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Literature / A Practical Guide To Evil

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"It doesn't matter how flawless the scheme was, how impregnable the fortress or powerful the magical weapon, it always ends with a band of adolescents shouting utter platitudes as they tear it all down. The game is rigged so that we lose, every single time: half the world, turned into a prop for the glory of the other half."
Black Knight

A Practical Guide to Evil (2015-present) is a Young Adult (Allegedly) Heroic Fantasy Web Serial Novel written by erraticerrata. The sixth book of the series was completed on January 1st 2021, with the author announcing that he would be starting a seventh in March. A key element of the setting is that many Heroic Fantasy tropes are enforced by the universe's laws.


Black-and-White Morality is an objective reality here. Individuals, species and nations can be clearly and unapologetically Evil and Good. People can gain superhuman powers and a degree of in-universe Plot Armor by embodying certain archetypes or Names. The majority of Names are associated with Good or Evil. Others are neutral and/or common. While some Names used in-story are more specific (Bumbling Conjurer, Ash Priestess, etc) the majority of Names can be found or derived from the Fantasy Character Classes page. Named individuals are both more powerful than normal people (able to kill dozens or hundreds of Nameless Mooks or Red Shirts single-handedly) and more important in terms of Fate (i.e. the plot). Fate tends to play out in patterns that can be manipulated by particularly Genre Savvy individuals. Names also each have access to three Aspects, initially undefined powerful moves or abilities that they gain access to at a suitably dramatic or necessary moment.


The series follows the exploits of 16-year-old Catherine Foundling a.k.a. The Squire. Orphaned a few years after her homeland The Kingdom of Callow was annexed by their perennial foe The Dread Empire of Praes following a short and utterly devastating war of conquest Catherine was raised at the Imperial House for Tragically Orphaned Girls. Though she resents the greed and corruption of the imperial governor of her home city she is cynical about the prospects of rebellion, instead planning to join the Imperial Legions of Terror in order to improve the system from the inside. However when she manages to impress the Empress' most feared general Black Knight she is offered a chance to join the ranks of the Named by taking the role of The Squire.

But the Balance of Good and Evil is reasserting itself. Where previously a new hero might have appeared in Callow once every few years, they are now popping up every few months, a rate that even Black Knight's supremely efficient spy network can no longer keep a lid on. Meanwhile the very reforms that made it possible for the Dread Empire to triumph so completely are stirring unrest among the nobility of Praes who seek a return to the Stupid Evil ways of the Empire's past. To make matters worse the powerful neighbouring Principate of Procer has emerged from the long, debilitating civil war that has crippled them for so long - and are seeking revenge for the Empire's role in prolonging that conflict. As all of this threatens to boil over into a continent-wide war Catherine must navigate her own, and her country's, path through the turmoil.


This Series provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade:
    • The Penitent's Blade, the sword used by the Lone Swordsman. Has been seen to cut through other swords, shields and stone. Backfired at least once when it got stuck in another sword halfway through.
    • The Severance, a blade that causes cuts on your hands just by wielding it. So strong it is considered a war asset.
  • Abomination Accusation Attack: A common occurrence whenever a Hero speaks to a Villain. Becomes a reoccurring point of frustration for Catherine, as the Tenth Crusade is often shocked when Evil nations fight back using the Evil qualities the Crusade used to justify attacking them in the first place. Catherine herself is declared Arch-Heretic of the East, as justification for said Tenth Crusade.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Young Named often take up leading military or governmental positions for which non-Named would be considered far to young. An example is the Tyrant of Helike, who gets this position at age 12.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Cat manages to Speak within months of becoming Squire, an absurdly short frame of time. Black holds she wouldn't have had nearly as much success if he'd taught her how such abilities functioned. She also managed to brand Lone Swordsman's Name immediately after acquiring her own Name, changing his entire approach to heroism.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: All Named have a limited ability to purge toxins from their system - assuming that they know that the toxins are there to be purged in time. This is often used to allow them to drink as much as they like without getting drunk, though Wandering Bard is noted for never using this ability to mitigate her alcoholism.
  • Action Bomb: Undead Suicide Goats, followed by undead suicide oxen, followed by an undead suicide horse, which is then followed by Heiress' undead suicide ghoul. Even Black adopts the tactic.
  • Advantage Ball:
    • The function of the more combative Named on the battlefield is to ensure their side has the Advantage Ball, and this usually results in an Epic Duel to the Death.
    • Sometimes the Idiot Ball and the Advantage Ball are in play at the same time - the best example being the Exiled Prince picking up the wrong ball by challenging Cat to a Duel... while standing within crossbow range of the Legion of Terror's line of battle.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: The plethora of cultures, wars, and monsters tend to make for this. For Named, people tend to give them positions of authority they'd normally be considered too young or inexperienced for otherwise, and the Gods ensure their lives are interesting as part of their wager over Black-and-White Morality. Taken Up to Eleven for Heroes due to fate and providence literally warping reality to make them come out on top.
  • A Father to His Men: Many characters, including Cat, Black Knight, and the Exiled Prince. Black is of particular note, as he is not only regarded highly by the troops he has personally led, but by more or less everyone in the Legions of Terror. He was the one who reformed the Legions to allow orcs to be actual soldiers rather than just Cannon Fodder.
  • Affably Evil: It's pretty much the trademark of Praes' reformers. All of the Calamities we've seen are perfectly decent guys as long as you don't interfere with their plans. The Empress Malicia also has this going for her. The Protagonist, even after she becomes evil, is probably too snarky to qualify, though she is A Mother to her Legionaries.
  • The Ageless: Evil Named are this, living until they are killed. However, since all Named are soldiers in the endless war between Good and Evil, most of them end up killed in action long before they can take advantage of this. Good Named are notably excluded - because of this, one absurdly powerful Heroic Named is defeated when Catherine uses an artifact - her staff, which was a sword, which was a prayer - and sapped years of life from herself and the Saint of Swords. The Saint, who was already advanced in age, died as a result.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Played with among the various "Evil" species.
    • The Ratlings play it straight, with them being an animalistic species who are all ravenous cannibals and have no concept of defeat or peace. There evolved forms of Ancient Ones or Horned Lords are achieved by being the best at eating anything and anyone they can before they can be eaten in return. While these new forms come with more intelligence, their ruthless nature remains unchanged.
    • The Drow were once a powerful Kingdom before their fierce infighting lead them to become isolationist, marauding slavers with no cultural taboo on cold-blooded murder or any real concept of loyalty. Justified in that they literally gain information, status, and magical power based on "harvesting" it from others.
    • The Goblins hold secrecy and struggle to be sacred and are known for their utter ruthlessness and opportunism. Still, they have been known to have genuine, if guarded, friendships with members of other species, and can be loyal to someone as long as they consider the person to be strong or cunning enough to deserve it.
