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Literature / Alexis Carew

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"The very worst thing about being a woman in this Navy is that the insults are so very limited. You men get called all the imaginative ones."
Alexis Carew is a series of Space Opera novels by J.A. Sutherland.

The only living descendant of a landowner on the planet Dalthus IV on the extreme fringe of the New London Kingdom, Alexis Carew grew up raised by her doting grandfather Denholm and his farmhands. Unfortunately women's rights took a giant leap backward during Dalthus' colonization and inheritance operates on agnatic primogeniture, so she must marry if she's to keep the family's considerable estate in the family. So, what's a tomboy to do when all the boys of her age and class are entitled sexist idiots?

Join the Navy.

Appointed a midshipman by the kindly Captain Grantham aboard Her Majesty's Sloop Merlin while her grandfather lobbies to have the laws changed, Alexis, now the only female officer in the Fringe Fleet, battles pirates and sexist shipmates and superiors alike, as war brews with the neighboring Republic of Hanover. It's basically Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE! if Horatio was, instead, Horatia. But not if Horatio was Honor. That's a different story, altogether.

The series contains the following works:

  • Novels:
    1. Into the Dark (2014)
    2. Mutineer (2015)
    3. The Little Ships (2015)
    4. HMS Nightingale (2016)
    5. Privateer (2017)
    6. The Queen's Pardon (2018)
    7. A Brief, Interminable Peace (2023)

  • Novellas:
    • Wronged (2015): Set 30 years prior to Into the Dark but dealing with events connected to The Little Ships, starring Someone Completely Different.
    • Planetfall (2016): Prequel to Into the Dark starring Alexis' grandfather, depicting the colonization of Dalthus.

A sister series starring a secondary character, the charming rogue Avrel Dansby, also debuted in 2018. Spacer, Smuggler, Pirate, Spy consists of:

  1. Spacer (2018)
  2. Smuggler (2019)

These books provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Abandoned War Child: In The Little Ships, Alexis encounters a young woman on Giron who was impregnated by one of Alexis' shipmates while they were all being held there as prisoners of war two years earlier in Mutineer (the other officers had given parole and were housed in the town; Alexis had refused out of concern for the enlisted crew). The narration comments that the enlisted crew are required to have contraceptive implants to prevent such accidents, but officers aren't.
  • Abandon Ship: During the privateer attack on Erzurum at the end of Privateer, Alexis's ship Mongoose is disabled and she's forced to evacuate. The ship remains in orbit in serviceable condition, however.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Alexis finds out via an overheard conversation in a pub that she's become known among the crew as "Little Bit", short for "Little Bit of Bosun", in reference to her A Mother to Her Men command style and reputation as a fighter (from the incident with Alan, which grew in the telling).
    • Delaine calls Alexis by any number of pet names in French during their romance. She draws the line at "mon chou" ("my little cabbage").
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Alan, a common sailor on Merlin, was a petty criminal who was press-ganged aboard. He's frequently drunk and in one such binge sexually assaults Alexis. She fights him off but insists to Captain Grantham that he Cut Himself Shaving. Alan quits drinking after this.
    • Alexis initially hates drinking (for one thing, she's too small to have much tolerance for it), but develops a bit of a drinking problem after the events of Mutineer, which the author openly admits is basically self-medicating for PTSD.
  • Amoral Attorney: In Alexis' Court Martial in Mutineer, her tribunal-appointed military attorney is more interested in making sure the Navy comes out looking good than in actually defending her. Fortunately the civilian co-counsel that Alexis hires has no such compunctions.
  • Appeal to Force: If you're a space pirate, do not think that the tiny woman in Royal Navy uniform will bend if you try to negotiate away her ultimatums. She will shoot you in the head without a word and ask your Number Two.
  • As You Know: A lot of exposition is done via people explaining things to Alexis, everything from port and starboard to how Faster-Than-Light Travel works. Justified in that until she signs onto HMS Merlin she's never been off-planet before and cared more about farming and logging and export prices.
  • Attempted Rape:
    • Alexis is assaulted by a drunken spacer, Alan, in Into the Dark, but she fights him off and then refuses to press charges because she didn't want to see him hanged on her account for a drunken mistake. She starts training in hand-to-hand combat with the ship's Marine complement after this. Alan stops drinking afterwards and becomes a model sailor, rounding up would-be deserters and ultimately doing a Heroic Sacrifice to save her life. She's also threatened with it a couple of times, but informs a sexist midshipman in Mutineer that if he so much as touches her, his next meal will be "nutmegs and sausage".
    • In The Queen's Pardon, Alexis stops Hanoverian crew she's marooned with on Erzurum from gang-raping a slave-owning farmer's wife and daughters to get him to talk.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Design compromises incurred by the expense of the gallenium needed to shield electrical systems from the energy-dampening effects of darkspace (where most combat happens) dictate much of the Schizo Tech used in the series. FTL ships' weapons consist of hand-loaded single-shot laser cannons because putting gallenium in missiles would be wasteful, and battle damage could render lasers connected to the ship's power supply inoperable (since the gundeck is open to space during combat). FTL ships also have an upper limit on their size, imposed by the size and complexity of the sailplan needed to propel them.
