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Literature / Ambergris

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Figure 1: Janice Shriek's typewriter. As the reader can see from this photo, the typewriter keys had been infiltrated by mushrooms. Many of the keys were brittle and fell off within weeks of taking the machine out of the room at the Spore of the Gray Cap. The typewriter disintegrated entirely within five months.

Ambergris is a substance produced in the digestive tracts of sperm whales, then regurgitated in a solid, waxy form. It possesses a dull gray color, sometimes black. It is flammable, and while first carrying an odor reminiscent of feces acquires a more pleasant scent as it ages, a sweet and earthy fragrance that has been compared to alcohol.

Ambergris is also the name of a city that serves as the setting for a series of books penned by Jeff VanderMeer which are known, for lack of a better title, as The Ambergris Cycle. The city itself possesses a dull gray color, although this is offset by the inordinate amounts of fungus which makes its home within the cracks and along the walls of the city's architecture. Mushrooms, lichens, molds and other fungi have taken over the city. Quite literally, in fact, for in addition to the city's human dwellers the underground of Ambergris houses the curious beings known only as the Gray Caps. They are Shrouded in Myth. Named for their distinctive headwear. Short of stature, origin a mystery. Rumored to control the fungus. To feed on it. To live in it. To be themselves mushroom creatures. They lurk in places too dark and dank for humans to venture, and they grow ever more bold in their contact with the world above.

The books which take place in Ambergris, by order of publication, are —

  • City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris (2001)
    • Preceded by The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris, by Duncan Shriek (1999), which is collected within City.
  • Shriek: An Afterword (2006)
  • Finch (2009)

In 2020, the Ambergris stories have been collected into one collection that's simply called Ambergris. The arranged order inside are City of Saints and Madmen with the stories Dradin, In love, The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of the City of Ambergris, The Cage, The Transformation of Martin Lake and finally The Strange Case of X. Following those stories are Shriek: An Afterword and finally Finch.

Tropes present in the books of Ambergris

The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris, by Duncan Shriek

  • Annoying Arrows: Averted, the whaling fleet that founded Ambergris were dangerous not just with sword and harpoon, but also were excellent archers. It was with these medieval weapons, that they conquered the early Gray Caps and held their own against marauding forces from outside.
  • Apocalypse How: A very local one called "The Silence" happens during the rule of Cappan Aquelus, while on a hunting expedition for Freshwater Squid by the newly developed Ambergris Navy - the remaining 25,000 people mysteriously disappear forever. This would be a traumatic event felt for over a century and is a harbinger to the terror to come.
  • Cornered Rattlesnake: It was easy for Mazinkert's forces to kill the Gray Caps on the surface, they didn't put up any resistance (Duncan suggests that they're a Hive Mind and didn't register the invaders as a threat), but go into underground Cinsorium and the Gray Caps will respond with ambushes using Poisoned Weapons and eye removals.
  • The Dreaded: Duncan notes that if Mazinkert I was really nearly 7 feet tall and all muscle and pirate ferocity, then how much more dangerous must Michael Breugel be. Michael was the one that almost destroyed Mazinkert's fleet and sent them fleeing into exile in the jungles. Breugel's descendants still have hostilities towards Ambergris.
  • Eye Scream: Mazinkert I and any others who are taken alive while going into underground Cinsorium, have their eyes surgically removed.
  • Footnote Fever: According to his publisher, Duncan wrote almost half the book in footnote format-they only stayed there because they were insightful and often hilarious.
  • Just the First Citizen: Ambergris was founded by a whaling fleet turned pirate. So first rulers of the city are called the Cappan (a regional pronounciation of "Captain") which started under the captaincy of Mazinkert I and continued under his descendants.
  • Land of One City: Ambergris is but a single city founded on the ruins of the fungal city that the whaling fleet calls Cinsorium and can't expand too far from there due to the dangers of the surrounding jungle. It has all the economic and political power of a country as its economy waxes with the Freshwater Squid trade and growing industrialization.
  • Noodle Incident: Often within the footnotes.

