The Drake Maijstral series (sometimes known by the omnibus name Ten Points for Style) is a far-future space-opera comedy of manners by Walter Jon Williams.
Many centuries ago, Earth was conquered by the relatively benevolent Galactic Empire of the alien Khosali. Mankind thrived under the rule of the stern yet fair Khosali, spreading to many new planets, and rising to positions of power within the Khosali government. Recently, however, in an unexpected and unprecedented move, Humans won their freedom, and are now rediscovering their own past.
Drake Maijstral is an "allowed burglar". Many years ago, one of the Khosali Emperors turned out to be a kleptomaniac, and, since the Emperor can do no wrong, the Khosali legalized theft. Under very specific, limited circumstances. An allowed burglar must be noble, able to mingle with high-society, and, above all, must display impeccable style. Drake is one of the most stylish.
Unfortunately, human society, though still heavily influenced by Khosali culture, is starting to become a little unsure about the need for some elements of that culture. Like allowed burglars....
The three books in the series are:
- The Crown Jewels: Drake is hired to steal a minor artifact, but when his client gets kidnapped before he can deliver the goods, he discovers that the fate of two nations may rest on this innocent-seeming item he's just acquired.
- House of Shards: Drake and his rival, Geoff Fu George, both visit the grand opening of a new hotel, but the hotel owner is determined to prevent either from plying their trade.
- Rock of Ages: Drake takes a vacation and visits old Earth, but someone wants to frame him for stealing from his friends. If Drake can't figure out who is behind the plot, his life could become unpleasant. And possibly short.
Tropes in this series:
- Altar Diplomacy: In House of Shards, Lady Dosvidern, a member of the Humanoid Alien Khosali species is the wife of Lord Qlp, a member of a fairly disgusting species of Starfish Alien, the Drawmiikh. Lady Dosvidern is one of the few experts in the Drawmiikh's language, and the marriage is entirely one of convenience, entered into for purely diplomatic reasons.
- Black-Tie Infiltration: Played with in House of Shards. It's not an actual infiltration, because burglary isn't actually illegal in this 'verse, as long as you do it with sufficient style. So Drake and his rival openly attend the grand opening of the new, ritzy resort hotel. But otherwise, the trope is played straight. They mingle with nobility and celebrities while planning how to steal the incredibly valuable MacGuffin locked in the hotel vault.
- Benevolent Alien Invasion: Played with: the aliens who conquered Earth did not really disturb Earth very much bar imposing their own formal culture and ideas of monarchy upon it. Humanity still didn't take this very well and kicked them off-planet before the beginning of the first novel, becoming the first and only race to accomplish this. The protagonist Drake Maijstral is the descendant of those who opposed the revolt, and honestly doesn't much care either way.
- Brain in a Jar: A fairly common solution for people on the verge of death. They generally have full access to the futuristic equivalent of the Internet, but are usually still considered legally dead. Drake's father is one, and unfortunately, having his brain transferred to a jar didn't make him less curmudgeonly or less senile. Likewise, the current Emperor of the Khosali is a brain in a jar, because he didn't bear any heirs, but he does have frozen sperm on file. Unfortunately, the sperm was lost during the confusion of the human revolt, but the Khosali haven't given up hope of finding it.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Drake tries this in Rock of Ages, after discovering just how convoluted some of the plots his legally-dead father has gotten involved with are. Unfortunately, his father is not merely a Brain in a Jar, but is getting rather senile, and manages to completely miss the point of Drake's angry lecture.
- Clear My Name: Drake Maijstral is a Gentleman Thief who would never steal from his friends, but in Rock of Ages, when he visits friends on Earth, someone seems determined to frame him for doing just that, and he has to find out who before he's forced to fight a series of duels with people he likes—most of whom are better at dueling than he is.
- Elvis Impersonator: The not-exactly-hostile alien empire which conquered Earth decided to accept Elvis as a divine figure, so, not only is dressing and singing and moving like Elvis now considered a religious activity, performed by priests of his church, but many of the impersonator-priests are aliens of various species, some of whom are not-at-all built for grinding their hips like that.