    • Orcs often see war as a thing of beauty and instinctively view all creatures as possible food, and once were The Dreaded of the Continent before their warbands were largely exterminated by invaders. Centuries of being shaped into a warrior caste did not help these traits. Still, orcs operate on a strict meritocracy (albeit based on a martially-focused set of priorities), have human-equivalent intelligence, and despise the concept of slavery.
    • Villains are often viewed as this because of their Fate-induced tendency towards monologues, arrogance, and insanity. Many are shown to have an admittedly warped moral code that makes them more sympathetic than many Heroes, but there are plenty of Villains who embrace the stereotypes.
  • Angelic Abomination: Angels look almost as horrific as demons, and those who meet angels are warped to reflect the angel's nature.
  • Annoying Arrows: Well, annoying to a Named at least, unless it hits somewhere lethal. This is more a case of regular soldiers not being able to take down named under normal circumstances. The Archer being a Named bow wielder heavily averts this trope.
  • Anti-Magic:
    • The Lone Swordsman can produce a flash of light with deteriorative properties to magic of any kind.
    • Goblinfire burns magic just like it burns everything else.
    • Priests and Heroes of the Light seem to "jam" scrying and perhaps some other magic.
    • The Knights of Callow can have magic "slide off them like water off a duck's back" thanks to the scripture verses engraved on their armor.
  • Anti-Villain: The web serial is primarily focused on examining the concept, as well as Pragmatic Villainy, in a world with strict Black-and-White Morality.
  • Arc Words: "I/We Do Not Kneel" is Black's. "Justification Only Matters To The Just" becomes Catherine's, and become a critical part of her Refusal of the Call.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted, everyone wears armor whenever it's an option and it plays a very important role in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Arrow Catch: Catherine tries this twice in the attack on Liesse. The first time is less than successful, but the second works just fine.
  • Asexuality: Heiress sends minions of both sexes to tempt Masego with sex. He doesn't even notice it, causing her to lament his lack of vices.
  • Asshole Victim: Catherine's first introduction to the world of perpetrating villainy is killing a multiple rapist and his accomplice. No tears were shed for them.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Subverted. Black Knight is intimidating, but his position within the hierarchy of the Empire is much more to do with his strategical and tactical mind and his charisma than personal power. Several of his subordinates are far more physically powerful than he is. William tends to play this straighter, as does Catherine, who later is the most powerful member of the Fifteenth Legion as well as the commander.
  • Badass Army: The Legions of Terror as a whole. Under Catherine and Juniper, the Fifteenth Legion is becoming one of the most notable examples.
  • Badass Bookworm: Masego is this. He's overweight and has trouble keeping up with the Fifteenth Legion on the march, disdains physical combat, prefers books to people, and hates having his research interrupted. He's also probably the second most powerful human Mage on the continent and the guy filling the top spot is his father.
  • Badass Creed: Legions of Terror: One sin - defeat. One grace - victory.
  • Badass Crew: See Band of Five.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Cat uses one to rip Thief of Stars into pieces after the Revenant steals her staff. She mentally admits this was unnecessary, but wanted to keep her enemies guessing at her capabilities.
  • Badass Normal: an unusual non-action example in Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer and the woman behind the man in Book 2. Despite not having a Role, she manages to go plot for plot against Dread Empress Malicia just fine.
  • Badass Unintentional: Abigail joined The Army of Callow and immediately regretted it. A healthy dose of luck, improvised tactics, and an accidentally-acquired reputation for fighting in the thick of things catapulted her up the ranks, making her the first Callowan-born General in The Army of Callow. All while still contemplating desertion.
  • The Bad Guys Win: The Empire invaded Callow (for the zillionth time) and successfully conquered it for the second time in historynote  twenty years before the story starts, and thus far Catherine has not lost a pitched battle.
  • Black-and-White Morality: In theory the world operates this way, but from the reader's perspective it often seems more like Black-and-Grey Morality since some of the heroes are Jerkasses, many of the villains are Affably Evil Pragmatic Anti-villains and ultimately both sides are aristocratic societies where the peasantry gets shafted.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    • Robber has composed several poems/songs about Nauk having a love affair with the Legion's oxen.
    • Vitriolic swearing is often implied by noting the tone and that the word for some animal in another language was all the listener caught.
  • Best Served Cold: Callowans are noted to be one of the worst people when it comes to holding grudges. This becomes a Commonality Connection with their new, typically low-caste, Wastelander and Greenskin allies, as they have their own grudges against the Tower.
  • Blatant Lies: Regularly employed by Catherine.
    Catherine: Told you my plan was working.
    William: You planned to become a necromantic abomination?
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Goblins seems to have shades of this, with core values wildly differing from humans. Pickler seems to think saying someone is good at stabbing people while they're asleep is a compliment and later notes that by goblin standards Robber is macho.
    • Flat out stated to be the case with Fey, they replay Stories but don't have any concept of the morality of their actions at least from a Human standpoint.
  • Body Horror:
    • Devils in general are this, with such delightful specimens as a ship-sized snake with human faces where scales should be. Demons of the thirteenth hell, however, beat them out with the ability to inflict this on others with simply their prolonged presence. Highlights of the battle of Marchford include men fused with their horses, men fused with their armor, and the demon itself giving a laudable Chest Burster impression.
    • Being The Empire, the Empire is no slouch in this department either. Of note is a previous Emperor who believed he was a giant spider in human skin. Through some process or another, he was proven right and disappeared into the sewers to spawn a horde of other giant spiders, though the way this is presented make more a case of Narm.
    • Catherine herself is no slouch in the departement of horrific self-mutilation, such as using necromancy to move her half-dead limbs. Especially as the Sovereign of moonless nights, when her body is just smoke and mirrors, and changable at will such as turning to mist. After the battle of the camps when she is unconscious, her body mutates wildly.
  • Boom, Headshot!: both the Exiled Prince and the Bumbling Conjurer get brutally killed off this way, just as they seemed poised to seriously threaten the protagonists. Subverted when The Dead King tries this with Archer.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Apparently the Lone Swordsman's plan for the Battle of Liesse. He'll sacrifice his life to summon an angel of Contrition that will brainwash all the people in a radius of forty-nine miles into opposing Evil at all costs and thus become the core of a new Crusader army.
  • Breast Plate: Generally averted, most female warriors wear bulky practical armor. The Heiress, however, shells out top dollar to get personally crafted armor that's sexy as well as magically protective.
  • Brick Joke: The rebelling faction of the Thieves Guild from Summerholm is mentioned as one possible faction being supported by the Hero in the city but don't make an appearance in that book. They show back up, briefly in Book 2, sort of, when the Lone Swordsman yells "Now!" and then Tribune Robber pops up and informs everyone present that his line "ran into some shady Thieves’ Guild folks" with bows and "stabbed everything until it stopped moving". Also serves as a hilariously subverted Chekhov's Gun.
  • Butt-Monkey: Played for laughs with the soldier Abigail.
    • In the Skirmish, most of her line is wiped out by undead, and she temporarily loses an eye, before being redeployed to hold the same position her people just died holding.
