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Literature / The Dagger and the Coin

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The Dagger and the Coin is a fantasy series written by Daniel Abraham. The first novel in the series, The Dragon's Path, was released in 2011. Its sequel, The King's Blood was released in the spring of 2012. The third book, The Tyrant's Law, was released in May of 2013. The fourth book is titled The Widow's House, and was released in August 2014.

In ages of the distant past the world was ruled by dragons who united the lands with a network of indestructible jade roads. They also divided the human race into thirteen distinct subspecies. These ranged from the "normal" Firstbloods, to the canine Tralgu, to the insectoid Timzinae. Other sub-races had subtler traits, such as the Dartinae whose eyes glow - even through their eyelids - and Cinnae with their pale, elfin appearance.


Now the dragons are no more; victims of a civil war of mutual destruction, the jade Dragon Roads and the divided human race the last remaining traces of their influence. As the story begins the Firstblood kingdom of Antea has declared war upon its former vassal, the Free City of Vanai. Nobleman Geder Paliako is a reluctant soldier and the butt of his comrades' practical jokes. But he soon discovers that the war for Vanai has deeper, darker political motives and he is a pawn in a political game he can't hope to understand, let alone win.

Meanwhile, Marcus Wester, a military hero turned mercenary has problems of his own. He has to find a way to guard a merchant caravan fleeing Vanai without his usual soldiers, and one of the cart drivers is hiding his real identity and hauling a cargo worth more to the Anteans than anything else Vanai has to offer.


Elsewhere, in the far-flung deserts of Keshet, one monk learns a disturbing truth about the goddess he worships and others make plans for her return...

This series provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Cithrin becomes this while still a minor—a minor by medieval standards, no less—and drinking remains a constant temptation and struggle for her.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: A typical day in the field with Geder involves his "friends" dumping him in the latrine pit and tricking him into burning a valuable book.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Spider Priests are treated as this by people who know what they are, largely because of how dangerous their abilities are and how easily this power corrupts them. Master Kit shows it's not always true, but it takes some effort to carry the spiders and not turn into a Knight Templar who controls everyone around them and hates anyone who expresses a different viewpoint.
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  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: After Dawson's failed coup in the second book, the Spider Priests blame the incident on a (entirely imaginary) conspiracy led by the Timzinae, and engage in a massive propaganda campaign to manipulate Antea into launching a war of world conquest. Said campaign includes things such as denouncing the Timzinae as less than human and interning them in labour camps, with their chief objective being the systematic elimination of the entire Timzinae race.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Even after Jumping Off the Slippery Slope Geder never stops being a genuinely nice guy. It only makes him more disturbing in the end.
    • Basrahip is an earnest, friendly, at times even jovial man. He's also a Knight Templar determined to conquer the world in the name of his goddess.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Dawson's wife Clara abruptly becomes a viewpoint character during the last quarter of The Dragon's Path.
  • Arc Words: "Bound is not broken."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Clara is restored to the barony of Osterling Fells for her heroic actions in overthrowing Geder and the spider priests, thereby saving Imperial Antea and the world, meaning that Clara will once again be a leading member of the Antean royal court, she resolves that she must send her young lover, Vincen Coe, away, since it would be too much of a scandal were it found out that she is carrying on her affair with a servant young enough to be her son. In breaking the news to him, she explains that, if it were just her own reputation at stake, she would not care, but that the problem is that her infant granddaughter has been named after her, and the scandal will damage her reputation as well. Vincen assures her that he will leave without any fuss, but asks her one simple question first: "why do you want your granddaughter to live her life with less courage than yours?" She is completely unable to answer, and then, after a prolonged flustered silence, decides that she will continue her affair with him after all.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: At the end, the heroes are trying, and failing, to negotiate a peaceful end to the war between Antea and Elassae, believing that, although Antea had committed terrible crimes against the Elassans, letting the Elassans take revenge would just start a Cycle of Revenge. The Elassan commander, however, is having none of it, and understandably wants revenge, and doesn't see why the war should end just because the Anteans are now losing. Finally, however, the young Antean king, Aster, who was innocent of his country's crimes (the regent and the spider priests were the real culprits, and Aster did not have any actual power), speaks up and takes full responsibility, saying that it was his fault because he was not strong enough to stop it. He concludes by saying "If the [Elassans] feel[] that there has to be more blood, say so. You can kill as many of us as you need to make it right. Give me a number, and I'll bring them to you. I only ask that you start with me....I'm sorry that I wasn't strong enough to stop this sooner." At this, the Elassan commander can only bring himself to say "Well...shit." And that was the end of the war.
