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Literature / Keys to the Kingdom

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On the first day, there was a mystery.
On the second day, there was darkness.
On the third day, there were pirates.
On the fourth day, there was war.
On the fifth day, there was fear.
On the sixth day, there was sorcery.
On the seventh day, there was a choice.
— Keys to the Kingdom

A fantasy series of seven books by Garth Nix, consisting of Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday.

At the epicentre of the universe is The House, a non-afterlife Celestial Bureaucracy created by The Architect to be responsible for recording everything that happens in the rest of the universe, the Secondary Realms. After the disappearance of The Architect, the seven most powerful denizens of The House decide not to appoint a mortal from the Secondary Realms as the Rightful Heir in accordance with The Will she had left behind, but instead to break and imprison The Will in seven parts and keep the power of the titular Keys to the Kingdom for themselves. Ten thousand years later, Part One of The Will escapes its imprisonment and is partially successful at tricking one of the trustees into handing over part of his Key to a mortal Rightful Heir, Arthur Penhaligon. Initially reluctant, Arthur is charged with defeating each of the trustees and claiming their Keys. However, he also discovers difficulty not only with the House and its residents, but also with the fact that he may or may not be coming home...

This series provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: The main heroes are children and the Denizens of the house are either too stupid or stubborn (or corrupt, or bureaucratic, or evil) to change anything. The Piper's Children are also shown to be much more helpful to Arthur than most Denizens. On the other hand, pretty much all the adult humans in the story are shown to be competent or even Reasonable Authority Figures.
  • Aliens Love Human Food: Despite the House being the epicenter of the universe, the Denizens are infatuated with simple Earth food such as tea. This is justified in that people do not actually need to eat in the House and only do so for entertainment, making the consumption of food all the more rare.
  • Alternate History:
    • Arthur's world is almost the same as ours, except it was the scene of a devastating plague that prompted the government to take the hard line on any epidemic.
      • However, it may not apply. Arthur's hi-tech cast in Drowned Wednesday, and the fleetingly mentioned electronic paper are two examples of future technology, meaning that the plague could be a future event, and the story is set 20 Minutes into the Future.
    • When Leaf thinks about people walking on the moon, she recalls Chinese astronauts.
  • Apocalypse How: Class Z-1. If the House is consumed by Nothing, Earth and the rest of the Secondary Realms will be gone as well. Specifically, if the Incomparable Gardens are destroyed. First thing in, last thing out. The only exception is the New Architect holding the seven Keys, who can then start over in rebuilding everything from Nothing.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: "Nothing", the stuff from which everything is made and everything will eventually return. It can do a variety of things, mostly destroy anything if given enough time and form strange "Nithlings" if combined with normal matter. It's also an important — but dangerous — component in many spells.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: Arthur at the end of Lord Sunday becomes the new Architect, with the power to remake the universe out of Nothing.
  • Asthma Peril: Arthur suffers from severe asthma. In fact, the only reason he is selected as the Rightful Heir is because he is about to die of an asthma attack (the idea being that, once he dies, Monday could take the Key right back from him). The Key turns out to save his life instead, and he spends most of the series in the House, where mortal limitations such as the requirement to breathe don't apply.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • The way the House's hierarchy works. Each Denizen has a number representing how close they are to being full authority. Near the start of Sir Thursday, Arthur's precedence within the House is explicitly given as six. One can speculate as to who the five above him are; Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday are the obvious candidates for four of them. Who the other one is remains a mystery, though the Architect, the Mariner and the Old One are all possibilities.
  • Automaton Horses: The Not-Horses used by the Glorious Army of The Architect are a literal example. They have a tough, metallic skin, run for much longer than a normal horse, and can go without sleep for a week. They do however require regular care, including a wire brush to ward off rust. They also have names and enjoy being petted, Arthur gets to ride one called Sqwidge.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: In Lady Friday, the members of the Glorious Army of the Architect in the operations room of the Star Fort fall silent and stand at attention when Arthur enters the room, prompting Arthur to quickly tell them to carry on.
  • Badass Normal: Leaf qualifies as this, especially by the last book. Poor girl barely even knew Arthur and still got dragged into his adventures. She survives being kidnapped and shanghaied into serving on a ship, she goes up against Lady Friday to rescue her aunt, and she befriends Daisy and returns to the House to try and help Arthur. She even manages to take a nuclear attack on her hometown in stride, rescuing and caring for all the old folks Friday's been stealing memories from.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Dame Primus, aka The Architect, ultimately succeeds in manipulating everyone into destroying almost the entirety of the House and the rest of the universe. Becomes a Bittersweet Ending as she leaves behind enough information and tools to rebuild everything.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • See Who Wants to Live Forever?, below. If Arthur realized at any point what was going on, there is no way he would have gone through with it and the Architect's plan would have been ruined then. However, she's able to be enough of a Manipulative Bastard that he's not able to figure out the truth in time.
