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Literature / Dark Heavens

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Dark Heavens is a trilogy of novels (White Tiger, Red Phoenix, and Blue Dragon) by Kylie Chan. It has a sequel, the Journey to Wudang trilogy of Earth to Hell, Hell to Heaven and Heaven to Wudang. Dark Serpent, the first book in the third trilogy, Celestial Battle was released in April 2013, with Demon Child and Black Jade to follow. Set in the same universe is Small Shen a book in hybrid prose/comic format, illustrated by Queenie Chan (best known for The Dreaming), which explores Jade and Gold's backstory.

When 28-year-old Emma Donahoe becomes a nanny to John Chen’s daughter, Simone, she does not expect to be drawn into a world of martial arts, magic, and extreme danger, where both gods and demons can exist in the mortal world.

Emma gradually realises that John Chen is no ordinary businessman and that nearly all the demons in hell would like to see him dead. John and his American bodyguard, Leo, begin to teach Emma their particular brand of martial arts and special defensive techniques … they also begin to realise that there is something that is different about Emma but exactly what it is, nobody can say.


This book series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Emma Donahoe, after she starts learning martial arts. Also, Lady Win Chun, though she never actually makes an appearance, is implied to be this. During Heaven to Wudang, Xuan Wu is unable to assume male form for a time. During this period she is definitely an Action Girl.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: Kwan Yin. As a Bodhisattva, she's of nearly incomprehensible power, and she's actually friendly to the protagonists. Also as a Bodhisattva, she doesn't get involved in wars or kill demons - the best she can do is heal John, and even that's over once Hell declares war. If the world falls to evil, she will merely retreat to the Second Platform and mourn.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Demons, though if they repent, they can swear loyalty to an Immortal... in the eventual hope of attaining perfection in a few hundred years and becoming human.
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  • Amazonian Beauty: When trying on swimsuits in White Tiger, Emma is complimented on how good she looks, with someone asking her if she's an aerobics instructor, and then a bodyguard. Emma's own narration exposits on how she's lost a lot of weight and become rather muscular after a year of martial arts training.
  • Ascended Demon: Demons can climb above their station. Normally, this is done through taming them with the Fire Essence Pill, which enslaves them to their new master until they develop free will and Ascend to human status. It's very rare, but possible, for a demon to turn to the Celestial by its own will. The only known examples of this happening are Xuan Wu and the part-demon Emma.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Emma is able to generate an ultra-rare black chi, which can instantly annihilate demons, or turn them human... sometimes. Other times, it does nothing at all. Eventually, Emma decides it's too unreliable and stops using it... for now.
  • Author Avatar: Emma Donahoe's nationality and appearance bear remarkable similarities to the author's.
  • Beyond the Impossible: When Xuan Wu is asked to make a sphere of water as cold as he can, he has to severely limit himself to avoid destroying the world by lowering the temperature to Absolute Zero. "Absolute Zero" is a theoretical temperature that is supposedly impossible to reach and yet he has to hold himself back from it.
  • Blessed with Suck: One of the downsides of Leo finally being able to channel chi is that humans can't safely eat meat and do energy work, forcing him to become vegetarian. The Black Lion is not happy about this.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Kwan Yin is the Lady of Mercy. Accordingly, she often ends up protecting demons knowing full well that they're going to turn around and go right back to hurting people. It's what she is. She also can't help Heaven when the Demon King declares war, because a Buddha doesn't get involved in wars.
    • "It's [being's] nature" is a common trend among gods. Being true to the Tao means being true to yourself, even if your nature leads to pretty dickish behavior. Sun Wukong is going to harass people and destroy things because he's Sun Wukong, Bai Hu can't help screwing a harem of pretty women, reptile gods don't make good parents, and Xuan Wu is chaos incarnate.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: The White Tiger. His favorite things in life (in no particular order) are fighting, eating and screwing.
  • Break the Cutie: Simone. Emma, for certain values of 'Cutie'.