  • Badass Longcoat: In the first book, Geder accepts a black leather longcoat as a bribe from a tailor in Vanai, and continues to wear it for the rest of the series. Amusingly, while Dawson thinks it looks completely ridiculous, similar coats quickly become very popular among Antea's nobility after Geder is appointed as Lord Regent.
  • Badass Preacher: Yardem used to be a priest before his life as a mercenary. In The Tyrant's Law, he gets to put his preaching skills to use by giving a moving sermon to the citizens of Suddapal during the Antean occupation of the city.
  • Batman Gambit: Qahuar Em knows Cithrin is sleeping with him in order to gain access to his office and look at his shipping proposal so he replaces it with a fake one.
  • Bee People: The Southlings are compared to termites in-universe, as their tribes are each ruled by a single matriarch whom the rest of the tribe serves as drones. Though they are capable of mating with each other, they generally treat reproduction as a privilege reserved for the matriarch.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Master Kit asserts that this is the case with the Spider Priests as a consequence of being able to detect and spread Certainty, and mistaking that for Truth.
  • Berserk Button: Geder is, generally, an oddly awkward and affable man for an all-powerful despot, but... don't laugh at him. Just... don't.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Geder is a genuinely pleasant, well-meaning, if socially awkward, man. If he feels backed into a corner, though, watch out. He's capable of some really horrible things if he feels driven to it. And after he falls in with the Spider Priests, he feels driven to it more and more often.
  • Big Bad: The Spider Goddess is initially presented as this. However, she does not exist as an incarnate being. The blood spiders that power the priests abilities are very real, but don't appear to have any sort of centralized guiding intelligence beyond their original directive to throw the world into chaos. Basrahip, as the High Priest of the cult and The Man Behind the Man to Geder, therefore becomes Big Bad by default.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A few from Turkish:
    • Basrahip means High Priest, which furthers the ambiguity of whether it is the actual name of the character or a title, given that the guy is the High Priest of his religion.
    • The name of the otter-like humans the Kurtadam, is Turkish for werewolf.
  • Bodyguard Crush:
    • Cithrin has a bit of one on Marcus, which he slightly reciprocates. It's a bit squicky in that Marcus is in part the father Cithrin never had and Cithrin reminds Marcus of both his deceased wife and daughter.
    • Dawson's huntsman Vincen Coe becomes a devoted protector of Clara and falls in love with her after she undoes Dawson firing him, and loyally protects Dawson motivated by his feelings for Clara. after Dawson's death, the two end up becoming lovers.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The final war of the dragons was apparently this. Morade was a psychotic Evil Overlord, opposed by his brother Inys, but when Inys himself shows up in the last few books, he proves to be superbly disdainful of humans (when he notices them at all) and cares a lot more about his own angst than helping the world against the spiders, though he doesn't share his brother's particular flavor of omnicidal lunacy.
  • Book-Ends:
    • The Dragon's Path opens and closes with scenes from the POV of The Apostate.
    • The final book also ends with an epilogue from The Apostate's point of view, making this a series-wide bookend.
  • Break the Cutie: The stress of her husband's plotting has this effect on Phelia Maas.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Sandr. His charm works on girls when he first meets them but people who spend any length of time around him see him for what he is and are happy to put the brakes on him.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • As befits a Decadent Court, most of the Antean nobles are this to one degree or another.
    • Cithrin also gets her day as one when she assumes the role of Magistra Bel Sarcour.
    • Clara always had the potential, but doesn't fully embrace it until after her husband's death.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Master Kit's acting style. He does it so well that he can even win in Ham-to-Ham Combat against a bandit leader. Although that fact that he's a former spider priest probably helps too.
  • Colonel Badass: Wester.
  • Compelling Voice: A power of the Spider Priests; as the flip-side of their Living Lie Detector abilities, they can also make anyone who listens to them long enough (not very long) believe that what they say is true, even if the listener knows for a fact that it is not true. It works on anyone who hears it (Inys may be immune), including the speaker himself.
  • Cool Sword: The monks' dragon-forged blades.
  • The Coup:
    • In The Dragon's Path, a group of conspirators led by Feldin Maas plan to kill King Simeon to bring Antea under the control of the neighbouring kingdom of Asterilhold. Their plot is thwarted by Dawson with the help of Geder and Basrahip.