- The Empire: The Khosali are this in the eyes of the Humanity Prime movement. The truth is a little less clear. True, the Khosali did ruthlessly conquer Earth many centuries ago, but they proved to be relatively benign rulers, for the most part. And even now, after humans became the first race to successfully revolt and win their freedom from the Khosali, diplomatic relations have become relatively cordial, for the most part. But the Humanity Prime folks are sure the the Khosali are just biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to reconquer their former territory. In actuality, the Khosali are mostly confused by the turn of events, and aren't quite sure how to react, but there are some people (both alien and human) on both sides of the border who would prefer to have the Khosali back in charge.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Khosali, one-time conquerors of Earth, are modeled on the British Empire. Very proper, very strict, very formal, very prudish (in their alien way)—very Victorian.
- Feudal Future: The Earth was conquered many centuries ago by the relatively benevolent Khosali Empire (loosely based on the Victorians). The Khosali, who wanted to integrate conquered races as quickly as possible, soon began ennobling humans who were willing to work with them peacefully. By the time Earth managed to win its independence back, they were so used to feudalism (which, after all, was a human tradition even before the Khosali came) that they kept it, although many want to get rid of it.
- Frame-Up: In Rock of Ages, Drake Maijstral is a burglar, and famous for it. But he came to Earth for a vacation, not to steal. And if he were here to steal things, he wouldn't be so obvious about it—hiding things in the air ducts in his own room! That's an amateur move, and he's a professional! But somehow, the police aren't convinced by this argument. And jail's not the only danger here. Some of the people whose things have been stolen want him dead. If Drake can't find out who the actual thief is, and prove it, his career and his life may both be over.
- Future Imperfect: In The Crown Jewels, Drake Majistral watches a movie in which the two main characters are Jesse James and Elvis Presley.Majistral liked Westerns better than other forms of genre entertainment. He wondered why Shakespeare hadn't written any.
- Gentleman Thief: The series is entirely based on this trope. Drake is an "allowed burglar", which is actually a legal profession in the far future galactic empire. You may legally ply burglary as your trade if and only if you are a gentleman thief. You must always behave as a gentleman (or woman). Violence is forbidden. When you steal something, it doesn't become yours for 24 hours, and if you do get caught during that time, you must surrender politely or risk losing your license. And the thing you stole must stay under your control or that of a subordinate for the full 24 hours—no hiding it in a drainpipe and hoping nobody finds it. You are also expected to steal classy things. Which is not to say that you can't steal cash from a bank vault. But if that's all you steal, you may be in trouble. Allowed burglars are literally judged on style.
- Holographic Disguise:
- The darksuit used by allowed burglars when on the job is described as projecting a holographic "cloud of darkness". Very effective at night; not so much during the day.
- In The Crown Jewels, the "Ronnie Romper" suits worn by Amalia Jensen's kidnappers are holographic. They make the two appear to be the same height, even though they're not, and move with their bodies, but don't allow for facial expressions—the fixed smile is mentioned as creeping people out.
- Humanoid Aliens: The Khosali, who long ago conquered Earth, and who therefore would probably prefer to consider us "Khosalioid Aliens". They are taller, on average, than humans, and covered with fur, and they have pointy faces, and some of their joints work slightly differently from ours. But overall, we were lucky that they were so much like us, as it made fitting into their culture, after we were conquered, that much easier.
- Impoverished Patrician: Drake is minor nobility, but his father spent the last of the family fortune trying to fund the counter-revolution and restore control of humankind to the Khosali empire. (Which is not entirely unreasonable, since it was the Khosali which ennobled the family in the first place.)
- Invisibility Cloak: The darksuit, which is the preferred working ware for Allowed Burglars, has a wide variety of steath technologies built into it. However, as the name suggests, it's mainly useful at night. A blurry cloud of holographic darkness entering a window in broad daylight is likely to attract attention.
- Lima Syndrome: In The Crown Jewels, Tvi, one of the pair who kidnapped Drake's client, Amalia Jensen, discovers that she likes Amalia a whole lot more than she likes her own violent, brutish partner. They develop an actual friendship, and, when the inevitable rescue attempt happens, Tvi finds herself quite conflicted, while Amalia shows a surprising amount of concern for what happens to Tvi (while being absolutely fine with whatever the rescuers might want to do to the other kidnapper, Khotvinn).
