A fantasy series by former theater critic Robert V.S. Redick, set in a world called Alifros. Its most powerful nation Arqual has been trying to take total control of all other nations, with the only group strong enough to challenge them being the theocratic Mzithrini. But finally, it appears that peace may be possible between these two great powers, as the Arqualis offer one of their own citizens as the wife of a prominent Mzithrin. For a voyage of this importance, the massive trade ship Chathrand is pulled out of mothballs and stocked full of all the Arqualis who want to witness the historical event.Except that's not really what's going on at all. Lowly deckhands Pazel Pathkendle and Neeps Undrabust, along with the "Treaty Bride" Thasha Isiq herself, come to realize that the marriage is actually part of a Evil Plan to crush the Mzithrini once and for all. And this is far from the only sinister plot being forged on the ship. Pazel, Neeps, and Thasha will have to work out just who they can trust and who is their enemy, something made even more complicated by just which Evil Plan they're trying to stop at the moment.The series is now complete and consists of the following volumes:
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
The Ruling Sea
The River of Shadows
The Night of the Swarm
Provides examples of:
Action Girl: Thasha has been trained in swordfighting most of her life, and is initially far more skilled than Pazel and Neeps.
The Plazic Blades, swords made from eguar bones that are used by the leaders of Bali Adro. They grant their wielders great magical power, but do a number on their sanity along the way.
Bad Boss: Captain Rose is arrogant, bad-tempered, ruthless, and has little regard for anyone else, so of course he falls into this. He apparently once had a man flogged for hiccuping. Oddly manages to overlap with A Father to His Men- Rose's men don't like him at all, but they absolutely trust his seamanship and leadership ability when the chips are down.
Apparently anyone crossing between universes is forced into another form. The human wizard Ramachni is changed into a mink whenever he enters Alifros, though he doesn't seem to mind at all.
Lady Oggosk's cat, Sniraga, used to be her sister.
Berserk Button: Accusations of insanity are the worst imaginable insult to the dlomu.
Big Bad Ensemble: There are lots of independent villains running around this story; the three most prominent are Sandor Ott, Arunis and Macadra. The Shaggat thinks he's one, but he's really a tool for the other two. Master Mugstur and Taliktrum are more straightforward Big Bad Wannabes. Then there's the Swarm of Night, which is a bigger threat than all of them combined but is simply a near-mindless entity following its nature rather than an actively malevolent force.
The Big Bad Shuffle: See all those guys above? They're pretty much all manipulating each other nonstop, making it really hard to pin down who exactly is responsible for what at times.
Bigger Bad: The Night Gods are Arunis's patrons and he intends to become one himself, but they don't really do anything beyond setting Arunis his "final exam"- sterilizing Alifros.
Big Good: Depending on the currently-dominant plotline, either Ramachni, Empress Maisa, or Erithusme.
Blessed with Suck: Pazel goes through periods when he can completely comprehend any language he sees or hears a sample of, and remembers them all afterwards. Trouble is, these periods end with him being unable to speak intelligibly or comprehend language at all for quite a while.
It turns out his sister Neda was also hit by it: she can store perfect memories of her whole life, but they come and go at unpredictable times.
Blood Knight: Sandor Ott, though a scheming mastermind par excellence, absolutely relishes the chances he gets to get his own hands dirty. As Pazel comes to realize, it's less that he loves violence and more that he's addicted to it.
Cats Are Mean: Sniraga. Though she has her moments in the Heel-Face Revolving Door like everyone else. She's actually Lady Oggosk's sister and has been trapped in cat-form for decades. No wonder she's upset all the time.
Chekhov's Gun: Ramachni gives Pazel the use of three powerful spells that can each be used once, before disappearing from his memory: controlling fire, turning someone to stone, and "blinding to give new sight." Naturally, Pazel agonizes a bit over the right time to use each, especially since neither he nor Ramachni actually knows what that last one really means.
