Literature / Twig

The year is 1921, and a little over a century has passed since a great mind unraveled the underpinnings of life itself.

Twig is the third Web Serial Novel from wildbow, following on from his superhero novel Worm and the modern fantasy-horror story Pact. The story follows a group of children from the Lambsbridge Orphanage; Sy, Gordon, Helen, Lillian and Jamie, as they make their way in a world where the dead can come back, Immortality is within reach and bio-engineered monsters roam the streets.


This series provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Very few people actually like the nobility, but they vary between terrified of the consequences of saying so and cynically aware that the Crown also benefits them, with a small minority believing that the Crown uniting the world is worth it.
  • Academy of Adventure: Radham Academy are the ones funding the group, but only one of them is a student.
  • Academy of Evil: The setting is built on these; ruthless academic organizations that advance science in the service of a tyrannical, expansionist empire. Yet, for all that they are undeniably highly amoral places with truly abysmal human rights records by our standards, they still have ethical guidelines that they stick to. The Academic system is Lawful Evil in a cutthroat, Social Darwinsit-like take on it.
  • A God Am I: The Primordial. Partially deconstructed in that the beast had little knowledge of the concept, except as "the ultimate authority humans answer to," and it was trying to ensure its survival by asserting itself as such.
  • Alternate Universe:
    • The divergence point seems to be a massive leap forward in biotechnology sometime in the early 19th century.
    • Lillian mentions an Indian Empire that tried making a slave race about a decade before the story.
    • The British Empire spans a third of the globe including the United States, which is known as the Crown States of America. The Academies are its main method of keeping control.
  • And Then What?: Sylvester uses this rhetorical tactic against Mary, pointing out that even if she kills them all and escapes, she'll never be able to trust her creator again.
  • Artificial Human: Most of the main cast was created as a group of artificial humans intended to work together.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: ...Let's just say they've all (painfully) adjusted themselves so much, they've hit Humanoid Abomination or Fair Folk levels of totally and dangerously bonkers. Some are more openly sadistic and random than others, but every last noble is most probably batting for Team Sociopathy. This isn't portrayed as all that great for most concerened. Including them. But, just you try explaining that to them without winding up as a toy.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Sylvester uses one to get the Headmistress of Mothmont to institute a quarantine by leaving her a polite note in a locked room signed in his own blood. The Bad Seeds then turn this around on him by catching on and pretending to be agents of the Academy while telling the Headmistress that the Lambsbridge Gang are the Bad Seeds.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sylvester and Lillian.
  • Biopunk: Bioaugmentation is a very common thing in this universe. Dog and Catcher are a case in point: bio-mechanical revenants of a decidedly clunky-but-deadly nature.
  • Big Applesauce: When the Crown States took over the US in the Twigverse, they made New York City their seat of power and renamed it New Amsterdam as a show of power over their new subjects.
  • Black and Grey Morality: The Academy is a horrible organization that does unethical experimentation and has most of the world under their thumb, whereas the rebellion does more or less the same things in their attempts to free themselves from Academy control, including in the case of the Ghosts using Human Resources in the form of orphaned children so as to use their brains as as starters or templates.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: When Sy does this and it doesn't happen, he lampshades how cool it would've been if it did. Mary, however, has much more success with this trope. But, then, she is The Perfectionist who practices.
  • Bookends: The end of chapter 11 mirrors the end of chapter 12. at the end of 'In Sheep's Clothing' Sylvester has receded so deeply into his hallucinations that he has trouble telling the real Jamie apart from his mental ghost. Come the end of 'Enemy' the audience is unsure if the Jamie Sy is talking to is 'real' or not.
    • he's not, but fortunately the real Jamie survived the plague surgery and is just sleeping off the damage.
  • Central Theme: Childhood, and the exploitation of children.
  • Crossdressing Voices: In Universe. When the rest of the Lambs are spying on Gordon's breakup with Shipman, Mary lip-reads and relays Gordon's lines, while Jamie does the same for Shipman.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Happens in the very first chapter when the snake charmer is Eaten Alive by his cat-snake, which has flesh-dissolving venom. It also eats him feet-first, meaning he survives longer.
  • Cure Your Gays: Sy notes that the Academy has a way to "fix" homosexuality. Jamie politely dismisses the idea.
  • Cute and Psycho: Helen is adorable and often bubbly, but asking her questions can often give you answers that you didn't want to hear.
  • Dark Secret: The plot is rife with them. Heck, part of the Lambs' job is to find nasty things out and stop them using violence, blackmail or both. And, said nasty things are usually covered in several layers of attempted deniability in the first place. None of the powers that be have clean laundry; nor do the rebels. With Mad Science in play, morality takes a backseat... in the last row, behind a pillar.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Not even the slightest bit subtle about it, nobles who never killed to rise in the succession are viewed as weak, minor branches subject their children to horrible experiments to gain influence and biological warfare is always a consideration in weddings. In fact one of the purposes of the Lambs project is to develop possible enhancements for royal children.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Once the last surviving Twin is fatally injured, Sy realizes that she could still probably kill him, but doesn't care enough to try, since all her sisters are dead and her brother cares nothing for it.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Arc 3, "Lips Sealed." The one holding the Bowels hostage is Sub Rosa, an experiment that run amok that was the creator of the Bowels as a human, but the shoe fits surprisingly well, all told, up to and including Rosa's Disney Villain Death.
