The Liaden Universe® is populated by mercenaries, traders, spies, turtles, scouts, soldiers and colorful people too numerous to mention. The Liadens are first among the four major races, those being: Liaden, Clutch, Terran and Yxtrang. Liadens are sneaky, Liadens are old, Liadens are prosperous, Liadens follow a strict and voluminous code of honor.
— from the authors' web page.
The Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller feature the creation and later exploits of Clan Korval, a prominent family on the planet of Liad. They are best known for the founders of the clan being the ones who rescued their ancestors from a Planet Eater species that destroyed their previous universe (as well as their unit of money being named after one of them). Being pilots are very important to them. They also own, or are owned by, a sentient Tree.The Korval novels, in timeline order:The Great Migration Duology (series prequels), in which a genetically engineered soldier, a genetically engineered Manchurian Agent, a sentient tree, and a schoolboy trader help a population escape into a new universe:
Balance of Trade sequence, set in the long gap between the migration and the following Agent of Change sequence, introducing the first Terran Master Trader. It has nothing to do with Clan Korval directly so far (although there's a cameo appearance by one of Miri's ancestors, and given the One Degree of Separation inherent in the series it will undoubtedly cross their path sooner or later).
Balance of Trade (based on/containing a novella of the same title)
Agent of Change Sequence, in which the descendants of the prequels realize that there's an enemy within their home planet and band together to defeat it:
Fledgling Sequence, introducing Theo Waitley, whose story overlaps with and continues the Agent of Change sequence. The first two books were posted in draft form to the authors' website as they were written, in return for donations to support the project. They were then picked up by Baen, and sequels commissioned.
(A series of five sequel novels has been contracted, for publication in 2014-9)
The next book in the series is a Ghost Ship side-story set on Surebleak.
The authors have written many short stories and novellas taking place in the Liaden Universe as well, published in short story collections (slightly different from print to e-book form) or as yearly chapbooks sold by mail-order. A number of these chapbooks have been lately made available for sale as e-books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and more are going up as the authors get them ready.This series provides examples of:
Academy of Adventure: A number of examples (not least because Lee & Miller have worked in academe themselves).
Most closely matched by the piloting school Theo attends in Saltation. A great deal is going on behind the scenes — though not enough to qualify as a School For Scheming, as the scheming is being done around the school not as part of it. Not quite a Ninja School, but close.
The university planet of Delgado from Fledgling is a "Safe World" — which means that order is kept with Big Brother-like security. There also seems to be some kind of conspiracy going on behind the scenes...
The college seen in Crystal Dragon features a unique method of defending one's theses. (It involves swords.)
The Terran university from Local Custom seems largely tame — until a bomb takes out an entire department.
Accidental Marriage: Val Con giving Miri a knife = married (in the eyes of the Clutch, whose culture and tradition revolve around knives).
There's a high proportion of them in Clan Korval, which actively selects for piloting ability (though even so it contains some so-so pilots, and even the occasional one such as Lady Kareen with no aptitude at all).
The Liaden Scouts also train skilled pilots, for a particular skill set focussed on small, fast, and highly-maneuvrable ships. "To fly like a Scout" is a proverb, though whether it's a compliment or an insult depends on the person saying it.
Action Girl: Miri especially, but most of them have badass moments.
Actually That's My Assistant: Happens several times in I Dare after Boss Conrad sets up on Surebleak, where his physically-imposing bodyguard better fits local preconceptions of what a leader looks like. Also in Plan B, when Val Con takes a newly-recruited former enemy soldier to meet his commanding officer.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: AIs seem to be considered somewhat chancy because it is difficult to know what a machine might do without human intervention. Bechimo's creators were well cognizant of the possibility that their creation might possibly go mad (hence the inclusion of emergency backup personalities that could overwrite the primary personality in the event of a mental breakdown). However, some of them (such as Jeeves and, apparently soon, Bechimo) are legally recognized as sentient and sapient people in their own right.
The state of mind of AIs seen in the series can vary. Jeeves is happy and very self-assured in his position as the Korval clan's butler and security chief. In Ghost Ship, the AI ship Bechimoacts more like a needy, willful, and self-centered child.
Inverted in Carpe Diem, when Val Con and Miri crash-land on a 1940s-equivalent human world and try to blend in until they can work out how to be rescued.
Almighty Janitor: In Scout's Progress, Daav yos'Phelium, Delm Korval and one of the most powerful people on the entire planet Liad, works as a lowly starship mechanic at Binjali's shipyard to get away from the pressures of rule.
Alternative Number System: It's not explicitly stated that the Liadens have a base-12 numbering system, but they do use multiples of twelve in many applications, including timekeeping (12 days in a week), units of currency (they have several named units, each worth 12 times the one before), and the number they count up to when they're being patient with someone.
...And That Little Girl Was Me: Near the end of Balance of Trade, Jethri's cousin Grig tells him a story about an expedition that encountered a cache of the Old Technology, and a young and inexperienced member of the expedition who was luckier than he deserved to be. The boy is, of course, Grig himself, as is revealed when Grig lapses into first-person at the end.
Arranged Marriage: Standard practice for Liadens. Marriages are arranged by the head of the clan, for the good of the clan, and the amount of input the person getting married has into the choice of spouse varies considerably. (Also, Liaden marriages are generally for fixed terms, the standard being "one year, or until there's a baby". Unfortunate daughters of poverty-stricken clans can spend their entire lives going from one arranged marriage to another to keep their clan afloat.)
