Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Jackelian Series

Go To

The Jackelian Series is a series of Science Fantasy novels written by English author Stephen Hunt. The Series is comprised of The Court Of The Air, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, The Rise of the Iron Moon, Secrets of the Fire Sea, Jack Cloudie and From the Deep of the Dark. All the novels are set in the same universe, but with a rotating cast of characters in each book.

The novels are set in and around the Kingdom of Jackals, a steampunk Kingdom with shades of Victorian Britain and Gilded-Age America. An economic and military powerhouse, Jackals is beset on all sides by enemies within and without. To protect Jackals, the founders of the Jackelian Parliament created the Court of the Air, an elite spy organization so secret that few who hear of it actually believe it exists. Despite their best efforts, threats to Jackals and even the world loom large.



  • Abusive Precursors: The leaders of the Alien Invasion in The Rise Of The Iron Moon aren't aliens at all: they're an ancient, nigh-omnipotent race of humans who'd left Jackals' Earth a barren waste, invaded another planet, and are now coming back to ravage their now-recovered homeworld because they've used that one up too.
    • The subterranean Chimecan Empire that ruled Jackels' continent during the Ice Age exploited the scattered surface peoples as slave labor, sacrifices, and a food source.
  • The Ace: Business tycoon, aeronautical designer, and Utopia Justifies the Means Omnicidal Maniac Abraham Quest.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Amelia Harsh
  • Alien Sea: The Fire Sea is a region of ocean underlain by intense volcanic activity, dominated by submarine-cooking Boils and fast-growing mutant corals that thrive on heat.
  • All of Them: Used word-for-word by a witness to how many lashlites are mustering to attack Camlantis.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Catosian City States have all women armies. The Pericurian mercenaries hired to defend Hermetica City's boundaries are mostly female also.
  • Anachronism Stew: Aside from the Steampunk elements, Jackelian history gives us the likes of the Black-Oil Horde (think "Mongols driving Mad Max-style war vehicles") and suits of old Royalist plate armor with gas mask filters in the helmets. Had Tzlayloc prevailed in book one, he'd intended to rig up steam-driven obsidian knives for industrial-scale Human Sacrifice.
  • Advertisement:
  • Annoying Arrows: It takes a lot of crossbow bolts to bring Henry Tempest down.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Molly Templar, Amelia Harsh, Purity Drake, Hannah Conquest to name just a few.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Especially when they're immense, vicious, and alarmingly-crafty ursks, which roam in packs rather than alone like regular bears.
  • Belly Mouth: Old Three-Eye.
  • Berserk Button: Literal example: Boxiron's "top gear" turns him from a clumsy, lurching hulk to a nigh-unstoppable whirlwind of brutal destruction. Which can be a problem, as when he "fights in five", the lever that shifts him out of top gear tends to get stuck there...
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Catosian warrior-women adhere to this trope, which causes some trouble aboard Sprite of the Lake when one of the sub's crew gets his nose broken in response to making a pass at one. Commodore Black opts to "court" Veryann by trying to beat her at chess: a much safer option.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The hapless Jagonese "exiled" by the insane First Speaker opt to throw themselves and their children into Hermetica City's electrified defensive wall rather than be mauled by the approaching ursks.
  • Bio-Augmentation: This trope is practically Cassarabia's Hat, used by desert nomads to adapt their bodies to survive sandstorms and lack of water, and by the judicial system to equip convicts for punishment labor, e.g. giving extra arms to someone condemned to be a slave porter.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The slats have no eyes and operate by echolocation and smell. Craynarbians have sensory hairs on the backs of their necks which stiffen in the presence of lurking predators, although just what they're detecting isn't defined.
  • Blood Bath: Prince Doublemetal lounges in a bath of oil that the siltempters share among themselves.
  • Blue Blood: Jackals breeds its royalty like animals. The most blue blooded gets their arms amputated and displayed as a figurehead "king" or "queen" which the citizens of Jackals can abuse.