    • Dawson himself stages a coup against Geder in The King's Blood when he realizes the threat posed by the spider priests, and even recruits some of Feldin Maas' former co-conspirators to aid him. He fails and is executed for high treason.
  • Cult: The priests of the Spider Goddess.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Preventing this is a big part of the plot of The Spider's War, the last book of the series. The tide of the war had actually begun to turn against Antea in the previous book, and the armies of Elassae and Sarakal are closing in during most of the fifth book, but even though the Anteans had committed horrible atrocities against the innocent people of those two countries, and even though the spider priests were not entirely to blame for everything the Anteans had done, Cithrin and the other heroes spend much of the book trying to figure out a way to get the Elassans and Sarakalese to forswear revenge, precisely to prevent it from leading to another war down the line. The funny part is that Cithrin, Marcus, Kit, Clara, and the others had spent most of the previous couple of volumes working to bring about the defeat of Antea, and now, at the end, they are trying to save it.
  • Darkest Hour: The fall of Porte Oliva to the Antean army is this. It is at this point that Cithrin falls into a deep depression and comes to believe that Geder and the spider priests cannot be stopped. Of course, it is after this moment that the tide begins to turn.
  • Dating Catwoman: Cithrin has a neutral-to-positive impression of Geder after their first meeting, wherein he allows the caravan to pass despite uncovering the hidden treasure, and also has this feeling when she learns of Geder's position as Regent, and ends up saving his life. After connecting Geder with her earlier "rescuer" and getting to know him, she grows fond of him and ends up sleeping with him (it helps that he lied to her about his role in destroying Vanai). Later on, Cithrin gets a glimpse of the real Geder and finds it difficult to square that with the likable guy she spent time with.
  • Decadent Court: Antea.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Yardem. Wester actually values his advice for this quality, and Wester occasionally shows signs of it himself when the two banter back and forth.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Dawson is one of the core four POVs introduced in the first book, and is shaping up to be a major player. Then in the second book he goes against Geder and is rather messily executed for his trouble. He is the only POV character to die, until Geder himself dies in the last book.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: Geder is desperate to be loved. That is how he is defeated in the end.
  • Do I Really Sound Like That?: Marcus has this reaction when he sees Master Kit act as a character clearly based on him/his situation at the start of the first novel. Kit's character exaggerates Marcus' deadpan stoicism into The Comically Serious and then expresses shock in falsetto when learning his men had been imprisoned. After seeing this, Marcus immediately turns to an amused Yardem and demands confirmation that he doesn't really sound like that.
  • Doomed Hometown: Cithrin's hometown of Vanai, "thanks" to Geder crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Double Think: It's discussed in the second novel how Spider Priest abilities can make a person believe something is true despite it being false, even if the person knows that it is false; the power works on anyone who listens, including the speaker himself. While asserting a desire to spread truth and uncover lies (and probably actually believing it), a Spider Priest more or less tells Dawson that the truth is whatever they say it is.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Magister Immaniel and his wife are presumed killed off screen in the Vanai fire.
  • Drowning My Sorrows:
    • This is Cithrin's response to losing out on a deal to Qahuar Em: she attempts to drink herself into oblivion.
    • This is Inys's reaction to waking up in the world as the last dragon. After disappearing for a chapter, he reappears in the middle of the night, rips the roof off the inn Marcus and the others are staying at, declares that Marcus is his new Stormcrow in a slurred rant, and immediately passes out. Marcus can only wryly observe that he has no idea how he managed it, but Inys has gotten piss drunk.
  • The Empire: Antea.
  • Enemy Civil War: By the time of The Spider's War, the spider priests have begun split into various sects with differing views and soon begin to fight among themselves, to accusing each other of being heretics.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Geder loves his father and is devoted to Prince Aster, to whom he plays the role of Big Brother Mentor.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": A possible example. It is deliberately left unclear whether Basrahip is the monk leader's title or his actual name. The Tyrant's Law confuses the issue further- Master Kit, a former spider-priest himself, treats Basrahip as the high priest's name. However, the high priest himself at one point describes himself as a basrahip, lower case. Maybe it's just a Meaningful Name.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Geder is an interesting case; he really doesn't get "good" a lot of the time, but doesn't have a firm grasp on "evil" either. At several times in the series, he'll casually order mass executions once of children for The Greater Good, or lose his temper and start making wildly violent threats, and then seem completely oblivious as to why everyone else is now backing away from him in horror.