Artificial Human: practically everybody in The Great Migration Duology, it seems.
Asteroid Miners: Terence O'Grady. Also, the reason why Surebleak was abandoned by its corporate founders.
Autodoc: Common in the "present-day" time period of the Agent of Change and Fledgling cycles; less so in the prequels' eras.
As a collector of old technology, Uncle possesses more advanced Old Tech versions of autodocs, as does the Old Tech ship Bechimo.
In Balance of Trade, one of Jethri's relatives relates how an Old Tech autodoc saved his life, and the scouts find one in a cargo of Old Tech contraband. (These units may subsequently have been reverse-engineered into the 'docs ships carry in Shan and Val Con's day.)
In the Great Migration duology, Cantra's ship Spiral Dance is unusual for having an illicit Sheriekas-tech autodoc unit aboard.
The Liaden abide by a strict, voluminous honor code that governs all aspects of their life and can seem cryptic and impenetrable to outsiders. Prominent features of this code include the concepts of Balance, which holds that any action (whether harmful or beneficial) must be met with an equivalent response, and melant'i, which crosses "face"-like social status with separation of multiple roles held by a single person. This code also incorporates different dialects of the Liaden tongue (which are spoken in different social situations) and bows of varying depth and associated gestures that convey relationships. On Liad, a social faux pas can have lethal consequences.
The Yxtrangi also have a very codified caste and honor system—to Nelirikk's sorrow.
In fact, most planets and cultures in the Liaden Universe have their own cultural mores and honor codes that visiting characters find strange (and vice versa). One of the themes of the series is the difficulty outsiders can have in dealing with "local custom."
Bodyguard Crush: Pat Rin and Natesa. Ends with Natesa asking to be released from her contract. Pat Rin is devastated, until she explains that she's not leaving, she just wants to continue on her own terms — which, unlike the terms she's just been released from, allow for the two of them to act on their feelings.
Brain Washed: Val Con (and, for that matter, every other Agent of Change).
Brick Joke: The story is set up in such a way that elements in early stories or novels can sometimes appear unexpectedly in later ones.
In Crystal Dragon, Cantra sends her starship off on a decoy mission, with an offspring of Jelaza Kazone at the controls, to draw the enemy's attention away from her exodus fleet of starships. Half a dozen books later, in Dragon Ship, that ship found its way into the new universe, with the same tree still at the helm.
Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Borrill, Zhena Trelu's "dog" on Vandar, doesn't look anything like a "dog" as Val Con or Miri know them, but is called a dog by the narrative (and Val Con theorizes that it fills the same ecological/cultural niche on that world). Borrill is only described in the most general of terms, but he has head ridges and is never pet, he just his ears pulled, suggesting he isn't a dog we know either.
Can't Argue with Elves: The books (particularly Conflict of Honors) are replete with examples of Liadens who treat humans with absolute disdain, referring to them as "it" and cheating them blind at any opportunity. This mindset also fuels the villainous Department of the Interior's plans for Liad's ascendance (under their rule, of course) and the rest of the galaxy's enslavement.
The Captain: Shan and Priscilla especially, but any of the pilots, really.
Also noteworthy: Theo in Ghost Ship and (especially) Dragon Ship.
Uncle, at least from other characters' perspectives.
The Masters of Agents of the Department of the Interior imagine Val Con as some kind of chessmaster, when in reality Korval is simply a huge Coincidence Magnet. (Though that doesn't mean Val Con can't also be a chessmaster…)
Daav has an excellent reputation for always getting his way. At one point he convinces Kamele to take Theo on a trip because it will be good for Theo—and convinces Theo to go on the trip to humor her mother.
Cliff Hanger: Many of the books end with either real cliffhangers with the characters in danger, or the authors piquing readers' interest in some other way…then the book ends. Sometimes several books can go by between their introduction and resolution.
The series has been this way from the very start—the first-written book, Agent of Change ended with Val Con and Miri trapped in a crippled space ship, playing jump-drive chicken with a Yxtrang…and then the authors wrote Conflict of Honors, a backstory novel about entirely different characters, before revisiting the cliffhanger in Carpe Diem.
Most recently, some fans are annoyed that Dragon Ship has a relatively unresolved ending but at least two more unrelated Liaden books are scheduled to be published before a sequel can be written.
The Clan: A basic building block of Liaden society.
Coincidence Magnet: One of the recurring themes of the Liaden universe is that There Are No Coincidences. The Korval clan comes in for special attention from fate (or "the Luck" as the characters themselves have it), perhaps due in part to Cantra's role in leading humanity to that universe. It is demonstrated repeatedly that members of Korval's families are magnets (or "nexuses" as the characters have it) for strangely unlikely chance. This tends to result in members of the family ending up in impossibly coincidental situations that can leave other characters shaking their heads (and often, quite reasonably from their perspective, seeing conspiracies where only coincidence exists).