  • Bookends: The Kingdom Beyond The Waves both starts and ends with one of its dual protagonists giving their faithful companion an unothodox-to-Jackelians funeral appropriate to their culture: Amelia leaves her archaeological sidekick Mombiko to return to Nature where he lies, and Cornelius has Damson Beeton serve up Septimoth's roasted carcass at a banquet.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Played straight and played with. Some expressions are logical parallelism ("Carlist" for "Marxist", "atmospheric" for "pneumatic"), but others use phrases which have entirely different slang meanings than one might expect ("flash mob" = gangsters, "cardsharp" = punch-card computer programmer). Subverted with Old Three-Eye the kilasaurus max: a term which sounds like she's a tyrannosaur under a Smeerpish name, right up until she starts bellowing words and is revealed to have a Belly Mouth.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Poor Commodore Black gets dragged into every single story, willingly or not. By Deep of the Dark, he's openly Lampshading how he keeps getting coerced into these messes.
  • Calling Card: Charlotte leaves cards with her art-thief alias "Sable Caracal" at the scenes of each robbery, to the delight of the Middlesteel press. Deconstructed in that she's not just doing so to be theatrical and/or to taunt the police, but to ensure that potential purchasers of the artwork she steals will know it's the Cat-gibbon they should speak to in order to make an offer for it.
  • Child Soldiers: Jared Black leads a handful of pubescent Jagonese militia cadets against the Pericurian invasion. He has little choice, as the children they're defending are even younger.
  • City of Canals: Hermetica City on Jago. Unusual in that some of the canals are boiling, Jago being geothermally active and its cities, a former refuge for human civilization during the Ice Age.
  • Clingy Macguffin: The pistols of Hood o'the Marsh, once taken up, will reappear in the possession of the current Hood even if dropped from an aerostat or flung into a furnace.
  • Clockpunk: Transaction engines, Catosian-made motorcars, and Fortune's prosthetic arm are all examples of the setting's sophisticated and widespread clockwork technology. Steam power does exist alongside it, but the overall feel is more this trope than pure Steampunk.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Used to manipulate flesh-metallers in The Court of the Air
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Dick Tull's suspicions are always off-target.
  • Cool Airship: The Iron Partridge, once it becomes self-aware and is able to operate as its designer intended.
  • Cool Boat: Commodore Black has skippered several Cool U-Boats in his day, although they tend to get destroyed a lot.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Jared Black duels and impales a villain near the first novel's ending, in the middle of a snowy field. The villain attempts to leave a Dying Clue as to Black's true identity, but the snow on which he scrawls his bloody message melts away before anyone finds his body.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Circlist Church doesn't believe in gods, yet it does have parsons, archbishops, confessionals and sermons ... they just confess to irrational thoughts, not sinful ones. The defunct Child of Light faith from pre-Commonshare Quatershift has Christian overtones. Cassarabia has some of the motifs of Crystal Dragon Islam, and the faith of the steammen has Crystal Dragon Vodou elements.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Camlantis had this reputation. And apparently lived up to it for a good long time ... at least, until their civil war.
  • Cursed Item: The Joshua Egg from Fire Sea is a multi-layered mathematical puzzle that requires a computer to crack it. Decrypting a layer of the Egg reveals information that Hannah's party needs, but also has a tendency to destroy the calculating device - valve-based, Clockpunk, or whatever - that cracked it.
  • Death Seeker: Boxiron has shades of this at times due to his Frankenstein's Monster-like history.
  • Dreaming of Times Gone By
  • Dream Walker: The Whisperer's mental powers allow him to visit Oliver in his dreams, and to snoop at the dreams of others.
  • Empathic Weapon: Several. Notably in The Court of the Air, a legendary Steamman weapon is shown to be sentient, and it seems that the others are as well.