  • Brick Joke: Consider the twist at the end of Heaven to Wudang. And then go back to the very first line of the entire series.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: A humorous reconstruction in the form of Bai Hu. The White Tiger is probably the best leader in the Heavens, having built a far finer support infrastructure than Xuan Wu's Northern Heavens and delegated everything to his lieutenants with supreme skill. Why? Because it means more time for him to eat and screw.
  • Buffy Speak: "Demon stuff".
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Bai Hu is a Boisterous Bruiser who's constantly chasing skirt and sleeping around with his hundred wives, and is often cooling his heels in Hell because he can't keep his mouth shut, but he's Emperor of the West and Xuan Wu's chief lieutenant for a reason. He's probably the second-most-capable warrior in the Celestial hierarchy, he's Heaven's weapons researcher, and his subordinates are often more capable than Xuan Wu and Emma's staff - because unlike them, he delegates everything with superb skill so that he has more time to debauch himself.
  • Camp Gay: Leo embraces plenty of gay stereotypes. He loves fashion and shopping, enjoys wearing pink, and refers to himself as a "fairy princess" on more than one occasion.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Certainly puts Twilight in perspective. Although they get around it a few times.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: John and Leo towards Emma in the first book. Regarding pretty much everything.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The series is based on a mish-mash of Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion. At one point, it's mentioned that a kid on Hainan Island was Raised to Immortality through a clerical error.
  • The Chessmaster: The Demon King is probably the most skilled player in the cosmos.note  He builds up a reputation as a scrupulously honest and Affably Evil Noble Demon for millennia, while using false identities and traitors against himself to set up a plan to entrap his greatest adversary, then discards it all in one masterstroke that damages the Celestial enough to win him the war.
  • Culture Clash: This is actually pretty useful for Xuan Wu's demon staff. Because Emma was raised in Australia and fundamentally thinks like a Westerner, her strange mannerisms are a major pain in the tail for her staff to adapt to, forcing them to think for themselves when trying to serve her needs - which is the number one requirement for becoming an Ascended Demon.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: One of Xuan Wu's official titles is "Emperor of the Dark Northern Heavens", or just "The Dark Lord" for short.
  • Death Is Cheap: By the second trilogy death is just a minor nuisance to most of the main characters with the exception of Emma and Simone, as most other main characters are immortal.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: Demons.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Hong Kong is a nexus between Western, modern Chinese and Celestial Chinese cultures, with all the chaos that can imply. Just for the first example, when Emma is teaching preschool English at the beginning, Kitty Kwok admonishes her to talk with them less and drill them more on their ABCs. Yes, talking with them will help them learn the language, but they need to learn their rote ABCs so they can pass the exams needed to get into the best kindergarten.
  • Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?: Emma to Xuan Wu. It's also a Divine Date, but more of this, considering that Xuan Wu is a literally-inexplicable Eldritch Abomination.
  • Eccentric Mentor: The Jade Emperor is a bit of a nut sometimes, and his advice to Xuan Wu and Emma is tailored to what they need to hear rather than to the truth. His commands range from perfectly understandable, to apparently Lawful Stupid edicts that were issued for a hidden purpose, to apparently insane edicts...which also tend to be tailored to advance an inexplicable purpose.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Xuan Wu, God of Martial Arts and Dark Emperor of the Northern Heavens, is both a giant turtle and a snake at the same time, as well as being successful businessman John Chen, and a wild-haired giant warrior - often all at once. He's the defender of the Celestial realm, but still a being who thrives in chaos, and so utterly powerful that he has to restrain himself from inadvertently destroying the world.
    John: You are attempting to label something that is the essence of the Tao. I cannot be labelled, categorized, analysed or comprehended, because I just am.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Leo is a mortal with no divine blood, and is unable to practice energy work because he's HIV-positive. At the end of the first series, he dies and is Raised to Immortality. Incidentally, the latter fixes his HIV problem and allows him to engage in chi work.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: Through following the Tao, a human can gain the control of chi necessary to perform superhuman feats, or even be raised to Immortality upon death.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Even other demons are surprised at Simon Wong's complete lack of anything resembling honour or morals.