  • Evil Chancellor: Basrahip becomes this to Geder. He considers himself a Well-Intentioned Extremist bringing truth to the world at any cost, but is unwittingly acting as the chief mover of the final plan of the Dragon Emperor Morade.
  • Evil Counterpart: Cithrin is, in some ways, the Good Counterpart of the non-existent spider goddess. While the spider goddess was created to plunge the world into eternal chaos and war, Cithrin works tirelessly to end war forever. The power of the spider priests lies in their ability to make anyone, including themselves, believe whatever they say. Cithrin saves the world by persuading enough people to believe the story she tells about paper money; that is, her power comes from her ability to get people to believe what, to a society where money has always meant gold or silver coins, is a seemingly bizarre fiction. But because people believe it, it has power. When Cithrin unveils her scheme for paper money and central reserve banking, Komme Medean, the head of the Medean bank, informs her that Narinisle, Herez, and Cabral want to join the scheme also, and tells her that she has now conquered as many countries as Geder had conquered by force of arms, and calls her the "secret queen of the world." At the end, when Cithrin announces her plan to found a branch of the bank in Camnipol, capital of Antea, and to bring Antea into her new financial scheme, Yardem says "A temple in every city she conquers", which had of course been the promise that Geder had made to the spider goddess and her priests; it is not at all clear that Yardem was joking.
  • Evil Is Petty: Geder ends up ordering the invasion of the country Cithrin was living in because she did not reciprocate his affections. In general, Geder will commit his worst acts when motivated by some abstract strategy without really thinking about the consequences because A Million Is a Statistic, but if he feels genuinely humiliated he'll lash out horrifically at whoever he thinks is responsible in the worst way he can think of.
  • Evil Overlord: Deconstructed with Geder, whose storyline so far is basically that of the transformation of an ordinary person into what the rest of the world sees as an Evil Overlord, with the focus being on how he nonetheless retains his human foibles and weaknesses while really being a pawn for outside forces.
  • Exact Words: Once the protagonists learn that the spider priests can detect any lie, they rely on telling deliberately-misleading truths to get around them. Their inner monologues occasionally gripe or otherwise comment on the need to pick their words very carefully.
  • Face–Heel Turn:
    • Geder proves himself to be much nastier than he initially appeared with the burning of Vanai, but doesn't go full-on heel until he meets Basrahip near the end of the first book.
    • Opal decides to betray her friends for purely selfish reasons.
  • Fantastic Racism: There's a lot of it in the novel ranging from casual ethnic slurs between the various races to the chilling attempted genocide of the Tinzinae people. On a more amusing note, rather than the expected anthropocentric perspective, the Encyclopedia Exposita which describes the various races is framed as the creation of a Kurtadam scholar, who naturally considers his own race superior and is clearly unreliable.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Many of the numerous human races have specific slurs directed at them, such as "clickers" for the Kurtadam (who braid beads into their fur), "roaches" for the insect-like Timzinae, and "pennies" for the Jasuru, whose scales resemble copper coins.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The setting as a whole bears a pretty clear resemblance to a fantastical version of Europe, although some countries have more obvious counterparts than others:
    • Antea starts out as a fairly generic militaristic empire, but evolves into a much more obvious Nazi Germany analogue once the Spider Priests takes over. See A Nazi by Any Other Name supra.
    • Asterilhold is, by extension, Austria, as it used to be a part of the same empire as Antea (think Holy Roman Empire) before it became an independent country, and still retains close cultural ties with its larger and more powerful neighbour. It is also one of the first nations to be annexed by Antea once Geder is put in charge.
    • The Free Cities are the medieval Italian city-states; Vanai in particular is, paradoxically, a combination of Venice and Florence.
    • Herez and Cabral seem to be Aragon and Castille, although which is which is difficult to tell, given how little we've seen of either.
    • Birancour has elements of both France and Belgium.
    • Northcoast, likewise, seems to have elements of both France and England. It may seem peculiar that the holding company of the Medean bank, which sounds like it must be based on the Medici bank, is based in Northcoast, instead of in one of the Free Cities. It becomes clear in the fourth book, however, when Cithrin invents central reserve banking, and transforms the Medean bank into the fantasy counterpart of the Bank of England. Narinisle is Britain geographically, but we have seen nothing of the culture of Narinisle.
    • Hallskar, with its harsh climate and rocky, frozen shores lined with several isolated port cities, seems to be based mainly on Scandinavia.
    • Far Syramis is the New World, at least geographically. We have seen nothing of its culture.