City of Saints and Madmen

  • All for Nothing: Dradin has spent all his money on a book for the woman he fell in love with, watching her through a window. He's also nearly sold as a Human Sacrifice to the Greycaps by Depraved Dwarf Dvorak who was supposed to be the middleman between Dradin and the woman. All that and then Dradin finds out that woman was nothing more than a doll propped against the window.
  • Alternate Universe: In The Strange Case of X, the writer of City of Saints and Madmen is from modern day Chicago and he ends up in Ambergris, where he's held in an asylum.
  • Anachronic Order: The chronological order of the Ambergris stories are rather scattered. The Cage is the 2nd story in City of Saints and Madmen but chronologically it's the first story and starts the rise of the Hoegbotton company and the final days of the Cappancy. The Transformation of Martin Lake involves either that same Hoegbotton from The Cage in his later years or is one of his sons. Dradin in Love takes place in a time with motor cars, but the Festival of the Freshwater Squid is extremely violent so it takes place before Shriek: An Afterword. Shriek happens after The Hoegbotton Guide... and The Strange Case of X must happen after Shriek as it involves Janice's killing. Only Finch is in the right order, at the very end of the Ambergris stories.
  • City of Adventure: Ambergris is a city-state of extremist artisans, ex-pirate/whaler nobility, madmen, traitorous scum and the Gray Caps with a healthy dollop of horror and violence to stir it up.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: One particular anecdote about how the Ambergrisians revolted against the Kalif, detailing how a cafe owner cheerfully poisoned several enemy soldiers, and then urged his cousin to visit because the weather was so nice there.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: It may be another reality, but the Truffidians do believe in God, it's they just that they think he's disappointed in creating a flawed universe and went into self-imposed exile.
  • Dark Secret: In Dradin, in love, Dradin occasionally reminisces about his sexual encounter with a sweaty Sister of his order while in the jungle mission. That's not what actually happens... while maddened by jungle fever he rapes and then dismembers her with his machete and kills other members in his compound.
    • In The Transformation of Martin Lake, people are amazed at how Lake overnight went from a talented but uninspiring artist to a man who's works are brimming with a dark, innovative edge. It turns out his secret was that during a special patron request, Martin was forced into murdering Voss Bender by an ambitious Hoegbotton patriarch. That traumatic experience and the guilt of having to keep his deed secret, led to Martin's transformation as an artist.
  • Deal with the Devil: In The Cage, Hoegbotton was just a scavenging junk dealer with a fungus-infected blind wife and he was more concerned about finding out what happened in the Silence and his ancestors's disappearance than making money. The events of the Cage would lead him into direct contact with a Gray Cap and a deal that would make the eventual Hoegbotton and Sons company extremely rich and powerful, but renowned for their unsavouriness.
  • Eldritch Location: Something is implied to be very wrong with Ambergris, most of it caused by the Gray Caps.
  • Fake Memories: The priest Dradin caught jungle fever which temporarily did a number on his sanity and so he misremembers the events that would be his Dark Secret.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Nimblytod and the Dogghe tribes were indigenous to the Ambergris area before it was settled by Manzikert's armies.
    • Also against the Gray Caps by Mazinkert and his people, culminating in a genocide. This turned out to be a bad idea.
  • A Fête Worse than Death: The Festival of the Freshwater Squid. It's an orgy of violence, murder and death resemblant of The Purge movies.
  • Grey Goo: In the time of Hoegbotton and the last years of the Cappancy, much of the Ambergris's efforts had been to fight a losing war against the fungus that's slowly taking over the city-state.
  • Mysterious Past: Tonsure. In Finch it’s revealed he was Shriek trying to change the past by wiping out the Greycaps at the City’s founding but setting up a Stable Time Loop instead.
  • Serious Business: In "The Transformation of Martin Lake", with the Age of Cappancy over, the informal leadership of Ambergris fell to genius composer Voss Bender. After Voss Bender's disappearance and presumed death, the "Green" and "Red" factions formed. The first was musical fans of his operas and felt he could do no wrong, while the latter hated his despot tendencies on stage. These two factions turned quickly to violence and outright gangland warfare, with ordinary citizens needing to show allegiance colours to safely go through Green/Red territories.
  • Starfish Aliens: The giant freshwater squid probably aren't from outer space, but otherwise they fit perfectly in the description. They're strongly implied to be sapient, communicate with bioluminiscence and when people gather together to hunt them once a year, they in turn gather together to hunt people.
  • The Quisling: Hoegbotton dealing with the Gray Caps will eventually make him and his corporation the leaders of Ambergris.
  • Trapped in Another World: The "patient" featured in The Strange Case of X has been dumped in Ambergris from Chicago, after he felt another entity drag him through. It gets worse, though; the man from Chicago has pushed Janice Shriek into a fire.

