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The year is 1815, the setting England. In the wake of her father's death, young Kate Winslow comes to live at Hallow Hill, her younger sister Emily in tow. The girls settle in with their great aunts and try their best to fit into life on the mysterious estate, despite an unwelcoming guardian, the revelation of some dismaying family secrets and the uneasy feeling Kate gets one night, returning from a walk in the forest...Lost during a storm one evening, a few months after their arrival at Hallow Hill, Kate and Emily are guided home by a mysterious cloaked man named Marak. Though Emily takes a liking to the stranger, Kate feels a deep distrust of him, and the more she learns, the more it becomes clear that her instincts are correct. Marak is brilliant, cruel, charming, powerfully magic, and extremely rude. Also, he's a goblin.The first book of the trilogy, The Hollow Kingdom, deals with Kate's attempts to protect herself and Emily from Marak and her unscrupulous guardian, and her later involvement in the goblin kingdom. The second book, Close Kin, focuses more on the elves, who were thought to be extinct, with the story of Sable and her band, as well as the Coming of Age-cum-Girl Next Door-style love story of Emily and Seylin. The third book, In The Coils of the Snake, deals with Miranda, arranged to marry the goblin King in a plan much like one thought up by Hikaru Genji, except that this plan was orchestrated by the groom's father; like Close Kin, it also reveals more about the elves, by way of a very attractive elf lord with whom Miranda ends up living.One of the strengths of the series is the detail it goes into in depicting the cultures and motivations of elves and goblins, in ways that both resemble and differ from traditional portrayals. Both species hold deep-set stereotypes and prejudices of each other—a common theme is the conflict between the two races, as well as their similarities. Another theme is the capture and forced marriage of human and elf brides, vital to the survival of both goblins and elves, which may be off-putting to some—however, this practice is not necessarily shown in a heroic light, and its negative effects are quite visible.In addition to the three books, the author, Clare B. Dunkle, provides a substantial amount of All There in the Manual on her website, including short stories and deleted scenes.These books provide examples of:
Abduction Is Love: The series is filled with female abduction and forced marriage. Most of those kidnappings turn to love: Sable and Tinsel, Thaydar and Irina, Lim and Blackwing, Nir and Miranda, Adele and Marak Dogclaw, etc.
Arranged Marriage: This runs rampant throughout the books and in the series mythology. All elves are arranged to be married from the time the girl is twelve years old. Marak arranges for Thaydar and Irina, Tinsel and Sable, and Miranda and Catspaw to marry, though he doesn't get his way with the last of the three.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Both the elf and goblin Kings have the most powerful magical abilities in their races. Also, Thorn is leader of Sable's band because he's the best fighter.
Backstory: The history of the elves and goblins is essential to the novels. This backstory revealed regularly by various characters, especially Seylin. Characters often have important backstories that contribute to the importance of their personalities and the current plot, including Nir, Sable, and Marak.
Bad Dreams: Sable has bad dreams of the elf women who die in childbirth.
The Beautiful Elite: The elves are impossibly and effortlessly beautiful. They are so beautiful, they don't need finery and look stunning even when they just woke up or are filthy.
Beast and Beauty: Goblins and their elf or human wives. The story of Lim and Blackwing is even modeled after the fairy tale.
Because Destiny Says So: Miranda and Nir must marry because his magic said it must be so. Marak also made a prophesy that she would be a King's Wife when she grew up. He just didn't know she would be the elf King's Wife.
Comic Trio: Catspaw, Richard, and Seylin fit, though they're not at all comical and the straight man is able to eventually prevent disaster. Catspaw's the one who comes up with the incorrect conclusions and idiotic plans that drive the plot. Richard is the one blindly following his orders. Seylin is the intelligent one trying to figure out what's really going on.
Creation Myth: Elves and goblins were each created by the First Fathers who disagreed on whether to create their race based on beauty or strength and ended up creating one of each.
Daddy's Girl: Kate and her father, Til and Marak Sixfinger, Sable and Lord Sable, and probably Fay and Tinsel.
Dead Guy Junior: Sable, Nir (Ash), Dentwood, and Celia. Elf lords tend to pass on names for generations, which is the case with Sable and Nir. Also, Goblin Kings are all named Marak though all of them have nicknames that they are referred to around close friends and family, as well as historic record.
Death by Childbirth: Elf women have a difficult time with childbirth and will die without the proper magic. When Sable's camp loses the knowledge of that magic, every elf woman in the camp dies through childbirth until Sable refuses to marry Thorn out of fear of the same fate.
Denied Food as Punishment: Elf men hand their wives and fiances their food. Thorn denies Sable food as a form of punishment for mutilating her own face so she wouldn't have to marry him. On a regular basis, he gives her as little food as possible, in the cruelest way possible. When she wakes him up after having a nightmare, he withholds it altogether.
Distant Prologue: The first two books have prologues that take place years before the main action of the novels.
The Hollow Kingdom begins with the Marak Sixfinger's mother, Adele, being kidnapped by his father, Marak Dogclaw, seventy years before Kate's story begins.
Close Kin starts out four and a half years before the main story begins.
Elsewhere Fic: Most fan fiction written for this book centers on this trope. Instead of focusing on canon characters, these fics focus on an Original Character (and most likely a Mary Sue) who comes to the Hollow Lake area and instantly becomes the fixation of the goblin King (who is an original character as well) and sometimes even the elf King (another original character who is all too often given the Ron the Death Eater treatment). These are almost always set in modern times and rarely take the canon rules into account.
Escalating War: There is always a war between the elves and goblins. When Nir brings his band back to their ancestral land, a war escalates between him and Catspaw as they tit for tat each other.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Nir's real name is Ash, but he is always referred to as Nir, which means "elf lord" in elvish. The same goes for the elf and goblin Kings who are solely known by their king titles with Aganir and Marak, respectively.