    • Despite the fact that it looked like Lord Sunday had plenty of time to tell Arthur when he was trying to convince Arthur to give him the Keys. In fact, telling him the truth could possibly have convinced him. Yet he didn't do it. After all, Sunday's sin is pride...
  • Bears Are Bad News: Part Two of The Will.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The higher-ranking Denizens. The more power or authority a Denizen has in the house, the taller and more attractive they are; this becomes a painful complication for Arthur later on as the magical contamination in his body accumulates and begins to transform him into something like a Denizen: he occasionally grows several inches, or has his teeth and jaw move around abruptly to a more perfect position which human bodies are not supposed to do.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Practically every building in The House is bigger on the inside than on the outside.
  • Big Bad:
    • The pirate Feverfew is this in Drowned Wednesday, and the title character of each other book in the series is the big bad of that book.
    • In addition, Superior Saturday is responsible for bad things that happen in multiple books.
    • Dame Primus, aka the Will of the Architect, aka The Architect is ultimately responsible for the destruction of almost the entire universe, the House and the deaths of all but a handful of characters in a Who Wants to Live Forever? gambit.
  • Big Good:
    • Dame Primus. However, Arthur suspects she's actually not acting in his best interests at all. He's right, in a roundabout sort of way.
    • The Mariner is one of the most powerful beings ever, being a son of the Architect, and helps out Arthur. However, he keeps reiterating he's trying to be neutral.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sure, Arthur is God AND gets to be a normal boy at the same time, and Suzy gets a bit of happiness, but that doesn't change the fact that sooner or later normal Arthur is going to realize he's not mortal, and in the meantime, there's the death of all but about FIVE denizens AND Arthur's mother to worry about (though the House will probably be reconstructed quickly).
  • Blood Magic: Suzy uses Arthur's blood to close a "weirdway", since he's the Master of the Lower House.
  • Brainless Beauty: Most Denizens.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy:
    • Mister Monday. Although the "brilliant" part isn't really shown.
    • Lord Sunday to an extent, being too proud to actually do anything until it's too late but possibly the most powerful Denizen in the House.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Arthur initially ventures into the House looking for a cure for the Sleepy Plague, caused by the Nithlings sent to retrieve Arthur's part of the First Key.
  • Call to Agriculture: The New Nithlings decide that they would rather be farmers than soldiers. Not that they have a choice in the matter.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: All over the place.
  • The Cardinal Virtues: The seven parts of the Will of the Architect, taking anthropomorphic forms, each embody the Seven Christian Virtues. This is in opposition to the Morrow Days, the Arc Villains of each book, who are plagued with one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
    • The First Part (The Frog) represents Fortitude, being the most proactive and biggest risk taker among the Wills.
    • The Second Part (The Bear) represents Prudence, making it come off as Insufferable Genius who has more important things to do than directly assisting the heroes.
    • The Fourth Part (The Snake), represents Justice, displaying a strong sense of For Great Justice where it seems more interested in punishing an evildoer rather than dealing with a more immediate threat.
    • The Fifth Part (The Beast), represents Temperance, being far more agreeable and patient than previous parts of the Will.
    • The Sixth Part (The Raven), represents Kindness, another much friendlier part of the Will that helps Arthur rescue his friends and insists on paying Due to the Dead
    • The Seventh Part (The Apple Tree), represents Humility, though it gets very little page-time to show this off.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The House is one, dedicated to observing, recording and properly archiving all of existence. A lot of Denizens' magic and ability to act depends on the proper paperwork being filled out and correct procedure being followed. It doesn't function very well, mainly because of corruption and incompetence:
    Arthur shut his eyes for a moment. He couldnt believe he was being told about an accounting problem in the epicentre of the universe, in the House on which the entirety of creation depended for its continuing existence.
  • Cessation of Existence:
    Arthur What would have happened to me if I had died?
    Will: You'd be dead. What do you mean?
    Arthur: I mean... where am I now? Is there some sort of life after death? If the Architect created everything...
    Will: There is no afterlife that I know of. There is Nothing, from which all things once came. There is the House, which is constant. There are the Secondary Realms, which are ephemeral. When you are gone from the Secondary Realms that's it, though some say everything returns to Nothing in the end.