Shriek: An Afterword

  • Biotech: House Frankwrithe & Lewden somehow has an arms deal with the Gray Caps and they bring out fungal mortars and fungus guns that both use body-melting toxins in their ammo. Additionally Duncan has discovered that the Gray Caps have a powerful machine that is partially built with bodies.
  • Body Horror: Duncan's slow transformation and degradation from too much fungus exposure.
  • The Cassandra: Duncan destroys his career and later his relationship by insisting that the city is secretly controlled by mysterious midgets that dwell underground and like mushrooms. Though it's implied that many of his opponents know perfectly well that he is right, but try to convince themselves otherwise to protect their peace of mind.
  • Civil War: It's in this story, that the audience first hears of the War of Houses. This is a civil war that resulted from Corporate Warfare between the followers of the House of Hoegbotton which has ascended astronomically from its humble beginnings and House of Frankwrithe & Lewden which is an old house that's a major power in the publishing industry with its power base in neighboring Morrow.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Duncan associates closely with them later in his career, since they're the only ones who listen to his theories with a straight face. As far as the general population is concerned, he's the craziest one of them all, since he claims to back up his wild theories with personal experience.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The Kalif's invasion was short-lived once the Gray Caps got involved. Janice saw a series of large explosions from the Kalifate's position and with that the bombardment of Ambergris stopped instantly.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Duncan theorizes that Gray Caps have been manipulating the population of Ambergris with spores to unconsciously control them to a degree - he believes this the reason why the Festival of the Freshwater Squid is so violent and how Ambergris can be so cohesive a city-state instead of fragmenting into smaller cities. One good side-effect is that these spores prevent disease, so the population is unusually healthy.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Yeah becoming a spore receptacle didn't help him mentally, but Duncan gets increasingly less sane as he spends more time and learns more of the Gray Caps and their world.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Duncan is so riddled with alien fungi that he can regrow lost body parts with fungal equivalents (in his writing, he even thought of offering to grow a new leg for his sister Janice).
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Janice used to be the darling of the art world, as her gallery became famous for discovering "the New Art". However once the trend was over, she became a pariah has-been and having blown her money on drugs and partying during that period, she was reduced to poverty.
  • Humanity Is Superior: At the core of the "Nativism" movement, it postulates that the Gray Caps are little more than animals and disputes the event of the Silence. Instead humanity is the sole architect of their own fate, good or bad and there's no outside force to influence it. Going hard into Nativism leads to Ambergris being unprepared for how dangerous the Gray Caps really are.
  • Human Resources: Duncan believes that the Gray Cap's machine is powered by the emotional turmoil of Ambergris's population and so the Gray Caps actually treat the humans there as a kind of herd animal.
  • Mad Artist: Besides the example of Martin Lake in the prior City of Saints and Madmen, Ambergris has many unstable artists. Janice, though just an art gallery owner, is herself an oddball and she collects artisanal prostheses for her leg stump (her first pegleg was the re-enactment of the opera house slaughter by the Kalif). Janice even tried making herself an art piece pegleg.
  • Poverty Food: During the War of the Houses, food became scarce. It was also discovered in that period, that door knobs in Ambergris were made using sawdust and ox blood. So almost all of the population has had at least one meal of door knob.
    • As the war progressed, it was discovered that parts of the fungus bombs used by House Frankwrithe & Lewden are edible. Additionally the fungus bullets used by that same house turns out to be highly nutritious once the poisons in them have gone stale. People had been known to dig out bullets from corpses just to save for their next meal.
  • The Reveal: Duncan discovers that the Gray Cap have a Bizarre Alien Psychology and don't think or feel in the same manner as humans. It turns out they weren't too bothered by Mazinkert I's slaughter and conquest of Cinsorium. The Silence wasn't about vengeance, it was an accident caused by the Gray Caps experimenting with a machine.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: After her mutilation and the bankruptcy of her gallery, Janice has to work as a tour guide to make a living. Besides being rough on her mentally and physically (she's not getting any younger and she was already in her 50s in The Transformation of Martin Lake), she has to deal with the humiliation of showing tourists how famous Mary Sabon is.
  • Technology Marches On: Janice notes that in this time period, besides having more motorized vehicles, Ambergris gets some new technology. Through relations with the new Kalif, Ambergris got guns and telegraphs.
  • Trauma Conga Line: After the heights of being the matron for "the New Art", Janice goes through some real bad years as her gallery flops and she's reduced to poverty, her brother gets increasingly freakier, civil war breaks out, she attends an opera that becomes a massacre by the Kalif's army and she gets caught up in an violent assault by a Gray Cap Bioweapon Beast. That day also had her friend killed and her foot blown off by a spore mine.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Janice holds that she is offering a balanced yet opinionated account of her brother's life. Duncan takes issue with the first claim. She straight out admits this herself towards the end; including that it was her who informed Duncan's superiors he was in a relationship with a student destroying his career.
  • Weather Dissonance: The event of the "Shift" was preceded by changes to the weather which included oddly slanting rainfall and marine life from outside of Ambergris mysteriously dropping from the skies.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Duncan has this relationship with Bonmot, they were friends at the University until Duncan was found to be in a relation with his student Mary Sabon. Downplayed with Mary and Janice, Janice didn't particularly like Mary though she was initially happy that Duncan had someone until he grew increasingly obsessed with her. Janice becomes an outright enemy when Mary brought the rise of the 'Nativism' movement and discredited Duncan and Janice's academic writings.