  • Dislikes the New Guy: Sy dislikes Lillian at first because she's the newest and is a normal (albeit very bright) human while everyone else is an experiment of some sort.
  • The Empire: The British Empire has apparently conquered a full third of the globe, surpassing its real-world counterpart.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Empire, with its Academies, might have been standing behind the potted plants while morals (and human rights) were being handed out, but it has legal and ethical standards it goes all out in sticking to. As becomes apparent the more you read: Lawful Evil is somewhat less hellacious than Chaotic Evil, and is enforced in preference.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The Academy's stringent regulations on their knowledge not only serve to preserve their power, but also prevent people from trying dangerous, insane things that the Academy has learned not to do at great cost. Like creating life that can modify itself.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: In Esprit de Corpse 5.13 a soldier takes pity on the Lambs (Sy, Mary, and Gordon) and doesn't kill them when he has the chance and instead takes them to a doctor to be healed despite likely having direct orders to do so. How do the Lambs reward such kindness? The moment Sy's confirmed okay the Lambs murder him, the doctor, and another soldier in the room before making a break for it.
  • Flesh Golem: The Stitched, which are made from either people or animals.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The universe of Twig appears to be built around biotech.
  • Genre-Busting: Compared to Worm and Pact, Twig is very hard to place as despite its Biopunk nature it also has elements of numerous other types of works.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Mauer's primordials were meant to present the Academy with a potential world-ending threat and thus force it to go to barbaric extremes. This succeeds rather too well as the last primordial to die unleashes a plague to curse Mauer for murdering them.
  • Gray Goo: The Academy's equivalent is "primordial life," life that's constantly creating new adaptations for its environment, with the great fear being that it will become able to understand, record, and control its changes, creating a new form of life which will render humanity obsolete. Mauer creates several of these in Lugh, and they rapidly develop human-level intelligence before he puts them down, along with humanlike emotions such as spite. The final one goes so far to declare A God Am I before it releases a final plague.
  • Groin Attack: *winces* The wannabe student political activist, Walter, gets to learn that Helen can, let's say, grip a guy's attention rather firmly.
  • Hand Signals: The Lambs have a complex language of hand signs bordering on a Signed Language which they developed to communicate without their doctors noticing and for use in the field. It's notable in that they deliberately made it unintuitive and difficult to learn, to prevent an astute observer from quickly figuring it out.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Sly uses this to turn the tables on Mary, who has him at gunpoint, in Taking Root 1.7, using his enhanced intelligence and some quick guesswork to learn far more about her than she manages to learn about him, then turn this around to make her doubt herself. He's doing well enough that when The Cavalry arrives to rescue him, he's disappointed.
  • Human Resources:
    • During the "wars down south" the Crown would capture enemy soldiers (using parasites that paralyzed them and made them scream so they would be easy to locate) and converted them into stitched for their armies.
    • Lips Sealed reveals that the Academy has a supply of convicts, prisoners of war, and former slaves to use in experiments.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Sylvester is actually a completely normal, if messed up, thirteen-year-old without the monthly injections of the Wyvern formula, which he's been receiving all his life. If he goes too long without a dose, he starts to lose his The Social Expert and Awesomeness by Analysis abilities, and his utter horror at the idea of becoming the normal child he'd be without Wyvern is a major part of what keeps him loyal to the Academy of Evil.
  • In Medias Res: The story begins in the middle of one of the orphan's missions.
  • Invaded States of America: The Crown States entered the Empire as a spoil of conquest.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: The Duke of Francis refers to the Lambs as "it," seeing them as pretty things but having no value of their own.
  • It Only Works Once: Anything that's used against the Academy becomes this, as they have the resources and knowledge advantage to break it down, analyze it, and develop a working countermeasure for next time.
  • Kidnapped Scientist: When Sy and Mary are in Warrick, in need of specialized assistance, they decide to compensate for the absence of Lillian by doing a home invasion on three of the Baron Richmond's doctors and forcing them to manufacture weapons for them.
  • Tap on the Head: Discussed by Sly when he notes that if the child clone Gordon knocked out doesn't come to soon, they would suffer major brain damage.
  • Liar Revealed: In Arc 7, Sy admits to Mary that he'd deceived her about Percy abandoning her. She takes it pretty well because Sy is terrible at being honest, and she's already decided that she wants Percy dead because Lillian does.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Sylvester is attracted to both Mary and Lillian, both of whom reciprocate his attraction while still being best friends with one another. However Mary is also attracted to Gordon, who reciprocates as well, and Sy feels that she would be better of with Gordon than with him. Meanwhile, Jamie has an unrequited love for Sy, which Sy is blissfully unaware of... until shortly before Jamie's kind-of-it's-complicated death. For her part, Helen just wants to hug everybody to death — or, cadge sugary treats from them. Either is good.