It is actually hard to decide whether Coincidence Magnet or Weirdness Magnet is more apt, since from the point of view of Clan Korval there is nothing supernatural about the Lost Technology, aliens, or psychic powers they keep encountering. But the mundanes who frequently get caught up in events and swept along in Korval's wake would have different opinions…
Cool Ship: Just about every ship ever mentioned in the series—after all, "Korval is ships." Special mention goes to the Dutiful Passage, Korval's flagship; Ride the Luck, the ship Aelianna Caylon wins in a game of chance; and Bechimo, the old-tech starship with a mind of its own from Saltation and Ghost Ship.
Crapsack World: Surebleak, up through I Dare (though this is starting to change as of that book and Ghost Ship).
Due to an oversight on the part of the original contract signers who booked Clan Korval to take them to what became Liad, the clan is technically still legally responsible for the welfare of the "passengers" (i.e. all Liadens) to this very day.(Or at least until the last chapter of I Dare.) Yes, Clan Korval noticed. Yes, they have been planning for a gajillion years that they would be able to fight an enemy of Liad if they had to all by themselves. Which is why they want as many people as possible to be pilots, get ahold of as many ships as they can, make lots of money trading, created Plan B (see above), etc.
On the individual level, being Crazy-Prepared is presented as a way of life for pilots in general (who in the Liaden universe tend to be a sort of combination of long-haul trucker, Top Gun fighter jock, samurai, and gunslinger) and Scouts especially. Examples include the firing range scene in I Dare where Pat Rin and Cheever McFarland unpack enough weapons between them to fill a table (including a number of hold-out weapons), or a large part of the "Standard rules" that are stated to "apply" to pilots in Saltation.
Even those who spend time around pilots without actually being one themselves can pick up on this. In Dragon Ship, Kamele applies the lesson she learned from watching Kiladi teach Theo how a pilot packs when she herself needs to pack to make the trip to Surebleak. As a result, she is able to abandon unnecessary possessions on board her cruise ship when she needs to escape the Department of the Interior agents who plan to abduct her—everything irreplaceable was already on her person.
The Clutch Turtles aren't really morons per se, so much as they appear to be large, slow, and fairly naive regarding human culture. But those who get on their bad side discover, very briefly, the error of their ways.
Their space drive could be considered a metaphor for the Turtles themselves: normally slow, quirky, and meandering, it can move very quickly and directly if the Turtles see sufficient need.
The Yxtrang — a culture / human subspecies entirely composed ofBadass Army, for whom conquest is a way of life — leave the Clutch strictly alone. In I Dare we find out why.
To the other denizens of the university on Delgado, Professor Jen Sar Kiladi seems to be a harmless albeit somewhat (all right, very) eccentric academic. But surprise—he's actually ex-Delm Korval Daav yos'Phelium, and he knows how to get dangerous very quickly at need.
Saltation: What is a banthawing? How does it teach bad habits?
Culture Clash: Even leaving aside alien aliens such as the Clutch Turtles, the trope is used often within the books due to the number of different human cultures in the galaxy (Terran, Liaden, Yxtrang, lost colony worlds), as well as the fact that pilots are a culture unto themselves and Scouts are a subculture unto themselves (so much so that the flexible mindset required in a Scout leads to alienation from the rest of hidebound Liaden culture). Culture shock is generally a given.
Did You Get a New Haircut?: When Aelliana returns to the family home at the beginning of Mouse and Dragon, so altered that none of her relatives recognize her at first, her sister is so stunned that all she can think to say is "you've done something with your hair". (She has, in fact, had an Expository Hair Style Change, but of the changes it's perhaps the least significant in itself.)
Dirty Mind-Reading: In I Dare, there is a remarkable carpet called the Sinner's Rug; it comes from a world where adjudged sinners are required to make and display carpets depicting their sin, and this particular example of the type depicts a group of people performing a variety of imaginative sex acts. In the short story "Persistence", it's revealed that the maker of the carpet was an unlicensed telepath, and the rug represents not what she did herself but what she overheard before she was caught.
Domestic Abuse: Aelliana's brother practiced this on her constantly. He also arranged for her to get contract-married off to an abusive husband too.
Dude, Where's My Reward?: The reward for saving the planet is to get unceremoniously booted off the planet forever. This actually works out well for Korval, who had grown tired of the responsibility of looking out for an ungrateful planet for several hundred years, and had somewhere else to go, but some of the other Liadens who helped out, and received the same "reward", are less fortunate.
Many Liaden families, especially those whose surnames have the dea' prefix, have a family business or profession that they specialise in. dea'Gauss is lawyers and accountants; dea'San is taxis; dea'Judan is shopkeepers. How a given family copes with a child who has no proficiency for the family trade varies considerably.
On the Terran side, it's not uncommon for individual spaceships to be run as a family small business. The protagonist's family in Balance of Trade is one example.
Fourth Date Marriage: Anthora and Ren Zel get engaged after they've met exactly twice. The second meeting does end up with Ren Zel spending the night at Anthora's place (and apparently they don't spend much of it sleeping), but even he's bemused by how quickly things develop. Anthora often seems vague, but when she's made up her mind, she doesn't hang about.
It helps that, being "wizards," Anthora and Ren Zel's contact ends with each of them knowing literally everything about the other. Once that's happened, why beat around the bush?
Each new culture presented in the series has its own slang, as well as non-slang words in common usage and honorifics. Some of these derive from English or other present languages (such as "onagrata", Delgado's term for a contract-husband-cum-concubine; Word of God states it was derived from persona non grata, assuming that if there was such thing as a "non grata" person, there must be the "grata" kind as well); others' origins are less clear.