    • The Demon King does not condone rape, due to her experiences when she was human.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Kwan Yin, a Bodhisattva, is normally referred to as "Mercy", this being her divine role.
  • Evil Weapon: Not exactly evil per-se, but it is Murasame, the Destroyer. When Emma decides to recreate the legendary event of thrusting it into a river and seeing if leaves scattered onto the surface are pulled into the cutting edge, it does that and more: bisected fish carcasses start floating to the surface downstream of the blade.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: This is Chinese Heaven, so not all deities are monogamous. Bai Hu, for example, has over a hundred wives and they keep a strict schedule over how often each of them gets to screw him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Demon King always keeps his word, deals honorably with Emma and John, and is generally a Friendly Enemy to them despite the fact that he's constantly assaulting Wudang and will sentence prisoners to Cold-Blooded Torture at the hands of the Snake Mothers. It's just what he does as Demon King, after all. Except that absolutely none of this is true. All that honor and friendliness is an act that he runs throughout the first two trilogies, while he uses his alternate identity as Kitty Kwok to engage in the most reprehensible acts of depraved Mad Science she can think of. And in Heaven to Wudang, he finally discards his affability and his honor to finally capture the Dark Serpent, Xuan Wu's female half.
  • The Four Gods: Chinese version, including the fifth, Huang Long.
  • Gambit Roulette: Emma's entire life was set up so that she'd turn into a Death Seeker heroine and become John's troublesome love interest, despite her not even living in Hong Kong for most of it.
  • Gender Bender:
    • Just about every Celestial can assume either gender, as can the Demon King. Xuan Wu is exceptionally flexible in this regard, normally being a male Turtle and a female Serpent - but either Turtle or Serpent can be either gender, and the combined being is beyond such labels entirely. The Phoenix is also traditionally male (as the Greater Yang), but chooses to be female. And the extremely male Bai Hu enjoys lesbian sex, if his attempt to join Emma and Female!John is any indication.
    • In Black Jade, Emma explains that it's not so much gender-bending as Shen not having inherent sex at all. Shen are spiritual beings, and the body (and thus gender) are "merely instruments." Gender identity is less flexible in most cases, however.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: After John returns to Emma in female form, Bai Hu needs about one minute to figure out that they've been having sex. His first thought is to gender-bend and try to get in on it, and his second thought is to get a video camera.
  • Great White Feline: Bai Hu is the White Tiger of the West and one of the leaders of Heaven. Despite his quirks, he is as powerful as one would expect of anyone of his station.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Firearms can't hurt demons. They are extremely effective against Celestials, though, as there is no martial art that can defend against a gun; only the White Tiger and his Metal elementalists and the Xuan Wu (a demon turned to the Celestial) have countermeasures. The Demon King begins seriously employing guns in the final trilogy, to the unmitigated terror of the Celestial.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Emma, Rhonda. Much to the latter's misfortune. Simone and Michael also qualify (Half-Shen). In Michael's words; "And I really am half goddamn Tiger!"
  • Hell Invades Heaven: Constantly in the second two trilogies, usually focused on the Celestial Wudang Mountain, as Xuan Wu is several kinds of out of commission and Hell is developing new weapons. Southern Heaven falls in Demon Child, just as Xuan Wu returns at full power.
  • Hell on Earth: In Demon Child, it's revealed that Europe has already fallen to demons. It's not directly visible, but mundane life in Europe is implied to be heading downhill.