  • Chained to a Rock:
    • The Old One, a Prometheus-like character (or maybe the real deal) is chained to a clock, from which wooden puppets appear every twelve hours to remove his eyes, which grow back painfully over the next few hours. Reinforcing the Prometheus similarities is that it used to be his liver that was taken before his eyes (may or may not have been by a vulture).
    • Arthur gets chained to a smaller version of the Old One's clock in Lord Sunday.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • In the first book, a Fetcher tears off Arthur's shirt pocket, taking the Atlas with it. The pocket is used to grow the Skinless Boy, which becomes an important character in Sir Thursday.
    • The Compleat Atlas of the House is a pretty major one; in Lord Sunday Arthur uses it to, ahem, remake the Universe.
    • The ambulatory seed pods in Lady Friday, since Daisy is one.
    • Arthur finds his lost toy elephant from his early childhood in Drowned Wednesday and accidentally brings it to life several books later at a vital moment.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Fred's ability to sign to the Winged Servants of the Night.
  • The Chessmaster: The Architect/Dame Primus.
  • The Chosen One:
    • Arthur, the Rightful Heir. Arguably deconstructed, since he was chosen because he was about to die, and Monday would promptly get the key back.
    • Actually implied to be reconstructed, since the Will was influencing Monday to choose him, and probably knew that the Key would heal him enough that he could fulfill his role.
  • Co-Dragons:
    • Each Morrow Day has or had 3 specific 'superior Denizens' which count as their second in command (Noon, Dawn, and Dusk).
    • Grim Tuesday took his three Denizens, melded them into one and then separated that into seven, calling them Grotesques and giving them each different names. It's unknown what time they can be on Earth.
  • The Collector: Grim Tuesday and Lord Sunday.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Each of the Morrow Days has three powerful servants, a Dawn, a Noon and a Dusk. Dawns all have golden tongues, Noons all have silver tongues and Dusks all have black tongues.
  • The Corruption:
    • A Muggle using Functional Magic will accumulate a buildup of sorcerous taint, eventually transforming them into an immortal Denizen.
    • On a side note, the Will is revealed to have done this to the Trustees, and it's implied they weren't half as bad beforehand as they were during the series. Monday's Dusk is the only one who truly seems to be aware of this, though. There's a fairly blatant hint in Sir Thursday, where the titular Trustee's eyes are shown to be yellow. Then the Fourth Part of the Will turns out to be a snake.
  • Creative Sterility:
    • Grim Tuesday can copy anything, but can't make anything original.
    • In Lord Sunday, the Architect states that Denizens in general are incapable of creativity. In fact, this is the whole reason why the Rightful Heir has to be mortal.
    • Defied by The Piper, who purposely gives his creations the ability to learn like mortals.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Several examples, but primarily Monday's Dusk and the Servants of the Night, who both help Arthur.
  • "Day of the Week" Name: The Trustees.
  • Dimension Lord: Lord Sunday.
  • Discard and Draw: Arthur does this with the Keys.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "Experiencing" calls to mind drug-taking very quickly, especially when you read Lady Friday's reaction to it.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sir Thursday, in a particularly nasty variation; he beats his subordinates when he gets angry and once killed two Piper's Children in a fit of rage.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Nithlings are a byproduct of proto-creation-stuff being let into the House. Have varying intelligence, all of them very, very, ugly. Except for the New Nithlings. They just look like ordinary humans with a tentacle or two.
  • "End of the World" Special: At the end of the series, Arthur becomes the successor to the Architect and is given the opportunity to replace the universe that was just destroyed. Instead of starting from scratch, he just recreates the old universe.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • In the seventh book, after the Piper tries and fails to manipulate Arthur into giving up the Keys one last time, Lord Sunday tells him, in short, to shut up and deal with it.
    • Also in the seventh book, Lord Sunday tells Arthur that he won't stoop to hurting random mortals in order to force Arthur to give him the keys, although he seems to consider Arthur's mother to be fair game.
  • Evil Overlord: All the Trustees except Wednesday.
  • Evil Is Sterile: It is mentioned that only The Architect, The Old One, or humans can create anything original. The Denizens can only copy things they've seen. This becomes important later.
  • Evil Twin: The Skinless Boy, a clone of Arthur created by Saturday to blackmail him into giving up the Keys. He has a nasty Mind Control ability.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Compleat Atlas of the House and its Immediate Environs is a pretty literal name from the start, but by the end of the series, the extent to which it is literally "Compleat" is turned up to eleven.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Happens to Arthur a lot. This is because he is the Rightful Heir, and the higher someone's rank in the house, the taller and more beautiful they are.