    • Sarakal and Elassae are somewhat harder to pin down, as is the Keshet. The Timzinae, who are the primary population of both Sarakal and Elassae, play the part of the Jews to the Anteans' Nazis, but there are no really obvious parallels between Timzinae and Jewish culture.
    • Lyoneia is the series' equivalent of Darkest Africa – a largely unexplored continent covered in dense rainforests, with a brutally hot and humid climate, hostile wildlife, and all sorts of nasty parasites and diseases. Not much is known about its culture, aside from the fact that most of its human inhabitants seem to be Southlings.
    • The Dragon Empire, of course, was the Roman Empire.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Geder, who goes from the bullied son of a minor noble house to one of the most brutal rulers the Antean Empire has ever had.
  • Genius Bruiser: As a Tralgu, Yardem is one of the most formidable fighters in Marcus' group of mercenaries. He's also a former priest with a penchant for long philosophical debates on the nature of the human soul.
  • Glowing Eyes: The Dartinae have luminescent eyes that allow them to see even in total darkness.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In order to stop the Spider Cult from taking over (and effectively destroying) the world, Kit and Marcus decide to reawaken a dragon, despite knowing that dragons are superpowerful beings which enslaved all of humanity.
  • Guile Heroine: Cithrin. Clara too, eventually.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: In the first book, no one is obviously evil. Dawson is a hidebound reactionary aristocrat, but also a patriot loyal to his king and country. His main rival, Feldin Maas, is a traitor scheming to kill the king and crown prince (who is just a boy), but who also wants to create a farmer's council to give the common people more of a say in governing Antea. Geder Palliako is in many ways a likable, sympathetic character, who ends up ordering the burning of a city out of pride, but who also saves Antea from Maas' conspiracy. Cithrin and Marcus are basically decent people, but they are embezzlers. Master Kit seems unambiguously good, except for the fact that it turns out that he had spent decades doing nothing about the threat from the spider cult, even though he knew how dangerous they would be if they ever returned to the world. After the first book, however, the story becomes a lot less morally grey.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Though all the races are considered "human" in-universe, Cithrin is half-Firstblood (baseline human), half Cinnae. Other hybrids also appear or are mentioned.
  • Heroic BSoD: Cithrin has one when Qahuar Em outsmarts her and gets the shipping contract, and then again after the fall of Porte Oliva.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After all the spider priests have been incinerated, Master Kit explains that, no, there is one left: himself, and that it is only a matter of time before someone, craving the power of the blood-spiders, extracts one from Kit and infects someone else, starting the whole thing up again. To prevent this, he walks into the flames. Actually a subversion, since the whole thing is an act. To prevent anyone from trying to use the power, all that is necessary is for the world to think that Kit is dead. Instead, Kit survives, and the players travel to Far Syramis instead. Marcus and Yardem figure it out, but let Kit go.
  • High Priest: Basrahip, of the Spider Cult.
  • Hope Spot: Cithrin and her companions get an extended one when they make it to Porte Oliva after fleeing Suddapal. The Antean blockade is broken by a fleet led by Barriath Kalliam and Marcus and the actors return with the last dragon to help in the defense of the city against the approaching Antean army. So for a short time, it looks like this is the moment when the tide is going to turn, and that the seemingly endless string of Antean conquest will finally be halted. Then it turns out that the Anteans were ready for the dragon and the city falls very quickly, and Cithrin has to flee again. After this, Cithrin plunges deep into despair and begins to think that the struggle is hopeless.
  • Humans by Any Other Name: All of the thirteen races are of human stock and are considered human; baseline humans are termed "Firstblood" to separate themselves out.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: By the end of the first book, Master Kit and his players are already planning to turn the adventure — specifically, the parts about an acting company having to pose as soldiers — into a play.
  • Just the First Citizen: Cithrin is ostensibly just a banker, and a rather junior banker within the Medean bank at that. As more countries start joining Cithrin's paper money and central reserve banking scheme, however, Komme Medean, the head of the bank, calls her "the secret queen of the world." At the end, when she announces her plan to found a branch of the bank in Camnipol, the capital of Antea, and bring Antea into her financial scheme, Yardem compares her, not entirely in jest, to a goddess.note 
  • King on His Deathbed: King Simeon's health is on the decline right from the series' beginning, and by the time of the second book, he's unable to leave his bed. He dies shortly afterwards, leading to Geder's appointment as Lord Regent of Antea.
  • Lady Macbeth: Inverted. Dawson is an ambitious, ruthless, arrogant, if hidebound nobleman, and his wife Clara is attractive, highly intelligent, deeply in love with him- and usually his conscience.