There are also plenty of borrowed words from other languages as well, particularly Liaden (especially for concepts that do not have a simple translation into English, such as melant'i).
There are also some corruptions of modern-day English words, such as "handwich" for sandwich.
Gambit Roulette: Aware of the Department of the Interior's machinations, Liaden's Scouts hatch a cunning plan: they will destroy the DoI from within by feeding Val Con yos'Phelium to it without giving him any forewarning or preparation, counting on his line's Weirdness Magnet nature to throw a monkeywrench into its schemes. Given the way There Are No Coincidences in the Liaden Universe, this effectively turns a Roulette Gambit into a Batman Gambit.
Clonak stared at him as if he’d taken leave of his wits. “Well, of course we gave you to them, Shadow! Who else did we have more likely to trump them than a first-in, pure-blood yos’Phelium scout commander? Concentrated random action. Would we waste such a weapon? Would you? I didn’t think so.[...]"
Genre Savvy: Clan Korval has had plenty of time to become accustomed to its own Coincidence Magnet nature. As a result, it takes some pretty bizarre happenstance to more than mildly startle its more-experienced members, and they are at least somewhat able to recognize and take it into account in their planning (as when Daav advises Theo that she needs a dependable co-pilot to help deal with the trouble her Korval nature will attract in Ghost Ship). To some extent, the rest of the galaxy has also realized that Korval tends to attract trouble, even if they don't rightly understand why. (Even Bechimo was advised by his builders, hundreds of years ago, against having anything to do with Clan Korval, and yos'Phelium in particular.)
A Glass in the Hand: In Conflict of Honors, Shan does this when he thinks Priscilla might be dead.
Anne treats Er Thom as this, having decided to have a Secret Pregnancy and not mention it to him.
In Fledgling, the planet Delgado is revealed to have a very matriarchal culture, in which women may choose to have offspring without the men getting a say in it. When Kamele Waitley chooses to have a child (Theo) by Professor Jen Sar Kiladi, she gets more than she bargained for.
Government Conspiracy: A secret organization that has infiltrated the government at the highest levels (despite using a government-style name, it is not clear that it was ever a subsidiary of the government per se) is against any non-Liadens and half-Liadens. (This makes it seem a bit illogical that they'd recruit a full-blooded Liaden who has tons of human and half-Liaden relatives...)
Hand Signals: Starship pilots are taught a hand-signal language used to communicate in situations where verbal communication is difficult. They also use it to carry on private conversations under the noses of non-pilots.
Have You Come to Gloat?: After Bar Jan chel'Gaibin is seriously injured in a duel he forces on Jethri, Jethri visits him and chel'Gaibin asks if he's come to gloat. Jethri hasn't; the local (Terran) authorities have asked him to act as a translator, as the only Liaden-speaking Terran on port, to ensure that language barriers don't prevent chel'Gaibin receiving fair treatment.
Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Clutch Turtles are perpetually bemused by the strange behaviors and values of the "hasty" humans, and often misinterpret social cues (as in the Accidental Marriage entry just above). It is only when they begin to perceive that Val Con and Miri are in trouble that one of them starts to develop a remarkable level of empathy for the way humans think in order to figure out how best to help them.
Identical Granddaughter: Miri Tiazan and Miri Robertson. The first time Robertson sees her grandmother's portrait, it takes her a moment to realise it isn't a mirror.
I Have No Son: Fairly common in the clans and clan-like family structures that predominate in the settings: people cast out of clans are not simply disowned, they are ceremonially declared dead. Characters to have this happen to them include Priscilla Mendoza, Ren Zel dea'Judan, and Ran Eld Caylon.
Improbable Piloting Skills: Though given the emphasis on piloting, studying, ship owning, and breeding for pilot-fast reflexes in the books (and the Artificial Human breeding stock (from the Great Migration duology) that founded the clan), it might be slightly less improbable to expect the members of Korval to do what they do.
As shown in Fledgling, pilot-fast reflexes are a genetic feature of the Korval line; only one known born-in-clan member (Kareen) does not seem to have any vestige of piloting talent. Pat Rin, who was psychically influenced by Kareen into failing his piloting tests, finds his piloting talent later in life.
The Jeeves: Who else but Jeeves the eponymous robotic Battle Butler, a rehabilitated decommissioned war machine who it turns out actually adopted his name and manner specifically from certain ancient novels (after having suffered at the hands of a character who is entirely coincidentally named Roderick Spode).
Klingon Promotion: Apparently, the only way to get ahead on Surebleak is to kill the old boss.
Legacy of Service: The family firm of dea'Gauss have served as attorneys to Clan Korval through many generations. One of the prequels reveals that it was a dea'Gauss who did the paperwork for the founding of the Clan, centuries ago, and Korval has had them on retainer ever since.
Literal Surveillance Bug: In Fledgling, Win Ton catches an insect-like device spying on the Delgado party (though it is referred to as a "spying device" as the parties discussing it apparently do not use the colloquialism "bug").
Lost Him in a Card Game: Played with in Plan B, with a character who's fallen so low that not only did his last master stake him in a card game, the bet was that the loser had to keep him.