  • Expendable Clone: The Eternal Caliph's reign is perpetuated by a combination of life-extension elixer and this trope. When his life-prolonging drug can no longer sustain him, he has seven clones of himself raised and educated in secrecy. The one who scores highest on a series of tests is implanted with his memories and becomes the new caliph; the other six are strangled.
  • Explosive Leash: The feybreed of the Special Guard are fitted with Slave Collar torcs that can kill them if they go rogue or disobey orders.
  • Fantastic Drug: Shine, an anabolic steroid used by Catosian warrior-women and by a Court agent in book one. Magnesium mixed into the coke that fuels their boiler-hearts can drug steammen reprobates into happy delirium.
  • Fantastic Racism: The otherwise-moral steammen have no tolerance for dead or damaged steammen whose bodies have been "contaminated" by human-crafted or siltempter replacement parts. Such "desecrations" are shunned if they refuse to commit suicide as social pressure dictates. "Mutables" - mu-bodies who achieve consciousness through repeated use, rather than being designed by King Steam - aren't very welcomed either.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: An England where the English Civil War resulted in a crushing of the king and the church is avowedly disbelieving in any gods; a France where The French Revolution went on and on, and many more.
  • Fetus Terrible: Womb mages in Cassarabia invoke this trope upon female slaves, as forced surrogates for their artificial life forms.
  • Fictional Earth: Possibly the case, as implied by a smattering of references to artifacts, lost cities, and age-old beliefs ... but if it is Earth, it's so far into the future that even long-vanished Camlantis only knew of our own era from sparse archaeological evidence.
  • Floating Continent: When Camlantis returns to its home dimension it floats in the sky. Smaller-scale floating islets arise as a result of leyline discharges (floatquakes) that rip chunks of landscape out of the ground in (super)natural disasters.
  • Food Chain of Evil: Inverted as a Food Symbiosis Of Evil for the Kal or human chattel devoured by the Army of Shadows: the Masters feed on the life force, then the vampiric Kal drain the blood, and finally the slats chow down on the flesh.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Secrets of the Fire Sea turns out to be based on one.
  • Gender Bender: This trope is the key to the conspiracy at work in Cassarabia from Jack Cloudie.
  • Genetic Memory
  • Genius Loci: Jackals itself, as manifested by the spirit of Elizica of the Jackeni.
  • Ghost City: Jago, once humanity's sole surface-world refuge from the coldtime, has been virtually deserted since the world warmed up again. Its last outpost beyond Hermetica City is being vacated at the beginning of Secrets of the Fire Sea, and emigration has been forbidden in a desperate attempt to keep the city's infrastructure staffed. By the novel's end, human/ursine warfare has left all of Jago uninhabited, save the ab-locks which might be regaining their intelligence.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Everyone treats the Hexmachina as this.
  • Going Native: An accusation leveled at the Observer and Septimoth for having spent too much time among humans.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Mu-bodies - non-sentient drones manipulated by steamman slipthinkers - occasionally develop sentience spontaneously, as does the Iron Partridge. Coss Shaftcrank is one such "mutable".
  • Healing Factor: Slats have a weak variant of this, as their blood clots so quickly that anything less than a penetrating wound to a vital organ isn't going to keep them down for long.
  • Henchmen Race: Slats are this for the Army of Shadows, while two different variants of shark/man biologicks serve this purpose in Cassarabia.
  • Hive Mind: The greenmesh of Liongeli.
  • Human Sacrifice: Chimecan civilization was centered around the sacrifice of sentients to the dark Wildcaotyl gods. The siltempters sacrifice Gabriel to get the human blood needed to call upon their evil patron Steamo Loa.
  • Human Subspecies: Craynarbians and graspers are offshoots of humanity, adapted for survival in (respectively) the Hungry Jungle of Liongeli and underground caverns that offered shelter from an ice age. Gill-necks are an ocean-adapted variant that pre-dated the Ice Age by thousands of years. Ursines are obliquely implied to be related to humans, at least in being descended from primates.
  • Innocent Aliens: The Kal are naturally inclined to this, which sadly left them almost defenseless against the Army of Shadows.