    • By the Battle of the Camps, she's earned a promotion... into the unit that spends the most time on the front lines. Her soldiers are hit by the Mirror Knight (twice) and the Saint of Swords. She is then mortified by Captain Kromer's awe at her mostly undeserved reputation for drinking the blood of enemies.
    • She is the only one not on leave when all her superior and equally-ranked officers are assassinated, leaving her unexpectedly in charge the soldiers in Laure right as a mob of rioters start to form.
    • By book five she's been field-promoted to General. And then the Black Queen shows up....
  • Calling Your Attacks: Several Named say the name of their Aspects upon using them, and all Named say the name of their Aspect upon awakening it.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You:
    • Catherine spares - as in: keeps her ghost around -Akua so that she can use her considerable magical skill to serve Callow, as well as a form of Cruel Mercy.
    • Grey Pilgrim is convinced to spare Tyrant of all people in book 5 because The Wandering Bard said it was necessary.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Virtually everyone on the side of Evil. Subverted, however, in that it's more of a job description; most of the Woe are actually far more likable than the heroic Named.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Archer returns with Hunter to make a significant difference in the fight with the demon after saying that she had no intention of doing so.
  • Chekhov's Gun: All over the place bordering on Chekhov's Armory. If something is mentioned and might be remotely at all plot important expect it to show up again in the future.
  • Childless Dystopia: The Golden Bloom was established by a splinter faction of elves and constructed on land taken by slaughtering any Deoraithe who did not flee. The spirits of the forest remember this insult and as a consequence not a single child has been born to the elves since that time.
  • The Chosen Many: While only one person can be chosen for a given Name at a time, there are a lot of Roles that people can be Named to, not all of which are in use at any given moment. As a result, there are a lot of Named out there, and more of them turn up all the time. Black Knight estimates in book two that he has been directly or indirectly responsible for the death of at least eighty Named Heroes, and there are still plenty of them around for his Squire to fight.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    • Praesi Nobility have this in spades.
    • So do most of the upper echelons of any Evil side
      Kairos: I’m going to betray you, you know
      Black Knight: You will try. They always do.
    • Not limited to Evil. Procer, on the side of Good, has plenty of backstabbing. Or throat stabbing, in the case of Prince Fabien of Lyonis.
  • Church Militant: The warrior-priest Lanterns from the Dominion of Levant embody Good Is Not Soft, and use their miracles to destroy monsters and enemies in equal measure. Even the "tame" priests from Procer can get around their oaths of nonviolence to heal soldiers and use their giant barriers to influence battles.
  • Clifftop Caterwauling: Catherine has a moment where she screams at the sky from a balcony in the Tower after she gets outsmarted by Heiress in court.
  • Colony Drop: Do not draw the ire of Warlock, lest he drop meteors larger than your castle upon you.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The entire schtick of the Black Knight, and by extension the entire Praesi military and Catherine as his Bastard Understudy.
  • Compelling Voice: Any Named can Speak and be given instant obedience. Dread Empress Malicia has this to such a degree that any spies who have been in the same room as her are considered compromised.
  • The Corruption: The shtick of the thirteenth hell. Their demons will corrupt anything within up to several miles of them. Existences that they can corrupt include people, plants, animals, dead people, dead animals, dead plants, inanimate objects (though so far only in conjunction with another category), magic, souls, and really Creation in general.
  • Creepy Child:
    • The Dead King at least the last time Ranger paid him a visit.
    • Kairos, the Tyrant of Helike, came into the role in a very violent fashion at the age of 12.
    • The Scorched Apostate, a young boy named Tancred, burned a hundred people alive in an inn to prevent the Dead King's plague from spreading.
    • The King of Winter and Queen of Summer also apply.
  • Cruel Mercy: While all her followers were crucified Akua's Soul Jar was sown into Catherine's Cloak so her talents could be used to benefit Callow, and she might develop some sense of morality as she watches Catherine fight against the principles of Stupid Evil she had dedicated her life to.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The Conquest, when the Dread Empire invaded the Kingdom of Callow. The invasion is considered to have been incredibly one-sided by every character who's mentioned it so far.
    • Seems to be Black Knight's favored way of dealing with Heroes since giving them any chance for a turnaround tends not to go well for the Villains.
  • Dark Action Girl: Catherine. Her nemesis, the Heiress may be as well but she doesn't like to do her own fighting.
  • Determinator:
    • Catherine. As she herself points out, on one occasion she basically just walked off being decapitated.
    • Hakram "the Deadhand" is no slouch in the "injury-schminjury" department, either. His nickname isn't just for decoration: when you willingly sustain injury to get what you want, you're hard. When you go to necromancy just so you can keep slugging? You're definitely determined.
  • Decadent Court:
    • The Court of the Dread Empire in the Black Tower of Ater, City of Nine Gates. The Black Knight describes it as the most lethal environment short of an actual battlefield. Just for starters, all the food and wine is poisoned - not necessarily fatally, but with something with visibly embarrassing side-effects. Nobles are expected to have a spy network good enough to find out what antidote to dose themselves with ahead of time.
    • The Winter Court certainly apply.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?? : Inverted - Catherine cons an angel into reviving her, when it refuses she takes her resurrection.
  • The Dragon: The Black Knight serves as this to Dread Empress Malicia, and the Captain serves as this to Black himself.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Black Knight in any place that has heard of him, and to a very slightly lesser extent the other Calamities as well.
    • Dread Empress Triumphantnote  holds this title centuries after her death just for the possibility that she might come back.
    • The Black Queen, scheming and plotting and smoking her dragon-bone pipe, appears to be coming into this trope.
  • Due to the Dead: Praesi burial practices include the mourners whispering secrets to the corpse of the deceased, to give them something to bargain with the Hellgods.
  • Dug Too Deep: A problem for a more mundane reason than usual. The Kingdom Under claims all mineral resources below a certain depth, even if they're not actively mining them. As such any mines from surface dwellers have to stay relatively close to the surface.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • Demons are creatures from outside creation, which are not bound by creation's laws, the very presence of which is damaging to creation. Their appearance, and the appearance of the things they make also fits the bill; the battle of Liesse involved a tower-sized pillar of flesh bleeding bile and pus , with dozens of spindly arms and legs and a head covered entirely in eyes.
    • Angels are very nearly as bad
  • Eldritch Location. Several:
    • The Tower. Our one real viewpoint visit there makes it clear that the entire place is a supernatural deathtrap with an Always Chaotic Evil Demon as the greeter, murals that will drive you insane if you manage to see the eyes, an entire hallway full of severed heads screaming at you and a permanent storm around its upper reaches. The Decadent Court that takes place on the floor that's numerically significant for Devil Summoning is practically a relief.
    • Faerieland. With entire buildings sculpted out of Ice or Wind, and geography that responds to however the current King wants it to look. And a flexible approach to time. After the creation of the Twilight Ways from a part of them, the Eldritchness turns rather more friendly.
