The series is set during the 1420s and early 1430s primarily in Silesia and the Czech lands, during the upheavals of the Hussite Wars (hence the nickname for the series).
The novels are written primarily as historical adventure novels, but in each installment, there's an ever-present element of the realistic late-medieval world of the series getting intertwined with ancient and mysterious supernatural forces beyond the average person's comprehension. Part of the fun comes from seeing how the worldly and mundane interacts with the mystical and fantastical, and how they influence each other where one would least expect it.
The primary trio of protagonists consists of Reinmar of Bielawa (aka Reynevan), a former student of medicine at the University of Prague and naive would-be sorcerer and ladies' man, Szarlej, a roguish former monk and persistently street-savvy adventurer with a possible criminal past that Reinmar is forced to befriend, and Samson Miodek ("Meady"), a hulking Gentle Giant village idiot who becomes the epitome of Obfuscating Stupidity after a mysterious event triggered by a chance encounter with Reinmar and Szarlej grants him an eloquent and studied genius intellect.
The three installments in the series are:
Some tropes shared between all three novels:
- Aerith and Bob: A historical example of this. While some of the given names, such as Tomasz, Jutta, Konrad, Peter, Jens, Adela, Walter, Samson, Johann, Agnes, Mikolaj, etc., would sound usual even to modern ears, some of the truly old-fashioned or rare names - Birkart, Apecz, Huon, Urban, Dzierzka, Prokop, Rixa - can seem downright made-up or alien at times.
- Angel Unaware: Implied with Samson Miodek's character, but it's a matter of interpretation.
- Anti-Hero: Plenty of the main and minor characters (though not all). Among the series' antiheroes, Good Is Not Nice occurs quite a bit, but it's often averted too, to show that antiheroic figures are complex characters like any other (sometimes in very contrasting ways).
- Automaton Horses: Averted. The author makes it a point to regularly mention whether a character has or hasn't been riding a horse for too long, and what the horse's state is. Characters have to regularly let their horses rest and frequently worry about their horses getting injured or lost or even killed.
- Black Comedy: Given the particular setting and Sapkowski's style of writing, there are oodles of it in virtually every chapter.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The first novel is quite a bit more lighthearted and playful even with its more dark humour than the second and third installment.
- Character Development: Particularly Reinmar. Throughout the course of the series, he goes through some impressive bildungsroman stuff, maturing from a bright but foolish and bumbling 20-something, into a worldweary and hurt, but much more wiser and responsible figure.
- Deconstruction: The series has a tendency to deconstruct a lot of action-adventure tropes associated with medieval Europe, historical fantasy and warfare in general.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Sapkowski doesn't flinch at depicting the fact that some of the attitudes and opinions of early 15th century society would seem weird at best, and horrifying at worst to a modern day person. On the other hand, he also frequently shows that medieval people were not some constantly infighting, universally bigoted morons, and had greatness, knowledge, skill, artistry and compassion in them just as much as various vices, prejudices and superstitions.
- The Dung Ages: 15th century central Europe, particularly Silesia, is actually considered a developed and fairly rich area of medieval Europe. Nevertheless, it's also a realistically dirty and grubby place, given all the people and economic activities it houses. All that grime and waste has to show up somewhere...
- Establishing Series Moment: Some of the sentences included in the first few paragraphs of the first novel's prologue include "The end of the world did not come in AD 1420, as prophesied. But there was still enough merry stuff happening anyway". The text that follows lives up to that grim-but-amusing promise.
- Fantasy Gun Control: Completely averted. Sapkowski is all too conscious about showing how the advent of early artillery and portable hand-held guns led to changes in late-medieval warfare. The characters mostly use melee weapons and crossbows, but they're keen on firing off a gun in self-defence or combat if the need arises. The spread of gunpowder weaponry in warfare is all the more Truth in Television when you realise the Hussite Wars were one of the main catalysts for this during the late-medieval history of central European nations.
- Genre Savvy: Part of the humour in the series is based on genre-savvy characters and a genre-savvy narrator.
- Grey and Grey Morality: The lines between good and evil are murky throughout the series, not least because the period is one of major political, social, religious and technological upheavals. Some blatantly villainous or destructive characters tilt this trope into Black and Gray Morality.
- Historical Domain Character: And how... In addition to plenty of fictional characters, the novels in the series include appearances by a slew of actual noblemen, church people, scholars, war leaders, famous traders and townsmen from period Silesia, Poland and the Czech lands. In the prologues of each novel and some of the character dialogues, other famous contemporary figures from elsewhere in Europe are also namedropped.
- Historical Fantasy: Firmly in place. The trilogy is more akin to historical adventure novels, with supernatural and fantasy elements regularly interfering from behind the scenes, rather than straight-up fantasy. Sapkowski deliberately tried to go a different route than the Deconstructor Fleet Sword & Sorcery path he tread previously in The Witcher series, and while his writing style and the themes he covers are similar, he wanted to avoid a retread of Geralt and related characters.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Despite this being a historical fantasy series where folk magic, alchemic experiments and other supernatural elements pop up frequently, there are a few events and occurences the true nature of which is left to the reader's own imagination.
- Narrator All Along: By the end of the third novel, we get final proof that the series' snarky omniscient narrator is none other than Szarlej himself, reminiscing about his past adventures with Reinmar and Samson. Fitting.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Hussite armies, anti-Hussite crusader armies, and the occassional bandit groups and mercenary bounty hunters. See also War Is Hell.
- Time Skip: Roughly two years pass between the events at the end of the first novel and the events during the opening of the second novel.
- Took a Level in Badass: Part of Reinmar's character development. But this is also sometimes played for horror, to show his previous grip on his own ethics slipping away due to war-weariness or a lust for vengeance. Sometimes, becoming a greater badass doesn't automatically mean being a heroic badass. Instead of a harmless power fantasy fulfilled, there are also downsides and temptations, some unsettling.
- War Is Hell: Late-medieval warfare is heavily deromanticised throughout the series. Combat is unglamorous to begin with and becoming increasingly unchivalrous, pragmatism trumps honour, flashiness and often even basic human decency. The destruction and upheavals caused by war are horrible and dehumanising, even if officially carried out in the name of high-minded ideals (on either or whichever side). Many characters are changed by war drastically and have to struggle with readjusting to a calmer life.
- What You Are in the Dark: Reinmar and a few other characters have to face this quite often, especially in the second and third novel, when things really grow more and more dire.