  • Barbarous Barbary Bandits: Privateer and The Queen's Pardon (originally a single novel that was Divided for Publication after it got too long) take place in "the Barbary", a sparsely settled and difficult-to-navigate region of space between The 'Verse's major powers where Space Pirates run rampant. Alexis takes command of a privateer ship and eventually tracks the pirates back to a Death World called Erzurum where thousands of spacers have been enslaved by the pirates
  • Bawdy Song: Most of the chapter headers of The Queen's Pardon consist of a stanza from a sea shanty about the events of the book, including at two points a Last-Second Word Swap of "oooooh" for respectively "cock" and "fuck". The admirals are scandalized by it, but Queen Annalise finds it hilarious.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Alexis is usually pretty nice to be around, but she has a nasty streak and isn't above killing a man in cold blood if she has to.
  • Boom Town: At the start of the series, Dalthus is a pretty sleepy little colony world, but the discovery of significant Unobtainium deposits in the asteroid belts turns it into one around the time of books four and five. The settlers wanted very limited government, but with the mining comes increased population and therefore increased crime, so they amend the laws to pay for a larger police force with a new tax on the miners.
  • Captain Obvious: "You're a girl." Said to Alexis no less than four times by surprised ratings and midshipmen she's introduced to on Merlin. Then turned on its head when she tries to head it off with Dudgeon, the ship's "carpenter" (essentially chief of maintenance and damage control), by introducing herself with, "I'm a girl."
    Dudgeon: Well and I can see that, can't I? I'm not blind.
  • Child Soldier: By regulations, common spacers have to be at least fifteen to be recruited, but there's no minimum age for midshipmen. Alexis is fourteen when she's taken aboard Merlin.
  • Cliffhanger: Privateer ends on one. Alexis is forced to Abandon Ship during her invasion of the space pirate port Erzurum, and the book ends with her and her crew having landed in the planet's jungle. The author's notes state that the book ran longer than planned so he broke it in half, to be continued in The Queen's Pardon.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Alexis was already taught to brawl a bit by foremen on her grandfather's estate, and was taught that if a man laid his hands on her with ill intent, she was to hurt him however much she had to neutralize him. After her near-rape Alexis starts training with the Space Marine contingent. Her first trainer teaches her to fight dirty to compensate for her small size: she demonstrates it by breaking a mugger's fingers later.
  • Cool Old Lady: Queen Annalise, when she appears for the first time in the epilogue of The Queen's Pardon. She's in her mid-sixties, enjoys the Bawdy Song one of Alexis's crewmen wrote about the events of the book, and neatly scuttles her admirals' attempts to hide Alexis out of sight and out of mind by knighting her.
  • Cult Colony: The New London Fringe contains several, as the central government's general approach to annoying political and religious groups is to encourage them to go someplace else. HMS Nightingale deals with two such planets in particular:
    • Man's Fall is composed of neo-Luddites who eschew any technology more advanced than gunpowder firearms (they're also pacifists who only keep guns for hunting and dealing with livestock predators), only maintaining a bare minimum spaceport because, like all New London planets, they're required by Crown law to resupply Royal Navy warships or else lose their protection. They justify this with a religious belief that darkspace is in fact heaven and therefore forbidden to mortals.
    • Al Jadiq is ruled by what amounts to Wahhabi Muslims. They have been known to kidnap and behead spacers for chatting up their women, and their leaders initially refuse to even acknowledge Alexis. She eventually retaliates by threatening at gunpoint to declare them to be in rebellion against the Crown unless they release two of her crew they've imprisoned. Also, the conflict of the book is set off by the Al Jadiqis insisting on trying to trade with the Man's Fallers against their wishes.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: After fighting off the drunken Alan, she tells the bosun, then the captain, that "He fell." They both know darn well she's lying but she refuses to press the charge of assault on an officer on account of not wanting to see him hanged for a drunken mistake, which endears her to the crew and causes Alan to give up drinking.
  • Dirty Coward: Alexis realizes this of Captain Neals when he deliberately misidentifies a Hanoverian frigate challenging them to battle as a merchantman that's too far away to catch.
  • Duel to the Death: Threatened, then executed in Privateer.
    • First, Grandpa Dunholm and Alexis both ponder challenging Edmon Coalson should he try to discredit Alexis's proposed inheritance amendment via an Ad Hominem attack on her. Instead Edmon surprises everyone by approving of it.