  • Mood Whiplash: Esprit de Corpse 5.1 begins with Sy witnessing a man being transformed into a Stitched, before having him meet up with Lillian where following him needling her they have a Fake-Out Make-Out to fool the children spying on them.
  • Mad Scientist: They are everywhere. Radham Academy is suggested to be one of many institutions of scientists which twist and warp the communities that spring up around them.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Happens to Sly once upon getting hugged by an older student in Taking Root 1.5.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The first to appear is some kind of hybrid between a cat and a snake, although it has traits belonging to neither animal.
  • Not So Different: This is what Sy thinks about Fray, given their shared use of Wyvern. Subverted later after their second conversation when he discovers that she's been taking a much lower dose and that she always considered herself a doctor first and foremost whereas he identifies as an experiment.
  • Outscare the Enemy: Catcher and Helen brutally killing two of the Ghosts is enough to drive them off when Catcher threatens them with worse.
  • Order vs. Chaos: Most of the conflicts come between the Government/Monarchy/Academy (Order) and various rebel cells (Chaos). Neither side has moral advantage.
  • Pædo Hunt: Exploited by Sy and Jamie when they manufacture fake wanted posters for Dog and Catcher which claim they have a habit of targeting children for nefarious reasons, raising the ire of Dog and Catcher's associates, who they had specifically selected as having soft spots for children so they wouldn't hurt the Lambs when bringing them in. Catcher gets quite genuinely hurt by this, even though both he and Dog immediately admit it to be a valid, if sneaky, tactic.
  • Perpetual Storm: It always rains in Radham, thanks to Academy-created algae that are now part of the water system and fumes which catalyze them when they're in the air.
  • Please Kill Me If It Satisfies You: Sy offers Mauer his life in exchange for Jamie and Lillian getting medical treatment and sanctuary. Mauer instead chooses to make use of all three.
  • Psycho Serum: The Wyvern formula, a collection of spectacularly poisonous substances injected directly into the brain which allows the user to essentially edit their own personality and mental capabilities to react to changing circumstances. Single, low doses have minor long-term effects, but the immediate effect is a massive temporary personality shift as the Wyvern user alters their mind and emotional state to correspond with the situation.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The viewpoint characters are a group of neonates and later young teenagers, only one of whom (a budding Mad Scientist) is not an Artificial Human.
  • Reality Ensues: The Lambs start out as a group of covert operatives, but a couple of arcs in, the results of their jobs start becoming known, with the effect that they become a known quantity and thus can't be as covert as they were.
    • The Lambs have expiry dates and are sent on very dangerous missions. After the first Jamie suffers a Death of Personality and Gordon and Hubris die, Sy realises that he can't handle seeing any more Lambs die and leaves.
  • Shout-Out: The dime store novels in Taking Root 1.5 reference previous works of Wildbow's:
    • The Doll Man series is the story of Worm from the perspective of Mannequin.
    • "Barber John and the Dark Forest Monster" is Pact's climactic chapter, again told from the perspective of the villain, Barbatorem possessing Johannes.
    • The dime store novel that had a man in a bird mask is referencing Face, a thriller story that was focused-tested at the same time Pact was.
  • Slave Race: The Indian Empire tried making a literal slave race of humans, but it didn't work.
  • Street Urchin: In Radham, they're called the Mice, but they tend to band together and similar groups exist in many cities, providing shelter for children who slip through the cracks.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Sylvester does this to Mary, his Bad Seed counterpart, over the course of the second part of the first arc, steadily picking away at her (engineered) love for her creator, and convincing her that he had abandoned her as a disposable tool.
  • Tap on the Head: After Sy receives one in arc 14, his "Evette" persona fully takes over the the other Lamb hallucinations disappear.
  • There Can Only Be One: The endgame of the Lambs project: the most successful will be kept for further improvement, the others discarded or worn out. It should be noted that even other projects, like Melancholy, think this is completely nuts and boggle at the idea that the Lambs are still loyal to the Academy.
  • This Bed of Rose's: A brothel in Tynewear is one of a few places which provides shelter and protection for runaway children, which Sy takes advantage of to help hide Candida, Chance, and Lainie from the authorities.
  • Title Drop: From the end of Enemy (Arc 1):
    Clones, he thought. From Ancient Greek Klon-. Meaning Twig.
  • True Companions: The main characters (excluding Lillian) were created to serve this role to each other.
  • Villain Episode: The end of each arc has an Enemy chapter from the POV of the villain. After Sy and Jamie desert the Academy, the interludes change their titles to "Lamb."
  • War Is Hell: The prevalence of biotech has not at all prevented this trope from happening, if the Shepherd's recollections are anything to go by. Then we get a series of close-ups. Yup: this trope. So very hard.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Radham Academy is located within the Crown States of America, an alternate US, but its exact location remains unknown. The only information so far is that it is not on the East Coast, as one of the character referred to the "Eastern Crown States" as a distant place.
  • Xenofiction: Enemy (Arc 9) is told from the perspective of one of the primordials as it manages to achieve sapience.
  • You Monster!: One of the hostages Sy takes calls him this after he has Mary poison a socialite.
    Sy: I’m a monster that knows exactly what he is. You’re three monsters who pretend not to see.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/Twig