  • Explosive Leash: The collars that children in the Piper's army had written onto their necks, which threatened to strangle them if they were disloyal.
  • Fantastic Firearms: Denizens of the House are quite hard to kill, but Grim Tuesday finds that they can still be badly hurt and injured with jets of steam, potent enough to strip the flesh off their bones. His overseers use portable steam guns to keep indentured servants in line, and larger steam cannons are used to fight flying Nithlings (or whatever else needs shooting).
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: In a submarine crewed by Rats, swallowed by a kilometres-long whale.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Elements of Christian theology, Ancient Greek myth, and European folklore are all present in the House. The protagonist actually meets the Pied Piper, the Ancient Mariner, and a towering old man who is suspiciously similar to Prometheus.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In Sir Thursday, Dame Primus says that she suspects that the Trustees "have been influenced or induced to behave as they do, with the ultimate aim being the complete and utter destruction of the House - and with it, the entirety of creation." It is the Will that's influencing them for that exact purpose! Even more dramatically, if you pay attention to the precise wording and punctuation in Dame Primus's letter in Drowned Wednesday, you may notice that she explicitly names herself as the Architect.
    • Despite all the pieces of the Will being male, Dame Primus is female. This is because the Architect is female.
    • The name "The Will of the Architect" ends up meaning something different than first thought. While it seems to be a will as in testament, it ends up proving to be more along the lines of "the Architect's will be done".
  • Genki Girl: Suzy (who is also a Plucky Girl).
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Arthur spends most of the series making friends with various Denizens. He does the same in the Gardens in Lord Sunday, and his new friend leads him outside. Straight into a trap. It turns out the gardening boy is actually Lord Sunday in disguise.
    • When Arthur barters information from the Raised Rats, they agree on a three-questions-three-answers-each type of agreement. Arthur, however, is quick to ask for clarification whether there is a "trick" to it, such as if asking that particular question counts, or whether it's only significant questions. It's the latter.
  • A God Am I: A side effect of using sorcery, not just for mortals, but having it on call seems to affect the thinking of many senior Denizens as well.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The Compleat Atlas of the House and Immediate Environs.
  • Green Rocks:
    • Nothing (that is, Nothing with a capital N - a fictional substance) can do anything needed for the plot - from dissolving stuff, powering machines, or turning you into a mouse for a day.
    • Also the Keys themselves, which can do anything the user demands that is in the user's power, and quite a bit more.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The Keys to the Kingdom, and the Parts of the Will.
  • Have You Seen My God?: The Architect.
  • Hazardous Water:
    • The water in Lady Friday tries to drown you if you aren't protected.
    • Saturday's rain drain would've killed Arthur if he wasn't a Denizen.
    • And if you want to get technical, the rain was Part Six of the Will. And the Will was created to destroy all Creation.
  • Hippie Parents: Leaf's parents, who are not only huge on environmentalism, but also gave their children some interesting names and keep only wooden utensils and jewellery in the house. It's implied that this runs in the family somewhat, from what Leaf says of her grandmother.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Arthur battles with this after Dartbristle is killed trying to fulfill a task. Despite working for The Piper, Arthur is encouraged by the Will to finish his last act. However, he decides to do it, and accept the consequences later because it's what he feels is right. It turns out that it allows The Piper to get into the Upper House. Not great.
    • Despite being the highest in authority of the Dusks, meaning increasing snobbishness, Sunday's Dusk 'The Reaper' takes time out of his kidnapping of Leaf to help 'a comrade' who is in trouble when in the Front Door. It's the Lieutenant Keeper, and despite the Reaper saying that Sunday could make him whole, he dies and passes on his sword and duty to Leaf, scuppering his plan. The Reaper laments on what a mistake this was and just leaves to report his failure.
  • Hour of Power:
    • Noons can only stay on Earth from noon to one PM. Logically, Dusks and Dawns are under similar restrictions.
    • Similarly, each Trustee can only visit the Secondary Realms on the day they are named after (Monday on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday, etc.)
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • The Scoucher, a Nithling with tentacle-arms featured in book 2.
      • Even more disturbingly, its description eerily foreshadows the dreaded Slendy...
    • The Skinless Boy counts as well, as it's a part-Nithling Evil Twin of Arthur.