    • Second, a fellow privateer accuses Alexis of betraying them into a trap when the space pirate forces at Erzurum prove tougher than expected. Alexis disables him in their duel, but can't bring herself to deliver the Coup de Grâce and so spares his life.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart:
    • Despite the Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE! stylings of the series, the main conflict between New London and Hanover is surprisingly more reminiscent of World War II than the Napoleonic Wars, with culturally British and trade-oriented New London opposing culturally German and militarily expansionist Hanover mostly by itself for an extended period, and trying to get friendly but militarily neutral powers into the war on their side.
    • The mutiny in Mutineer is based on the historical mutiny aboard HMS Hermione, down to the name of the ship.
    • The Little Ships takes its name from the evacuation of Dunkirk. New London lands an army on Giron in the Berry March and for a while nothing happens (the so-called "Sitzkrieg"). Then Hanover draws away the fleet and counter-lands a much larger army that begins to Rape, Pillage, and Burn. Midshipman Artley marshals a small fleet of civilian ships to get the troops and as many civilians as can be carried back off of Giron (Dunkirk). The author furthers the homage by naming several of the civilian ships after real-life ones that took part in the operation.
    • The capture of the Marchant Company privateer Hind in Privateer and subsequent destruction by Alexis's Mongoose is based on the capture of USS Philadelphia by Barbary pirates in 1803.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Justified by the second-wave Earth colonies having been settled by individual nations, instead of trying for melting pots as happened in the first-wave colonies, and instead having them fall apart in sectarian warfare.
    • New London is the simplest one, essentially early 1800s Britain.
    • The Republic of Hanover is a stand-in for Napoleonic France, but culturally has more in common with Bismarckian Prussia (culturally and linguistically German, with a manifest destiny attitude towards rulership of mankind), with a dose of the Soviet Union.
    • The Grand Republic of France Among the Stars (the French Republic for short) is essentially the French Third Republic with the stylings of the Bourbon monarchy (with bureaucrats and civil servants standing in for the nobility in the ballroom). They also take historical cues from the pre-World War II United States, friendly with New London and opposed to Hanover, but militarily neutral.
    • There is also a second Space Germany, Deutschstirne, which Hanover bloodily broke away from centuries ago in a war that led to the passage of the Abbentheren Accords to govern interstellar warfare. Hso-Hsi, Space China from the sound of it, has so far only been briefly mentioned by name.
  • Fantasy Contraception: There's an offhand mention in The Little Ships that the enlisted crew on Royal Navy ships are required to have contraceptive implants, but officers are not. In context, Alexis has discovered that one of HMS Hermione's other midshipmen impregnated a local woman on Giron while they were all prisoners there.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Ships enter and exit darkspace at Lagrange points in normal space (points where two or more gravitational fields interact and partially neutralize each other), then use sails to harness the natural flow of dark energy towards massive objects such as planetary systems. Travel is faster the further away from massive objects you are. It's also noted that nobody really understands the why of it, just how to harness the forces involved.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: The "rules of war" in this setting are laid down by the Abbentheren Accords and observed to the letter, lest the other guy not do so next time the tables are reversed. If you strike your colors, you are considered to have surrendered and may not resume combat, and if you give your parole to a captor you may not take part in any escape attempts (but you can be rescued). Orbital bombardment is also banned, and punishable by death. That said, Alexis gets a lot of mileage out of Loophole Abuse...
  • Foreign Cuss Word: A fair amount of French and German swearing from French and Hanoverese personnel. In particular, Commodore Balestra refers to Captain Neals and his officers as "porcs sexistes"note , while Alexis provokes a Hanoverese frigate to fight her by signaling that the captain is an "arschficker"note .
  • Foreign Queasine: On a diplomatic mission to the French Republic, a man from the Foreign Service and a French diplomat attempt to teach Alexis proper French dining etiquette on French food. Alexis turns up her nose at escargot and complains that everything else seems to be required to be drenched in some kind of sauce. Later Dansby complains about the Hanoverese penchant for sausages and warns Alexis off of trying anything called "currywurst".
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Vat-grown "beef" makes up the main course at nearly every meal aboard Navy ships, and officers are encouraged to purchase their own provisions.
  • Gentleman Snarker:
    • Gender Flipped with Alexis, who has a very sharp wit. Her first night aboard Merlin, an older midshipman, Roland, starts making "gay sailor" innuendos about her bunkmate Philip Easley, wondering if she took the top bunk or the bottom bunk.
      Roland: Likely the top. Given young Easely, after all. Can't imagine him on top! ... Though I'm a topman, myself, and always will be!
      Alexis: I'm quite sure that Mister Easely would acquit himself with distinction, no matter the position.
      Roland: Mayhap. But you’ll never find me on the bottom, I assure you.
      Alexis: I’m sorry to hear your repertoire is so limited, sir. Perhaps with more experience, you’ll achieve some versatility. (everybody else bursts out laughing)
    • See also: Captain Grantham after Alexis has to resort to Buffy Speak in response to a Pop Quiz of the midshipmen when she can't remember the terminology.
      Grantham: And it is a keelboard, Mister Carew, not any sort of 'thingie', if you please, sir.
