A mysterious orphaned girl lives by herself on the garden of a Middle Eastern-esque palace, shunned by the nobility and considered a witch due to the black birthmarks around her eyes. A boy, son of the Sultan, manages to find out her secret: in the marks are written stories, which the girl agrees to narrate. Thus begins the Framing Device to The Orphan's Tales, a fantasy book in two volumes (In the Night Garden and The Cities of Coin and Spice) by Catherynne M. Valente. What follows is a complex plot that, heavily inspired by several fairy tales and the Arabian Nights, includes most of the tropes related to those stories and subverts, deconstructs or lampshades most of them along the way.
The Orphan's Tales provides examples of:
Aerith and Bob: Characters have names with Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Indian, African, Japanese, Eastern European, Greek, English and many other influences. Bonus points need to be given to Ragnhild and St. Sigrid, two women from Middle Eastern inspired cultures who have Scandinavian-sounding names.
Affably Evil: The Leucrotta is actually a fairly nice guy, if you don't try to fight him. Even then, he'd mostly kill you because that's his role in the story, not because he actually dislikes you.
Always Save the Girl: Eyvind sets out to defy all his country's laws and traditions to be with the girl he loves. He even changes his species. In the end he estranges himself for decades from everyone he knew and loved in the hopes of being reunited with her.
And the Adventure Continues: The story ends with Aerie, Lantern, Solace, Scald, and Sleeve showing up to embrace Sorrow as her family. The prince is sad, as he thinks his role in the story is over... until Sorrow reaches out to him, asking him to join her on her future adventures, and he follows her with great enthusiasm.
The Atoner: Leander's story almost entirely revolves around him attempting to bring back to life Aerie, who he foolishly killed. Later, it shifts to being about avenging Knife and Aerie, who have been wronged by his father
The Yi. They canít understand why people may be terrified by seeing of their dead loved ones, walking amongst them again. They seem to be offended by the law that forces them to wear distinguishing clothes.
The Gaselli. There's nothing wrong with eating people but it is an abomination to eat sheep or goats, because they look after the sheep and goats.
Blood Magic: Starlight is really the blood of the sky and can be used to perform some kinds of magic, like ShapeShifting.
Body Surf: The Yi possess the bodies of the dead, but the bodies that they use inevitably end up decaying and becoming unusable. There is also a necromancer who learns this art from the Man Dressed in the Moon. Because he isn't Yi bodies he inhabits don't decay the same way bodies inhabited by Yi do.
Brainless Beauty: Magadinís stepsisters are described as very beautiful, but also not too bright.
Dangerous Sixteenth Birthday: Sigrid is kidnapped by pirates when she is sixteen. It's lampshaded as "the age at which such catastrophes of serendipity occur."
Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Aukon fell in love with a mortal girl and took her without her consent. He additionally changed her shape for these of a cow and put her in the sky to keep her all for himself. Subverted since he was finally punish for this by his sister Aukai.
Eyes Do Not Belong There/Eyeless Face: One of the Giota triplets has no eyes on her face, but instead has them on her stomach. To round out the trifecta, one of her sisters has ears on her stomach rather than her head, and the last sister has her mouth on her stomach.
Famed in Story: Zmeya's tragic story is so popular people go mad from love for her, or like Oubliette try to follow her to the land of death.
Fantastic Ghetto: Magical beings and other non-humans in Shadukiam live in separated areas, outside of the rose dome. Djinn had their own crowded quarter, before they moved to Kash. Yi are forced to wear special clothes to distinguish them from normal people. Giota, an oracle who knows the answer to every question, chose to reside in the shadow of Basilica, where only the despised appear, to guide them.
Fantastic Racism: Between humans and almost every magical being, especially Stars.
Also how the Oluwa feel about the Griffin and vice-versa.
Fauns and Satyrs: Eshkol and her kinsmen. They are divided into families based on which tree they will turn into after their death.
Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Hind and Hadil appear to be this, but as the story progresses it becomes much more complicated as to whether or not being the "responsible" girl is actually a good thing to be.
Four Element Ensemble: Applied to all four tales. The Book of the Steppe is Earth, the Sea is Water, the Storm is Air, and the Scald is Fire.
Last of His Kind: Quri and Jin are the last of the griffins, as they have been hunted to extinction by the cyclops, until their eggs hatch.
Like Brother and Sister: During their time in Marrow Oubliette and Seven become very close and even sleep in the same bed, but donít show anything besides brotherly/sisterly devotion to each other. Itís subverted much later when Seven starts to develop more romantic interest in Oubliette. It makes her want to leave him behind and go find Zmeya.
Mad Oracle: Subverted with Giota. She pretends to be mad to scare off wealthy hypocrites and make space for those desperate enough (thus really in need) to seek her advice.
Mama Bear: Knife. She demands a quest of Leander to atone for the accidental murder of her daughter, and makes it clear that if she had thought it wasn't accidental, she would have "eaten his liver and smiled through the meal." Of course, as she's also Leander's mother, it's a little weird.
Meaningful Name: Sorrow, Solace, Knife, Hour, Seven, Snow, Scald, Dinarzad (Queen Scheherazade's sister in Arabian Nights) etc.
The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: When you change form, you body adjusts to this change. Played with in Aerie's case. She keeps a human mind inside a goose body, but thinks in inhuman categories, like nest and eggs instead of home and children.
Missing Mom: Most notably the Mare herself, but motherless children are a common occurrence in this story, whether because their mother is dead, disappeared, or just emotionally unavailable.
Moral Myopia: The Yi regularly kill sentient beings of every race or species, and see no reason why anyone would be upset at the sight of their loved ones' dead bodies walking around, possessed by a monster and decomposing. On the other hand, if one of their own is killed, they will tear the killer to shreds where he stands.