    • Rare Heroic examples also make an appearance. The Island formed from the corpse of an Angel in Liesse lake is one of them. The Golden Bloom may count as another when it phases out of reality.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Legions of Terror operate this way, there is still some racism between the different Praesi species and ethnic groups and against Callowans but institutionally these attitudes are suppressed and the XV legions has officers from all the major human ethnic groups in the empire (Callowan, Taghreb, Soninke, and Duni) as well as Orcs, Goblins and Ogres. Every other faction, good or evil, is openly bigoted against one group or other.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Anne Kendall, Baroness Dormer. Cat muses she didn't know she was attracted to women until she saw her when she was younger.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Most people with Names (which are generally job titles) usually are known by that instead of their original names.
  • Evil Chancellor: Given it's one of the Evil Names, of course the Chancellor counts as this. Malicia made it treason to even claim the Name.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Heiress believes she is this to the Praesi Reformists, and despises them for departing from the Empire's former For the Evulz ways.
    • Kairos Theodosian feels this way as well, stating that he despises everything Black stands for.
  • Evil Gloating: Played with but mostly averted. Black, Catherine, and the rest of the protagonists specifically and intentionally avert this, Heiress mostly avoids it but still falls into the trap occasionally. Played completely straight and lampshaded with the Winter Court Fey Noble that leads the second major attack on Marchford and lures Cat, Adjutant, and Apprentice, into Arcadia. Cat sets him up for an Evil Monologue and he literally can't help himself because Fey in this world run on Stories even more so than everything else.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Ha. Ha. Ha. . . No. However, Cordelia Hassenbach, the First Prince of Procer, apparently believes this, or at least fears it to be the case, if the scenario she envisions of a continent wide good vs. evil showdown is to be understood as a genuine portrayal of her expectations.
  • Evil Plan: The most well-known Praesi rulers all had devious and grandiose plans which promptly imploded, sometimes without heroes needing to intervene at all. Examples include creating an army of sentient tigers , building flying fortresses , and steal Callow's weather.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Warlock acts halfway between this and the Mad Scientist, running magical experiments and having apparently dissected gods in his basement at some point. Said to be massively powerful, and certainly wiped the floor with the heroes from the moment he started fighting them in Book II.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The palace of the Dread Tyrant of Praes, known simply as the Towerand implied to have been built from the corpse of an unknown god. It has a footprint the size of a castle and rises hundreds of floors, some only accessible by flying, and each floor is more dangerous than the last, starting with an Eldritch Abomination built into the front door. It's been destroyed twice in Praesi history, only to be rebuilt even taller each time.
    No wonder they all go mad. How could you live in that without coming to think of yourself as a god?
  • Evil vs. Evil: One of the core factors of Evil Named is that they must defeat the other claimants to the Name in order to prove themselves worthy of it. Because Good Gods want the destruction of Evil, and the Evil Gods want Villains to destroy on principle, Evil vs. Evil fights are usually much more vicious than Black-and-White Morality or Good vs. Good fights.
    Catherine: And everywhere we went, drow fought and ambushed and bled on stone and water. There were Hells, I thought, not even half as grim as this.
  • Evil Gloating: Villains have an innate tendency to do this, with some of the more powerful sentient Evil entities physically unable to stop from doing this. A monologue has such a tendency to lead to an underdog winning that Tyrant giving a brief monologue when his (at the time) allies were in a fight was rightly seen as a betrayal.
    Archer: If you feel like you’re winning, the single stupidest thing you can do is let Catherine Foundling talk.
  • Exact Words: At one point, Catherine is forced to swear a binding blood oath "not to spill the blood" of Akua and her flunkies. So she only pummels Akua black and blue and methodically breaks every bone in her body.
  • Excalibur in the Stone:
    • As part of the ritual to summon an Angel, William inserts his angelic sword into a stone altar. Catherine uses this narrative element combined with her claim of being Callow's rightful heir (not by blood, we don't know who her parents were, instead using the narrative power of being the squire of the man who in essence rules callow to finagle part of a story into the right shape) to Take the sword and the bully the Angel into granting a villain a resurrection.
    • Book 5 has King Edward Fairfax's sword stuck point down in the earth. Becomes a Defied Trope when Catherine muses at the power and Role that would come with taking up his sword, and decides to leave it there. She takes up a new Magic Staff instead.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Masego rips out his own eyeballs after his transition from Apprentice to Hierophant. He implies, however, that the magical prosthetic eyes might be even better than the natural ones.
    Masego: It was a fair trade.
    • Akua, after possessing Catherine is forced to rip out her own eye... More than ten times in a row. Her screams of agony were at least partly exaggerated though.
  • The Fair Folk: The story's Faeries fit the bill. They're immortal, otherworldly, elegant, extremely dangerous, and some of the more powerful ones can reach Physical God levels, especially the King and Queen. The story implies that they're closer to person-shaped living stories than actual people, which is why they're even more bound by the Law Of Narrative Causality than Named are.
  • The Famine: Praes is rich in mineral wealth but not arable land, and have few trading partners, so they're in an almost constant state of famine. The reason they kept trying to conquer Callow was because in the best case, they conquer some grain-producing lands and can fend off starvation, and in the worst case, they get their surplus population killed so that the rest can survive.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Many, some quite blatant. Callow is clearly a standard Medieval European Fantasy setting and its people are white with generally English names. The Duchy of Daoine is based on Wales/Brittany- an autonomous border region with celtic-inspired names and culture. The Empire of Praes is made up of several different ethnic groups including the Taghreb (Berber/Bedouin inspired), the Soninke (Sub-Saharan Africa) and the Duni who don't have a clear analogue. There are many other equivalents in the past history of the setting and more distant regions.
    • The references to the three Licerian Wars between the Miezan Empire and the Baalite Hegemony seem to be a reference to the Punic wars, which in this setting were won by the Carthage equivalent.
    • Procer, a land of feuding principalities with an elected head of state, seems a fairly clear analogue of the late Holy Roman Empire, albeit without the Pope. Additionally, several of bits of the Principate are ripped straight from the pages of history - "Aequitan" is just "Aquitane" with the "e" moved around, and the "Merovins" dynasty is a play on the real-life "Merovingian" kings of France.
    • The League of Free Cities has several parallels with the Greek city-states. As a whole, they are a loose confederacy only rarely brought together, and were once conquered by The Miezan Empire (a Roman analogue). Individually, Bellerophon is Democratic Athens, Helike is led by a tyrant like Argos, Nicae is a naval trade hub like Rhodes, Atalante is obsessed with religion like Delphi, etc.
  • Fantastic Racism: Pretty much every group is racist against most other groups, more specifically:
    • The people of Callow hate the Praesi, as a result of centuries of war and decades of occupation. Many have a particular contempt for the greenskins (orcs and goblins) partly motivated by the orc habit of eating people.