  • Groin Attack: The Queen's Pardon. While a pirate whose shuttle she's trying to steal is describing to Alexis what he's going to do to her, she shoots him in the hand with her flechette pistol, pinning the hand to what he's going to do it with.
  • Heaven Above: The neo-Luddite Cult Colony Man's Fall believes darkspace (an alternate layer of space-time equivalent to hyperspace) is in fact Heaven. The belief is backed up by darkspace's ability to shut off technology, but the fact that darkspace is only accessible by flying into a Lagrange point in normal space, meaning one has to fly past the Heavens to reach it, helps reinforce the divinity idea.
  • The High Queen: Queen Annalise of New London, when she's finally introduced in the epilogue of The Queen's Pardon. A Cool Old Lady in her mid-sixties, she was orphaned at age 15 and accepted advisors but not a regency, and orders that Alexis be knighted for her exploits in the novel, scuttling her military staff's plans to stick her someplace out of sight and out of mind for a while.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard:
    • The captain of the Hanoverese frigate Alexis fights at the end of The Little Ships goes down to the gundeck to bitch out his crew for being unable to finish off Alexis' horribly outmatched barque Belial. He's then killed by a lucky shot from Belial along with his Number Two, and the resulting command confusion ends in Alexis dismasting the frigate and forcing the third-in-command to surrender to her.
    • A comedic example in HMS Nightingale. Alexis attends a dinner party hosted by Edmon Coalson, but the men and women split up into separate rooms for an after-dinner discussion. Edmon wants Alexis to stay with the men, but in order to get the lot of them back for their sexism, Alexis goes with the women. She regrets this shortly afterwards because, given her naval career as opposed to the more traditionally feminine pursuits of the other Dalthan ladies, she finds the conversation irredeemably boring.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Darkspace is basically an ocean of dark matter, and that's all anyone really understands about it. Everything is slowed by it, from light to massive objects to minds: a man who goes "overboard" in darkspace and passes outside the protection of the ship's gallenium starts to feel like his brain and his limbs are becoming sluggish. It's rumored men who go overboard will often dump their air if the ship doesn't look like it's coming back for them, rather than wait and suffer the effects.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Notably this is considered a violation of the rules of war: if you strike your colors you are not allowed to rejoin the fight or resist boarding parties, and if you are captured and given your parole you may not attempt escape (but can be rescued). Alexis still successfully uses it in a Wounded Gazelle Gambit to capture a Hanoverese cutter, later noting when she's called on it that she never struck nor explicitly surrendered, only implied it by saying, "It would appear that I have no choice in the matter."
  • Inherently Funny Words: Alexis trying to learn traditional naval terminology leads to a bit of this.
    Alexis: (reading the name of a structural segment off her tablet) "Forward-twelve-port, first futtock"? Now you're just making things up!
  • Just Following Orders: In Mutineer, Captain Neals demands that Alexis beg forgiveness for the rigging crew making a minor mistake due to fatigue (after having been ordered to rig and unrig the sails repeatedly for several hours) on bended knee. Alexis, who has been singled out for abuse by Neals and the other officers for the entire book, refuses, saying she will bow to no one but the Queen. Neals strips her of her commission and orders her flogged. The other enlisted men comply, but reluctantly and apologetically, and take care to preserve her modesty in the process. Then they mutiny barely two days later.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: In Mutineer. To spare the Navy the embarrassment of Captain Neals' behavior becoming public, the Court Martial acquits him of wrongdoing in the loss of HMS Hermione due to the mutiny and puts a gag order on the proceedings. However, Alexis and the actual mutineers are simultaneously acquitted of mutiny due to Neals' abusive treatment, and Neals is suspended from service for psychiatric reasons and will never command anything unsupervised ever again, certainly not another ship. To top it off, the captains on the tribunal restore Alexis to the rank of midshipman, then immediately test her for lieutenant and promote her, and the Navy rumor mill means word of what happened gets out anyway.
  • Kangaroo Court: Alexis' Court Martial at the end of Mutineer. Neals and his cronies, excuse us, officers are in lockstep, the tribunal believes their word over that of the entire enlisted crew of HMS Hermione, her JAG is openly more interested in making sure the Navy looks good than in defending her, and the only sympathetic officer on the ship is too scared to testify. Fortunately, Delaine delivers them HMS Hermione's log under a flag of truce, forcing the court to acknowledge that Alexis was the victim, not the perpetrator.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Chemical firearms and cutlasses are preferred for boarding actions because they work in darkspace without needing expensive gallenium. Handheld laser weapons do exist, but any designed for use in darkspace require expensive gallenium-infused capacitors.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Spacer, Smuggler, Pirate, Spy is an obvious allusion to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Alexis achieves some of her more improbable victories by skirting the Exact Words of the Abbentheren Accords.