  • The Hero Dies: In Demon Child, Simone kills Emma to free her from the Serpent. However, she attains the Tao and is raised to Immortality by Xuan Wu.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Fairly common, though not always permanent - it's often performed by Immortals, or by mortals who are Worthy of Immortality. And then there's Franklin, who is in the middle of Ascending as of Demon Child, but stays in the Western Palace to lure the demonic army in so that Michael can yang it to bedrock. He doesn't complete his Ascension, and is permanently destroyed.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Qing Long is actually a gentle and effeminate soul, but for thousands of years he's had to conform to the expectations of society and act like a proper alpha male dick, and now he's trapped in the facade.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Jade Emperor will not allow Heaven to break the many complex rules that it operates under just because it's in a war for its survival, leading to such problems as Emma being restricted from vital advisory functions because of an order from the Emperor, or worse, Obstructive Bureaucrat Judge Pao being allowed to slow down vital resurrections in wartime or make misogynistic judgments about a prospective Immortal's Worthiness because that's what he does. In his view, if the Celestial has to compromise itself for the sake of victory, then it doesn't matter whether Heaven or Hell wins.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Emma is heterosexual and in love with John, who is also Xuan Wu. Xuan Wu is capable of assuming either sex, though John had been "firmly male" for the past thirty years before meeting Emma, and he identifies as male. However, because of circumstances, in Heaven to Wudang John is stuck in a female Mode Lock upon reuniting with Emma. Emma promptly has sex with her, and when John asks if Emma would be interested in occasionally sleeping with Female!John, she's okay with the idea.
  • I Gave My Word:
    • Xuan Wu's oaths have enough power that reality bends itself around them. His vow to Raise and marry Emma is a major plot point, and remains so even though Emma shouldn't have needed him to Raise her in the first place.
    • The Demon King's oaths aren't as powerful, but he has never broken his word and has always dealt honorably with Heaven. Actually, he's never broken his word, but that doesn't mean he can't, if the prize is great enough.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Simone in the fourth and most of the fifth books.
  • Immortality: A major plot element is the question of humans attaining Immortality, either by following the Tao and cultivating themselves, or by drinking the Elixir of Immortality, which is usually gotten by marrying a deity with sufficient rank to order them Raised. Leo and Michael are both Raised by attaining the Tao upon their deaths, though because of circumstances, Leo also needed the Elixir. In Demon Child, Emma Raises Simone through the Elixir as Simone is mortally wounded, and upon her own death, attains the Tao and is raised by Xuan Wu.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: When a god or Immortal dies, they just get a short time-out in Hell (and not even in torment; they just go to the waiting room until their case is judged), and Celestial culture understands this. Accordingly, fights to the death are not unknown and executions are seen as a fairly minor punishment (one that Emma repeatedly and deservedly threatens the White Tiger with in the second trilogy). John Chen is an exception: when he dies, he's out of commission for several years, because he'd spent far too long without assuming Celestial Form.
  • Immortality Immorality: Kitty Kwok wants to attain Immortality without seeking the Way and going through the process. Instead, she's a Mad Scientist who performs her experiments on humans and demons in an attempt to win it herself.
  • The Internet Is for Cats: Bai Hu has to be told at one point not to share cat videos when Emma and John are working.
  • I Read It for the Articles: In Dark Serpent, Simone decides she doesn't want a khopesh because it was used in "Game of Boobs". John decides he must watch the show... for the depiction of the khopesh.
  • Jerkass: Sun Wukong may be an enlightened sage, but he's consistently an asshole to everyone he meets.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Zigzagged. On the one hand, the Western gods were convinced that Christianity really was a better way than how they'd been operating previously. Their answer to that was to give up and quit their jobs, letting demons take over the West. Also, there's an implication at one point that Jesus is a Western Buddha, or at least that his teachings are similar to those of Buddhism from a Chinese perspective.
  • Layered World: Hell and Heaven overlap with real China, Heaven more so - there's an entire Celestial Wudang that is separate from, yet linked to, the real Wudangshan. Also, several of the gates to the Forbidden City mirror gates in the Celestial Palace. Above Heaven are the higher platforms, where the Bodhisattvas and even higher beings reside, but we aren't shown any correspondences - then again, the platforms have a great deal of You Cannot Grasp the True Form to them.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Mr. Chen wears black. All the time.