  • The Lancer: Yardem is Marcus's trusted lieutenant and complete opposite in terms of personality.
  • Large and in Charge: Basrahip is the High Priest of his cult, and is a huge, imposing man.
  • Last of His Kind: Inys, the last dragon.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Played as straight as could be. The map looks more like Europe than a casual cartographer could draw. Word of God indicates the culture of the setting was intended to be heavily influenced by Rennaisance-era Europe, so this is unlikely to be a coincidence.
  • Living Lie Detector: One of the powers the Spider Goddess grants her servants.
  • Living Relic: Inys is very upset to awaken to realize that he is the last dragon and that thousands of years have passed while he slumbered.
  • Lizard Folk: The Jasuru are assumed to be the first race bred by the dragons, and share their creators' reptilian features.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: Thirteen "human" races, plus the not quite extinct dragons. Mileage may vary as to whether the spider priests count as another race.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: The spider priests' powers are fueled by actual spiders that live inside their bodies.
  • Love Hungry: Geder is desperate to be loved, and in particular to be loved by Cithrin. He fantasizes that after his army brings her to him in chains, she will love him.
  • Loving a Shadow: Geder is in love with an idealized version of Cithrin. When the real Cithrin decides not to play his games anymore, he goes into full Villainous Breakdown.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Early in the story, Cithrin's POV brings up the fact that her parents (one Firstblood, one Cinnae) were both from prestigious families, and had she been purely one race or the other, lots of people would have been very willing to take her in. However, because she was mixed race, no one wanted her, which is why she ended up a ward of the Bank.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: The Spider Goddess is just an inanimate statue.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: Cithrin, very briefly. After she and Barriath have sex, Cithrin is lying awake, thinking about how to somehow eliminate all the spider priests, who by that time had been scattered throughout the world. When Barriath asks her what she is thinking about, she says, metaphorically, "I'm wondering how you un-sow a field." Barriath, understandably, thinks she is talking about the possibility that he may have just impregnated her, and tries to reassure her that he would take care of her and the baby. Cithrin laughs and says "No, not that field. Though thank you for the reassurance."
  • Morality Pet: Aster, the young heir to the throne of Antea, is one of the few people Geder genuinely cares for.
  • The Neidermeyer: Geder's subordinates see him as this. To be fair, they probably realized their mistake later.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Cithrin saves Geder's life when Dawson stages a coup against him. She soon comes to regret it once she realizes what kind of person he truly is.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Word of God is that Dawson was based on a German aristocrat who was an extreme reactionary but opposed the Nazis because he considered them low class. By extension, this means that Geder is basically Hitler.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, briefly. Geder at one point inquires why there are no women spider priests, and this is given as an answer. Geder doesn't ask any further, being squicked out by the mention of it, but to the reader it's clear that menstruation would reveal the spiders in a woman's blood.
  • Not Actually the Ultimate Question: In the third book, Cithrin is sent to train with a banker and wants to make a good impression. Cithrin was raised by a shrewd banker who trained her to discern complex economic and political issues into seemingly simple and unrelated situations, but offered no love and left her emotionally stunted. So, when her new mentor asks Cithrin why she gave her a vase full of flowers, Cithrin gives a long and detailed answer about how gifts create a relationship of obligation in a different/superior way to money. At this point, the mentor sadly comments that she gave the gift so Cithrin would like her, and Cithrin is horrified at having revealed how bad she is at normal human interactions.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Geder is not good with rejection. How not good? He sends an army to invade Birancour because Cithrin, who rejected him, is living there, to capture her and bring her back in chains.
  • Obliviously Evil: The spider priests are completely oblivious of the fact that their entire religion is a sham and their magical abilities are not a gift from their goddess, but part of Morade's plan to destroy human civilization.
  • Older Than They Look: This is a racial trait of Cinnae and people who have Cinnae ancestry, who look much like Firstbloods, except more delicate and younger looking. It's shown with Cithrin and Charlit Soon how having this ancestry (or in Charlit's case possibly pretending it) allows people to pass themselves off as older than they actually are.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: According to The Apostate this is the Spider Goddess's true nature. The goddess herself may not exist, but the blood spiders that empower the cult were certainly created with the intention of tearing the world apart on behalf of their vengeful maker, Morade.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Subverted with Roach, the young Timzinae guard. He's introduced under that nickname and the main cast call him that, assuming it is his nickname of choice. Later on, when in Timzinae territory, they find out that his name is Halvill, and that the nickname Roach is actually an anti-Timzinae ethnic slur. After that, everyone makes an effort to call him Halvill rather than Roach.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Precursors of the setting; immensely powerful and intelligent creatures who rule a world-spanning empire with humanity as their slaves, before they wiped themselves out in a cataclysmic war. One of them is still alive...