There's also a literal one: the pistol is invented midway through the story and Sandor Ott gets his hands on a prototype. Savvy readers know right then what will eventually happen.
One of the first things established about the ixchel is that they have a reputation for sinking human ships. Taliktrum manages to destroy Macadra's flagship in his final act of redemption.
Chekhov M.I.A.: Pazel's mother and sister. In the first chapter he's informed that they're alive after years of wondering if they escaped Arqual's invasion, though his search for them is more or less permanently sidetracked by the various plots on the ship.
The Chessmaster: Sandor Ott is very, very good. Arunis is arguably better when it comes to setting long-term plans in motion, but isn't as good at rolling with setbacks.
Cloudcuckoolander: The Shaggat is a murdering madman with a god complex. His sons, on the other hand, are just plain wierd, especially Erthalon, who apparently thinks he's divinely destined to be king of a colony of small white monkeys on a remote island and abandons war with Arqual because the monkeys need him. Sheesh.
Cunning Linguist: Pazel. Even before his "gift" activated he was very good with languages. With it, he can communicate with just about anyone.
Draco in Leather Pants: Invoked and parodied in the fourth book; the editor aka Felthrup is accosted while working on the manuscript by a student who is convinced against all evidence to the contrary that Fulbreech of all people was the real hero of the story, much to Felthrup's disgust. Amusingly, Fulbreech bares a striking resemblance to the Trope Namer.
The Dreaded: The Shaggat Ness. Even Sandor Ott is fearful of meeting him in person, though he quickly recovers his composure.
The Empire: Two of them set off the plot of the series; Arqual is cosmopolitan but agressively expansionistic, while the Mzithrin is more insular and theocratic. They're traditional enemies, and neither is particularly nice.
Later, we're introduced to a third, Bali Adro, which was originally quite a noble society before morphing into the worst of the three, thanks to some machinations from the Raven Society. Fortunately, by the time the protagonists reach it it's largely burned itself out.
Empowered Badass Normal: Thasha is an extremely skilled swordswoman and later finds out that she's the reincarnation of a powerful mage.
Evil Twin: Macadra's flagship Death's Head is virtually identical to Chathrand, except that it's fully outfitted as a warship instead of an armed merchant/passenger ship.
Eviler than Thou: Mostly between Ott and Arunis. In the third book, Macadra joins the fray. By the end of the fourth, in order of descending threat they seem to go Arunis, Macadra, Ott (which is not to say old Sandor isn't a threat, but he's just one mortal man pitted against two immortal, psychotic sorcerers). Ott, however, is the only one who lives to fight another day at the end of the series.
Fallen Hero: What little is revealed about Arunis' backstory implies that he's one.
Fantasy Gun Control: Averted; all naval ships are armed with cannon, and Sandor Ott carries a prototype pistol. Guns are hardly the standard weapon in Alifros, but it looks like things will be heading that way in a century or two.
Fat Bastard / Lean and Mean: Arunis has legitmately been both. When disguised as Mr. Ket he's decidedly portly. After dropping the disguise he stops bothering to take care of his body and gradually wastes away to a gaunt, ghoulish figure.
Fingore: Hercol suffers through an especially gruesome version which is thankfully offpage. From the description later, it seems that each of his fingers was actually subjected to a different kind of torture.
Gambit Pileup: And how! It gets to the point where you'll have trouble remembering whose side anyone is on without notes.
Glass Cannon: Ramachni is upfront from the start that he's good for just a few pieces of powerful magic, after which he'll have to return to his own dimension for a long while to recover his strength.
A God Am I: The Shaggat Ness believes he has become a god, and is destined to conquer the world for the Mzithrini. Arunis doesn't think he's a god, but is working hard on becoming one.
God Emperor: The Shaggat Ness. "Shaggat" is Mzithrini for "God King".