  • Loophole Abuse: After Emma's mistakes in Heaven to Wudang come to light, Qing Long files an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink petition to have Xuan Wu and Emma sacked from their positions in the Celestial Hierarchy. The petition is designed to fail. But it's going to take its sweet time failing, gumming up the bureaucracy in the meantime, and while Qing Long's petition is in the works, nobody else can petition for their firing. The Blue Dragon has Xuan Wu's back.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Xuan Wu's romance with Michelle. Michelle didn't like John doing god stuff, so he stayed in human form for decades, which led to him being seriously weakened and unable to effectively protect Heaven and caused the Serpent to disappear. His daughter by Michelle, however, is key to saving Heaven.
  • Love Triangle: Subverted and averted. Emma believes Jade's dislike of her to be jealousy over Mr. Chen. Actually, Jade just thinks she's a gold-digging bitch. Also, The Tiger really, really wants Emma to be Wife #102.
    • Leo has long been in love with John, but was good friends with John's first wife Michelle, and now Emma. He then starts a relationship with John's son Martin, while still in love with John.
  • The Masquerade: Played with. Pretty much everyone has heard of Pak Tai, God of the Water... they just don't expect him to own a high-rise in Happy Valley. Celestial matters are ideally kept out of human sight, but humans are brought inside all the time when they see something they shouldn't, and the Masquerade itself is more to protect humans from demonic fighting than it is to protect the Celestial from humans.
  • Manly Gay: Despite his campiness, Leo is still 300 pounds of solid bodybuilder muscle with a Bodyguard Crush on John Chen, and even as an HIV-positive mortal, he's one of the finest and strongest martial artists in the series.
  • Matricide: Simone performs a Mercy Kill on Emma to prevent her from being absorbed into the Dark Serpent.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Pretty much any human/Shen relationship. Notably Emma/John, Rhonda/Bai Hu, and Gold/Amy. However, subverting this trope is possible, as a powerful enough god can just Raise their spouse (as John has promised to do for Emma). Double Subverted with Rhonda. Bai Hu tries to Raise her, but because she's half-demon and doesn't know it, she explodes when given the Elixir.
  • Mighty Whitey: A young, white Australian nanny with no previous training goes to Hong Kong, develops superhuman martial-arts skills and magic qi powers in just a couple of years (certainly by the end of the first book in the first trilogy), beats up demons and generally proves herself the equal of Chinese gods, never mind mere mortals.
    • One post on the forums also wondered about Rhonda and Michelle, both white women who attracted the attention of male Shen, and asked the question, what is so special about these three seemingly normal white women?
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dark Serpent reveals that the western gods did this repeatedly, until in the end they just gave up. Which was yet another example, because in the absence of its gods, Europe fell under the control of demonkind.
  • Noble Bigot: Subverted. The Jade Emperor has no problem with homosexuality; if your nature is to be attracted to your own sex, you can't follow the Tao without doing so. But he considers marriage to be strictly between men and women. Actually, this was because he wanted to forbid one specific marriage that had been set in motion by a demon plot. The moment that's foiled, he changes the rules to allow same-sex marriage, and tells Leo and Martin to get on with it.