      • Giving false surrender or rejoining a battle after striking one's colors is forbidden. Alexis captures a Hanoverian customs cutter with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit by implying she was surrendering but never actually explicitly saying so, and never striking, thereby tricking them into docking so she could board them.
      • Similarly, joining in an escape attempt after giving your parole is forbidden, but being rescued is allowed. Imprisoned by Hanover after the mutiny on HMS Hermione, Alexis refuses to give parole, then plans and executes a breakout after the Berry March fleet is recalled to guard the Hanoverese interior with the expectation that their next jailors won't be as accommodating, even stopping to pick up her Ungrateful Bastard captain and the other officers and midshipmen.
      • The Accords also ban Orbital Bombardment, but Alexis, desperate to buy time for badly outnumbered ground troops, discovers on a close reading that "space" is defined in the Accords as "above a planet's mesosphere"note . She has her barque's hull stripped of masts and sails to fly through the lower atmosphere and begins blowing holes in the Hanoverese columns.
    • In The Queen's Pardon, upon returning to a Navy station, Alexis administers a Glove Slap to an officer who deserted them earlier in the book. Another officer is outraged and points out that dueling is illegal for Royal Navy officers, and Alexis retorts she was merely acting as a second and delivering the challenge of another (Hanoverese) officer who is not present, which there's no rule against.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Imprisoned by culturally French Hanoverese naval forces after HMS Hermione's mutineers sail her to the Berry March (Alsace-Lorraine IN SPACE!), Alexis befriends Lieutenant Delaine Thiebaud while arranging better treatment for the crew (who, not being officers, cannot give parole and be housed in the town), and falls in love with him. He later provides evidence exonerating her of the mutiny at Court Martial and showing the extenuating circumstances, and in The Little Ships she seeks him out to gain the Berry March fleet's help against Hanover and loses her virginity with him.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-Universe, Alexis's response to a "gay sailor" barb to her roommate about whether he takes the top (bunk bed) or the bottom (bunk bed) is to suggest that the insulter has a "limited repertoire" for only taking the top, putting everyone else in the room in stitches. This line becomes the source of a number of Brick Jokes.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Midshipman Villar, Alexis' first officer on Nightingale, is attracted to Marie, a single mother Alexis rescued from Giron in The Little Ships, but Marie gets frustrated when he keeps backing off. Reason being, Villar had walked in Marie and Alexis sleeping in the same bed on the way to drop Marie off with Alexis' grandfather on Dalthus. Once he finally manages to work around to saying what he thought, Alexis bursts out laughing and explains that no, both of them are straight and they only shared a bed because installing a second bunk in the captain's quarters wasn't practical (Marie had to be able to get up in the middle of the night to deal with her baby, and Alexis is too short to comfortably climb to an upper bunk).
  • A Mother to Her Men: Alexis learned to handle men from running a plantation with her grandfather, and tends to win the Undying Loyalty of the crew under her by directing with a kind word and a smile and by joining in with their work. The horribly sexist Captain Neals wrongly infers from this that she's trading sexual favors for their loyalty. His busting her down to ordinary spacer and having her flogged for refusing to kneel to anyone but the queen sets off a mutiny.
  • No Woman's Land:
    • Notably it's only New London where women's rights have taken a giant leap backward: the first important Hanoverian officer we're introduced to is Balestra, a female commodore of French descent. But Space Britain has a habit of encouraging people with troublesome ideas to go to other planets instead of combating them, which means that sexism is much more common and accepted on the Fringe, up to and including banning women from inheritance (which is unconstitutional, but enforcement is lax to nonexistent). Naturally, this means that Alexis takes crap from everyone just for having two X chromosomes, though she tends to win over the common spacers with her A Mother to Her Men tendencies, and it's also noted by at least one New London CO that the Navy has to leave a lot of good officers behind in the core worlds because they're women.
    • Exaggerated in Mutineer when Alexis is taken aboard by Captain Neals, who pulls rank on Commander Grantham to get her on his crew, then makes it his personal mission to drive her to resignation any way he can.
    • This all leads to a minor surprise in the third book: New London's army actually has plenty of women in it, the reasoning being that if ground troops are needed, they're either operating on foreign soil, or the shit has hit the fan at home and there are more pressing concerns than the opinions of fringeworld yokels. Here the limitation is not sex per se, but rather physical fitness: the Powered Armor and Mini-Mecha used in the "cavalry" require crew members to be able to service their machines in the field so the lower average strength of women can be an issue (as seen when the US military began allowing women to serve in combat in the 2010s), whereas there are almost as many female aircraft pilots as there are men.
  • Number Two: In the old Age of Sail fashion, the ship's executive officer is always referred to as "first lieutenant" regardless of his actual rank, much as Captain Grantham is technically only a commander. Other senior officers are similarly second through nth lieutenants in order of rank, then seniority.