  • Humans Are Special: Humans are apparently the most creative mortals in the Universe, the only ones ever to rival the Architect in inventiveness.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal:
    • Arthur, once he realizes that The Corruption, above, will eventually keep him from going home.
    • Leaf goes through a more minor one in Lord Sunday, when she becomes the Doorkeeper for a while.
  • Injury Bookend: In Grim Tuesday, Arthur broke his leg and used his residual power from the First Key to heal it, but the bones set all wrong and Dame Primus had to re-break it so he could get it properly attended to back on Earth, with a nice little nano-enhanced cast
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Suzy. She thinks nothing of undressing in front of Arthur, and often wears shredded or sliced-open clothing. But then again, she has the body of a child....
  • Insectoid Aliens: In Lord Sunday, Arthur accidentally visits a planet of these using the Improbable Stair.
  • Invisible to Normals: Some of the things from the House are this, such as the Fetchers who come to Arthur's school in the first book. Though Leaf can sometimes see such things, apparently her grandmother was a witch or something.
  • Kid Hero:
    • Arthur, obviously.
    • The Piper's Children (most notably Suzy).
    • Leaf is one in some parts.
  • Large and in Charge: A physical law in the House. The more power or authority a Denizen or being possesses, the taller and more beautiful they are, while being demoted makes them smaller and plainer. When Arthur meets Pravuil enslaved in the Coal Pit, he gives him the rank of Sir Pravuil, making him grow a couple of inches. Lord Sunday, last of the Trustees and the most powerful, is ten feet tall. As Arthur's body becomes more contaminated with magic and he becomes less human and more like a Denizen, he starts getting taller and more beautiful. This is extremely painful, as human bodies are not supposed to grow several inches taller in a few seconds, or have their teeth and jaw suddenly shift to a more perfect position. He becomes twelve feet when he becomes the New Architect.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Averted in that washing between the ears removes all memories rather than just the personal identity.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Arthur, to prevent being noticed, thinks of being soldier "Ray Green" in Sir Thursday from seeing the sun's rays and the forest nearby.
  • Losing Your Head: Denizens can also survive decapitation, if they get their head reattached to the rest of their body soon enough. If their body is not available, they can regrow it from simply a head.
  • Magic Mirror: The Fifth Key, which allows the wielder to travel, or send someone, to any place as long as 1. The person has been there before and 2. It has a reflective surface.
  • Magic Music: The Piper's pipes can force Piper's Children or Raised Rats to obey the Piper's commands.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Dame Primus.
  • Matryoshka Object: In Grim Tuesday, Suzy hides a satchel inside one, with the twist that it's in reverse with the innermost doll being the largest.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Piper's Children have their original first name followed by a set of words related to their job (Suzy and Arthur's two fake names involved ink coloring, while Fred presumably handles adding golden initials and numbers.
    • Also, Arthur Penhaligon.
    • Suzy's last name (mentioned once in Mister Monday) is Dyer, which fits the color stuff that most Piper's Children have going on.
    • Grim's Grotesques are named for the Yan tan tethera sheep counting system, though the individual spellings come from differing regional variants of the system, and in fact both Sethera and Azer mean "six" (Azar, however, does mean seven).
  • Mle Trois: Although it begins with just Arthur VS the Morrow Days, by the final two books it's now Superior Saturday VS Lord Sunday VS The Piper VS Lord Arthur, culminating in one final showdown in Lord Sunday. When Arthur gets Saturday's key, she is enslaved by the Piper leaving only the three sides. The Mariner, who counts as a side by himself, is neutral in all this, but eventually comes over to Arthur's side.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Implied with Friday's Dawn, who disapproves of his mistress' practice of experiencing and has never been allowed into her secret fortress in the Secondary Realms, unlike her Noon and Dusk.
  • Mobile Maze: The Great Maze, the section of the House used to train the Glorious Army of the Architect. It is a one thousand by one thousand grid of one mile by one mile tiles which randomly switch their positions every day.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: An illusory one is used by Arthur in the Incomparable Gardens, reasoning that a walking shrub won't look out of place.
  • Monster Whale: Drowned Wednesday's curse turned her into a Leviathan-sized whale. In this form she's so big that she be get mistaken for an island and her Horror Hunger makes her eat people whole.
  • Must Be Invited: the Fetchers, although apparently you don't have to own/live in the building to invite them in.
  • New Transfer Student: Arthur.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Arthur is polite to everyone, including those below him. This is such a rare occurence in the House that the telephone operators go out of their way to help him, including defying Saturday herself, because he thinks of saying please, and even recognise him just because he is so polite to them.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Quite surprising, considering the genre of the series, and the fact that Arthur's two companions are both girls around his age (in Suzy's case, at least physically and emotionally). Romance is not discussed at any point, and none of the characters even think about it. Kind of disappointing, actually.