  • Number Two: A "Number One" is an Emperor, General or other dignitary's highest-ranking son. (Not necessarily the eldest.) They serve this function, acting in place of their fathers when they aren't around. Bai Hu eventually selects Michael as his Number One, and a major plot of the first trilogy is about the villain's plan to become the Demon King's Number One by bringing his father the head of Xuan Wu.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: When someone dies, Immortal or not, they have to go to Hell for a meeting with Judge Pao. Even the Jade Emperor can't force him to expedite the hearing, and he doesn't - the only time in which he does bend the rules is when Hell has been invaded by demons. It's revealed that he's a Corrupt Bureaucrat as well, in that he has been censured for illegally finding every woman whose case crossed his desk Unworthy of Immortality, even if they've attained the position - as he tries to do to Emma, before the Dark Lord intervenes.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Near the beginning of Black Jade, Judge Pao ditches his Obstructive Bureaucrat attitude, closes the Courts of Hell, and issues blanket release orders for anyone who comes up for judgment; Immortals are automatically cleared to Heaven, mortals to the Wheel, and nobody is getting Raised to Immortality because that would just put them at risk of eternal torment. This is completely at odds with his normal approach, and shows just how fucked the Celestial is at this point.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: Shen don't have an inherent sex at all, and what sex they do assume is merely "an instrument." Most Shen have a less-flexible gender identity, but even that's not universal; Xuan Wu is genderfluid, currently male, and both male and female in his True Form, Zhu Que is genderfluid but currently female, and both Xuan Wu and the entirely male Bai Hu enjoy assuming female form for lesbian sex. On the other side, the Demon King is male in his primary identity, but was born a human woman, and is whatever sex or gender they need to be in other identities.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • While John is a good parent to Simone (as much as he can be given his inconvenient death at the end of the first trilogy), the same is not true for his turtle Shen son, Martin. As a reptile, he's a terrible parent, Martin largely grew up without parental guidance, and Xuan Wu's usual answer to his screwups is to banish him rather than try to help him; while Martin is largely The Load, that's partly his dad's fault for not being there. Emma forces them to reconcile, but even then, they really don't get along.
    • Bai Hu is open about it: He's got four hundred kids, almost all of whom are mortal and aside from making sure that they're financially provided for and ensuring that they have a place in his Horsemen, he doesn't have much to do with them. On the other hand, his hundred wives tend to be Good Parents, and the children that we see are mostly solid individuals.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Poor Simone. In general, she doesn't like listening to her parental figures' frank talk about sex and tends to revert to a twelve-year-old when she hears it, even when she's well older than that. Given that one of her "uncles" is the White Tiger, she tends to have to cover her poor ears a lot. On the other hand, she doesn't mind being in her dad's lap to enable him to kiss Emma.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: There's a lot of them, but a couple of standout examples:
    • Xuan Wu is so powerful that, when at full strength, he single-handedly fights off the hordes of Hell. Even drained and weakened, he has to exert a fair amount of effort to not destroy the world.
    • Simone, Xuan Wu's daughter, is almost as powerful as he is even as a child, and in many ways even more destructive. She's even more prone to call upon The Power of the Void to annihilate her enemies than her father, and like him, can freeze the world to Absolute Zero - though unlike him, she actually has to decide to do that.
    Zhu Que: No destroying the world for fun.
    Simone: Awww!
    • On the yang side of the spectrum, the White Tiger and the Red Phoenix are capable of making the biggest explosions of yang in the cosmos, able to casually blast celestial palaces straight down to bedrock.
  • The Plan: Oh God.
  • Playing with Syringes: Kitty Kwok loves her evil science. Among other things, she uses captured Shen to create false elementals for her army.
  • Plucky Girl: Emma does not know the meaning of fear. When the lives of the ones she loves are on the line, she won't even blink at laying down her own life, and when she's in danger, she keeps a cool head and will damned well get out of it. Also a Deconstructed Trope. She's got such superheroic characteristics because they were programmed into her by the Big Bad, to the point of being a Death Seeker, because this causes trouble for John and those around him.
  • Power Levels: Demons are rated by levels. For comparison, a level ten is equal to an untrained human, and a level fifty is pretty heavy.
  • The Power of the Void: Yin annihilates anything it touches with nothingness.
  • Pure Energy: Wielders of yang unleash bright energy that annihilates anything it strikes.
  • Really 700 Years Old: a large part of the cast are Taoist Immortals, with John Chen himself being over four thousand (Emma comments once that The Golden Boy, a mere 500-something stone, is 'far too young for her').
  • Red Baron: Leo is known as "the Black Lion".