Lost Technology: "Old Tech" or "Befores", Clarkian technology from the waning days of the previous universe (as seen in Crystal Soldier and Crystal Dragon) and the early days of the present universe. Much of it was designed by or derived from tech designed by the Sheriekas, the evolved transhumans responsible for rendering that universe inhospitable to ordinary human life, and it usually carries their malign influence. One of the primary missions of the Scouts is to sequester or destroy any remnants of that technology that still exist, whether harmful or not, as well as research it to try to derive safe versions. This can sometimes bring them into conflict with others—such as Uncle or Clan Korval—who take a more enlightened stance toward using that technology. Likewise, the Department of the Interior recognizes the inherent advantage in having as much Old Tech as they can.
Magnetic Plot Device: It is frequently said throughout the course of the series that "the Luck" moves strangely about Clan Korval—hence the clan is one great big Coincidence Magnet. It is never explained why exactly this is so, but everyone who believes in "the Luck" seems to regard it as an immutable fact of life. Also, it is shown to be every bit as genetically heritable as the famed Clan Korval piloting ability, regardless of whether its inheritor is officially in the clan or not.
Manchurian Agent: In the old universe, the aelantaza were a group of genetically-engineered assassin-spies who had the ability to act in deep cover, using a Memory Gambit to submerge themselves in an innocent persona. Cantra was born and raised aelantaza before her family were killed, and her use of the ability in the rescue of Master dea'Syl forms a large part of Crystal Dragon. The ability to submerge oneself in an assumed persona also shows up to some extent in her descendants, particularly Daav with his double life as Jen Sar Kiladi (and probably also plays a role in Val Con's missions as an Agent of Change).
Mandatory Motherhood: Under the Liaden clan system, everyone has to produce a biological heir, but raising the child yourself (as a single parent) seems to be optional/left to relatives/nannies/boarding school a lot.
Matriarchy: Several, generally classic Patriarch Flips. Delgado, the one seen in most detail, is one such. Women hold all the authority while men are treated as Glorified Sperm Donors.
Mindlink Mates: how lifemating is supposed to work on a psychic level. Can lead to:
Synchronization, which presumably kills Er Thom after Anne's murder, and injures Miri along with Val Con. (Did not happen to Daav, though.)
Sharing a Body: What happened to Aelliana and Daav after she was murdered instead.
Also, in Dragon ShipTheo's "bonding" as the official captain of Bechimo involves mental linking.
Miss Kitty: Miss Audrey is a brothel owner in the Space Western equivalent of a frontier town. She's a canny businesswoman, and closer to being a respected community leader than the guys who are officially in charge. She even runs a school out of one of the back rooms.
The Mourning After: Liaden lifemate marriages do not provide for divorce nor allow remarriage, even after a spouse's death.
And true lifemating can often lead to the nondeceased soon following the deceased party into death (Er Thom & Anne) or else the deceased taking up residence in the nondeceased's head (Daav & Aelianna).
No Bisexuals: According to the authors' FAQ, having a child has nothing to do with who you prefer to boink on your own time, and everyone should be assumed to be bisexual. That said, bisexuality is rarely seen, except for Dagmar, Priscilla, and Lina (two of whom aren't Liaden) in Conflict Of Honors, and the lover of the patient from "This House".
Bell, in the short story "Phoenix", has serious manic-depressive issues that he manages using various non-medical coping strategies because the available medical treatment also completely suppresses his (extraordinary) gift for painting.
In Fledgling, Kamele's decision not to medicate Theo out of her "clumsiness" was made after carefully researching the potential side-effects of the pharmaceuticals in question and finding them to be considerable.
No Pronunciation Guide: Although there are occasional hints, such as Zhena Trelu's one and only attempt to pronounce Val Con's full name. The authors have promised a pronunciation guide for the web site, but when they'll have enough time to compile it in between writing the actual series is anyone's guess.
Not What It Looks Like: In Fledgling, Theo Waitley and Win Ton confess to Kamele that they have been indulging in risky activity. They mean to explain that they have been playing the physically hazardous sport of Bowli ball with other pilots, but their nervous stammering and lack of specific details at first lead Kamele to quite another conclusion.
True lifemating is so rare that many Liadens think it's just a romantic myth or a metaphor — and it's happened five times in Clan Korval in the last two generations. Attributed to the meddling of Jelaza Kazone.
After the first few books, the Lost Technology of the previous universe goes from almost-unheard-of to practically lurking around every corner.
Old Retainer: Mr dea'Gauss has personally been serving Clan Korval since before the current head of the clan was born; his ancestors have served in the same role since the day Clan Korval was founded.
One Degree of Separation: As a result of the Korval clan's Coincidence Magnet nature, many non-Korval characters find their paths crossing Korval's repeatedly in improbable ways. It sometimes seems as if every minor character in the entire universe is related to Korval in ways that just haven't been revealed yet.
On a related note, it appears that almost every bad thing that happens to Clan Korval in any of the books or stories set more recently than the Balance of Trade series can be laid at the feet of the shadowy Department of the Interior.
Overly Long Name: Clutch names describe your personality/resume as well as your actual name. They can take hours to recite in their full form.