  • No Name Given: We never find out what town Arthur lives in, or even the country. It's complicated as the series is set in an Alternate History. Or 20 Minutes into the Future.
    • America, the UK, and Australia are all likely candidates, however. References to bushfires and the Australian emergency lines suggest Australia, but pounds are in use.
      • The reference to a "British accent" ought to rule out the UK — no UK native would ever use the term since there are so many different British accents.
    • Lampshaded in Lady Wednesday. Arthur's home is described as something along the lines of "Odd name for a town... Never heard of that country before..."
  • Noodle Incident: We never discover exactly what the Old One did that pissed the Architect off so badly. A rare example of this trope not being Played for Laughs.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Many Denizens, but Dame Primus in particular.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Dame Primus is the embodiment of the Will of the Architect, and consequently wants to dissolve the whole universe into Nothing.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Denizens can survive most wounds that should kill - one jarring example in particular is in Drowned Wednesday, where Ichabod gets a large splinter right through the stomach... and promptly complains about how that was his best shirt. Priorities. One denizen ends up being decapitated, in so much as his body gets dissolved by Nothing leaving only his head, and has to spend time regrowing his body. They're resilient alright.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Arthur, except he's twelve.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Lady Friday can be interpreted in this vein, but draining emotions and memories rather than blood.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: The Will very nearly gets away with convincing Monday to hand over the full First Key to Arthur, but in the nick of time Monday remembers that Sneezer is normally "an idiot" and it's beyond suspicious he's suddenly come up with what sounds on paper to be such a clever idea.
  • Outsourcing Fate: It turns out that the purpose of Arthur's quest was to become the new Architect. See the "End of the World" Special entry above.
  • The Power of Friendship: Arthur has a habit of making friends wherever he is. Subverted in the final book, where his new "friend" is Lord Sunday in disguise, leading him into a trap.
  • Primordial Chaos: The substance called "Nothing". It's extremely corrosive, but advanced magic or Heroic Willpower can shape it into material objects.
  • Punch-Clock Villain:
    • The New Nithlings are really nice chaps who only serve the Piper because they owe him.
    • A lot of the Denizens belonging to the Trustees come across as this. They're just doing their jobs, because they'll be horribly killed if they aren't. Special mention goes to Saturday's sorcerers, who will be encysted into a bag of their own organs if they disobey her (a process they can actually survive for months).
  • Really 700 Years Old: The Piper's Children appear the same as when they were first brought to The House, mostly between the ages of nine and thirteen. They have lived in the House for more than ten thousand years, but due to Year Inside, Hour Outside were taken from Earth about seven hundred years ago. They still act like children, though.
  • Reflective Teleportation: The Fifth Key takes the form of a small hand mirror that allows the user to teleport to any reflective surface, provided they've previously visited that location via conventional methods.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Mister Monday, the bibliophages, and Part Four of The Will (see Too Dumb to Live).
  • Retcon: Both when a Spirit-Eater was being described in the Atlas, and when the incident with the Gray Spot was mentioned in the last book, they said it was mute, yet Leaf heard it apologizing when it was 'accidentally' bumping into everyone to spread it's influence.
  • Rule of Cool: Pretty much the entire series.
    • At the end of the series The New Architect is described as wearing "cool sunglasses".
  • Save the Villain: Arthur and Monday. This is arguably more of a 'heal the villain' than anything else, though.
  • Scaled Up: Mister Monday in his snake form.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Since the breaking of The Will, each of the trustees has been afflicted by one of the seven deadly sins. In order of Monday to Sunday, they represent Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, Lust, Envy, and Pride.
  • Shockwave Clap: Dame Primus does this with the Second Key in Sir Thursday.
  • Shout-Out: Several.
    • Probably the most notable is The Ancient Mariner being a major secondary character. And he's awesome. He also has a ship that can sail in space shaped like a giant turtle.
    • Similarly with the Piper.
    • Subverted, hilariously, when Arthur tries it in-canon.
      Ichabod: The ship is still mostly the counting house, albeit long-transformed and changed. This room is of the counting house, so it will always be connected somehow. If the passageway falls off, some other way will open.
      Arthur: Through the wardrobe maybe.
      Ichabod: I doubt that, young mortal. That is where I keep the Captain's clothes. It is not a thoroughfare of any kind.
