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Literature / Arcadia

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My death waits like
a bible truth
at the funeral of my youth
weep loud for that
and the passing time
Jacques Brel, My Death

Seventeen-year-old Rosa Alcantara, daughter of an influential but dead Mafia capo, flees her shattered home life with her mother and dark past in Brooklyn by flying to her father's family in Italy. Sicily, it seems, is the perfect place for a new start: She lives in a big mansion with no one but her sister Zoe and her aunt Florinda, the half-empty Sicilian landscape is eerily beautiful, the laws are hardly ever enforced.

On her flight, she meets Alessandro Carnevare, a handsome stranger about her age, with whom she reunites at his father's funeral - who was a capo, too. The Carnevares and the Alcantaras have been enemies for decades, though, and no one approves of the contact. Rosa starts spending time with Alessandro, at first because she enjoys the risks that come with it, later because they form a bond of shared secrets - the most major of which is that both families are shapeshifters descended from Lykaon, the late king of Arcadia: While the Alcantaras, at least their women, transform into giant snakes, the Carnevares shift into big cats.


But instead of their fire-forged friendship forming into a tender romance in the peace of reunion, Rosa and Alessandro have the world against them. Not only do their families more and more disapprove of their relationship, but Alessandro has to keep his clan from killing him, Rosa has to fight personal demons and find her place in life, a mysterios organisation kidnaps and tortures Arcadians, a secret that could change everyones lives lies at the bottom of the sea, and everyone lives in fear of the mysterious "Hungry Man", who is rumored to be Lykaon himself...

The YA series Arcadia by German author Kai Meyer consists of three books:

  • Arcadia Awakens
  • Arcadia Burns
  • Arcadia Falls

Has nothing to do with the play Arcadia, the book Old Arcadia or even the trope Arcadia.