  • Offending a Foreign Country: In HMS Nightingale, two of Alexis's crew members miss ship's movement while docked at Al Jadiq. Another crewman who has been there before recalls them chatting up a local woman, and then says that somebody he knew from another ship had been arrested and beheaded on Al Jadiq for doing the same thing. Fortunately for the offending crew members, this works both ways: A Mother to Her Men, Alexis promptly orders a ship's laser cannon loaded onto the shuttle for use in an armed rescue of her crewmen from the prison, and threatens Al Jadiq's planetary governor with being stripped of Royal Navy protection altogether if they pull something like this on the Queen's spacers again.
  • Off on a Technicality: In Mutineer Alexis briefly consults an attorney on challenging Dalthan inheritance law, but is informed that she couldn't, yet, due to a problem of standing: as her grandfather is still alive, she has not yet been personally injured by the nationally unconstitutional law and therefore cannot challenge it. In book four it turns out to be worse than that: landholdings on Dalthus are held as shares of a private corporation (as opposed to government-backed nobility), which as a private entity is permitted to set its inheritance law however it likes.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Banned under the Abbentheren Accords after the Republic of Hanover achieved independence from Deutschstirne by bombarding multiple planets with asteroids, killing billions. However, Alexis discovers a loophole: the Accords define "space" as "above a planet's mesosphere", meaning flying to a lower altitude and then firing broadsides is perfectly legal. It's also noted in The Queen's Pardon that pirates are not known for following interstellar law.
  • Our Dark Matter Is Mysterious: Darkspace is an alternate layer of spacetime where dark matter and dark energy have physical form. This is used mainly to make darkspace an ocean: dark matter forms "shoals" and "reefs" around star systems that can enmesh and destroy ships, and ships' sails harness dark energy "winds" between star systems for propulsion. Privateer in particular takes place in a region of space called the Barbary where dark matter formations are much denser. Space Pirates have set up a base inside a system that is all but blockaded by dark matter except for small difficult-to-navigate passages, and Alexis makes two attempts at penetrating it.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Alexis tops out at a scant meter and a half by the time she stops growing (she's fourteen when the series begins), and is one of the Combat Pragmatist variety since she's way too small to meet strength with strength. In addition to fighting dirty, she learns martial arts from Royal Marines she serves with, and once thrashes a male member of her crew in the sparring ring to prove it trumps Good Old Fisticuffs.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Dunholm Carew believes this of Edmon Coalson, the grandson of his enemy Rashaed Coalson, in Privateer after Edmon unexpectedly votes in favor of amending Dalthan inheritance law to allow females and children other than the firstborn to be named heir. Dunholm thinks Edmon saw which way the wind was blowing and decided to get out in front of it; Alexis is less sure.
  • Privateer: Alexis and her crew from HMS Nightingale
  • Rebellious Princess: Alexis technically isn't a noblewoman, but by her homeworld's standards she's the next best thing. She balks at the gender roles society wants to place her in, refusing to marry some asshat solely so her family's land stays in the family. Note that these gender roles have only been legally enforced on her planet for two generations at most and are nationally unconstitutional, so she's got some reason.
  • Recurring Dreams: Alexis starts having nightmares after her experience leading the prize crew on the pinnace Grapple, which only get worse after serving on Hermione. The captain of HMS Shrewsbury in The Little Ships is sympathetic and tells her about his own nightmare.
  • Recursive Canon: Most chapters of The Queen's Pardon contain a stanza from a sea shanty that, as becomes apparent, is about Alexis's adventure in the duology, and turns out to have been written by Nabbs, one of her crew members.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Alan. Alexis shows mercy after he gets drunk and tries to rape her. Way later, he fakes going over to pirates to keep them from killing her and the other prize crew members on a captured pinnace, then dies helping them retake the ship.
  • Running Gag: In the first book, the insult "limited repertoire", courtesy of Alexis' Gentlewoman Snarking and the ship's grapevine.
  • Schizo Tech: The widely varying tech levels in the series means that people on Dalthus often die waiting for an animal-powered vehicle to take them to the only source of high-end sci-fi medicine on the planet. This includes Alexis' grandmother, who died in childbirth. See also loading and firing Frickin' Laser Beams by hand (they're at least breech-loaders). Justified in the latter case by the fact that any other style of weapon would be Awesome, but Impractical in darkspace: incorporating the necessary amount of gallenium to shield missile electronics or ship's power supplies to a laser isn't cost-effective. The third book shows off a French non-FTL cruiser that does have such weapons: it is a giant compared even to ships of the line, since its size isn't constrained by the complexity of the sailplan needed for Faster-Than-Light Travel. Alexis starts wondering how one might counter such a defense, although any possible solution has yet to come up in the series.
  • Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!: Alexis gets a lot of mileage out of Loophole Abuse of various rules and regulations, but even she is taken aback in The Queen's Pardon when another officer tells her that in the event of a slave uprising on Erzurum, the Space Pirates running the place could always just use Orbital Bombardment as a last resort. Alexis points out that doing so would blatantly break the Abbentheren Accords, and the other officer wryly replies that pirates are not exactly known for following the law.