Parental Abandonment: Any child born of a temporary marriage is pre-assigned to the family of one parent or the other, and the other parent has no part in the raising of the child. Also, Daav eventually becomes a Disappeared Dad after Aelliana dies (and again, to his new family, after Plan B necessitates his return to Korval). It's implied that something bad/iffy happened with Er Thom after Anne's death as well.
In the Jethri books, Jethri's mentor Master Trader ven'Deelin also becomes the mother he never had.
Luken is Pat Rin's official foster father, so some degree of this would be expected, but it's notable that they habitually refer to or address one another as "father" and "son" without using any qualifiers. Ghost Ship shows this extending to the next generation, with Pat Rin's offspring addressing Luken as "grandfather" (to the confusion of an outsider who had gathered, as is technically true, that Luken has no grandchildren).
Inverted in Fledgling, where Theo's counselor tells her that it is "antisocial" to refer to Professor Jen Sar Kiladi as "father". In the culture of Delgado, minors do not normally learn who their father is until their gigneri renders them officially adults.
Passing the Torch: Among the supporting cast, a new dea'Gauss is introduced at the end of I Dare, following old Mr dea'Gauss's retirement.
Perception Filter: Scouts (and Agents of Change) are taught to stand perfectly still in such a way as to be almost impossible for ordinary people to spot.
In Dragon Ship, Theo panics the psi-sensitives at a business she visits by starting to imitate Daav's way of disappearing in this manner.
Also in Dragon Ship, Kamele Waitley is tipped off to the Department of the Interior's agents in time to escape their plan to abduct her because Daav in his Kiladi persona had taught her how to notice people doing that.
Averted in Conflict of Honors, when Priscilla misunderstands Shan's warning that he will have no murderers on board after she was forced to take a life in self-defense.
Poor communication nearly kills in Scout's Progress, as Daav's reluctance to reveal to Aelianna precisely who he was led her to return to her house alone where her abusive brother locked her in the sleeplearner.
Puberty Superpower: It is said that psychic powers tend to manifest during the teen years, although there are exceptions (the occasion on which it is said is the discovery that three-year-old Shan is already manifesting).
Reader-Friendly Interface: Carpe Diem appears to offer a textbook example when the classified file Nova was "downloading" appeared at reading speed on the screen, then "The image on the screen shivered, broke apart, and went blank" when someone noticed the unauthorized access. (But given all the ways of creating anti-copy-and-paste DRM in vogue even today, may possibly be a Justified Trope.)
Really 700 Years Old: Thanks to the Old Tech Uncle collects, he and Dulsey (and perhaps a small number of their staff) may be the only remaining survivors of the old universe from the Crystal duology, hundreds of years prior to the present day.
It was a plan somewhat short on detail, but Nelirikk never doubted it would succeed. It was much too audacious to fail.
In fact, this trope is Clan Korval's very way of life, as expressed most fully in the clan motto of "I Dare".
Reincarnation: Shan and Priscilla are the reincarnations of Lute and Moonhawk (who get covered more in short stories).
Rite of Passage: There are many of these from many cultures mentioned in the books. Examples:
Fledgling features the "gigneri" from Delgado, in which a minor loses her virginity and learns who her father is at the same time. An older variation on the gigneri separates these two events, and is used to give Theo the freedom to pursue piloting lessons without forcing her to have sex.
The permanent silver earring Daav wears in one ear is part of the marriage ritual on a primitive planet where Daav spent time as a Scout.
Obtaining a pilot's license seems to be an informal rite of passage for Clan Korval.
Serious Business: Everything, to Liadens, is serious business. Special notice goes to professional status, though; Pilots and Traders, among other professions, are usually capitalized and consider professional brotherhood to be almost as important as clan loyalty, something which even extends to Terrans in the same profession.
Shout-Out: Many places, people, and things are named for elements of other works. A few examples:
In Fledgling, an academic is accused of falsifying her sources, and the forensic literature workgroup charged with investigating her work does so using a venerable technique known as the Antonio Smith Method.
Pat Rin's Surebleak nom de guerre, Conrad, comes from Roger Zelazny's "...And Call Me Conrad".
In Crystal Dragon, Moreta's Flight was a hyperspace jump of unusual duration.
The rust-colored elderly norbear Hevelin was named in honor of Rusty Hevelin, a respected elder of the SF fandom community (who has since passed away).
Single-Minded Twins: Meicha and Miandra Maarilex, in Balance of Trade, dress identically, move in coordination, and exchange Twin Banter; people have trouble telling them apart (though their grandmother is unerring, especially when one is in trouble), and their uncle refers to them as "Meichamiandra". (It being a setting with psychic powers, they also have a touch of Twin Telepathy.) They become more distinct as the novel progresses.
Sleep Learning: In the prequel Balance of Trade, Jethri's lessons in the Liaden language are supplemented with "tapes that played while he slept". (In the main sequence, several centuries later, there is a wide-spread method called "sleep learning", but it is based on neural induction technology that works by implanting information into otherwise unused neurons, not the "sleeping with a tape recorder" idea that this trope is mainly about.)
Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Ranging from Type 1 up to somewhere between Type 3 and 4. The Defense Pods seen in Plan B and Ghost Ship are Type 1, but Jeeves and Bechimo are at the higher end of the scale.
Some Call Me Tim: One of the main characters in the series is... (deep breath), "Eleventh Shell Fifth Hatched Knife Clan of Middle River's Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spearmakers Den: The Edger." And that's the short form of his name, "used by the Clans of Men on those things called visas." His human and Liaden friends just call him "Edger".