The Arcadia trilogy contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Cristina di Santis is beautiful, has an eidetic memory, and Rosa remarks that she is absurdly good at everything she does.
  • Action Girl:
    • The sexy consorts on the Isola Luna, who are really hired killers.
    • Iole, rather surprisingly, very casually shoots a Carnevare mook.
  • Animal Motifs: Hard to avert with a series about shapeshifters.
  • Anti-Climactic Parent: Gemma Alcantara was shown by Rosa's narrative to be an ignorant, stubborn and unloving woman. She is really just exhausted from being a single mom in Crown Heights, stumbling from job to job, having Sicily and the Mafia romanticised by her two daughters, and having been left by her husband seemingly without a good reason. Like many people in the series, she and Rosa aren't so different.
  • The Baroness: Florinda and especially Costanza. Not Baroness Gaia Carnevare, though.
  • Beast Fable: Alessandro gives Rosa a handwritten volume of these and trolls her afterward.
    Alessandro: "It's like in the fable of the snake and the tiger."
    Rosa: "That one exists?"
    Alessandro: "No."
  • Beastly Bloodsports: The scene in the amphitheater ruin with Rosa and Lilia on one side and Tano and Cesare in their big cat forms on the other evokes images of this.
  • Best Served Cold: Literally, in Rosa's case.
  • Big Bad: Cesare Carnevare in the first book, Michele Carnevare in the second
  • Big Damn Fire Exit: Rosa escapes the Carnevares who hunted her through Central Park in the most spectacular way.
  • Big Fancy House: The Alcantara Mansion. The building Dallamano resides in.
  • Blessed with Suck: In contrast to most Arcadians, Rosa has to learn how to control her beastly form, which causes her more trouble than the benefits are worth. See Cursed with Awesome below, though.
  • Body Horror: Many of the hybrids.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Iole Dallamano, whose hair was cut short regularly because she had been a Carnevare prisoner for six years.
  • Bury Your Gays: Shortly after Lilia is found out to be a lesbian, she is killed. Lesbianism is also one of the reasons for Zoe's death.
  • Call-Back: The first book's epilogue, concerning Rosa's stealing habits, and how in the beginning her iPod inexplicably only played a single song, My Death.
  • Cannibal Clan: Yes, that type of clan. It is Carnevare tradition to hunt and eat a human each time a new capo takes over. Cesare's chosen victim is Iole Dallamano. Michele Carnevare and his gang hunt down a couple of homeless teenagers and try to do so with Rosa, too.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Due to their excitement and passion, Rosa and Alessandro start to change into their respective animal forms each time they try to sleep with each other.
    • They do so nonetheless, first through means of the serum, then when they have learned to control their shifting.
  • Cat Smile: Rosa has such an awesome one that it makes a Sicilian beauty pale.
  • Child by Rape: Nathaniel, Rosa's baby, who was aborted. He was Tano's child.
  • City Mouse: When Rosa (and before her, Zoe) arrived in the Sicilian countryside and her aunt's country estate, she was used to a rather humble life in Brooklyn.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Well, not exactly on display, but Apollonia kept Davide's corpse in a cooling storage for fourteen years.
  • Distressed Dude: At the end of Arcadia Awakens, Rosa has to rescue the bound and gagged Alessandro from certain death by Cesare.
  • The Don: The late Baron Massimo Carnevare and Salvatore Pantaleone, the capo dei capi. Alessandro is the current Carnevare Don. Cesare Carnevare also has shades of this and Florinda and Costanza Alcantara are/were rare female versions, especially the latter one.
  • Double Agent: Rosa, by promising Judge Quattrini information about Pantaleone in exchange for Augusto Dallamano's whereabouts and then following Pantaleone's instruction to save Alessandro and Iole while giving Judge Quattrini the runarond.
    • Mattia Carnevare works with Rosa because he wants to find Valerie again.
    • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Fundling watched Cesare kill Gaia, so he started reporting to Judge Quattrini while still acting faithful to the Carnevares. At the same time, he is Pantaleone's spy.
  • Driven to Suicide: Stefania Moranelli.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Danai Thanassis.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The TABULA lab, the bunker on the Isola Luna.
  • Elder Abuse: While being all sugar to him at first, Danai Thanassis later blows up the Stabat Mater and thus, kills her father and his plans.
  • Evidence Scavenger Hunt: Rosa and Alessandro dive headfirst into one for evidence of the hugging panthera and lamia statue Ruggero Dallamano found at the bottom of the sea and what it means for the Arcadians generally, the Carnevares in particular, and TABULA, partially to save Iole from Cesare.
  • Evil Old Folks: In the third book, Rosa remarks how in each book an evil old man who influenced her life had to die. First Pantaleone, then Trevini, then Sigismondis.
  • Evil Twin: Insofar that a Mafioso can have an evil twin, Apollonio is this to Davide.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Eduard Sigismondis fits this trope to a T.
  • Faking the Dead: Davide Alcantara. Fundling.
  • False Friend: Valerie
  • Faux Death: Fundling's body was put up for autopsy. Turns out, he is very much alive.
  • Femme Fatale: The Contessa di Santis