  • It Can Think: When Old Three-Eye starts bellowing coherent words as she hunts Amelia's companions down. Also, when the bestial-seeming slats start using guns.
  • King in the Mountain: Invoked in an allusion
  • Living Gasbag: Skraypers are giant jellyfish-like floating beasts that lashlites hunt and aerostats must sometimes fight off.
  • Legacy Character: Hood o'the Marsh, a Proto-Superhero-flavored persona passed from one secret vigilante to the next.
  • The Magnificent
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Steammen knights have the ability to modulate their synthetic voices to a pitch and volume that can shatter glass, ceramic, bones, or even stone. They don't advertise that fact, preferring to reserve it as a surprise attack. In Iron Moon we meet Jenny Blow, a fey Bandit of the Marsh with similar powers who claims to have taught King Steam this technique.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Happens whenever the feymist rises or drifts into populated territories. The luckier feybreed gain unique powers and are conscripted into the Special Guard; the unfortunate ones are deformed and/or maddened as well as empowered by exposure and get locked up in a maximum-security asylum.
  • Matryoshka Object: The Joshua Egg from Fire Sea is a virtual example: a layered mathematical puzzle in which Hannah's mother encrypted a series of documents about the Conquests' research.
  • Mayincatec: The Chimecan Empire had distinct meso-american touches, most evidently in their Aztec like human sacrifices.
  • Meaningful Rename: When Slowcogs and Silver Onestack are left with no choice but to fuse themselves into one life-metal body, they adopt the name Slowstack.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: The Steammen were apparently created in the distant distant past as robotic servants, but are now fully sentient living beings, and have their own free state and government.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Omar from Jack Cloudie can barely speak a word without bragging, although the narrative reveals how much of this conduct is insecure self-justification.
  • Mini-Mecha: The protective Rigid Armor Motile suits worn by Guild turbine-workers in the geothermal energy plant under Jago.
  • Monster Progenitor: In a non-evil example, King Steam is the forefather of all Free State steammen, and personally approves and programs every one of them (except the occasional "mutable"; see Grew Beyond Their Programming). It's not known where he came from, but he's definitely thousands of years old at least.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The Great Face on Kaliban.
  • The Morlocks: The ab-locks of Jago owe their name to this trope, and are likewise the degenerate descendants of humans from a long-dead civilization. Ursks are also this trope, but applied to ursines rather than humans.
  • Morph Weapon: The knife left to Oliver by his father, a onetime secret agent, changes shape as Oliver wills it and endows the young man with the skill to wield it, whatever its form. Billy Snow's cane conceals another example of this trope. One of the Bandits of the Marsh wields a spear that collapses into a knuckle-duster.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Duncan keeps the skeletal remains of his daughter in a travel-case, and imagines she speaks to him. His inability to face her death arises because it was his own artillery unit that killed the girl, unaware that the Cassarabian border-bandits they were shelling had already seized civilians from his home village.
  • My Brain Is Big: The sea-bishops are called that because their heads have evolved a miter-like shape to house their enlarged brains.
  • Nay-Theist: The Circlist church advocates logic and reason, teaching that there are no divine powers worthy of worship, no matter what those so-called "gods" may have to say about it.
  • New Child Left Behind: Purity Drake is the daughter of Jared Black, by way of this trope. Infiltrating the royal breeding house in his youth, he became involved with an interned female co-conspirator, but believed she'd died in the crossfire when his spy operation was exposed. Jared doesn't learn that his lover had survived being shot or that she was pregnant until Purity turns up on his doorstep, unaware they're related and motherless since the events of book 1.
  • Nightmarish Factory: The transaction-engine facility on Jago is a safety-inspector's nightmare, saturated by mutation-inducing energies and full of constricting pipes, clanging mechanisms, scalding-hot steam, and savage, barely-tamed ab-locks toiling under human workers' inexpert control.