      Arthur: Sorry. I was only... (trails off)
      (Awkward silence.)
      • The irony is that one of the pathways is through the wardrobe...
    • Arthur spends much of the third book in his dressing-gown.
  • Shrouded in Myth:
    • Arthur himself. By the third book, Japeth has been assigned to writing fictionalized versions of his already fairly impressive accomplishments that portray him as seven-foot tall, and looking something akin to a Greek God. Needless to say, people often tend to be somewhat disappointed on meeting him in person.
      • Of course, he actually does end up looking like this when he becomes the New Architect.
    • The Will is turned into a Frog-Bear; Suzy into an assassin.
  • Sibling Rivalry:
    • Monday's Noon and Monday's Dusk.
    • The Piper sees this between himself and Lord Sunday, especially since he thinks that Sunday threw him into the Nothing.
  • Sinister Scythe: The Reaper carries one.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Monday's Dusk (or Noon, after Mister Monday) is the one actually responsible for the entire series, by facilitating the First Part of the Will's escape. After the first book, he is not seen aside from a couple of scenes in Grim Tuesday and Sir Thursday.
  • The Smart Guy: Dr. Scamandros, the only Upper House-trained sorcerer outside the Upper House (until Giac in Lord Sunday), and who often helps Arthur with magic and exposition after this introduction in Drowned Wednesday.
  • The Starscream: Superior Saturday and the Piper
  • Steampunk: A lot of the 'technology' in the House is either this or Clock Punk. The Raised Rats tech is virtually all Steampunk.
  • Stumbled Into the Plot: Played with in regards to Arthur Penhaligon. While he is The Chosen One for receiving one of the Keys, him being chosen was him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where he was one of many of a list of children who were close to death (in his case chronic asthma). The villain, Mister Monday, wished to grant ownership of the Minute Hand to the boy and then reclaim after he died off. However he didn't consider not only would Arthur be saved from death by the Key's healing powers, but also that Arthur would choose to use the Key to fight back against his forces and be a hero.
  • Supporting Leader: Dame Primus.
  • Sword Cane: Saturday's Noon and Dusk each have one.
  • The Needless: None of the Denizens of the House need to eat, breathe, sleep, or anything like that (though they still like to do these things for fun). Visiting mortals, such as Arthur, gain most of the same benefits, though it seems they still need to sleep.
  • Theme Table: The House is divided into seven regions, each region is controlled by a Day who wields a Key, each Day has a Dawn, Noon, and Dusk, and each of those leads their own army of enforcers.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Many of the Denizens, much to Arthur's frustration. Lower-ranked Denizens in particular seem to find it all but impossible to do anything that they weren't specifically designed for. Many of the former-bureaucrat crew of the sailing ship Moth had very little idea of what they were doing, despite having crewed the ship for several thousand years.
    • Indeed, the reason the Piper created his Children in the first place is that they could actually learn. What's more, he's since created a bunch of New Nithlings with that ability - so much so that they would rather spend their time learning new crafts than being Evil Minions.
    • The Will, because each represents a classical virtue related to the keyholder's sin, but untempered by the presence of other virtues. Specifically:
      • The First Part of the Will, which leads Arthur into a trap (Diligence, opposing Sloth, but without patience). The flip-side of this is that the virtue's overabundance of motivation and dearth of sense is also why it escaped while the others had to be rescued.
      • The Second Part of the Will, which holds a contest to decide who will use the Key to stop Nothing from consuming the universe (Prudence, opposing greed, but without any particular direction, wants everyone to have a fair shot).
      • The Third Part of the Will, which wants to waste time while its worshipers sing hymns and constantly natters on about belief (Faith, opposing gluttony but without diligence).
      • The Fourth Part of the Will, which spits acid into the face of the general of a much larger army during a ceasefire (Justice, opposed to unthinking wrath, but lacking patience).
      • The Fifth Part of the Will is the most sensible and personable of its kin, but its laidbackness and personal restraint prevent it from aiding Arthur as much as other parts (Temperance, opposing lust but lacking urgency).
      • The Sixth Part of the Will, which gave Arthur orders he didn't have time to follow. Also, its attempt to give Due to the Dead to a fallen enemy accidentally allows the Piper to invade the Upper House (Kindness, opposing envy but lacking the sense of priorities the other virtues grant).
      • And the Seventh, which escapes by virtue of not being onscreen enough to cause problems. However, given that it is Humility (opposed to Pride) the fact that it's the virtue that Dame Primus has been working without for the entire book is significant.