  • Alien Invasion: The Gray Caps were just originally stranded on this world, but they come to enjoy being on it and since they can't reproduce they're going to increase their numbers by making a beacon to announce to other worlds full of Gray Caps that the world is ripe for conquest.
  • Ambiguously Human: After Ethan Bliss has been rescued after a crucifixion, Finch encounters him the next day and sees his hands are completely healed - this is something that'd be impossible even for fungal medicine. Bliss also can easily travel through portals and has access to artifacts that are made by neither human or Gray Caps. Near the end of the story, Bliss shifted into an inhuman thing when he became enraged at Finch before regaining control of himself.
  • Badass Army: The remaining Rebel forces have been holed up in different worlds in different eras. And in their respective safe places, they had been gathering resources and building up their troop strength with what's available locally for a very long time. So when they return to Ambergris, it's the end of the Gray Cap rule as an almost unlimited force of warriors and war-machines swarm the city-state.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: There are Spore Cameras floating throughout the city and they're under constant monitoring from the Gray Caps. People are still involved with crime as they think the Gray Caps can't possibly see everything happening at once. Additionally the Partials have a third eye which acts as a camera for the Gray Caps.
  • Bio Punk: Fungus guns, fungus bombs, the memory bulbs... fungus cyborgs!
  • Body Horror: Wyte, more drawn-out and excrutiating than even Duncan's was.
  • Brain Upload: This is how Duncan Shriek is resurrected despite having his corpse cremated, his memory bulb that Finch ate had just enough biological material and memories that Finch could relinquish his mind temporarily to Duncan and drink a regeneration potion. This would allow Duncan to physically leave Finch's body and fully restore itself, so that he can complete his mission of gathering all of the scattered Rebels.
  • The Brute: The Stockton spy Stark is co-opting the Ambergris underworld and he has his brother, the brutal Bosun as his enforcer. Bosun's a devastating fighter and he's the one that killed Bliss's team and crucified Bliss himself. Stark claims that Bosun's dangerous enough to be able to kill a Gray Cap one on one though the result would be something out of a butcher shop.
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: The Lady in Blue, Alessandra Lewden, first started broadcasting in radio about corruption from the leaders of Ambergris and the dangers of Gray Caps even before the Rising. She then became the voice of resistance during that 6 year long war.
  • The Chessmaster: Ethan Bliss has been manipulating events in Ambergris at least as far back as the Wars of the Houses.
  • City of Spies: After the Rising, surrounding countries have blockaded Ambergris but they still need to find out what's going on and gather info on the Gray Caps and their technology. So a spy war breaks out as the Kalifate, Stockton and Morrow send their spy teams to investigate.
  • Cool Tank: Mentioned in passing but towards the late stages of the war, tanks have been developed with an extra turret mounted on the underbelly. The under-cannon's purpose is to blast Gray Caps underground enclaves. By the time they're in service it's too little, too late.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Partial, Thomas is torturing Finch for information including cutting off a finger and toe.
  • Corporate Samurai: Before being a detective, Finch used to be a courier and soldier for Hoegbotton & Sons during the War of the Houses. Even with the old order upended, he still has connections and sympathies for the corporation.
  • Cyclops: Played with. Partials have one eye altered to act as a camera while the other atrophies to uselessness. The altered eye also produces adrenaline and other euphoric substances that make Partials happy to be altered.
  • Dark Secret: John Finch is actually James Scott Crossley, the son of John Marlowe Crossley - a hero and later traitor to Ambergris as the elder Crossley became a double-agent for the Kalifate. After the discovery of John's treachery, both Crossleys are wanted by the government. Then the Rising happened...