  • Redshirt Army: The various Celestial forces; the Red Warriors, White Horsemen and Dark Disciples among others. They're powerful martial artists, but once the Demon King starts unleashing his heavier demons, they are way out of their league. They're more effective (and have a higher survival rate) in support functions such as Magitek research.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Discussed at length. Also serves as a Berserk Button for John.
  • Scary Black Man: Leo.
  • She Is the King: The Demon King was female during her human lifetime.
  • Shapeshifters Do It for a Change: Both Bai Hu and Xuan Wu are normally male, but enjoy lesbian sex in female form. Xuan Wu is also extremely turned on by the idea of Emma (once she is Raised) assuming male form; he doesn't specify which sex he'll assume.
  • Shout-Out/Memetic Mutation:
    • The first time Emma transforms into a snake, she's on a plane. Leo, of course, is there to point out that she's a motherfucking snake. John later complains of a similar joke regarding his serpent half.
    • There are also frequent Shout Outs to geek favourites such as Good Omens, Discworld, Doctor Who and others. Kylie Chan is obviously One of Us.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: In the Celestial World, physical sex is just an instrument of the soul. This series repeatedly explores the resulting permutations of sex and gender.
  • Staying Alive: Lampshaded when an official in the courts of Hell complains about Emma's Retainers constantly getting killed.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Of course.
  • Taking You with Me: A variation occurs in Earth to Hell, the Big Bad of the book attacks Emma when she is alone at the end of the book, she is unable to defeat him because if she gets any demon essence on her she will fully transform into a extremely powerful demon, luckily Leo returns just in time to take the demon down.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: These guys are foot soldiers for Simon Wong, "the Big Brother of all the Big Brothers" of Hong Kong. Human gangsters only show up in a couple of places, though - any trained Celestial martial artist could take them apart without effort.
  • Tomato in the Mirror:
    • Demon copies. A copy believes themself to be the person they're imitating, but they're actually demons, and implanted with commands, usually including a self-destruct, for specific situations. When not acting under these commands, they act perfectly like the person they're copying.
    • Emma Donahoe is a descendant of a Western snake demon bloodline who was modified and manipulated from birth as part of a massively intricate plot. Many of her most heroic characteristics were, in fact, originally built into her by the Big Bad.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Emma takes several levels over the course of the series.
  • Translator Microbes: One of the benefits of living in the Chen household.
  • Turtle Power: John Chen, the Turtle half of Xuan Wu, is indeed a wise and powerful turtle. His son Martin...less wise, but still quite powerful.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Leo. Black, gay, and human. The last one ceases to be a problem following the end of Earth to Hell. Also, HIV-positive, and later paraplegic.
  • Wham Episode:
    • All the shit hits all the fans in Heaven to Wudang. John regains his human form, for keeps this time. Emma's true nature and destiny are finally explained. And the Demon King reveals his game to magnificent success, capturing the Dark Serpent and forcing Heaven into a war for survival while its greatest warrior is only half present.
    • Demon Child sets up the board for the grand finale. Xuan Wu's Turtle and Serpent reunite in their full glory, Emma and Simone die and attain Immortality...and at the very end, the South of Heaven falls into demon hands.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Leo really doesn't like them. And look who he ended up working for. And also water.
  • World of Badass: It's Martial Arts Heaven. Badassery is to be expected.
  • World of Snark: Friendship, in this world, means constantly insulting each other.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Very early on, this seems to be a rule for demons - they won't attack mortals who aren't trained in Celestial martial arts, because there's no honor to be gained by killing them. The rule protects Emma until she and Leo first show off their skills in public, but like the rest of the "rules" for the conflict between gods and demons, it goes the way of the dinosaur once the demons start playing for keeps.
  • Wrong Context Magic: It quickly becomes clear that Emma is not 100% human. She's not a conventional Shen or demon either. What the hell she actually is, however, is unclear and becomes a major question in the second trilogy.

Alternative Title(s): Journey To Wudang