  • Secret Test of Character: "Secret" is pushing it, but the midshipman's exam is as much a test of the officer candidate's ability to handle the stress of command as it is a knowledge test, being that it consists mainly of three or more senior officers screaming theoretical scenarios at the middie for hours on end. Roland failed it at least six times due to second-guessing himself.
  • Shellshocked Veteran: Alexis develops mild PTSD after the events on Grapple, which are only worsened by her maltreatment aboard HMS Hermione and the death of most of her crew on Belial. She has recurring nightmares and develops a bit of a bourbon problem. The author wrote in the afterword to HMS Nightingale that he did this as a reaction to some Military Science Fiction skipping over the effects of war on the personality.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The war between New London and Hanover ends in a status quo antebellum peace while Alexis is elsewhere commanding HMS Nightingale. This means the Berry Marches remain under Hanoverese control, but also that its fleet, including her lover Delaine, are exiles and that the death of her entire crew in the previous book achieved next to nothing. To make matters worse, her current command is declared surplus to requirements and they're all beached on half-pay.
  • Shout-Out: Sans beret, the New London Navy's uniforms bear a striking resemblance to Starfleet uniforms from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, except blue.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Played for Laughs when Alexis is chastised by Captain Grantham for some unprofessional things she said during a single-ship action. She was so worked up she didn't even remember enjoining the gun crew to "bugger them right through their knickers, boys!"
  • Slut-Shaming: Due to the patriarchal culture of New London's Fringe, male crew on both military and merchant ships frequently brag about their sexual exploits on shore leave, whereas women have to be more furtive and discreet if they choose to visit dockside brothels or otherwise seek sexual companionship. Alexis herself uses a male prostitute a couple times in the second book, but only as a shoulder to cry on due to her isolation aboard ship.note  She eventually has her first time in the third book with her Love Interest Lieutenant Delaine Thiebaud.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Leans really hard on the Wooden Ships and Iron Men IN SPACE! styling. Darkspace is treated as the open sea, complete with shoals and storms, Space Sailing is done by harnessing its currents, and ships navigate by dead reckoning and fight in broadside duels using hand-loaded single-shot laser cannons aimed by eye (because darkspace dampens electricity and otherwise resists any attempts to study it). The landlubber protagonist is also often befuddled in the first book by the constant use of archaic naval terminology.
  • Space Sailing: Ships in The 'Verse are propelled through darkspace via charged sails that harness the "winds" of dark energy, which tend to flow towards massive objects like planetary systems. Since nothing electrical works in darkspace unless shielded with expensive gallenium, this means the sails have to be set by hand, and complexity and cost of sailplan governs the size of interstellar ships. In deference to 3-D space, the masts are mounted at the bow in a circle perpendicular to the ship's movement axis.
  • Spiritual Successor: The comparisons to David Drake's RCN series are unavoidable and frequent in reviews.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Follows Age of Sail naval classifications, with boatsnote , cutters and pinnacesnote , barquesnote , sloopsnote , frigatesnote , and ships of the linenote . There are also cruisers, STL-only defense ships far too big to go FTL due to the cost and complexity of the required sailplan, but since they don't have to deal with the energy-dampening effects of darkspace they can carry more advanced armaments such as missiles and laser cannons that are powered directly by the reactor.
  • A Taste of the Lash:
    • Flogging with the cat o' nine tails is a standard naval punishment for the enlisted crew (Alan is flogged by Captain Grantham for being drunk on duty when Alexis refuses to press charges of Attempted Rape), but Captain Neals in the second book is noted as a "Tartar", a captain very free with the cat, and regularly orders that the last man down the mast at shift change be flogged. This naturally results in the crew throwing safety to the wind in their haste to reach the bottom, eventually resulting in two of them going overboard and being lost in space. As a midshipman Alexis cannot be flogged no matter how much Neals wants to, until he disrates her for disobeying his demand to Kneel Before Zod and promptly gives her twenty lashes on general principles. The log of his excessive floggings is eventually his undoing at Court Martial: it's revealed that he did it roughly twice as often as the tribunal would expect of even a captain with an extraordinarily unruly crew.
    • After gaining a permanent command of her own in book four, the eponymous HMS Nightingale, Alexis is hesitant to use the lash due to her own experiences, but finally orders it in a couple cases to deal with some consistent discipline problems.
    • In Privateer it's explicitly mentioned that private ships' crews won't put up with the cat.
  • Taught to Hate: During the bidding on land parcels for the settlement of Dalthus IV, Dunholm Carew happened to outbid Rashaed Coalson on several properties. Rashaed got it into his head that Dunholm was intentionally targeting him, causing a Feuding Families situation when Rashaed taught this version to his sons and grandsons: his heir Daviel turns out to have murdered Alexis's parents because of it. The Cycle of Revenge is broken by Rashaed's grandson Edmon, who is initially antagonistic (trying and, but is impressed when Alexis returns home a war hero years later. He unexpectedly takes the Carews' side in amending the colony's inheritance laws so that she can inherit the family estate.