Space Elves: The Liaden are more or less Type I. Although to call them this is as much as an oversimplification as it is in most other cases, it does merit special mention for being lampshaded in the second book.
He glanced up, smiling. "It's my Uncle Richard's fancy that Liadens are the 'little people' of Old Terra's legends. Thus, Arthur Galen, Johnny, Nora, and Annie Galen. And their foster brother, the king of Elfland."
Space Jews: The kompani, introduced in Necessity's Child and the short story "Eleutherios", are a band of secretive travelers who keep to themselves, have mystical powers, tell fortunes with decks of cards, have extremely good technological artificing skills, and disdain/steal from most outsiders. The authors have acknowledged that they're inspired by the Romani.
Space Trucker: Some of the courier pilots; in I Dare there's a scene where Cheever and Pat Rin have breakfast in an eatery that serves mainly pilots, and the food is stereotypical truck-stop fare complete with Hash House Lingo that causes Pat Rin to doubt his grasp of the Terran language.
In fact, pilots (or at least most of the ones encountered in the books) are usually presented as a combination of long-haul trucker, Top Gun fighter jock, samurai, and gunslinger.
Spock Speak: Liadens speak in very polite and frequently roundabout form. This is in part because the stories often draw inspiration from Edwardian romances, and partly because Liadens are a culture where the slightest insult might provoke a lethal duel, depending on the temperament of the one insulted. It also frequently serves as a Translation Convention to give readers a sense of the formalized structure of the Liaden, especially High Liaden, tongue.
Spirit Advisor: Moonhawk for Priscilla in Conflict of Honors; Moonhawk and Lute for Priscilla in "Moonphase"; Lute for Shan in Plan B (and Moonhawk for Shan in I Dare)
Spot of Tea: Liadens usually drink tea, while Terrans prefer coffee.
Staff of Authority: Each department chair at the University of Delgado has a staff of office. At least one of them has a concealed sword built into it.
Starship Luxurious: On several occasions, the novels have contrasted Terran ships (small, utilitarian) with Liaden ships (huge, luxurious) as a way of drawing attention to just how rich Liaden traders are. (Though there are exceptions in both directions; the Liaden trade vessel Daxflan in Conflict of Honors is relatively small and utilitarian, and no preparation for the point-of-view character's later experience of the Dutiful Passage, while the Terran spaceliner in Fledgling is pretty swish.)
Super Fun Happy Thing of Doom: The Department of the Interior, a secret Liad-supremacist terrorist conspiracy, is named for the department of the US government in charge of looking after national parks.
Sword Cane: Professor Kiladi, Gallowglass Chair of Cultural Genetics at the University of Delgado, doesn't have a mere sword cane, he has a sword concealed in his professorial staff of office. It has not been established whether this is his own improvement or whether the staff of office was made like that in the first place. (The latter is not out of the question, considering that the Gallowglass Foundation was set up to support cultural genetics research and education following a series of incidents in which a nationalist organisation attempted to shut down a line of research they disapproved of using methods up to and including assassination.)
Tarot Motifs: In "Moon's Honor", each chapter is headed with the name of one of the Major Arcana and a brief description of what it signifies.
"Moon's Honor" also has a scene in the fourth chapter featuring an actual tarot deck, which makes use of the common confusion about the meaning of the Death card. (The male lead thinks it signifies a literal death, and is greatly disturbed; the female lead knows it more accurately as "the change card", and is not so worried.)
In Necessity's Child, the female lead is learning to do readings with a tarot-like deck of cards particular to her native culture. Some of the individual cards are recognisable from their descriptions as variants of actual tarot cards (for instance, the card called The Burning House is a version of the tarot card called The Tower).
Telepathy: The Dramliz and healers have this, as do lifemates. Sometimes they may have more trouble not listening to people's inner thoughts (as with Anthora and Theo in Ghost Ship).
There Are No Coincidences: In the Liaden universe, fate often seems to be an active agent with a will of its own. Characters refer to it as "event" or "the Luck," and it is said to move in strange ways around those of Clan Korval and Line yos'Phelium in particular, making them the ultimate Weirdness Magnet. Individuals who are Genre Savvy enough to recognize it (including those of Korval themselves) make allowances for it in their plans—Bechimo's builders who warned him to steer clear of Clan yos'Phelium in Ghost Ship, and Zaneth Katrina who wishes nothing to do with Clan Korval at the present time because the Luck is too unsettled in Dragon Ship. Those who don't believe in the Luck or the powers of the dramliza end up puzzled by the way Korval is always at the nexus of extraordinary happenstance and often assign human intentions to utter coincidence. (Or what would be utter coincidence if it weren't for the Luck causing it.)
For example: what are the odds that a half-brainwashed Agent of Change disengaging from a mission would meet, become companions with, and eventually lifemate a woman who happens to be the granddaughter of a missing member of a long-lost clan with whom his is allied—a woman who grew up on the planet that his cousin is shortly going to civilize so Clan Korval can move to? And that this woman's own clan's world is about to be invaded by Yxtrangi, bringing with them the very member of that race he had encountered ten years before? The entire series is one long chain of increasingly unlikely "coincidences". (It drives the Department of the Interior, and more than a few people who are actually in the know about Clan Korval's history with the Luck, right up the wall.)