- MacGuffin: The first two novels revolve around MacGuffins:
- In The Crown Jewels, Drake is hired to steal what he is told is a small artifact of minor historical significance. He quickly learns that it is actually a device containing the frozen sperm of an Emperor!note Unfortunately, both the Imperialists, who want to recover it, and the anti-Imperialists, who want to destroy it, know Drake has it. Any action he takes—even none—is liable to leave him marked for death.
- House of Shards has the Eltdown Shard, a classic sort of MacGuffin. It is a fabulously beautiful gem with a long history of people willing to kill—or die—to possess it. Both Drake and his rival Geoff Fu George are determined to steal it.
- Mother Makes You King: In The Crown Jewels, we learn that this is how the current Khosali Emperor, Nnis CVI, got his crown. The eldest does not automatically inherit—the current Emperor chooses his heir from the children of his harem. Nnis, though a son of the emperor, had absolutely no interest in his father's throne. His goal in life was to publish scholarly papers on insect genitalia. Unfortunately for him, while he was off on a remote planet studying crawling things, the designated heir died, and Nnis' mother managed to get Nnis chosen as the new heir. Nnis went rushing back to try to start a counter-conspiracy aimed at getting himself removed, but before he arrived at the capital, the Emperor died, and he was stuck.
- Old Retainer: Roman, a Kholasi, is from a family which has been in service to Drake's family for generations. He does not particularly approve of his master's chosen line of work, feeling it is beneath Drake's dignity, but he nevertheless offers his help and support out of strong sense of duty.
- Only One Name: A common practice among members of the "Diadem", an exclusive society of the most famous and popular celebrities. Drake's good friend Nichole is one, as is the actor Etienne.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Troxan Count Qwk usually speaks human languages brokenly. But why he is excited he forgets to keep up the act and speaks fluent Human Standard.
- Overnight Conquest: The alien race called the Khosali showed up and surrounded Earth with a hundred thousand warships at a time when the Earth had only a handful of interplanetary ships. A few hundred Earthlings on military stations put up some token resistance, but they were quickly defeated, and Earth had no choice but to surrender completely.
- Show Within a Show: Drake's own exploits (like those of most of the top allowed burglars) are the basis of a loosely fictionalized and very popular show. Drake himself doesn't watch the show, which offends the young star who plays him when they finally meet.
- Starfish Alien: In House of Shards, we meet Lord Qlp, a Drawmiikh, whose species resembles a giant, brightly colored sea slug, with five tentacle eyes, which leaves a trail of slime as it moves. The Drawmiikh are completely unable to speak Human or Khosali languages. Like humans, they were conquered long ago by the Khosali, but nobody is sure they've ever realized that they'd been conquered. The concept simply doesn't translate very well. They normally have little interest in leaving their home planet. Which is fortunate for several reasons, not least being their horrible stench.
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: The Crown Jewels has Count Quik, a Troxan, whose species seems to have difficulty with both Human and Kholasi languages. When he first meets Drake, he explains, "On unbusiness I am inning this system. Humanity is me interested. I big tour taking am. Am on Earth big finishing, acquaintance making."
- Tomboy Princess: Roberta, the Duchess of Benn, is a top-ranked amateur racer, and can hold her own in a fight. She's also the owner of the famous Eltdown Shard, and a fan of Drake—despite the fact that she's fairly sure he plans to steal the Shard.
- What You Are in the Dark: In The Crown Jewels, in a flashback to his school days, Drake remembers being challenged to a duel. In the depths of the night before the duel, Drake discovers that he's a coward—he doesn't want to die for a point of honor. So he sneaks out and damages the sights on the dueling pistols, so they'll both miss. His success at being sneaky is one of the things that leads him to his eventual profession of Allowed Burglar.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Drake's parents are not pleased with his chosen line of work, feeling that it's totally beneath someone of his social class. Of course, if they hadn't blown the family fortune on futile attempts to end human independence and put the alien Khosali back in charge, Drake might not have needed a job.
- Woman Scorned: In House of Shards, Vanessa Runciter is a somewhat downplayed version. She's Drake's ex, now working as an assistant for his chief rival, Geoff Fu George. Her animosity falls short of outright hatred, but she's very enthusiastic at trying to persuade Fu George to take actions which might humiliate Drake, even when they're not necessarily in Fu George's best interests. She's also quite ready to think the worst of Drake, and even ends up shooting him at one point, when she misunderstands a partly overhead conversation, and thinks Drake has killed Fu George.