    • The Praesi consist of at least five different ethnic groups, most of which hate each other in some way or another. The two dominant cultures, the Taghreb and the Soninke, have a sort of cordial contempt for each other born out of mutual chauvinism and a long history of conflict. They share their bigotry against the orcs and goblins, who aren't the humans' biggest fans either. The orcs and goblins seem to be only mildly suspicious of one another, probably because their lands are on opposite sides of the Empire and they both hate the humans more. All four groups despise the Duni, the light-skinned inhabitants of the western border lands, as they are associated with the ancient Miezans and the crusader kingdoms that occupied Praes in the past.
    • There's some hints in the story that the Soninke don't even consider themselves Human.
    • The orcs also hate Deoraithe, who hold Callow's northern border against them and with whom they have fought many wars over the centuries. Their preferred epithet for them is Wallerspawn. Interestingly if Breagach is any indication the Deoraithe Watchers don't seem to hate the orcs all that much, viewing them more as worthy opponents.
    • The Deoraithe absolutely despise the elves. Centuries ago the elves arrived in the Deoraithe homeland and drove them out to establish the Golden Bloom, slaughtering every human they encountered. The entire reason for the extensive training and magical empowerment of the Deoraithe Watchers is so that they can rival even one elf.
    • The elves of the Golden Bloom in turn consider any non-elf little more than an animal, with Heroes barely rating better treatment. They're actually the exception for their race, being the splinter faction of a much larger elvish empire that embraces the intermingling of races. And worlds.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: During the 10th Crusade, Catherine's ultimate goal is to enact one of these between all Good and Evil aligned nations.
  • Finger Snap Lighter: Cat becomes fond of doing this after the Everdark Arc. Bonus points for using black flames to do so.
  • Fisher King: The Grey Pilgrim claims that with Catherine, a Villain, as the Black Queen of Callow, the people of Callow will be twisted to have their morality more easily align with hers, making them fall on the side of Evil and the Gods Below too.
  • Five-Man Band: Both exploited and invoked, because the trope is a law of reality in this universe. A band of five is a group of heroes gathered by Fate, recognized in-universe as the Gods raising the stakes.
    • The Calamities are a pretty straightforward case of this, because together they end a centuries-old stalemate by conquering Callow, setting up the whole story.
    • Big Bad: The Black Knight is the undisputed leader of the Calamities. A master strategist with an entire army at his disposal.
    • The Dragon/the Lancer: Ranger. Not officially evil, she's also possibly the most dangerous Calamity in a fight, capable of going toe-to-toe with a Physical God. Romantically involved with Black and probably loyal only to him, rather than to the Empire or the notion of evil.
    • The Brute: Captain. Although both Black and Ranger may be better fighters she's the largest and most imposing of the Calamities, with the most direct fighting style. Also leads some of the Mooks in battle. Doubles as the Dark Chick or The Heart, because she is the nicest Calamity and the moral and emotional centre of the group.
    • Evil Genius: Warlock, as the spellcaster and researcher of the group.
    • Dark Chick: Assassin, who is always off on his own and never appears alongside his comrades. Could also be considered The Brute for his crude humour and his bodycount, which is the highest of all the Calamities. Despite him being away most of the time, he's still an actual Calamity, unlike...
    • Sixth Ranger: Scribe. A very rare Evil example of the Sixth Ranger trope, Scribe is not considered a member of the Calamities, but she tags along and provides a massive spy network to the Black Knight. Also, she gets more "face time" than Assassin.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • The ending of each book resolves the current arc with one of these. In Book 1, each of the cadet company commanders has a plan to win the wargame; Book 2 ends with a three-way game of Xanatos Speed Chess between the Squire, Heiress, and the Lone Swordsman. Book 5 reaches its climax when the war between Cat, the Grey Pilgrim, and the Tyrant turns into a battle of Chessmasters, each trying to force their own chosen story onto reality.
    • Two of the Extra Chapters shows that the end of Procer's Civil War was one of these between the Dread Empress of Praes and Cordelia Hasenbach of Procer with the latter coming out on top, narrowly. Also serves to drive home the woman's competence since Malicia is an incredibly competent plotter and generally shown to be two steps ahead of everyone else.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Quite a few characters. Most notably the Black Knight and Empress Malicia and one of the reasons they're so dangerous, and The Wandering Bard to the point that it's the only power she's demonstrated so far. This is largely possible because the Theory of Narrative Causality is enforced by Creation.
    • Book II deals heavily with the Rule of Three, where two foes clash three times. If the loser of the first confrontation draws in the second, they're fated to ultimately triumph in the third. Catherine knows she's fated to lose against the Swordsman but arranges the situation so she'll come out on top once the story ends. Similarly, Heiress purposefully arranged this situation between herself and Catherine so she could have a Creation-guaranteed win when it would be most useful.
    • Notable Heroes can play the tropes as well. The Saint of Sword's gambit with the Crusade appeals to The Good Guys Always Win, while Grey Pilgrim's plot in the negotiations after the Battle of the Camps is structured by the Rule of Three and appeals to Redemption Equals Death.
    • Various excerpts appear from a book called Two Hundred Heroic Axioms, such as "Always send the comic relief in front if you suspect there’s a trap. The Gods won’t allow you to be rid of them so easily." and "Any companion volunteering to stay behind and hold off a superior enemy will be guaranteed success, twice over if having already taken a mortal wound."
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: So feared is one former Dread Empress that if ever her name is mentioned, every Praesi character present immediately prays to the Gods Below to ensure that she never comes back to creation. When she died, half her Legions of Terror went down with her, and it's widely held that she may have tried to conquer Hell when they all ended up there. Such is the Crazy Awesome cultural memory of Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
    (talking about why everyone says "May She Never Return")
    Squire: Is that considered… likely?
    Robber: You tell me, Boss. When she croaked it several of her Legions went down with her. Odds are they ended up in the same place. The old girl conquered more with less.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: Several characters state this to be the way Creation works. Black's entire life has been dedicated to breaking this trope.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Several heroes are shown to be as capable of cruelty and pettiness as any villain. William in particular is notable. Meeting an Angel turned him into a Knight Templar who cannot stand the existence of Evil, on top of his already present racism against non-humans, viewing Orcs and Goblins as sub-human brutes that exist only to serve Evil.
  • Great Offscreen War: Dread Empress Triumphantnote  waged a war across Calernia that conquered every Good-aligned human nation, destroyed much of The Titanomachy, forced the Kingdom Under to pay tribute, caused the Golden Bloom to temporarily phase out of existence to escape, and allied with The Kingdom of The Dead. It took the First Crusade, backed by multiple foreign empires, to finally defeat her.
  • Grim Up North: The northern reaches of the continent of Calernia consist of the Chain of Hunger, a mountain range dominated by the horde-like evil species called Ratlings, The Kingdom of the Dead, a kingdom of undead ruled by an immortal Lich-King who also happens to rule over an entire dimension of the hells and all the infernal legions that inhabit it, and the Everdark, the domain of constantly warring drow tribes who follow something called the Tenets of Night.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The Kingdom Under is expansionist and very possessive of all subterranean territory. In pursuit of this, they are more than willing to wipe out every member of the Drow Tribes. To be fair, the Dwarves' goal is the territory, not actual intent to annihilate them, and the Drow's tendency towards killing each other makes them Asshole Victims, but the sheer disregard for their lives is chilling.
  • Hell Has New Management: The Dead King famously invaded and conquered one of the Hells.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Hilariously deconstructed. Before the Battle of Three Hills the Exiled Prince rides in front of the Legion's formation to deliver his Kirk Summation, without wearing a helmet to show off his princely good looks. Catherine takes the opportunity to have him shot with a crossbow and the magical arrow-deflecting properties of his armor deflect the bolt straight into his unprotected neck, turning a potentially survivable wound (for a hero) into a One-Hit Kill.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Averted. The Lone Swordsman attempts this, but Catherine kills him before he can sacrifice himself.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Catherine and Kilian. Lampshaded by Black:
    Black: Never bet against a redhead.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: The villains often use Kharsum, the language of orcs, for this.
  • Highly Conspicuous Uniform: The Eyes of the Dread Empress all wear ominous hooded cloaks, and have a tattoo of a lidless eye. Their job isn't so much to be the Dread Empress' spies as it is to be the obvious spies, so that resistance groups will look for men in hooded cloaks standing in the shadows and not wonder if the barmaid serving them drinks while they plot is passing along what they overhear.
    • The Black Knight goes everywhere, and does everything, in plate armor, no matter the occasion.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Black teaches Catherine that relying on any kind of enchanted artifact inevitably leads to this. He seems to have a point what with The Exiled Prince being killed by his magic armor diverting an arrow into his neck, and Catherine killing the Lone Swordsman with his own sword.
  • Human Head on the Wall: The tower has a whole hallway full of magically preserved, screaming heads of people that turned against the tower.
  • Human Sacrifice: Done by some villains to fuel magic rituals of greater scale.
    • Particulary noticable are the field rituals in the Wasteland where convicted criminals are sacrificed and bled to ensure the fertility of the land to grow much needed crops.
    • There seems to be an entire branch of sorcery running on (human) sacrifice: blood magic can bring people back from the brink of death or turn quarter-fae to full fae, but not without sacrifice.
  • Hungry Menace: The Ratlings have a unique biology that keeps them overpopulated and always on the brink of starvation. Cannibalism and attempted migrations south to eat anything and anyone in their path are a yearly occurance for the species. Similarly, Praes used to feed the orcs in the Legions of Terror enough meat to keep them from starving, but by such a small margin that they were in a near-constant state of hunger-induced aggression.
    • Interestingly, The Empire of Praes is secretly an example. Disastrous attempts at weather manipulation in the past, a generally arid climate, and the assassination of any leader who tries to make any meaningful reform to fix the situation have all caused it to suffer periodic food shortages. This makes the farmlands of Callow a tempting target, and the casualties such invasions bring actually cuts down on overpopulation.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: Page is this to the Exiled Prince. Swordsman can't decide whether he's really that oblivious or is actively ignoring it.
  • Kill It Through Its Stomach: The Valiant Champion is overly fond of using this tactic, to the White Knight's exasperation. The Mirror Knight's damage-resistance abilities mean that he's often an unwilling participant. The Dead King becomes so exasperated over the fact that this keeps working that he starts making his undead abominations' saliva incredibly corrosive.
  • Kill the God: Captain approached an orc god in hopes of finding a way to control her curse. When it didn't give her what she wanted, she killed it, ate its heart, and gave the corpse to Warlock.
    Captain: You’re going to need another god. I broke this one.
    • Averted when Cat offers herself as a sacrifice to the Drow Sister-Goddesses Sve Noc instead of risking further destruction by continuing to fight, and when she claims to only want to drive the Dead King into hiding, as she knows the death of a god of his caliber would be “messy”.
    • One of the numerous claimed goals of Tyrant is to find out what happens if all the Seraphim (the Angels of Justice) are killed.
  • Loophole Abuse: Heiress extracts an oath from Catherine that for three days and nights, Catherine will not kill her or spill a single drop of her blood. So Catherine uses her experience as a pit fighter to break nearly every bone in Heiress' body without breaking the skin.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Ruling through fear is a large part of why villains tend to fail. More than anything else, a willingness to make Callow a better place and be noticed doing it is the cornerstone of Black and Malicia's plan.
  • Mad Scientist: Masego and Wekesa both qualify. While they are fearsome mages in a practical sense, both of them have outright said that what they are really interested in is tearing apart reality so they can figure out how it works.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Most stories are lucky to get one these characters and have them pulled off well. This story lives and breathes off this trope as a look inside the making of magnificent bastards. It's practically in the title.
  • Meaningful Echo: Book 4 Chapter 33 has a quote form Dread Empress Triumphant.note  About 187 chapters later, Amadeus of all people echos her.
    Catherine: And what is it you are?
    Amadeus: Not yet content.
  • Medieval Stasis: The only exception are the gnomes because they enforce it on everyone else. Any nation that develops technology too fast gets two warnings to stop; if that fails, they wipe out the entire nation.
  • Military Mage: Part of Black's reforms involved implementing this trope. Each Legion of Terror includes its own Mage lines, capable of acting as massed artillery with a Fireball spell, or of Healing injuries after the battle. Individual Mages may be able to cast wards, scry or perform other spells, and working as a unit they can perform the signature Praesi Ritual Magic.
  • Military Academy: The War College of Praes. As one of the Black Knight's military reforms, attendance is mandatory if you want to rise above a certain rank in the Legions Of Doom.
  • Necromancer: The roles of Black Knight and his chosen Squire tend to come with Name abilities that mimic necromancy to some degree — undead steeds a specialty. However, Masego would be among the first to point out that they aren't true necromancers. He and his dad, Warlock, are. Well, it's just one school of magic they're well-versed in, at least.
  • No Cure for Evil: Villains can use healing spells just fine, but only the side of good (via Angels and the Gods Above) is capable of actually bringing the dead back to life properly. The bad guys have to make do with necromancy. Unless, of course, you're a bad guy tricking a resurrection out of an angel.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain:
    • The Dread Empire was considered this before the story began. Prior to Malicia taking power the general consensus of most of Calernia was that the empire was comically inept, led by tyrants whose elaborate evil plots always backfired spectacularly. Of their seventy-odd attempts to conquer Callow, only one had succeeded. Now, not only has Malicia taken Callow, she's managed to hold on to it, causing the rest of the continent to see the empire as a legitimate threat for the first time since the days of Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
    • The Wandering Bard. An Ashuran hero who joins The Lone Swordsman's party before the rebellion begins in southern Callow. Ridiculously dressed, constantly throwing back enough alcohol to kill a herd of livestock and a less-than-competent musician and singer, The Bard at first appears to be little more than comic relief. There's certainly more to Almorava of Smyrna than meets the eye. She has the Genre Savvy that is the hallmark of her profession, with an understanding of the workings of fate rivaling even the Black Knight. She has a tendency to appear (literally) whenever anything particularly plot-relevant is going on; no matter how much violence is directed her way she always manages to escape just in time; she seems to know intimate details of events she should be far too young to have witnessed and if nothing else, her liver must be superhuman. Later revealed to be immortal and in charge of maintaining the balance between Good and Evil, to keep the Gods' great game going.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Many Callowans hold this sentiment towards Praes, though they are willing to make case-by-case exceptions for Praesans who also have their own reasons to hate the Praesan nobility. When the 10th Crusade invades Callow to "liberate" it from its Callowan-born queen, they are seen in the same light.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: In the old days of For the Evulz style villainy, these were a big thing, especially under Dread Empress Triumphantnote .
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
  • Our Angels Are Different: Angels are aligned with the Heavens and are arranged in several Choirs. They are strictly Good and abhor any traces of Evil, no matter how minor, in mortals. Those who meet Angels are warped to reflect the Angel's nature.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons and Devils in this universe are separate but not opposed to each other. Devils are infinite in number and, while they start out weak and dumb, over time they can develop into more formidable varieties. They are known to devour human souls. Demons are Eldritch Abomination scale threats that come in a few varieties, each of which involves weakening and contaminating the nature of reality.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Apparently they take Good Is Not Nice Up to Eleven, considering every non-elf non-hero to be scum. They are certainly very powerful though, a single elf can be expected to wipe out a company of soldiers.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Look like the Tolkien type, and are aligned with Evil, but have a Noble Demon side to them that gives them a Blizzard side.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The only democracy on the continent of Calernia is aligned with Evil. This is why.
  • Perpetual Storm: A perpetual storm cloud covers Ater, with the Tower at its center. It's a remnant from the magic that disrupted Praesi weather under a previous ruler.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Warlock. Specifically noted several times in the text as only being deployed on the battlefield if the Black Knight is willing to write off the entire location as collateral damage. In one of the later flashbacks we get to see exactly what he did to both earn the Name of Warlock and the sobriquet "Sovereign of the Red Skies". He dropped a small mountain on a Keep containing the holder of the Name Warlock and his former teacher by, it's implied, thinning the boundaries with Hell.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Catherine and her Adjutant Hakram have this going. The scene where Hakram pledges his loyalty to Catherine splits the difference between a feudal pledge of loyalty and a marriage proposal, under starlight no less. As in so many things, her mentor did in first in his relationship with the Empress.
  • Population Control:
    • Black leaves Catherine a series of journals that reveal the real reason for the constant wars between Callow and Praes: Overpopulation. Praes has limited arable land but is wealthy due to its trade in gems and valuable metals. When the Praesi went hungry a war would be launched to either claim land and food or just kill off enough people to balance the supply. That this was not sustainable in the long term is a large part of why Black decided to break the system.
    • In the past some Emperors tried to pass reforms to limit population growth in one way or another. Every one of them was assassinated.
    • Prior to the reformists taking control goblins were subject to population control by the Tower. Removing this is one of the reasons goblins are happy to join the Legion.
  • Power Parasite:
    • Catherine's Take aspect as the Squire. Becomes further refined through her time as de facto Queen of the Winter Court, and First Under the Night to the Drow.
    • Drow can absorb the "Night" from others, absorbing their power capacity, life-force, skills, magic, etc.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The hallmark of the empire's Reformist faction including the Calamities, the Legions and the Empress. Catherine and her merry band of young villains are in the process of learning the ropes.
  • Precursor Heroes: The five Calamities serve as Precursor Villains to the current generation of villains, though they are still active and powerful.
  • Proxy War: The rebellion in Callow is effectively this for Procer. If the rebels win, they're heavily endebted to Procer and Callow effectively becomes a Vassal State. If the rebels lose, Praes has been bloodied and the stage has been set for another Crusade. (To be fair, Praes had perpetuated Procer's civil war for decades before this point, so Procer was turning their tactics against them.)
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Inverted. Despite Proceran propaganda to the contrary, the First Prince notes that the Legions of Terror have strict rules against rape or undue harm to civilians. This does nothing to make them less of a threat.
  • Really Gets Around: Hakram, according to Juniper. After he loses his hand fighting a hero and gets a magical prosthetic, orc women practically line up to sleep with him.
  • Red Baron: Apparently quite common for Praesi.
    Warlock. They called him the ‘Sovereign of the Red Skies’, whatever that was supposed to mean – Praesi liked to tack on fancy titles to everything, it was like a cultural compulsion. Came from the centuries of unrepentant villainy, probably.
    • the Black Knight is called the Carrion Lord for the many dead he left in his wake.
    • Scribe is called the Webweaver for her continent-spanning network of spies.
  • Reflexive Remark of Reverence (inverted): Whenever someone mentions Dread Empress Triumphant, every Praesi present presses a knuckle to their forehead and says "may she never return." This is explained as the closest Praesi ever come to prayer.
  • Refusal of the Call: Catherine is offered the chance to become Queen of Callow by an Angel and lead a Crusade to drive the Praesi out. She refuses and then Takes the power she needs from the Angel.
  • Religion Is Magic: Most "Sorcery" is seemingly independent of religion, but "Miracles" are reliant on it.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: All of them, one way or the other.
    • The princes and princesses of Procer (notably prince Klaus Pappenheim and princess Rozala Malanza) as well as the Majilis from Levante, the Tyrant of Helike, and Catherine as the Black Queen of Callow lead their armies themselves.
    • Less warlike leaders such as Dread Empress Malicia and First Prince Cordelia keep their court at bay, form alliances abroad, and generally manage their country's affairs, such as Malicia implementing the reforms.
    • Special mention goes to the Dead King, who, back as an alive prince of Sephirah, orchestrated his sucession to the throne, the use of progessively darker sorceries, and the turning of his entire country to undead so flawlessly that the Heavens were unable to do anything against it.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The actual Rule of Three in-universe occurs when two Named become nemeses. They are fated to have three battles and cannot die until then, unless something from outside Creation interferes. The results of the first two battles usually dictate the outcome of the third.
    • Every Name has three Aspects of power. Most Aspects can only be called on three times per day.
    • The battle of Liesse is really a struggle between three Named for the future of Callow: The classic villainess Heiress, the classic hero William, and the progressive villain Catherine.
    • Catherine manages to claim the Angel's power with three narrative elements: A kingdom in peril, a claim to rule it, and an enemy to defend against.
  • Running Gag:
    • Catherine having castrated an ogre in single combat and the increasingly elaborate lies her followers tack on to that. Robber having a jar full of eyeballs comes up now and then, as does the fact that Hakram is an inveterate gossip and something of a ladies' man among the Orcs of the 15th.
    • Every time Catherine's indirect involvement in burning down part of a city is brought up and her complaints about everyone thinking she's about to do it again.