Time Dissonance: Turtles are very long-lived, and don't believe in rushing things. In one short story, the Knife Clan makes a knife for their first human customer, using their usual technique, then finds that in the (to them) short time this takes their customer has died of old age.
Time for Plan B: Clan Korval's emergency "clan is under attack, everyone bug out, get weapons, and maintain radio silence" plan is officially named "Plan B". (Word of God is that "Plan B" was a working draft term for the real name of the plan, intended to be replaced in the edit process when they could come up with suitable Liaden nomenclature, but it somehow stuck.) It's pretty telling that Clan Korval has had this plan in reserve pretty much since they landed on the home planet.
Plan B went on to also be the title of a novel showing the Clan acting on the Plan. Word of God is that the title of the book was actually decided upon for them by fans during the long gap between their publisher rejecting further books in the series after the third (in which the name "Plan B" was first mentioned) and the authors learning they had an unexpected Internet fan movement. Fans kept asking them when Plan B was coming out, and they chose to take advantage of the name recognition when they found a publisher for future books in the series.
Took a Level in Badass: Kamele Waitley in Dragon Ship, when she rises above her naive ivory-tower absorption in her researches to realize she is being stalked—and takes effective and unexpected action to get away.
Translation Convention: When characters are speaking in foreign languages, the discussions are commonly translated into English (save for foreign words such as melant'i that don't have simple translations). However, the English translations still maintain a particular flavor of the language. (For example, conversations in formal "High Liaden" are rendered in somewhat stilted passive-voice, often with the speaker referring to himself in the third person (as "one").)
In Scout's Progress, Aelianna Caylon, despite being acknowledged as the foremost mathematical mind on Liad and the indirect saviour of many starship pilots, is The Unfavourite of her mother's children, and has been a target of her brother's abuse ever since they were children, when they overheard a conversation in which Aelianna was recommended to their mother over her brother as the best candidate for being her heir. Her brother was chosen instead, but has abused the position by taking out his resentment on Aelianna ever since; their mother refuses to recognize the situation.
One of the reasons Kareen yos'Phelium turned out so unpleasant was that she was the unfavourite, even though she was her mother's eldest child and would have been the clear heir except that she turned out to lack aptitude for the family business. Passing her over as head of the family would have been one thing by itself, but it's suggested that her mother pretty much regarded her as a waste of space and ignored all the useful aptitudes she did have.
Unfazed Everywoman: Kamele Waitley, who over the course of knowing Professor Jen Sar Kiladi goes from being a naive, cloistered ivory-tower academic (Fledgling, Saltation) to setting out to "rescue" Kiladi from Clan Korval but ending up rescuing herself from the machinations of the Department of the Interior instead (Ghost Ship, Dragon Ship).
In "Moonphase", Lute and Moonhawk tell Priscilla that the Sintian church has done everything it can to keep their reincarnations apart ever since the last time they were reincarnated together (covered in "Where the Goddess Sends" and related stories)—implying that there might be serious repercussions for the church now that Priscilla and Shan have finally gotten back together. Certainly the church has some Balance coming to it after the way it kicked Priscilla out and declared her dead. As yet, however, there's been no sign that any Balance toward Sintia is forthcoming.
What Have We Ear?: Lute does this to Moonhawk in the course of a magic lesson in "The Wine of Memory".
When Trees Attack: Jelaza Kazone, who managed to be the last survivor of a Planet Eater's attack. Is also not averse to scaring the heck out of someone it doesn't want marrying into the family.
Shan walks around with a glass of red wine all the time. Does he even drink from it?
In addition to the "usual" red and white wines, Liadens also have canary wine and blue wine (Misravot). This seems to be used as an establishing detail to help show how different the universe is from our own.
World Tree: Jelaza Kazone, the gigantic tree that literally lies at the foundation of clan Korval's family tree, and which in modern times is about a quarter of a mile high. The name - Jela's Fulfillment - is a remembrance of the promise that Jela's partner made to him that she would protect the tree - a promise that is considered (according to Val Con, the current head of the family) to have led directly to the colonization of the planet, since she needed a safe place for the Tree. It is an intelligent being (although most outsiders don't seem to be aware of this), and is considered a member of the family.
Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: In Crystal Dragon, the assassin Veralt pauses before killing Cantra to inform her that it was him who killed her mother. "She died as she had lived — a fool, and begging me not to harm you." He intends this to show her how thoroughly she's beaten, but only succeeds in pushing her Relative Button and giving her a Heroic Second Wind.
Xanatos Speed Chess: Clan Korval's countermeasures against the Department of the Interior after Plan B kicks off, especially during I Dare. The conflict escalates with dizzying intensity, each agency acting to counter the other, until it culminates in Clan Korval obliterating several cubic miles of city to destroy dangerous Lost Technology doomsday weapons.
Uncle lives to play Xanatos's game, especially in the books beginning with Saltation, though we aren't privy to most of the moves. In Dragon Ship, he comes to realize that Xanatos Chess is riskier than he had expected when some of the pieces are Korval—and the only thing he can do is try to play faster.
You Watch Too Much X: In Balance of Trade, Miandra says that some of her sister's stranger ideas about Terrans come from reading too many adventure stories.