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Literature / Shadows of the Apt

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Shadows of the Apt is a fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The basic plot is fairly familiar: a single visionary must persuade his people of the imminent threat from a rapacious, conquering empire. The main twist is the idea of the insect-kinden; all humans inherit powers based on the idealised abilities of a particular arthropod.

The books (so far) include:

  1. Empire in Black and Gold (2008)
  2. Dragonfly Falling (2009)
  3. Blood of the Mantis (2009)
  4. Salute the Dark (2010)
  5. The Scarab Path (2010)
  6. The Sea Watch (2011)
  7. Heirs of the Blade (2011)
  8. The Air War (2012)
  9. War Master's Gate (2013)
  10. Seal of the Worm (2014)

The website also contain loads of short stories and histories based in the same world.

Tropes found in this series:

  • A God Am I:
    • All of the Slug-kinden of Khanaphes. They actually have the stones to back up their claims though.
    • Empress Seda and her hunger for recognition of her power.
  • All There in the Manual: Quite a bit of back story and history of the Lowlands can be found on the Shadows of the Apt website, along with other short stories based in that world.
    • Quite a few of the characters/events from the short stories are woven into the main plot. The duel in "Ironclads" is brought up more than once in Heirs of the Blade (and the ghost story Avaris tells is most likely to be the same story as "The Dreams of Avaris").
  • Ancestral Weapon: Tynisa's Mantis rapier, passed on by Tisamon.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Che knows that people can gain powers through meditation, among them telepathic hive minds, ultraviolet vision, wings, and the ability to shoot energy from your hands. She initially refuses point blank to believe in "magic." In fact, nearly all Apt characters fall into this category.
    • This is because magic works in an entirely different way to 'Art' as noted when she noticed something off about Stenwold's agent in Helleron, whereas the people in this world can identify something as an 'Art' immediately even if they haven't seen it before.
    • In addition, it is stated on the blog of the author that everyone has basically outgrown the silly superstitions of religion. The Inapt believe in spirits but only the ones that can be commanded, not worshipped.
  • Armor Is Useless: Zig-zagged, as a result of the arms race against the Wasps.
    • Sentinel plate armor has been the height of protection for thousands of years, and its wearers are virtually invincible. For this reason, Sentinels form the core of the Wasp infantry.
    • However, then the snapbow is invented — an air-powered firearm that easily penetrates Sentinel armor, rendering that whole class of infantry obsolete.
    • But then the Iron Glove arms manufacturers develop a new lightweight and extremely strong alloy which is quickly worked into advanced body armor and walking tanks. This makes them nearly invulnerable, even the armor-piercing snapbow bolts just glance off them. However, this alloy is only available in limited quantities.
  • And Then What?: What Thalric says to his would-be assassin in Dragonfly Falling.
  • The Atoner: In Salute the Dark, Tisamon sees himself as an Atoner, although the main thing he's atoning for would, to most people, seem like a good thing—but Mantids mate for life...
  • Author Appeal: Tchaikovsky is something of an entomology fan. It shows.
  • Badass Army: An army of one thousand Mantis-kinden from Felyal doesn't quite live up to their boasts—they said they'd be able to kill the whole of the 20,000-strong Imperial Fourth Army. They only got three-quarters of them before the rest fled.
  • Badass Labcoat: Sort of; Stenwold and Totho both wear their artificing gear (heavy leather clothes, fireproof aprons, tough gloves etc.) rather than armor in the first few books because firstly they are artificers before warriors, and secondly because none of the guards would pay attention to an artificer looking for work in an imperial city. In fact, during the siege of Collegium the city's defence was upheld by a last-minute militia that was equipped with what poor reserves the city had. After that, each man woman and child grabbed whatever could be used in a fight. Seeing how the local residents are mostly artificers... You get the idea.