Fake King: Aganir U-Sakar, the elf King named New Moon. An unwitting impostor, he is a camp lord's son switched for the real Heir by the elf King's Wife, thus disrupting the whole lineage.
Fantastic Racism: A theme in the series is the racism between elves and goblins. Both races are also racist against humans.
Fate Worse Than Death: Some King's Wives and stolen goblin brides feel this way and attempt to commit suicide rather than be with their new spouse. Also, when the elves believed their King was dead without an heir and the goblin King, Marak Whiteye offered to become their King, they said they would rather die- most of them did.
Fiery Redhead: Miranda. She gets to tear into Nir and Catspaw and literally burn Seylin.
Flashback: Nir and Miranda are constantly flashing back to their childhoods during In the Coils of the Snake. The flashbacks are usually caused by a Flashback Echo, such as Nir feeling guilty for doing to Miranda what his father did to his mother.
Inhumanly Beautiful Race: The Elves in are described as being much better looking than humans. Also, the difference between the beauty of elvish nobility to elvish commoners is compared in-story to the difference of an elvish commoner and a human.
Laser-Guided Karma: Marak Sixfinger gets revenge on Kate's guardian for his actions against her and Emily. That revenge then comes back to haunt his entire kingdom when that guardian, who is in a mental institution as a result of the revenge, tells a sorcerer about the goblins, which in turn leads the sorcerer to steal the souls of as many goblins as he can.
May-December Romance: Nir and Miranda, Irina and Thaydar, Catspaw and Arianna—Kate and Marak is the most extreme example. He's more than forty years older than her.
Meaningful Name: All elf names have meanings that connect to the time of their birth or are given as a gift and passed down through generations, like Nir (Ash) and Sable.
The Mentor: Marak Sixfinger to Seylin. Seylin to Marak Catspaw and Nir.
Moral Dissonance: In-universe. A large part of the plot is in the differing moral standards and traditions of the various cultures, and the conflicts that arise when the cultures interact.
Mr. Exposition: Seylin. Through all three books, he is the one explaining the background information for all the characters. Marak Sixfinger and Nir also take on this role while explaining goblin or elf culture, respectively to their brides.
Only Known by Their Nickname: The goblins refer to Emily exclusively as "M" or "Em" and Lim exclusively as "Mouse." The elves refer to Miranda as "Sika" or "Fox" because her real name is the word they use for the goblin King's Wife. For years, Sable's band refers to her only as "ugly woman."
The goblin Kings traditionally manage the spells supporting the Kingdom and find work for the dwarves. In the first book, Marak is so dedicated to his duties that he resumes them while he is bedridden after having his soul stolen, something that is indicated to have greatly impeded his recovery.
Elf Kings renew the border spell around their kingdoms to protect their lands. Nir (Aganir Ash) protects his people and makes sacrifices at his own expense to ensure the survival of his race.
Kate gets props for breaking out of the Goblin Kingdom, despite being heavily enchanted against just that, to go rescue Marak in the first place. She also works in goblin schools, teaching English to the ones who will have to travel the surface and interact with humans.
Second Love: Kate is Marak's second wife. Sable ends up with Tinsel after loving and then hating Thorn for most of her life. Thaydar originally wanted Emily before finding Irina. Thorn marries an unnamed elf woman after losing Sable and Irina. Miranda wanted to marry Catspaw before falling in love with Nir. Nir was married to Kara and then engaged to Arianna before ending up with Miranda.
Stalker with a Crush: Most goblins stalk their potential brides before kidnapping them. Examples in the text or mentioned on the author's site are Marak with Kate, Marak Dogclaw with Adele, and Thorn with Sable.
Sugar and Ice Personality: Kate, toward Marak. Quite understandable, as she is a refined English gentlewoman trained to keep her cool in difficult situations, and he did kidnap her. Sable later shows similar tendencies toward Tinsel, and Miranda towards Nir.
Unwanted Spouse: Since the women are mostly kidnap victims, they always start out not wanting their spouse, and in a lot of cases continue not to want them and even attempt suicide to get away. In the cases where elf King's give their stolen wives amnesia to force their devotion, they soon no longer want their brides because of how childlike and dependent they become.
Wife Husbandry: On a massive scale: elf girls are traditionally looked after by their fiancees, who are often older, until they marry at eighteen. Could be considered a Jail Bait Wait, but much less Squicky than than the typical example; elves regard any female under eighteen as a child, and the idea of having any kind of romance with her is abhorrent to them.
Warrior Prince: The royalty in this series do battle. Marak fights the sorcerer, Kate and Arianna have a mini-King's Wife battle, Nir and Catspaw duel, and the series mythology is filled with battles.
Wedding Day: Lots of weddings occur in the books including Kate and Marak, Sable and Tinsel, Seylin and Emily, Thaydar and Irina, Miranda and Nir, and Catspaw and Arianna.
Why Waste a Wedding?: Catspaw plans on marrying his bride, Miranda, three months after his father's death, which is customary. When he receives a new bride, Arianna, from the elf lord, he keeps the same ceremony with the only change being the person he marries.
You Are Number Six: Lim. Her name means 4 in elvish. Since fourth children are rare in elf culture, when a fourth child is born, he or she is always named Lim.
You Got Spunk: Marak is pleasantly surprised when Kate is clever and fights back against his kidnapping attempts. According to Agatha, Emily's also got pluck.
Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The heroine, Kate, sacrifices herself to Marak to save her sister. Marak manages to marry Kate and insert her into his world with no possible way out. Sad ending? Nope. The book flashesforward more than a year for the last four chapters and adds a human sorceror villian who is out to enslave the souls of all the goblins.