  • No Such Agency: The Court of the Air (the "wolftakers") are considered more Urban Legend than reality by the common population of Jackals. The Court works hard to maintain this reputation.
  • One-Man Army: Henry Tempest, who plows his way through claw-guards like they're a pack of kittens.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Ancient Camlantis was like this for thousands of years. Amelia's search for its lost history is driven by her having grown up with her father's stories about it. Subverted during Camlantis's last years, when fear of invasion drove some Camlanteans to engage in physical violence to stop the rest of them from unleashing a global-genocidal weapon.
  • Planet Looters: The Army of Shadows in Iron Moon and the sea-bishops in Deep of the Dark.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The king is displayed for abuse to disarm it.
  • Princess in Rags: Purity Drake is a royal kept in squalor by the Jackelian authorities.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A convicted bank robber, a crackpot steamman, an embittered secret policewoman, a botched Super Soldier, a manic-depressive commander, a crew of convicts and border tribesmen, Jared Black (of course), and an experimental tortoise of an airship that malfunctions in mid-battle? Sounds about right to save Jackals from Cassarabia's new air fleet....
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: How the Whisperer avoided having to subsist on the drugged gruel at Hawklam Asylum, which would otherwise have suppressed his mental powers.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Hannah from Fire Sea is introduced as the daughter of Amelia's companion who'd died early in Beyond the Waves. There's no hint in the former that he'd had a family, not even when Amelia receives his dying words.
    • In Red Moon, the existence of the "Kal carnivores" comes as a complete shock to the Earthly characters, who don't actually seem to have a word for "vampire". By Deep of the Dark, the discovery of blood-drained victims with double marks on their necks immediately kicks off a flurry of vampire hunts and rumors, including ones that make it clear it's traditional Lugosi-style vampires the hunters are thinking of, not Kal carnivores.
  • Remote Body: A small fraction of steammen are "slipthinkers", able to project their consciousness into expendable drones called "mu-bodies". King Steam and Aliquot Coppertracks each have this ability.
  • Robot Religion: The Steamo Loas, which sometimes possess or provide prophetic visions to their steamman worshipers.
  • Robotic Torture Device: Different technology, but the cross-shaped stone platform Tzlayloc uses to torment Molly and Prince Alpheus definitely qualifies.
  • Royal Blood: A very bad thing to have in the parliamentarian Kingdom of Jackals; royals are deliberately bred and kept around to be abused and vilified.
  • The Science Goes Away: The laws of (meta)physics are said to have changed since ancient times, with the Black-Oil Horde's petroleum-powered vehicles and gunpowder weapons being non-functional in the current era. Electricity, implied to have once been safely utilized, has become so unpredictable and dangerous - on par with it being radioactive - that only the terminally-reckless or the transaction-engine operators of Jago still risk being near it.
  • Secret Police: Jackals' Court of the Air and State Protection Board. Quatershift's Directorate Eight. Cassarabia's Pasdaran. Subverted by the Steamman Free State, said to be the only nation on the continent where this trope doesn't apply.
  • Shackle Seat Trap: Seats on board the Mass darkships can sprout entwining tendrils. These serve to restrain captives or to mentally link the vessel with its pilot.
  • Shark Man: The praetorian guard of the Caliph Eternal consists entirely of ogre-sized shark/human hybrids, cooked up by womb mages and programmed for absolute loyalty to the true Caliph. Which is why the grand vizier tries to have them all dirt-gassed when he does away with the duplicate he's been manipulating.
  • Sky Pirate: Armed airships are only allowed to be used by the RAN; any private citizen who tries to fly one is labeled a Science Pirate and an enemy of Jackals.
  • Super Soldier: Captain of marines Henry Tempest was supposed to be one of these, but the experimental Super Serum used to enlarge and strengthen him also made him dependent for survival on alternately dosing himself with two elixers: one that pumps up his aggression and one that tranquilizes him.
  • Swiss Army Appendage: Cornelius Fortune's prosthetic arm, which contains enough gadgets to serve as a stand-in Utility Belt when he's being Furnace-Breathed Nick.