  • Barehanded Blade Block: Used rather well in Empire in Black and Gold. Colonel Ulther attempts it (and gets his arm cut open for his troubles) when fighting Thalric, a few pages before Tisamon's duel with Tynisa, in which he pulls off the same trick, thereby reinforcing his badassitude.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Apart from humans and certain livestock mammals, these are the dominant form of life, many of which have been domesticated as beasts of burden or battle. The various kinden came about as a result of people studying and meditating on the characteristics of the various giant arthropods they shared the world with: the Beetles emulated the endurance and industrious nature of certain giant dirt-rolling beetles, for example, and also tamed them as draft animals. The Scarab Path says that an environmental catastrophe in the distant past killed off most life that wasn’t giant bugs, and The Sea Watch implies the survivors were deliberately exterminated during an ancient war, for some reason.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Twice the Sea-kinden come to the rescue. The first time, their giant monsters rise out of the sea to destroy the invading Spider-fleet that was about to attack an unprepared Collegium. The second time, they liberate the Collegium from the Wasps 2nd Legion with a surprise attack that catches the Wasp and the Collegium citizens off-guard.
  • Black Magic: While magic is not inherently bad, it is said that some forms of truly bad magic exist: the Darakyon ritual and the blood magic that Mosquito-kinden utilizes in general. A lot of foreshadowing is happening with the prophecy that Stenwold hears from the monarch of the Commonweal and towards the end of the Heirs of the Blade with what Che says about the crest of worms while she was in a trance-like state
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: Mantis-kinden have two flavors—their Art-grown spines and the Claw.
  • Blind Seer: Subverted by the Moth-kinden; they are all Seers and magicians, but rather than being blind they can see better than any other race with their Art for being able to see in the dark. Crosses over with Prophet Eyes (see below).
  • Blood Knight: Tisamon is one in Helleron where he fights continuously, still wounded over the long past hurt and taking it out the only way he can.
    • In Salute the Dark it's Tisamon again, anguished over his "betrayal" of Atryssa willingly lets himself be captured by the Wasps as a gladiator slave to get a chance to kill the Emperor as a form of redemption
    • Tynisa, his daughter, also demonstrates this trait, getting a profound joy out of fighting and killing.
  • Blood Magic: Well obviously you have the whole Mosquito kinden utilizing blood for their magic.
    • Due to their influence Empress Seda seems to be doing pretty much the same. Except that it seems to have an uncontrollable hunger vibe compared to the Uctebri's controlled hunger
    • In Salute the Dark, Stenwold hears a prophecy from the Monarch of the Commonweal about blood coming out of the ground and in The Sea Watch, Stenwold then hears a similar prophecy about blood coming out of the land that will spill into the sea and consume it. Things aren't looking too bright in the insect-kinden world.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: At the end of Blood of the Mantis, Tynisa is forced via magic to attack Achaeos.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Almost all man-portable projectile weapons in this world is called a bow of some kind. The snapbow is an air-powered gun, while Balkus's nailbow is a weapon that uses explosive powder to fire a spray of nails at enemies like a blunderbuss.
  • Cartwright Curse: Both Stenwold Maker and his niece Che believe themselves to be bad luck for others.
  • The Cavalry: Many examples, especially in Dragonfly Falling once with the Spider reinforcements arriving at Collegium to break the siege; and then twice at the Battle of the Rails, first with the Moth and Mantis army arriving to aid the Sarnesh, and second with Totho arriving with snapbows to save the Wasps and create a victory for the Empire.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • It is occasionally mentioned that Totho is always carrying his "project" on his back, apparently a prototype for a weapon he has designed. This becomes important when Achaeos notices that Totho hasn't had it since they left Myna and realizes that this is because he actually left with Salma and the Totho with them is a doppelganger. Totho's weapon later falls into the hands of the Empire and his Snapbow is put into mass production, leading to a last-minute Wasp victory at The Battle of the Rails. The allied Lowlanders then nearly tear themselves apart trying to create their own snapbows while preventing their allies/rivals from doing the same.
    • Stenwold's Piercer bow makes a reappearance in Salute the Dark for a while as well.
    • And then again in The Air War, where it was literally hanging on the wall before being used.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.:
    • Nero. Later in the series, the entire race of Mosquito-kinden turn out to be not so mythical!
    • Just read the lore sections of the author's website and the date posted. Dude's been planting Chekhov's mines everywhere and priming them to blow for a long time. No wonder he's pumping books out so fast. Everything is already planned.
  • Child of Two Worlds:
    • Tynisa as a half-breed Spider and Mantis is caught in the middle of a bitter rivarly where she struggles with acceptance in each community.