  • Death by Childbirth: Finch was told that's what happened to his mother and it was his father and occasionally paternal grandparents that raised him. The truth is his mother is a Kalifate girl and when Ambergris invaded, Ambergrisian soldiers raped and murdered her while he was just a baby.
  • Diesel Punk: Petrol-fuelled motor vehicles used to be common until they were banned and there are some pieces of technology that we don't have such as the tank with a turret underneath. However, radio is a new technology and they have only limited use of electricity (as noted in the short story "The Strange Case of X") so they still use lamps fueled with squid oil. It's rather fitting that the final story of Ambergris is a Film Noir detective story with fungus cyborgs.
  • Easily Forgiven: Despite her betrayal of Finch, he quickly forgives Ruthven as he's tired of all the wetworks and skullduggery. She's also his last remaining friend and it's Ruthven that he takes when he leaves Ambergris.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Heretic introduces Finch to his new pet, a creature known as a skery. Finch can't even describe what the skery looks like other than it gives him feelings of wrongness and it feels even worse than it looks as the skery wraps itself around Finch as Heretic tries to intimidate him.
  • Eye Scream: By way of headbutt, Finch manages to fight back against Thomas who has him tied up to a chair. He headbutts the Partial in the chin and knocks him over. This stuns Thomas long enough for Finch to drop himself on top, Finch unleashes a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of only headbutts to the eye, this eventually shatters Thomas's eye socket. With the Partial out of the fight, Finch grabs a knife with his teeth and slits Thomas's throat.
  • Femme Fatale: Finch's girlfriend Sintra is a woman with Nimblytodd and Dogghe parentage, she's actually a spy for the tribes but is currently aiding the Rebels as she exploits Finch for information.
  • Forbidden Zone: The HFZ (Hoegbotton Frankwraithe Zone) is an area of jungle where the remaining 20,000 Rebels with their munitions and tanks retreated to. The Gray Caps then hammered the area with a massive energy flux and more of their bioweapons. Afterwards they're content with letting possible survivors deal with dangers in the infested jungle. Since then no one goes to the HFZ.
  • Foreign Fanservice: Finch gets called out by his "girlfriend" Sintra, she mentioned that all it took to win him over was to play up the "exotic tribal girl" role and have a few bouts of sex.
  • Framing Device: The novel is divided into chapters corresponding days of the week, each day except for Sunday has a page where someone is interrogating Finch. So much of the story is actually a retelling of Finch's crappy week with Sunday being an event in the present.
  • Fungus Humongous: By this point, the Gray Caps' mushrooms have grown to the size of buildings.
  • Genre Shift: Halfway through the book, the story goes from a murder mystery to becoming a spy-caper with plenty of foreign intrigue.
  • Gangsterland: During and after the War of the Houses, Ambergris has a high number of small gangs dividing control of the city amongst themselves. And after the Rising, they're tolerated by the Gray Caps so long as they keep out of the Gray Caps' way. A new complication occurs when foreign spies come to the city to set up shop.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: As opposed to previous characters who slowly became fungal after becoming exposed to Gray Cap weapons, the Partials willingly give up their selves to becoming living tools.
  • Hidden Depths: Finch is deeply into reading, as he was raised by his father who was an engineer/soldier for Hoegbotton.
  • Higher-Tech Species: The Gray Cap mostly have better tech (including some that can fiddle with reality) than the local humans who only had guns 100 years ago. However technologies like radio confound them and the Gray Cap never truly mastered their technology. Finally the Gray Cap tech advantage gets wiped out when the scattered Rebels return with new tech.
  • Idiot Ball: The detectives note amongst themselves, that it was a moment of foolishness why Wyte was infested. He investigated a call and it turns out to be a corpse that had a giant fungus implant its tendrils into the body. The right thing to do was leave and write a report back at the office. Instead Wyte went closer to investigate and that's when the corpse's head exploded, spraying him in the face with a cloud of spores. Not even the antidotes given to detectives could neutralize that much infestation.