  • Our Elves Are Different: The Cinnae certainly evoke this with their ethereal appearances and reputation for both intelligence and aloofness.
  • Path of Inspiration: The spider priests' Cult seems like a straight-up Religion of Evil at first, but it eventually turns out that the goddess doesn't exist, and the priests are unknowingly carrying out Morade's posthumous revenge against humanity.
  • Pet the Dog: When Geder finds the bank's fortune he decides to spite his masters by ignoring it and moving on. He even gives Cithrin a smile and a wink as he does so.
  • Pig Man: Yemmu fall somewhere in between this and Our Orcs Are Different. They are by far the largest and strongest of all the humanoid races in the series, have tusks jutting from their lower jaws, and are (often unfairly) stereotyped as violent and ill-tempered.
  • Pirate: Barriath becomes a pirate king after he is sent into exile following his father's failed rebellion. His fleet defeats the Antean blockade of Porte Oliva and then carries Cithrin, Marcus, Yardem, Kit and the players, and Inys to safety after the city falls.
  • The Plan: Cithrin's plan to found and keep her bank branch in defiance of her superiors.
  • Predecessor Villain: Morade, the last Dragon Emperor, is frequently mentioned as a byword for madness and tyranny, though he himself is long dead. Turns out the Spider Priests were his doing, as well.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Spider Cult's banner is a red flag with a white circle and an "eight-fold" symbol (implied to look like an eight-barred asterisk), which would look a lot like a Nazi flag. Geder's Badass Longcoat also invokes the infamous black trench coats of the SS.
  • The Quest: Subverted. Kit and Marcus go on a long journey into the wilderness to find a magic sword that can kill the spider goddess, and then journey to the ends of the earth to get to the spider goddess' temple so that they can use the sword to kill the goddess and end the threat she poses forever. The subversion is that there is no spider goddess, just a statue, and the sword, while not worthless, is not all that important in stopping the threat posed by the spider priests.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Invoked and deconstructed with Geder. He chooses to stay in the chamber with all the spider priests so that they will not suspect that anything is wrong, knowing that everyone in that room is going to be incinerated in a matter of minutes. He dies to save the world from the horror that he had unleashed on it, and he tells Yardem to tell Cithrin about what he had done. Cithrin and Marcus do not think that it really made up for all that Geder had done:
    Yardem: He stayed behind so that the priests wouldn't be alarmed. He wanted me to tell you.
    Cithrin: What did he want you to tell me?
    Yardem: That he died a hero, I think. That he sacrificed himself for your plan. For you.
    Cithrin: Ah, not really sure what to think of that.
    Marcus: We'll put it on his tombstone, "Here lies a vicious, petty tyrant who damn near broke the world. He did one brave thing at the end."
  • Red Right Hand: Although not usually outwardly visible, the Spider Priests have one in the fact that they have spiders living in their blood. While ordinarily this would seem like something fairly easy to hide, in-universe, it is traditional for oaths to be sworn by cutting one's thumb, and it is implied (and later confirmed) that the practice began as a method of detecting Spider Priests.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Cithrin comes to fill the void left by the death of Wester's wife and daughter. He is savy enough to see it happening.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Dawson correctly pegs Basrahip as a toxic influence on Antea, albeit his rationale is because Basrahip is a foreign (probably common-born) priest rather than because he's a religious fundamentalist with a Compelling Voice out to remake the world in his own image.
  • Running Gag: Wester never enters a crisis without first asking Yardem if today is the day Yardem wants to kill him and usurp his command.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The first three books make it clear that in-universe, the legendary slave soldier Drakkis Stormcrow is understood as being male (i.e. it's a male lead role in plays; various old books Geder reads call Drakkis "he"). However, the end of the third book has a partly flashback POV from one of the dragons Drakkis served, and reveals to the audience that Drakkis was female, and thus the understanding of her as male is in-universe Future Imperfect/ Unreliable Expositor.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The spider goddess. In an unusual subversion, her followers actually do not mind. They prefer their solitude and distance from the world and are content to wait until the day she decides to reveal the person who will spread her influence. In The Tyrant's Law, Marcus and Kit discuss this trope, and come to the conclusion that the spider-priests were driven to their isolated temple by some outside agressor and became content with the situation as a side effect of using their Compelling Voice on each other.
  • Sex Slave: Geder thinks that he is in love with Cithrin, but this is more or less what he wants to do to her. He fantasizes that after his army brings her to him in chains, she will love him.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Clara Kalliam starts out as a proper noblewoman, but after her husband Dawson's rebellion against Geder is defeated and Dawson is killed, she begins plotting against Geder herself, much more effectively, operating behind the scenes with forged letters and, later, subverting the Antean army. Of course, as time goes on, she also becomes a much less proper lady.
  • Start of Darkness: Geder's story arc in The Dragon's Path.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Geder to Cithrin. He sends the Antean army to invade the country of Birancour just to bring her back as a prisoner to him; his fantasy is that once his army has stormed the city she's living in and brought her to him as a prisoner, he will explain everything to her and she will love him.
  • Take a Third Option: When forced to choose between trying and most likely failing to deliver the bank's money or simply trying to pocket the money and run Cithrin uses it to found her own bank branch instead.
    • Upon realizing he has been set up for a fall Geder neither admits defeat, nor does he keep struggling only to fail anyway. Instead he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Tautological Templar: As a side effect of their powers, the spider priests have managed to convince themselves that they cannot be wrong, and firmly believe that whatever they say, no matter how illogical, must be the truth.
  • Token Evil Teammate: As the last surviving dragon, Inys is an invaluable ally to the protagonists in their battle against the spider priests. He's also disturbingly indifferent to humans, kills people on a whim, and is very outspoken about his plans to create a new Dragon Empire once the current war is over. This is why the heroes decide to turn against him once he has served his purpose.
  • Token Heroic Orc: Master Kit is a rogue Spider Priest who escaped the cult and seeks to stop their evil plans for the world.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Until the epilogue of the first book, it is not clear that the Apostate Spider Priest and Master Kit are one in the same, although it is heavily implied throughout.
  • Unreliable Expositor: The in-universe sources provided to the audience tend to be of this stripe.
    • The description of the various races is written from the perspective of a Kurtadam scholar who considered his own race superior and is deeply biased in how he characterized other races.
    • Geder's reading is a source of much information for the audience, but is also of questionable reliability. Geder favors the genre of "speculative essays", and while on one level, that fictional genre is a joking reference to science fiction, there's also an implication that some of these authors are akin to conspiracy theorists/cranks.
    • The Spider Cult is skeptical of the value of the written word for a number of reasons, some valid, and as such dismiss written histories and insist their own teachings are accurate. Although the written histories have their own issues (see above), it's quite clear that everything taught by the cult is highly suspect.
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Geder may be the nominal ruler of the Antean Empire, but it's quite obvious that he's manipulated by and completely dependent on the spider priests.
    • Ironically, it turns out that even the priests themselves are nothing but pawns in Morade's plan to wipe out humanity.
  • Verbal Tic: Master Kit tries very hard to avoid absolute statements and frequently prefaces his sentences with expressions like "I think" or "I believe", which is pointed out by Cithrin in the first book. With the revelation that Kit is a former spider priest, it becomes clear that he does it deliberately to mitigate the effect of his Compelling Voice.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Basrahip is able to talk Feldin Maas into one.
  • Villainous Friendship: Geder considers Basrahip one of his only friends, and based on their interactions with each other, the feeling seems to be mutual.
  • Villainous Legacy: The spiders who give the priests their powers were created by Morade, the last dragon emperor, as a posthumous attempt to destroy humanity.
  • Villain Protagonist:
    • Geder starts out a Classical Anti-Hero but gradually morphs into one of these across The Dragon's Path. He becomes one full time in subsequent books.
    • Dawson is a borderline example; his beliefs come across as antiquated and reactionary to the modern reader and he helps put the villains in power, but is genuinely an honorable man in his own way and tries to stop Geder and Basrahip when he realizes what exactly is going on.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The spider priests genuinely believe that conquering the world in the name of their goddess and forcibly converting all of humanity to their faith will lead to an eternal age of peace and unity. The irony is that they were created by Morade for the exact opposite purpose.
  • What Measure Is a Human?: Inys frequently refers to humans as "tools", and has no qualms about killing and eating them without warning if they don't show him the respect he thinks he deserves.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Opal fears her life is becoming this. It affects her judgment.
  • Wolf Man: Tralgu are described as having canine features, and are generally larger and more physically powerful than the average Firstblood human.


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