    • Che once she becomes Inapt struggles to maintain her identity within Apt beetle society
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Thalric; not that it helps him, given that the Empire eventually decides he's better off dead — and then changes its mind again, at which point he betrays and murders a top-ranking general. He's hauled to the capital in chains and arrives at just the right time to marry the new Empress, who needs a male figurehead. Then the Rekef decide they would prefer a new male figurehead... In Heirs of the Blade it seemed he was pretty content to put the past behind him and tag along with Che (although that is what we thought at the end of Salute the Dark with Seda...)
  • Clock Punk: The world is in a transition phase between the two technologies, the Apt parts of it anyway.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • None of the weapons in the series glow.
    • The cover of Blood of the Mantis features a Mantis (possibly Tisamon) wielding a Claw. It doesn't appear to work in the way described in the books.
  • Cool Airship: A fair few, notably the Sky Without in Empire in Black and Gold and the Starnest invasion ship in Blood of the Mantis.
    • And of course, it's worth mentioning the "Triumph of Aeronautics", an armored airship.
  • Cool Tank: The Iron Glove developed the Sentinels, these are wood-louse shaped battle vehicles that are armed with a leadshotter and twin rotary piercers. Their biggest advantage is that they're almost invulnerable with their extra-thick black steel armor. Only a small number of Sentinels have ever been disabled by enemy attack (ie flipped on its back, crew killed, etc) and none have been destroyed. One Sentinel even took a direct hit from a magnetic cannon and only had a small dent to show for it. The Sentinels were the only reason why the Wasps could capture the Collegium.
  • Dawn of an Era: Depending on your viewpoint the revolution of the Apt was either the dawn of science and the end of fear and superstition; or the end of magic and the start of a polluted, ignorant future.
  • Death Seeker: The Mantis are an entire race of them, they've been a servitor race for ages but their Moth masters have dumped them and their individual skills are no longer a match for modern weapons and squad tactics, so they now seek death in battle. One Mantis nation actually succeeds in completely killing themselves off. They get better through the intervention of their totem insect and a sorcerous queen.
    • Varmen in Heirs of the Blade, who used to be an Imperial Sentinel befre the advent of snapbows rendered heavy infantry obsolete in a single battle, while not going out of his way to get himself killed, is quite content to have met his end on the battlefield, covering Thalric and Che's escape from the Salmae's camp.
  • Deity of Human Origin: The Worm is the god of remnants of the Centipede-kinden, it was created when they turned to religion after getting exiled out of reality.
  • Dirty Old Man: Ulther, Wasp governor of Myna. He keeps a harem of about thirty slave women, all much younger than himself.
  • The Dreaded: The Worm, aka the Centipeded-kinden, all the Inapt races have an atavistic fear of them to the point where giant centipedes are killed on sight. For the Sea-kinden, it's the Starfish-kinden. These are a race of mindless, violent savages that exist only to kill and have great regenerative powers, to the point where chopped body parts regrow into new people.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Worm looks like a giant centipede that has segments composed of all the people it's devoured (their faces can be seen in its body). The necromancer Maure couldn't feel the presence of the lingering dead in that world, because the Worm ate them all and it's presence causes humans to forget how to use magic and technological artifice, simply because it doesn't believe in either. Its aspiration is to invade the real world and convert it into more segments of itself.
  • Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age: The Mantis Claw- a "laughable anachronism" if you don't know what they can do with it...
  • Elves vs. Dwarves: The kinden are dived between the Apt (Dwarves) and Inapt (Elves).
    • A very close approximation: the Inapt are graceful, (usually) tall and some use magic, while the Apt are generally bulkier and use technology.
      • This is partially averted in later books where it is shown that many Skater-kinden are becoming Apt whereas they had all been Inapt a few generations before.
      • Especially obvious between the Apt Beetles and Inapt Moths, given their mutual dislike. While the Spiders and Mantis (Mantises? Mantids?) are both similar to elves in different ways, their virulent enmity is also reminiscent of the elf/dwarf conflict of other settings.
  • The Empire: The Wasp Empire, which has its sights set on world conquest.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Of the original main characters, the only survivors are Cheerwell Maker and Thalric.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Uctebri is a Mosquito kinden sorcerer who offers to give Emperor Alvdan immortality if he can have Alvdan's younger sister Seda. What Uctebri actually intends is to turn Seda into a magical tool and he's the one who assassinates Alvdan. After Seda is corrupted, she has her former mentor Uctebri killed and she becomes an evil sorcerer too.