  • Talking Weapon: Lord Wireburn
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Jared Black. He just never gets to settle down even though he really wants to.
  • Terror Hero: Hood o'the Marsh. Furnace-Breathed Nick also.
  • Third Eye: Lashlites have one that allows their seers to see into the future. Unusually, it's located on the back of the neck rather than the forehead.
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: The First Senator of Jago proudly displays scale models of his preposterously over-ambitious designs for new cities, port facilities, and civic buildings to visitors. It's implied that his underlings have these models created purely to suck up to and humor their boss, as Jago lacks the resources, the prosperity, and even the population size to permit even a tiny fraction of its crackpot leader's architectural imaginings to ever come to pass.
  • Time Abyss: The earliest prehistoric civilizations of Jackels' Earth to be referenced in the books date back at least five million years. Even its all-but-forgotten ancient cities were built on top of the fragmentary remnants of previous ancient cities.
  • Tiny-Headed Behemoth: Old Three-Eye, a female Kilasaurus max as tall as a tower, has an incongruously-tiny lizard head at the end of her neck. The huge mincing-machine maw in her abdomen more than makes up for her conventional jaw's meager size.
  • Too Important to Walk: The Baroness of the House of Ush. The Caliph Eternal of Cassarabia too. The Great Sage of Kaliban rides a self-hovering litter; justified because he's really really old.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Wainsmouth, during the Army of Shadows' occupation of Jackels.
  • Transflormation: A rather grim form serves as a food source in The Court of the Air. Womb mages in Cassarabia use this as a punishment for crimes ranging from a girl fleeing an Arranged Marriage to treachery; the latter is why the Caliph Eternal's decorative "orchard" has no actual trees in it, just this trope's victims.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Each novel mainly focuses on two protagonists who are having separate, yet ultimately linked, adventures.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Jethro, after ejection from the Circlist church. Although the fact that he hears the abandoned gods of Jackals talking to him may have had more to do with his estrangement from Alice Gray than a loss of income.
  • Unwilling Roboticization: "Equalizing" in the first book.
    • Even steammen are occasionally subjected to this, when their original parts are replaced with, or scavenged and incorporated into, non-steamman automata which they consider a contamination.
  • Ursine Aliens: Inhabitants of the nation of Pericur, they're actually called "ursines".
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: a lot of major villains start out this way, but go careening off the slippery slope towards the end. It doesn't help that their ideas of utopia are often different from others peoples.
    • Commodore Black gives Oliver a heartfelt rant dismissing this trope's basic concept as the root of most of the world's evils.
  • Veganopia: The herbivorous Kals' civilization was a strong example, mostly because predators were virtually unknown in their world's ecosystem prior to the Masters' invasion. Too bad they were so peaceful that they were helpless to repel the Army of Shadows...
  • Weaponized Car: Amelia finds an ancient weaponized horseless carriage in the Tomb of Deisela-Khan.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Abraham Quest sincerely cares about the plight of the world. That's why he decides to put it out of it's misery and rebuild the world in his image.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Although some of the "equalized" survived the first book, none of the later novels mentions what became of them or whether their Unwilling Roboticization could be reversed.
  • The Worf Effect: Happens to the Court of the Air, the Catosian Free States and the steamman army in Iron Moon, to show how badly outclassed the local nations' defenses and technology are.
  • The World Is Always Doomed: It says a lot about the series that the least dire Big Bad in the first three books only threatens the near-total annihilation of sentient life on Jackals' Earth.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Unexpectedly done with Lord Starhome, a spaceship. To be fair, the steammen who'd salvaged her after the crash call one another "he" by default, and had no cause to suspect a fellow Mechanical Lifeform could give birth.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Jackals defends itself with the Royal Aeronautic Navy, or RAN. In Jack Cloudie, Cassarabia threatens to overturn the balance of power by launching an airship-navy of its own.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: