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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 is a Young Adult (Allegedly) Heroic Fantasy Web Serial Novel written by erraticerrata. Started in 2015 the fourth book is scheduled to begin on the 8th of April 2018; there are 5 planned books. 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 with individuals, species and nations that are clearly and Unapologetically Evil and Good. Individuals are able to gain superhuman powers and a certain degree of plot armor by embodying certain archetypes or 'Names' (Capital 'N'), most Names are clearly associated with Good or Evil though some are neutral and/or common. While some Names used in-story are more specific (Bumbling Conjurer, Ash Priestess, etc) the vast 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 to Fate (i.e. the plot). Fate tends to play out in predictable 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.

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The Series follows the exploits of 17-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.

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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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    • 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, Amadeus and the Exiled Prince. Amadeus 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.
  • 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.
  • Annoying Arrows: Well, annoying to a Named at least, unless it hits somewhere lethal.
  • 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.
  • 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 is intimidating, but his position within the hierarchy of the Empire is much more to do with his political skills and charisma than personal power. Several of his subordinates are far more physically powerful than he is. William tends to play this straighter.
  • 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:
    • The Calamities for Praes. Squire, Apprentice and Adjutant seems to be shaping up to be one as well.
    • The White Knight's group seems to be one as well in Book 3. Really any group of Named probably qualifies.
  • Badass Gay: Warlock is in a loving pact/marriage with an incubus. He is also badass enough to not be deployed unless the loss of the entire area is acceptable collateral. He claimed the Name of Warlock by flattening the previous holder of the Name and the fortress he was standing in with a rock the size of a Mountain that's heavily implied to have been a chunk of Hell.
  • 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.
  • The Bad Guys Win: The Empire invaded Callow with very little effort 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 most 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.
  • Bi the Way: Catherine's bisexuality is mentioned matter of factly and not alluded to thereafter.
  • 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 Liesse 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 protective (allegedly, we haven't seen anyone test her armor yet).
  • 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 looses 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 on leon 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • invoked Character Alignment: If you have a good Name, you're a hero, if you've got an evil one a villain. Deconstructed, in that what Name a person has does not actually put a proscription on their behavior; many good Names belong to frankly awful people who everyone thoroughly dislikes, while many evil Names belong to Noble Demon types who are often better rulers, especially the Empire and its ethics.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 King of Winter and Queen of Summer also apply.
  • 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.
  • Deadly 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 Triumphant. holds this title centuries after her death just for the possibility that she might come back.
  • 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 Deadly 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.
    • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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 ressurection.
  • 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.
  • The Fair Folk: The Faeries fit the bill. They're immortal, otherworldly, elegant, and some of the more powerful ones can reach Physical God levels, especially the King and Queen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: During the 10th Crusade, Catherine's ultimate goal is to enact one of these between all Good and Evil aligned nations.
  • Five-Bad Band: the Calamities are a pretty straightforward case of this.
    • Big Bad: The Black Knight is the undisputed leader of the Calamities. Also one of the strongest, and 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. 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 obviously the physically strongest and most imposing of the Calamities, with the most direct fighting style. Also leads some of the Mooks in battle.
    • 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. Nevertheless, 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 vital support to the Black Knight. Also, she gets more "face time" than Assassin. Five Races:
    • Each of the standard good races (except Halflings, who have yet to appear) gets a deconstruction.
    • The classic Our Elves Are Better 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. 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 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 with the loser of the first confrontation ultimately triumphing 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.
  • 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 Triumphant .
    (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 Triumphant 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 faze 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 some type of 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, which is apparently the domain of 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 upwards 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is 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.
  • Never Live It Down:
  • 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.
  • No Nudity Taboo:
    • 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.
  • 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 Triumphant.
    • 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. The jury's still out on how much of her silliness is an act, but 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 rivaled only by 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.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: In the old days of For the Evulz style villainy, these were a big thing, especially under Dread Empress Triumphant..
  • 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 - an Angel of Mercy will cause any person who witnesses it to never take another life.
  • 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 Better: 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 Tolkein 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: The Take aspect.
  • 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, their 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 been perpetuating Procer's civil war for decades at this point, so it was a fairly justified tactic.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Ship Tease: Literally 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Respect: Catherine is the recipient of this from Akua Sahelian.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Catherine and Kilian. Lampshaded by Black:
    Black: Never bet against a redhead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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