  • Foil: Salvatore Pantaleone stands for the sophisticated, civilized, modern ways of the Mafia, while the Hungry Man represents their rampant, anarchic, beastly ways.
    • Gloomy, sarcastic Rosa prefers black clothes and wants nothing but peace and normality, while quirky, fun-loving Iole prefers white clothes and loves to find the weird in the ordinary. Bonus for them having blonde and black hair, respectively.
  • Freakiness Shame: Danai and the other hybrids in particular, but also Rosa.
    "My boyfriend shifts into the most beautiful of all animals, and what do I transform into? Godzilla."
  • Gaussian Girl: Signora Falchi, Iole's private teacher, disapprovingly mentions that Iole looks this way every time she wears a flowing white dress.
  • Gem-Encrusted: The cellphone Zoe gives to Rosa in the beginning. Rosa finds it hideous.
  • Genuine Human Hide:Well, genuine Arcadian hide anyway. What Costanza's hundreds of fur coats are made of.
  • Good Bad Girl: Rosa is a non-sexual version.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Lilia's death. Tano's not so much.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither side involved in the conflict is particularly sympathetic. One could argue the same about the protagonists. It is a recurring theme throughout the series. Rosa speaks about this when she tells Alessandro of her rape, resulting pregnancy, and the abortion.
    "There is only red or black. [...] As in roulette. One isn't more right than the other. You can think about which colour will rather win as much as you want, it won't help you."
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Technically, most of the Arcadians are really children of an Arcadian and a human. At the same time, each of the Arcadians is half human, half animal. And then there's the literal examples...
  • Heel–Face Turn or Face–Heel Turn: Rosa, by going to the police and betraying Pantaleone. Depending on who you show as the "good" and "bad" side, respectively.
  • He Knows Too Much: Ruggero and Augusto Dallamano
    • Leonardo Mori
  • Hidden Depths: Fundling, natch.
    • Also Signora Raffaela Falchi. Who would have thought that the respectable teacher was a rock musician's girlfriend and knows full well how to wield a gun?
  • Hide the Evidence: Gaia Carnevare hid the evidence of Cesare's betrayal in her paintings.
    • The secret room in the bulding that was once the Dallamano manor.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: That Zoe and Lilia were lovers is only revealed pages before Lilia is killed by Cesare Carnevare. Justified because the conservatively Catholic South Italians and especially Florinda would hardly have approved of one of the most important Mafia families' offspring being gay.
  • Idiot Ball: At the beginning of Arcadia Falls, Rosa and Alessandro take Stefania hostage and forget checking she has a cellphone on her. Which of course she does.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Danai
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: Danai wears nothing but frilly black hoop skirts. They hide her scorpion legs and tail.
  • Improvised Weapon: Rosa's staple gun, and later on, her rubber head hammer and Alessandro's screwdriver.
  • Interrupted Suicide: The whole concept of the Suicide Queens is downing a bunch of pills, calling an ambulance and waiting.
  • Interspecies Romance: Insofar as what the Alcantaras and Carnevares shift into respectively can be called a species, Rosa and Alessandro evolve to have this.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: The Arcadians shift when driven by strong emotions. They only learn to control it as they grow older.
  • Irony: Rosa has a lot of attributes that are stereotypically associated with (domestic) cats, even including a Cat Smile.
    • Turns out, she is one quarter Panthera.
    • Judge Quattrini mentions that a nude model and showgirl is the Italian minister for equality.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Carnevare trial of Rosa.
    • Michele's accusation and following punishment.
  • Karmic Transformation: In the legend of the Arcadians, when Zeus found out Lykaon ate human flesh he transformed him into a wolf to show that he was like a beast.
  • Killed Offscreen: Mattia, the Malandra sisters. Fundling, seemingly.
  • King in the Mountain: Lykaon AKA the Hungry Man, according to some.
  • Leitmotif: Odd enough for a piece of literature. My Death by Scott Walker which was Gaia's favourite song.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Rebellious, skinny, sarcastic Rosa is the dark one, girly, naive, fun-loving Zoe the light one.
  • Limb-Sensation Fascination: Inverted. Rosa is fascinated by the cold that fills her every time before she transforms and that lets her limbs feel as though they don't exist.
  • Little Bit Beastly: The shapeshifters, when they don't fully shift, remain their fur, fangs, eyes etc. to varying degrees.
    • The hybrids are in this state permanently. Some are Little Bit Beastly. Some are Beastly, period.
  • Lonely Funeral: Rosa digs a grave on a hill at the end of the world for Nathaniel and buries him all alone.
  • Love Makes You Evil/Dumb/Crazy: Valerie's insane actions towards Rosa are a direct result of her infatuation with Michele.
  • Mad Artist: Gaia Carnevare had shades of this.
  • The Mafia: Not one, not two, but three Mafia clans, executed in a realistic manner. Meyer's research shows.