  • Fantastic Firearms: Downplayed. While gunpowder exists, gunpowder firearms are considered dangerous and unwieldy, and are consequently never smaller than artillery (aside from specialist pieces used by larger characters). Instead, an arms race is kicked off by the introduction of "snapbows", which use compressed air to launch projectiles. They shoot further, hit harder, and reload faster than the crossbows that are the norm at the start of the series, and so quickly and completely change the way wars are fought.
  • Fantastic Racism: All kinden have their stereotypes about each other, but 'half breeds' tend to suffer far worse.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Elements of it, but certainly not to the extent often seen. Nevertheless, it's interesting to look at the Dragonfly-kinden, with their unusual long-handled swords, their "golden skin" and their surnames before their personal names. Did I mention that the Dragonfly was used in Japan as a symbol of the Samurai?
    • If Leonardo da Vinci had ever managed to create a working flying machine and spread it throughout Renaissance Italy, Solarno and the Spiderlands would probably feel a lot more familiar to the reader.
    • The Wasp Empire is surprisingly similar to the Roman Empire, with their use of Auxillians, and constant need for slaves.
  • Fantasy Gun Control:
    • Subverted with crossbows being the "weapon of the revolution" that put the Apt in charge and the Inapt on their long journey down the pecking order, and then again when Totho invents the "snapbow" for the Empire, which is basically an air gun that shoots further and harder than crossbows ever could, and makes even the awesome Mantis-kinden obsolete.
    • Played with in The Air War: it's explained that the Apt haven't fully mastered gunpowder technology. They haven't been able to create a man-portable gunpowder weapon that's accurate, but they have them for artillery and vehicle-mounted weaponry (the leadshot and greatshotters).
  • Faux Affably Evil: Alvdan II usually conducts himself with civility and decorum, but that's just a paper-thin mask over the near-emotionless sociopath he really is, and even then his politeness is often just mean-spirited mockery.
  • Friendly Sniper: Gorenn is a ridiculously optimistic and boisterous Dragonfly kinden who calls herself the Commonweal Retribution Army. She's also become a living legend because of the amazing shots she can do with her bow (including the first to disable a Sentinel).
  • Gambit Pileup: The Spiderlands political landscape, especially in Solarno. Not unexpected seeing how every Spider is born a natural chessmaster.
  • Gladiator Games: The Wasps often hold these, using slaves as combatants.
  • Hand Blast: Wasp-kinden have the “sting” as their most common Art, letting them shoot bolts of energy out of their palms. Therefore, no Wasp is ever technically unarmed, and they consider open hands a threat in their culture. Their stings usually don’t have the same range as a proper bow or crossbow, but they can kill just as easily.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Thalric grows increasingly disillusioned by the Empire and falls in love with Che, leading him to abandon the Empire.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Uctebri has a sense of the dramatic, it seems.
    Uctebri: Laetrimae, would you come forth? Drama now requires it.
  • La Résistance: The Mynan resistance, which isn't particularly nice.
  • The Last of His Kind: Cesta believes that he is the last of the Assassin Bugs 'The Air War' proves him wrong
  • Lensman Arms Race: Because of the war, both the Empire and Collegium have greatly advanced their military technology to counter each other's efforts. This reaches its apex in The Air War, where the Empire built Farsphexes (diesel-powered, fixed-wing fighter bombers) and specific tactics to counter the Collegium's Stormreader interceptors which were still limited to windup power. The presence of the Iron Glove society accelerates the arms race even further as they willingly sell their unique cutting-edge technology to any side.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Che, to Totho. He's not happy about it and is the reason for his Face–Heel Turn to the Wasps.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: Many kinden feature distinct named characters with perspective narratives. There are an unknown number of kinden in-world but several dozen are confirmed.
  • Lonely at the Top: Alvdan takes no pleasure in any part of the actual work of being Emperor, and has grown jaded by his limitless political power and paranoid about others attempting to take it from him. He's an unusually unsympathetic example, though, since one of the few things he does enjoy is wielding his power over those weaker than himself, especially his sister Resa and his concubines.
  • Made a Slave: A common fate for those captured by the Wasp Empire. It briefly happens to Che during the first book, when she is captured by a Wasp caravan.