  • Kill It with Water: Finch recalls how the opening salvo of the Rising was a massive flood through Ambergris that killed thousands. To this day, flooding is an issue for neighborhoods in the city.
  • Knowledge Broker: Finch's friend Rebecca Ruthven collects books in Ambergris for preservation. She also helps people get information as a supposedly neutral party in return for help in saving books and preventing her home from flooding. Ruthven has also been selling information about Finch to foreign agents.
  • Made of Iron: Finch reminds himself that the Gray Caps are very tough to kill. They don't react much to puncture wounds and only leak a bit of their blood before it seals itself
  • Memory Jar: The Memory Bulbs allow the Gray Caps to access the memories of recently deceased individuals. You simply sprinkle some spores on the corpse, wait for awhile for the fungoid bulb grow from their head and then eat it. The experience is extremely confusing, at least for humans, trying to perceive range of events in a non-linear fashion, like picking them up randomly from the air. Since the memories always belong to a dead person, experiencing the memory of their deaths can be traumatic, as well. But worst of all, sometimes the process simply goes wrong when a human ingests the bulb; one detective's body breaks down into a mass of spores after going through the process one too many times.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Thomas the Partial tells Finch that this is the best way to kill a Gray Cap as he pushed Heretic down 5 storeys (and Heretic didn't immediately fall all the way, he hit a lot of stairs first to break his fall). A massive fall hits a Gray Cap everywhere on impact and breaks the internal structure keeping their vitals intact.
  • N-Word Privileges: Only now do we learn that the Gray Caps prefer to be known as the fanaarcensitii.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: During one of his walks, Finch looks up to watch the Gray Caps' floating fortresses traverse the sky and release all kinds of organisms. These floating fortresses are a testament to the power that the Gray Cap brought out during the Rising.
  • One-Man Army: A single Gray Cap can be this because of their inhuman toughness, speed and naturally sharp claws and teeth. When he was a Hoegbotton Irregular, Finch and a gang of his comrades accosted a Gray Cap and tried to gun it down. It quickly butchered most of his friends and only died because Finch hamstrung it with a bayonet and the survivors then hacked it up and dumped it in a bonfire.
  • Paper Tiger: The Lady in Blue tells Finch that the Gray Caps are actually in a lot weaker position than they appear. On this world, they can't reproduce and don't have the actual numbers to hold Ambergris. That's why they need the Partials and human agents. While the "Silence" was an accident, they took advantage of the fear it caused and they also exploited the War of the Houses to greatly weaken the population. Humans also learned to fear how deadly a single unarmed Gray Cap is, let alone one armed with fungal weapons. Despite their advantages, had the Rebels held they could have won the war because of their superior numbers and industrial capacity.
  • The Quisling: The Partials volunteered to get altered and they serve the Gray Caps loyally. Also to an extent, Finch and his colleagues, some of them used to be Rebels, but now are working for the Gray Cap occupiers as detectives.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: The detectives don't have any police background. Instead they range from ex-artist to House soldier. Lacking the skills and forensics teams, the detectives rely on help from the Gray Caps and Partials to investigate crime.
  • Ray Gun: Among the flood of Rebels emerging from the portal, quite a number of them were carrying guns that shot a violet beam of light that devastated whatever it touched. That's just one of the alien or future tech that many of the Rebels were able to bring back.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The Partial, Thomas, turns on Heretic and murders him. The reason is that the Gray Cap never saw the Partials as more than enforcers and living cameras, and they intended to replace the Partials with the skery. That was never part of the deal according to Thomas.