Heel-Face Revolving Door: Quite a few characters, though their motivations never really change; they're just on the heroes' side or not based on whether it helps their own goals at the moment. But the real king of the trope is Dr. Ignus Chadfallow. You're never sure whose side he's on.
Heel-Face Turn: On the other hand, Jervik is the first character who makes a concious effort to turn from evil to good. In the third book he's joined in this category by Chadfallow (who finally settles on "good"), Captain Rose, Taliktrum, Talag, and Niriviel though the first three of these all get Redemption Equals Death.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The sea murth Klyst hits Pazel with the love spell her people use to lure humans to their deaths. Except her casting the spell allows Pazel to comprehend her language, and when he uses some of it, the spell rebounds back to her. It's especially creepy as she knows full well what's happened, yet is powerless to do anything, and is even driven to try to kill herself if Pazel tries to reverse the spell.
Horde of Alien Locusts: The Swarm is not one, but strongly resembles one in appearance and behavior, which is how it got its name.
Hot-Blooded: Neeps is very good at starting fights. Unluckily for him, he's not very good at winning at least until he and Pazel get training from Thasha and Hercol.
Karma Houdini: Sandor Ott is still at large at the end of the series, and appears to have joined up with the new Shaggat, Malabron, to get revenge against the people who stole "his" Arqual. Of course, seeing as Felthrup has his skull in the future, it would appear karma caught up with him off-page.
Knight Templar: Master Mugstur is a Knight Templarrat, of all things. Sandor Ott is a more straightforward one. His morality is simple- Arqual is Good. Anything or anyone that opposes Arqual has to go, now.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Several footnotes and a couple brief chapters paint the books as an in-universe attempt by a professor in Alifros long after the events to set the record straight about what exactly happened, based on several accounts buried in his university's archives. The professor is actually Felthrup, sent to the future by Ramachni.
Our Mermaids Are Different: Inverted, as the murths go all the way back to the original depictions of mermaids: mostly human-looking but with very sharp teeth, and mostly surviving on humans who they hypnotise into following them home.
Our Orcs Are Different: The hrathmogs don't appear much, but from what little the reader does seem of them they're pretty bog-standard (if hairy) orcs.
Sandor Ott becomes gradually more unhinged across the last book as his carefully laid plans start falling apart and he goes into a full-on Villainous BSOD when Niriviel betrays him.
Zigzagged by the Shaggat. He's completely berserk after being turned back to flesh to find the Nilstone is gone but when he shows up again near the end of the fourth book he's completely regained his composure, firmly convinced that the world is simply bending to his will. Neda proves him wrong by summarily executing him.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sandor Ott, of sorts; he's utterly devoted to his country to the extent of seeing "Arqual" and "Good" as synonymous, and is willing to do whatever it takes on the Empire's behalf. Arunis claims to be one if questioned directly about his motivations, but he's a consumate deciever and his actions show someone who's pure evil.
Dr. Chadfallow. See Heel-Face Revolving Door. He's actually Pazel's biological father, and was actually performing a desperate balancing act playing everyone else against each other to try and protect the boy as best he could.
Lady Oggosk is nearly as unpredictably, though she's less actively duplicitous than simply mysterious and unpleasant.
Syrarys. Is she Admiral Isiq's lover? Nope, she's Sandor Ott's mole and Lady Macbeth nope again, she works for Arunis.
Wizard Classic: Ramachni's true form is only glimpsed briefly, but this is apparently what he actually looks like. Normally, he's a black mink.
Wizards Live Longer: The most powerful ones can last for over a milennium. Arunis and Macadra both use unwholesome means to extend their lives beyond that; Arunis is a body snatcher, while Macadra's method isn't elaborated on.
Year Outside, Hour Inside: The Red Storm on the Ruling Sea causes hundreds of years to pass if you move through it northwards, but not the other way. This initially makes the heroes think that they've lost two hundred years and everyone they know on the other side is dead, when they're actually just working from outdated information from Bolutu, who already made the trip the other way.