  • Mad Scientist: Colonel-Auxilian Dariandrephos, generally just called Drephos. He is a master of designing military technology and absolutely relishes the creation and use of new weapons, regarding their numerous victims simply as expendable "meat."
    • Totho eventually turns into this as well, under Drephos's tutelage.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Art is Art, and is inherited and instantly recognizable as Art; technology is only usable and creatable by the Apt, and Aptitude is nearly always decided by kinden; magic is only usable by the Inapt, and relies on doubt and fear.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: The setting's backstory has the magic-using Inapt races being overthrown by their mechanically proficient servants several centuries ago.
    • Particularly prominent in The Scarab Path, with the attitude of the city of Khanaphes to progress.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: We find that while the Apt do not believe in such a thing, especially the Wasps, the Inapt races like the Dragonflies do. The Monarch of the Commonweal signed the Treaty of Pearl with her name. This means that they cannot break it no matter what. Even the Wasps didn't know the treaty would be so binding.
  • Magnetic Weapons: The series' final significant weapon developed is the magnetic cannon. This was a new type of artillery developed by the Collegium to counter the Wasps' Greatshotters, it's basically a coilgun that's charged by hand-cranked generators.
  • Master Swordsman: The Mantis Hat in general, the Weaponsmasters in particular, though many prefer the Claw.
  • Meaningful Rename: The Butterfly-kinden change names after major changes in their life.
  • Mook Horror Show: The Sea-kinden liberation of Collegium in book 9 plays out like this, starting with one of the Wasps’ invincible Sentinel tanks being dragged underwater by a gigantic tentacle, and continuing as an entire army of bizarre-looking kinden no one has ever seen before marches right out of the ocean and starts killing Wasps.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Thalric starts out with this mindset, willing to even murder an old friend if his commanders order it, because he knows it’s all for the good of the Empire. It takes being ordered for execution himself — for being associated with the wrong side during a political purge — to shake his faith, and even then he nearly lets himself get shot, he’s just that loyal.
  • More Dakka: For infantry, the bullets really fly when the makers of the Snapbow then create the Repeating Snapbow. Vehicles, especially aircraft get the powerful Rotary Piercer which is fast enough to tag fighter jets.
  • Near-Villain Victory: The series starts off this way, with the Wasp Empire nearly strolling into the Lowlands without a fight while Stenwold and his spies try to rally the Lowland cities to fight back. This is even lampshaded in Blood of the Mantis by the emperor when he comments that so far the invasion of the Lowlands had not counted as war, merely a sequence of skirmishes. Now that Collegium, Sarn and the Ancient League had allied themselves against the Empire it just about passes as a war.
  • Neutral No Longer: The Moth-kinden and the Helleren militia at the end of Empire in Black and Gold.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: the Wasp Empire has a habit of using all the firepower necessary to deal with its enemies and then some, and in case they get it wrong the first time around they are perfectly willing to learn, adapt, and try again. They manage to crush the Mantids of Felyal by coming in loaded for Godzilla and with large city's worth of troops, and their siege of Collegium shows they did their homework on how the Vekken got defeated.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Pretty much every character has their world turned upside down and is uprooted from their old life.
    • The Sea Watch has to take the cake though. Despite some foreshadowing from previous books and online material, hints from Word of God, and even the front cover of the book itself, nothing prepares for the reveal that the "Sea-kinden" aren't just insect kinden that live underwater but are kinden of entirely non-insect-related origins, and that these kinden are divided into families of unrelated kinden. Considering that the histories of the insect kinden are still a mystery to the reader, it's a pretty big shock to be suddenly introduced to Octopus- and Jellyfish-kinden. It also raises even more questions about how much Scyla (and her teachers) truly knew about the different types of Kinden.
    • This is basically what Adrian Tchaikovsky is trying to do. He says that he's trying to subvert the whole idea in fantasy stories that after an event, everything goes back to normal.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The Apt in general, Che in particular, have outgrown the silly superstitions of magicnote . This being a fantasy book, they are wrong. Meanwhile, everyone's outgrown the silly superstition that gods exist, as well as old wives' tales of unusual kinden both of which in a manner return in Seal of the Worm.
    • Tchaikovsky's later series Echoes of the Fall, set in the same world but on a different continent, goes into a bit more detail about what happened countless milennia ago to make the kinden reject the idea of gods so thoroughly while also confirming that gods do, after a fashion, exist in this setting.