The Nameless: More than a few characters, as is standard practice in a fairy tale. Most interesting, though, the boy's name is never revealed. The girl appears to be going the same way until the very end.
Nested Story: At points in the book, the story is as much as five layers deep.
Omnicidal Maniac: The Hive Mind of the Kingdom of the Mice have nothing on their collective mind except for devouring the world and reducing it to dust, dust, dust!
North Is Cold, South Is Hot: Muireann (north, bordering the sea, and frigid) and Ajanabh (warm, southerly, and brimming with spice and color) are the most obvious example.
Orphan's Ordeal: The girl herself, as indicated in the series title, but there are a surprisingly high number of orphans throughout the story by all sorts of Parental Abandonment - including Scald, Knife, Captain Tommy, Seven, Oubliette, all manticores, Snow, etc. etc.
Our Dragons Are Different: Any goldfish can become one by jumping over a dam. However, its immature phase will look exactly like a young maiden — until they mature fully. Flying over the same dam will cause said dragon to revert back to being a goldfish.
Our Genies Are Different: Genies can grant wishes, but are restricted by law to ones granted by Kashkash, their god. They also only live for about fifteen years at the most, and when they die their fires will go out. They also need fire to grand wishes.
The Quest: Deconstructed all over the place. Most adventures don't go as planned, and the actual travel is depicted as being extremely boring.
Rags to Royalty: Ismail wasn't a peasant exactly, but he was the son of a backwater country baron.
Rashomon Style: Not present through the entire text, but at points within the story the same event will be told by different, and conflicting, points of view.
Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Zmeya. A king who is about to kill her and her fellow priestesses can't help but notice her flawless pale skin, dark hair with green hints, and large black eyes. She is so beautiful that he not only doesn't kill her, but he takes her as his wife, that day, and with the conditions she sets.
Red Herring: It's easy to conclude that Solace is the daughter of Zmeya, having undergone a name change and given to Lantern to raise.
Reluctant Warrior: Beast/the Leucrotta. In fact, when Leander just asks for his skin nicely, he agrees, much to the consternation of the Marsh King
The Reveal: The girl is really Sorrow, daughter of two dead stars. The child Lantern took under his wings turned out to be the real daughter of the people Aerie left Sorrow with.
Sigrid the Netweaver is actually Ulla, the bear that Eyvind was in love with.
Knife is Leander's mother, and Aerie is his half-sister.
Screw Destiny: Interestingly, even if some characters, like Zmeya, claims You Can't Fight Fate, the book as whole seems to teach us that if you really want and try hard enough you may find your own path to follow.
Self-Made Orphan: The entire Tower of Patricides is based around this, although they view it as a very serious religious ritual. In a more villainous example, Ismail kills his father. Leander also kills his father and later joins the Tower of Patricides
Shaggy Dog Story: Poor, poor Eyvind finally manages to turn himself back into a bear, and find the bear he fell in love with that started his whole quest. She turns out to be more interested in becoming a pirate instead.
But the magyr's consoling words to him, though gruff, suggest perhaps a subversion of this trope, eventually.
Shrouded in Myth: Kashkash is said to be a first genie, who ever lived, and feared by both his own kind and humans, even many years after his death. Turns out to be invoked by Kashkash himself. He was neither the first nor the most powerful.
So Beautiful, It's a Curse: A human girl who was so beautiful that she caught the eye of Aukon, the Bull-Star. He finally took her without her consent and changed her into a cow to keep her for himself. All her children seem to inherit the same curse: Huldras are often objects of affection of these who care nothing about their willingness.
Soiled City on a Hill: Shadukiam. Its citizens care about nothing besides money (their very religion seems to be centred around it) and they finally meet rather karmic end.
Stages of Monster Grief: Magadin. She goes through despair, because of what she has been turned into, continues with quiet resignation and at the end fully embraces her new nature.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Shroud and Eshkol. They spend happily seven years together, but Shroud's instinct finally pushes him to leave his satyr lover and return to the sea. When he realizes they could have built a house on the shore and live there together, he spends several years looking for her to no effect. Unfortunately, during this time Eshkol remains imprisoned in a stomach of sea monster with the rest of her crew. The ending of the second novel suggests they finally reunite and live happily ever after.
While the other Stars are not as popular as Zmeya, they are also annoyed and perplexed about being treated as gods.
Switched at Birth: Sorrow is left in Solace's place. Solace is given to Lantern to raise.
This Was Her True Form: When Leander kills a random goose, she turns into her true form — a young maiden that was shapeshifted shortly after birth.
Ungrateful Bastard: Citizens of Shadukiam towards Idyll. He gives them the Rose Dome, one of cityís most beautiful buildings, and they not only not pay him but also impale him and leave him to die.
Wandering the Earth: Many characters, but most notably Taglio, Immacolata, Hind, Grotteschi, Oubliette and Seven. They all meet at some point and wander the Earth as circus artists.
What the Hell, Hero?: The first thing we see Leander doing is stealing and killing a goose , who turns into a girl, from an old woman. To make matters worse, the old woman is his mother and the girl his half-sister. His story is basically him trying to make amends for this.
Wicked Stepmother: Lampshaded and subverted. Magadin makes a point of saying that her stepmother was wonderful.
Her stepsisters, though...well, they were certainly wicked enough to sell her out to Omir.
You ALL Share My Story: The stories are intricately connected, and the story that they end up telling is that of the girl in the garden — her parents and their lives and deaths, her midwife, the boy who paid her fare and the man who carried her to life, the djinn that sprang from her burned skin, and the girl whose place in the Palace she took.