  • To the Pain: After summarily executing the pirate leader Horsfall, she threatens his navigator Brightey into getting them home. He assumes she'll shoot him, but she instead tells him she'll stick him in a vacsuit, tie his hands behind his back so he can't dump his air, then throw him out the airlock and hang around just out of reach to watch him die. Which is almost exactly what she does to Rashaed Coalson two books later.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Captain Neals in Mutineer. Against her better judgement Alexis rescues him from Hanoverese captivity despite the fact he continuously tried to haze her into resigning, pulled an Uriah Gambit to get her killed or captured, and disrated her when she refused to beg forgiveness on bended knee and had her flogged. The moment the escapees are picked up by friendly forces, he orders her and the other crew arrested for mutiny.
  • Unknown Rival: In the backstory, Rashaed Coalson for Dunholm Carew. When it was Dunholm's turn to pick first on land claims during the colonization of Dalthus, several times he happened to pick out claims that Rashaed wanted. Dunholm insists to the Coalsons to this day it was pure coincidence, but Rashaed became convinced Dunholm was deliberately screwing him and taught the hatred to his sons and grandsons. Later Rashaed sabotaged the colony's antigrav hauler when it was headed to the Carew estate to bring Dunholm's wife to Port Arthur for treatment, leading to her Death by Childbirth. Later his son Daviel made a high-speed pass over Alexis's parents' buggy, spooking the horses to a crash that killed both of them. Alexis spaces him for it.
  • Unobtainium: Gallenium, a naturally occurring mineral that produces a field that protects items within it from the effects of darkspace.
  • Uriah Gambit: Captain Neals puts Alexis in command of one of HMS Hermione's "boats" (a non-FTL-capable shuttle) while investigating a system where they've been told there are Hanoverese merchantmen to raid. There's no merchantmen, but there is a Hanoverese revenue cutter which is no match for Hermione but more than a match for Alexis' boat. Neals deliberately leaves Alexis behind, clearly intending that she be killed or captured. Alexis instead pulls a Wounded Gazelle Gambit on the cutter, captures it, and flies it home, and the Prize Court gives her full credit for the capture due to Neals' absence.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: There have been at least two, hundreds of years in the past. The second one is mentioned as Earth's attempt to regain control of its colonies (New London and the rest), in the context of Hanover having achieved its bloody independence from Deutschstirne with a mid-war revolt.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Aboard the captured pinnace Grapple, Alexis threatens the pirate navigator that he either get them to port, or she'll throw him out the airlock in a spacesuit with his hands tied and then hang around just out of reach to watch him suffocate. She does exactly this to Daviel Coalson in The Little Ships to avenge her grandmother and parents, whom Coalson had murdered over their family feud.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Well, Thermoplastic and Unobtainium Ships, but the rest checks out: everything about the workings of space travel is based heavily on the Age of Sail, from the brutal discipline and classism down to the tiniest terminology of mast and sail sections. The terminology part gets a lampshade when Alexis wonders aloud if "tradition" is some synonym for insanity.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Anybody who fights Alexis—Captain Grantham actually complains once about how often she ends up beaten up—but special mention goes to the horribly sexist Captain Neals, who is only stopped from having her flogged on general principles by the fact that he legally can't flog an officer. Then he disrates her for refusing to beg forgiveness on bended knee for not identifying a man who made a minor mistake due to fatigue, and promptly gives her two dozen lashes.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: So you've just been left behind in a non-FTL-capable shuttle with a Hanoverian customs cutter closing in. What do you do? Well, if you're Alexis, you pretend to be a terrified sixteen-year-old girl with a drunken crew and board the Hanoverians when they come to rescue you.
  • Wrong Insult Offense:
    • In response to an Upper-Class Twit calling her a "stupid bitch" over the radio, she remarks aloud that "The very worst thing about being a woman in this Navy is that the insults are so very limited. You men get called all the imaginative ones."
    Bosun: Aye, sir. A quite limited repertoire, these Coalsons have.
    • Given a Call-Back in Privateer when a young lieutenant tries to pick Alexis up in a bar, thinking her a local lady rather than the war heroine and privateer captain she really is. She starts in on him with the CO's routine of giving Pop Quizzes to young officers. He calls her a bitch for embarrassing him in front of the whole bar, and she boredly tells him to go ask his bosun for some better insults.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Faced with a Hanoverian frigate blowing up unarmed evacuation ships, Alexis plants her horribly outmatched barque Belial in its path and provokes it by signaling that the captain is a coward and an arschfickernote . Her ship is damaged beyond repair and most of the crew and passengers are killed, but purely by chance she manages to kill the enemy captain and first lieutenant, and the frigate ends up surrendering to her after the second lieutenant takes command.