  • Passing the Torch: The series really splits into two after the death of Emperor Alvdan, in the 2nd phase of the series two new important characters are introduced, the Collegium students - the Antspider and Eugen Leadwell. These two would be the ones to go to Capitas to see the end of the war and the Wasp Empire, something that none of the original main characters will do. And it'll be these two who will lead the rebuilt Collegium in the epilogue
  • The Power of Blood: Type AB, with a touch of Type O when it's used in prophetic dreams. Surprisingly enough, the Mosquito-kinden have a bit of a thing about blood...
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Beetle-kinden of Helleron also to a certain extent the Fly-kinden.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: All over the place.
    • The Mantis-kinden are peerless fighters, trained from birth to be perfect killing machines. Perhaps related, there aren’t many of them. No element of their society does not involve violence, including their theatre, which is mostly made up of tragedies about doomed warriors. They have no discipline, having instead suicidal bravery.
    • The Ant-kinden are peerless soldiers, their mindlink Art giving them instant long-distance communication and perfect battle coordination. Their entire population is expected to be capable of taking up arms, and while they’re led by kings and queens, they’re non-hereditary positions filled by the best tactician/strategist in the whole city-state.
    • The Wasp-kinden are consciously trying to become this, and they’ve generally succeeded - while they don’t quite have the effortless discipline and coordination of the Ants, they’ve successfully built a modern military out of a bunch of squabbling clans, with all the organization that implies, and make up for their shortcomings against the Ants with technological advantages.
  • Sadistic Choice: In Salute the Dark, General Tynan tries this on Stenwold. Subverted in that a Deus ex Machina prevents Stenwold from having to make the choice.
  • Schizo Tech: Because of the divide between the Apt and Inapt races, technology levels vary tremendously. For the Inapt, even the act of trying to use a doorknob is impossible (doors for Inapt are pulled open by a looped rope). The highest weapon achievement that the Inapt have are longbows. Amongst the Apt races, there's a gap in high technology, the Ants are conservative and are decades or even a century behind in tech in comparison to the Beetles. The Apt also have oddly limited mastery in gunpowder technology - they haven't been able to make guns that a person can carry, but they can use it for artillery and vehicle weapons. However the Apt are capable of creating walking machines that are capable of highly articulate movement, something that our technology hasn't quite mastered. One mad scientist in the Collegium even created his Lightning Engine, a Lightning Gun specifically designed to destroy aircraft.
  • Sneaky Spy Species: Combining this trope with Sneaky Spider, the Spider-kinden are known for two things: being The Beautiful Elite, and being manipulative, cutthroat schemers. Their homeland, the Spiderlands, is known for its intricate politics as their rival families wage a continuous Cold War against each other for dominance. However, they're more of a spymaster species than spies themselves; while they certainly have the necessary skills, especially regarding seduction and social engineering, there aren't many of them and their reputation often precedes them, so they do their best work when at the center of a web of other agents.
  • The Sociopath: Alvdan. He is utterly devoid of empathy and kindness and has a creepily shallow effect, normally feeling no emotions other than boredom or paranoia. He seems to take genuine pleasure in tormenting other people, and is at his happiest when ordering the genocide of the Bee-kinden.
  • Sorcerous Overlord:
    • The Moths were a race of this and were the foremost rulers of the Bad Old Days until their servitor races rebelled. The biggest example for the Moths is Argastos, the Moth's greatest Warmaster. Even after death, his decayed corpse continued to command his legions of Mantis Warriors and any victim that fell into his clutches would be made to join him (most recently a Wasp airship crew).
    • In the distant past, the Slug-kinden were these, being immortal and even more powerful in magic than the Moths. They claim to have been the first civilization in the world and to have taught everyone else how to do it, and they might not be wrong. Like the Moths, however, their time is long past, and their remaining numbers spend most of their time sleeping beneath their ancient capital, Khanaphes, enacting a very long-term ritual to make their desertified homeland green again.
    • After Emperor Alvdan’s death by Blood Magic, his sister Empress Seda discovers its aftereffects have rendered her Inapt and given her an affinity for the same, but this is a secret kept between her, her consort, her closest slaves, and the victims she has exsanguinated to feed herself. However, she only really comes into her power after being “crowned” by the Slug-kinden of Khanaphes, which not only boosts her power but gives her a magical aura of rulership that awes any Inapt she meets.