  • Mafia Princess: Especially Zoe, who thrives off her late father's and her aunt's riches, but also Rosa, even though she is a fan neither of luxuries nor the family business.
  • Meaningful Name: "Nathaniel" means "gift of God".
    • Slightly overlapping with Animal Theme Naming: Come on, what does Carnevare sound like?
    • Fundling was, indeed, a foundling child. The name of Fundling's dog, Sarcasmo, says more about him than the dog.
  • My Beloved Smother: Costanza Alcantara
  • Non-Indicative Name: Pantaleone's name is reminiscent of the Italian words pantera and leone, meaning "panther" and "lion" respectively, yet he works against the Carnevares and shifts into a boar.
  • Off to Boarding School: From what Alessandro returns in the beginning.
  • Older Than They Look: Rosa, due to being scrawny.
    • Also Iole, who has been held a prisoner for six years when Rosa and Alessandro meet her and who behaves in childlike ways.
  • The Ophelia: Alessandro's mother, Gaia Carnevare.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different: In the Alcantara family, only the women shift. The transformations are driven by strong emotions and happen gradually. The shifters are aware and sentient, but are controlled by more animal-like instincts. The individual groups of shapeshifters have names regarding the animals they change into. The Alcantara shifters are called lamia, while the Carnevare ones are called panthera. The descriptions of the gradual shifting are quite unique.
  • Parental Abandonment: Rosa has a lukewarm relationship to her mother who she left for Italy; her father is dead. Alessandro's father is dead, too, and his mother was murdered by Cesare.
  • People Jars: There are rows upon rows of them in the TABULA base. One of them contains Nathaniel.
  • People Farms: Again, the TABULA labs.
  • Perky Goth: Rosa, with her faible for all-black clothes and cheery, sarcastic way, evokes this image, but she has a far darker side to her.
  • Rape as Backstory and Rape as Drama: Rosa. There are many subtle hints until the truth comes out, and even her describing it is as much of a Rape Discretion Shot as a firsthand experience can be due to a date rape drug, but the execution with all its logical consequences like panic attacks at parties, being uncomfortable with too strong closeness and phantom pain in the abdomen is done realistically and tastefully. See also Child by Rape above.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Tano is the one who raped Rosa.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: A favourite technique of Judge Quattrini.
  • Reluctant Retiree: Sigismondis, who just never actually retired. He still stumbles through the TABULA base in a tattered and dirty lab coat, lives off instant noodles, and treats and injects taxidermy animals without noticing they aren't even alive, much less Arcadians.
  • The Reveal: Tano Carnevare was the one who raped Rosa, and it was Michele Carnevare who lured her to that party (through means of Valerie) in the first place.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Evangelos Thanassis threw millions at the shady organisation that was TABULA in the hopes of finding a cure for his Arcadian-gone-hybrid wife.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown: First Alessandro against Cesare, then Rosa against Pantaleone in the first book.
    • The second book ends with a big fight of Rosa and Alessandro against Michele Carnevare.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Teenage lovers who are members of rivaling Italian clans? Don't tell me you didn't think of Romeo and Juliet.
    • Rosa quotes to Salvatore Pantaleone: "I'm not looking for a friend, I'm looking for a Jedi master.", from Star Wars, and claims it to be a quote from Hamlet.
    • Perhaps inevitably, there are also some to The Godfather.
    • Alessandro being unkempt, black-haired and green-eyed might be one to Harry Potter. This is not helped by the fact that, in German fanfic, it is weirdly popular to call Harry Alexander or any variation thereof, and that Rosa jokingly calls the posh boarding school Alessandro attended in the USA "Hogwarts".
    • Alessandro gives Rosa a handwritten book with Aesop's fables as a gift.
    • In the beginning, there is a quote from Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, in which a tiger licks away the first person narrator's skin to reveal fur. Later in the book, Rosa has a dream about Alessandro, in his panther form, licking away her skin to reveal a snake's scales.
    • Rosa calls her snake form Godzilla once.
  • Shown Their Work: Especially regarding the Mafia and the overall condition of Sicily.
  • Treachery Cover Up: For Rosa, after she betrays Salvatore Pantaleone and the whole Cosa Nostra.
  • Twin Switch: Apollonio pretends to be Davide pretending to be Apollonio.
  • Understanding Boyfriend: The fact that Alessandro is so understanding is what makes Rosa want for him to be her boyfriend in the first place. Him understanding her shapeshifting, of course, is due to the fact that he's a shifter himself.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Rosa's "witch hair" is ever tangled, she doesn't wear makeup, she's pale and scrawny and her shins are full of scars due to shaving accidents, yet Alessandro evidently finds her very attractive.
  • Womanchild: Iole is a less extreme and more justified example: In spite of being 15, she talks like a child, because she has been held captive for six years.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Why Pantaleone kills Zoe and Florinda. Not that he found Zoe very useful to begin with.