    • The soldiers naming one of Catherine's zombie animals, usually with a pun, and her resulting irritation. This serves as Foreshadowing that the seemingly uncorrupted Horse at the Battle of Marchford is not as harmless as it appears after the soldiers give it a nickname.
    • Any POV section with Abigail has a rambling internal monologue (snippets of which she'll accidentally say out loud) all while she flounders her way to apparently brilliant tactical victories. By Book 5, Cat's the only one who seems to have caught on, and even then promotes her to General, much to Abigail's distress.
    • Indrani throwing things at Masego’s head
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Cat grew up in an orphanage, surrounded by dozens of girls her own age, with very little privacy. She's not unaware of cultural nudity taboos, but she finds other people's reactions to her not being clothed more amusing than anything. The only exception is that she won't be naked around someone who is her superior - either the Black Knight, or (when he's her Captain when she first joins the College) Ratface.
  • Ship Tease: Almost Every vignette from Juniper's perspective contains at least one moment suggesting that Juniper's affection for Aisha may not be merely platonic.
  • Siege Engines: Praesi Legions' sapper corps often build ballistae or small catapults when they have a large battle ahead. It's a mark of how advanced the modern Legions are that they construct their own siege engines from their own blueprints, while almost everyone else buys theirs from the Kingdom Under.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Slavery is the Berserk Button for Orcs, and generally despised outside of the Merchant City of Mercantis, and a society built around a Slave Mook army, Stygia.
  • Smug Snake: Heiress, all the way. The way she constantly schemes against and undermines Catherine while hiding behind her connections had made her arguably the most hated character in the series.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: Each of the standard good races (except Halflings, who have yet to appear) gets a deconstruction.
    • The classic Elves-as-Superior Species trope gets played to its logical conclusion: The elves of Golden Bloom are technically aligned with the side of Good to such an absurd degree that they consider basically all non-heroes to be evil scum and are so xenophobic and isolationist that any human who comes close to their kingdom in the Golden Bloom is killed without warning. They are nevertheless undeniably better, with a small unit of elven troops reportedly able to slaughter battalions of conventional troops with no casualties. The greater whole of the elvish race also goes against the usual trope. Rather than a small, isolated society, they control a massive continent-spanning empire where interbreeding with other races is common.
    • The dwarves, rather than a dwindling remnant, are depicted at the height of their power with an empire that spans the entire continent of Calernia beneath the surface. Instead of accidentally unearthing a long-buried monster that destroys their civilization, they routinely harness and tame them to heat forges or use in warfare. All of their traditional negative traits are amplified - they believe that no one but a dwarf can actually own property and so dwarves travelling the surface customarily steal everything that isn't nailed down, with surface dwellers generally too fearful of the power of the Kingdom Under to object. They are also in the habit of destroying entire surface cities when vexed.
    • Little is known of the gnomes, however their general Bungling Inventor hat has been replaced with an overwhelming technological advantage over all other civilizations. Generally the only time Calernia hears about the gnomes is when they send cryptic threats to any nation dabbling in technology they deem forbidden. Any nation ignoring their first two warnings is eradicated without a trace.
  • Theory of Narrative Causality: Named often become trapped in patterns established by previous stories, which partially determine how the situation plays out. Much like in Discworld, cunning characters can identify the pattern and work out a way to adjust how the story unfolds.
  • There Can Be Only One: Only one person can claim a given Name at any given time, so if multiple people try for the same one, none can succeed until all of the others are somehow knocked out of the running (most commonly by death). That said, the winner doesn't have to kill the other contenders personally - it doesn't matter who knocks the others out of the running so long as someone does.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Dead King wrote one, and scraps of copies can be found throughout the continent, with Praes having an all-but-complete copy in the Tower somewhere. It turns out to be a case of Artifact Domination. The knowledge within it infects the reader, causing them to enter The Dead King's service.
  • The Unchosen One: Catherine sees herself as this. The heroes that were rising up to liberate Callow had failed for years, so she decided to do something about it on her own terms.
    Catherine: That's when I realized that nothing was ever going to change if I just waited for someone else to step up. It's not that I think I've been chosen, Hakram. I haven't. I choose. I am no longer willing to let someone decide my fate for me, not even for my own good.
  • Villainous Friendship: Black Knight and the Empress are genuine friends and have been since before she was taken into the Imperial seraglio. This may not prevent them from turning on each other, however. Likewise the Five Calamities are by friendship and trust rather than fear or ambition as might be expected. Catherine follows her mentor's lead in this when she gets her own minions.
  • Villain Protagonist: the story follows Catherine, who is, due to the nature of her Name, on the side of evil.
  • Villain Respect: Catherine is the recipient of this from Akua Sahelian.
  • Water Source Tampering: The terrifying thing about the “Still Waters” doomsday weapon isn’t that it turns an entire city into frenzied zombies. It is that it infects them through a few alchemical potions poured into wells instead of some elaborate ritual.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Many amongst the Praesi acknowledge that Black is the weakest holder of the Name in recent memory—perhaps in all of history. Black freely admits that his predecessors to the Name "Black Knight" had a much stronger power set, who generally possess incredibly powerful dueling abilities to take down heroes one on one whilst his are centered more around enhancing armies. Outside of his Aspects, Amadeus can perform some necromancy and shadow manipulation—which Catherine notes uses less power than even her shadow platforms—but that does not stop him from being able to easily topple a fortress with said shadows. The fact that Amadeus has survived for decades and conquered Callow while his predecessor was killed in a failed invasion says a lot about how skilled Black is.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
    • Cat does. Or at least, has Nauk do so.
    Hakram: Can we... can we actually do that?
    • This was even specifically called out previously as something that shouldn't have worked.
      Nauk ... Hells, I’d take a potshot at him myself if I thought it would work.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: A reoccurring and often discussed concept is how people in positions of power have to do what is necessary, instead of what is good or in line with their personal desires. Praesi philosophy holds that a ruler and the person holding the position are two seperate entities, and the ruler's needs must always come before the person's.
  • Worst Aid: Catherine works out a way to use necromancy to control her body when it's too damaged to function properly. It's point out this is a very bad idea as the magic damages the tissue and can cause necrosis.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: The Tyrant of Helike's strategy relies on this.
    Aoede: So your grand plan, it’s not really a plan, it’s a juggler’s philosophy.
    Aoede: First step always works, so always have a first step going
    • Apparently also used by a former Dread Emperor, Dread Emperor Irritant I, "the Oddly Successful."
    “Hahahahaha. Ha. You can’t beat me now, this is the first part of my plan!”
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Discussed and Inverted. A big part of the first books is Catherine coming to terms with her decision to try to reform The Empire from the inside instead of becoming a Hero and trying to destroy it. Her frustration with Lone Swordsman largely stems from the fact that she shares several of his opinions, but thinks his methods just make things worse.
  • The Wild Hunt: They are a faction of The Fair Folk who like to terrorize mortals for sport, complete with hellish unicorns for steeds.

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