  • Spider-Sense: Hilarious when you think about it: it's the Flies that have this ability with their Art!
  • Spider Tank: Commonplace. Motor vehicles in this world often go about on legs instead of wheels or tracks, but particular mention goes to the Sentinels, which are isopod tanks sold to the Empire by the Iron Glove in the last few books, which are heavily armed, very fast, and utterly invincible. Snapbows, bombs, ramming, and direct hits from cannon fire barely dent their armor, and in field battles they prove to be an overwhelming advantage for the Empire. Only a handful are ever destroyed by the end of the series, only one of them because its armor was penetrated — on its underside, by the Greatclaw Onychoi, who had to flip it over first.
  • Squad Nickname: Every one of the Wasp Armies, generally referring to some particular aspect of the reputation- for example, the Sixth Army, the Hive, are based around a core of Bee-kinden veterans.
  • Storming the Castle: Empire in Black and Gold has Stenwold and the Mynan resistance sneaking in to rescue Che, Salma, Kymene and any other prisoners they can help.
  • Suffer the Slings: The forces of the Worm are so primitive that their only missile weapon is the sling. Even the other Inapt races have gone up to using longbows.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver
  • Take Up My Sword: Combined with Ancestral Weapon, and symbolizing Tynisa accepting her Mantis heritage.
  • The Dung Ages: The age of the Inapt was referred to as The Bad Old Days. For the Apt races, their histories depict it as a time of superstitious ignorance and slavery. The reality was even worse, the Bad Old Days was a Dark Fantasy world where sorcerous overlords would regularly commit atrocities and it only ended when all the Kinden fought against the forces of the Worm.
  • The Magic Goes Away: While alluded to in previous books, in The Scarab Path and The Air War, it finally comes out that magic was once truly the stuff of miracles. If the Inapt races were capable of the sorceries of their ancient times, the Apt would never have been able to overthrow them. However, the Inapt races were caught up in devastating wars amongst each other that greatly diminished their power. Since magic thrives under a climate of darkness and mystery, the current age of reason and technology has prevented magic from being the force it used to be, except in certain isolated parts of the world.
  • Torture Always Works: Played straight. Torture is the standard method by which the Wasps and most of the Ants interrogate prisoners, and the information they get out of it is never suggested to be anything less than truthful.
  • Translator Microbes: An unusual example. It goes unremarked-on that everyone speaks the same language, everywhere in the world, with accent being the only notable difference. Written language may vary wildly from place to place, but spoken language never changes. No one has any trouble talking to anyone else, even in places that have been isolated from the rest of the world for centuries or millennia. The short story “For Love of Distant Shores” explains this as language being an inherent, biological characteristic of humans in this setting, which always develops the same way. This does not hold true for humans on other continents.
  • The Un Favourite: What Che sees herself as.
  • Tulpa: When the Centipede-kinden are exiled to a magic-less dimension, they suffer so much despair that they retreat into further embodying their totem insect and develop a religion from it. This causes The Worm to come into existence
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Totho. A very interesting treatment of it, as it's Che's merely fraternal affection for him that leads to Totho working for the Wasps.
  • White Sheep: As it turns out in Heirs of the Blade, Salma was this for his family.
  • Worthy Adversary: Quite a few of the Imperial high command are presented at least somewhat sympathetically.
    • All weapon masters view each other this way. It also happens to be the traditional way of seducing a Mantis.
    • The Pilots of the Exalsee are compared to a dueling society; they all know and respect each other, some are very close friends, and if they were to find themselves pitted against one another their feelings wouldn't change. However, this wouldn't stop them from fighting to the death and shooting each other out of the air. Probably the best example of this is between Taki and Axrad (a Wasp pilot who seeks her out for an Air Duel during the invasion of Solarno)
    • Stenwold and Thalric are worthy adversaries as opposing spymasters and nearly friends later in the series if it wasn't for the fact that Stenwold and his spies don't trust Thalric enough to let him become that close. However, it is clear that Thalric regrets this fact and often despairs about how he has more in common with Stenwold's friends than he does with any of his own kin.

Alternative Title(s): Empire In Black And Gold