  • Secret-Keeper: Ethan Bliss a.k.a Dar Sardice, knows Finch's past. In fact, he knows more about Finch than the detective knows himself - Bliss was an old contact for Finch's father and actual mother, including how she really died.
  • Secret Weapon: Both the Gray Caps and the Rebels have one. The Gray Caps are building two massive towers that none of the work crews knew what they were for. Besides being able to project a massive energy blast capable of wiping out a neighborhood, when completed these towers would be a beacon so far more Gray Caps can know where to portal from. The Rebels had a device alien to humans and Gray Caps, this device would allow the Rebels to hijack the portal and bring in their own scattered armies.
  • Sword and Gun: When Finch goes on the offensive, he brings out not just his Lewden Special, he takes along his father's ceremonial sword - a scimitar given to him by the Kalif.
  • Stable Time Loop: Turns out the reason Duncan was able to see the secret meaning in Tonsure’s journal when no one could is that he was Tonsure time travelling in an attempt to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • Take Over the City: Stark and his brother/enforcer Bosun are agents of Stockton and have their mission to take over the city's underworld by subsuming the local gangs.
  • Trapped in Another World: This is the origin of the Gray Caps. They never fully mastered their portal technology and ended up stranded on this planet where they displaced the original inhabitants of Cinsorium, the Dogghe and Nimblytod tribes. But with all the jungle biomass at their disposal, the Gray Caps find that they like this new world despite not being able to reproduce on it.
    • This is also what happened to the Rebels who retreated with the Lady in Blue, the energy pulse that the Gray Caps hit them with at the HFZ scattered them to other worlds, times and realities. But it also marked the banished rebels so that they can be tracked down and brought back if one has access to the portals.
  • Unexpected Genre Change: The first two books are Lovecraftian horror. Finch is a more of a noirish detective novel with cyberpunk overtones.
  • The Unpronounceable: Fanaarcensitii is among the easiest to pronounce of Gray Cap words. Finch doesn't even know what his boss's actual name is (a "series of clicks and whistles" that sound like hecleriticalic).
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Rebels are mostly a tenuous alliance between the military branches of Hoegbotton & Sons with Frankwrithe & Lewden. They could barely stand working together until the Lady in Blue, who's a Lewden by birth and Hoegbotton by political marriage, took a leadership role. After the Rising, the city is still divided into House territories.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Many characters from the earlier books. Most notably Janice.
  • Wretched Hive: Ambergris was always something of a madhouse, but things are much worse under Gray Cap rule. Mobs of people are dependent on a daily ration of a fungal narcotic sprayed out from a dispenser mushroom, there are work camps for people made slaves by the Gray Caps, there's constant surveillance by spore cameras and the Partials, plus the city is still divided by loyalties to the two rival Houses and people are just barely adequately fed. Additionally the city was already badly damaged by the War of the Houses but during the Rising - the Gray Caps flooded the city and killed thousands and then neglected repairing the city after. Everyone walks as bicycles and motor vehicles are banned and all the horses in the city had been eaten already.
  • Vichy Earth: It's only a city rather than the entire planet, but the Gray Caps aren't interested in genocide. They want control of their territories and are planning on expanding their gains. They don't have the numbers currently to hold their conquest and so they use human agents and half-human hybrids to enforce their rule.
  • Younger Than They Look: Looking at his reflection in the water, Finch notes that he's looking like 45 when he's only 40 and while he's still muscular, he has lost quite a bit of it due to the nutrition-poor diet the Gray Caps have the population on.