragaeran friends who nod along when Sethra the Younger talks nonchalantly about her plans to invade and subjugate the East. Even Morrolan, who grew up among Easterners, would have made her Warlord if he were Emperor, and Aliera was only opposed to it because she felt it would weaken the Empire. invoked
Morrolan and Aliera are cousins and best friends, but any time they're in a room together odds are really, really good they're going to start yelling at each other. Lampshaded when Vlad finally gets sick of it and chews them out.
Aliera and Sethra are a particularly extreme version of this in Five Hundred Years After, constantly challenging each other to duels and assumed by everyone seeing them to be worst enemies.
Voice of the Legion: Verra, whose voice sounds like two people speaking slightly out of sync. Has the added bonus that a group of different people, all listening to her at once, will all hear different things. And respond to what they hear. As Vlad put it, "She's the only person I know who makes those around her incomprehensible."
The Voiceless: In Tiassa, Khaarven's servant Borteliff is widely assumed to be mute. He can talk, he's just found that silence in a servant is so prized by his employers that he'll go for a year or more without saying a word.
Wastebasket Ball: Many of the clues Kiera collects in Orca were left behind at the bank because Vonnith had poor aim at this trope.
We Are as Mayflies: Most Easterners in Dragaera don't live long past 60, while Dragaerans live for thousands of years. Powerful Easterner witches can live hundreds of years, while undead Dragaerans can exist pretty much indefinitely.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: One interpretation of Adron is that he wanted to take over so that he could fix the mess that Tortaalik had gotten the Empire into. However, his choice of methods and some really inconvenient coincidences resulted in him crippling the Empire for 2 or 3 centuries.
Wham Episode: The ends of Phoenix, Orca, Issola, and (arguably, as the Left Hand's still after Vlad) Hawk.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Especially in the earlier novels, Vlad doesn't care about taking the lives of Dragaerans, and even enjoys it. In kind, Dragaerans see little value in Easterners' lives. Also, Dragaerans don't seem to view jhereg as anything more than wild animals, even though they are known to possess human-level intelligence.
World of Snark: Fluency in Snark seems to be a prerequisite for membership in the Jhereg, or at least the Right Hand. Most of Vlad's non-Jhereg friends also, probably because only other snarkers would put up with Vlad's own snarksmanship.
You All Meet in an Inn: Khaavren and the others in Phoenix Guards. It is played so straight it is probably a parody of the trope.