      • It should be noted that Dame Primus, the composite of the parts of the Will, is much better about this; at one point she refuses to split into more than two parts with two Keys each because any less would be an invitation for attack.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Subverted, Leaf has to have her hair cut off after the military is tricked into nuking her hometown. The military personnel expect her to protest but she surprises them by agreeing to it instantly just to get it over with, by this time she's got much bigger things to worry about. The members of the army rescue team she talks to admit that they found the decontamination process to be pretty awful.
  • Try to Fit That on a Business Card: Arthur's full title at the end of the series is "Lord Arthur Penhaligon, Rightful Heir to the House, the Keys of the Kingdom and the Architect, Master of the Lower House, Lord of the Far Reaches, Duke of the Border Sea, Overlord of the Great Maze, Commander in Chief of the Glorious Army of the Architect, Master of the Middle House, Ruler of the Upper House, Lord of the Incomparable Gardens, the House and the Secondary Realms" as well as being the New Architect. Call him "Art".
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The scenes on Earth imply it's either this or Alternate History. Or both.
  • Unstoppable Rage:
    • Arthur, in some cases when he is using all or almost all of the Keys.
    • Did we mention that Sir Thursday's sin is wrath?
  • Uplifted Animal: The Raised Rats.
  • Verbal Tic: Japeth tends to use multiple synonyms of the same word (especially when he's nervous), which has to do with him being a former Thesaurus.
    'Thank you,' said Arthur. 'Um, do you always talk like that?'
    'You refer to my constant, even habitual, use of a multiplicity of words and terms?'
    'Only when I'm nervous,' replied Japeth. 'I am . . . I used to be a Thesaurus Minimus Grade Two. It is an occupational hazard, danger, or threat that we sometimes become prolix, verbose, long-winded, longiloquent . . .
  • The Virus: The Skinless Boy invades the mind of anyone he touches using a parasitic mold, turning them into his servants.
  • Virtue/Vice Codification:
    • Each part of The Will represents one of seven virtues, most likely intended as opposites to the Seven Deadly Sins, but differing from the classical Seven Heavenly Virtues. They also refer to the Heavenly virtues themselves in a twisted way that hints at the source of the trouble. In order of Monday to Sunday (classical counterpart in parentheses), they represent Fortitude(Diligence), Prudence (Charity), Faith(Chastity), Justice(—), Temperance (Moderation), Charity(Kindness), and Hope(Humility).
    • As noted in Too Dumb to Live example above, this is almost as much of a source of problems in the house as the vices, and the deviations from the seven heavenly virtues (most notably the substitution of Judgement for Patience as an opposing virtue to Wrath, but also the use of looser protestant virtues in general rather than their classical counterparts as primary identifiers) are actually clues for the alert reader that something is not quite right with the Will.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifter: Lord Sunday.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: When Suzy acts proper, to Arthur's great dismay. (Even if it's only for a short while.)
  • Winged Humanoid: Several types of Denizens and Nithlings have wings. Removable wings in varying degrees of usefulness also exist.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Leaf and especially her brother Branch. Seriously, can you blame the guy for going by 'Ed' instead?
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?:
    • The Architect eventually got bored of living and decided she wanted to return to Nothing. But the Old One, who was a part of her, had to be destroyed to in order for her to be dissolved, and his chains can only be broken if all of Creation is undone as well. Thus she started playing Xanatos Speed Chess and created a Batman Gambit; see below and above.
    • Also Arthur, although in his case, his complaint was that the sorcery involved would leave him unable to return home without causing sickness and potentially killing his home town. It's implied that this got better, though he is still immortal.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Architect made the Will to get the Trustees to carry out her plan to destroy all of Creation, but they refused and broke the Will. However, the Architect then twisted their natures, corrupting each with one of the Seven Deadly Sins, causing them to destroy the House anyway. Then she recruited Arthur to finish the Will and, even though he resisted every step of the way, she managed to manipulate him into completing the Will regardless. Note that this "Speed Chess" took thousands of relative years.
  • X Must Not Win: Funnily enough, Arthur's side could be considered as X, since the other main combatants know that if he succeeds, the House will be destroyed.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The House seems to move a lot faster than the Secondary Realms. Suzy was taken from the time of the black plague but mentions having been in the house for thousands of years. Arthur's to and fro through the door is explained later as the House adjusting time accordingly so that the person returns to the same time as they left. Sorcery can make the door glitch though, and Scamandros mentions having left for a few months and come back to find only 5 minutes have passed.

Alternative Title(s): The Keys To The Kingdom