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Literature / The War of the Flowers

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Urban Fantasy novel by Tad Williams. Theo Vilmos is the thirty-year-old lead singer of a small band in California, whose life is going nowhere until he starts getting hit by the worst string of bad luck imaginable. First his girlfriend has a miscarriage, and then she leaves him, taking the house. He's forced to move back in with his emotionally distant mother, and then she dies too, and he's forced to sell her house and move to a backwoods cabin. His only consolation is the discovery of an old book written by his mysterious great uncle, Eamonn Dowd, which seems to be part autobiography, part fairy tale and Theo entertains notions of getting published.

Then Theo is attacked by an undead horror, gets dragged into a magical world by a six-inch tall (and very foul-mouthed) sprite named Applecore, and finds out that not only is the world in Uncle Eamonn's book very real, but most of it, particularly the sinister Lord Nidrus Hellebore, seems to want him dead.


Theo travels through the strangely-modern world of Faerie, encountering along his way among others the goblin revolutionary Mud Bug Button; Poppy, beautiful daughter of Hellebore's partner in crime, Lord Aulus Thornapple; and the enigmatic Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles, who has his own stake in things that runs deeper (and closer to home) than Theo can possibly imagine ...

This Work Provides Examples Of:

  • Action Girl: Applecore certainly tries, but since she's six inches tall, the amount of damage she can do is limited.
  • Anti-Hero: Theo is a ne'er-do-well who is roped into a heroic journey. Even after he becomes more purely heroic, he never manages to establish much action cred.
  • Another Dimension: Faerie is a mirror universe to our more familiar world, powered by humans' belief in the supernatural. As that has faded over centuries, Faerie has become starved of energy.
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  • Aristocrats Are Evil: At best, the fairy lords are obnoxious but harmless (like Zirus Jonquil or Rufinus weft-Daisy). Most are simply casually cruel because they don't know any other way to act. A few, like Hellebore and company, are actively and knowingly malevolent. Very rarely you'll meet a genuinely decent one, like Caradenus or Poppy.
  • Beast of Battle: Hellebore releases dragons to lay waste to his opponents. Also, unicorns.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: The standard fairy sidearm fires literal Magitek bees, which keep flying forever, unless they hit something first.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Subverted. It starts off with Lords Hellebore, Thornapple, and Foxglove forming one, but Hellebore's intelligence, ruthlessness, and force of personality gradually marginalizes Foxglove and demotes Thornapple into The Dragon.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: The reason why the goblins accept their low station in life. However, the treaty could have been broken all the time if the goblin willing to destroy the artifact representing the treaty were willing to die for it.
  • Bishōnen: All the male fairy lords are described as slim, pale, and supernaturally handsome.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Theo is described like this several times.
  • Broken Bird: Poppy is first introduced as a self-centered, spoiled child of a fairy lord, but suffers terribly once her father's villainy is revealed. When she comes to Theo in Goblin Town, she's a shell of her former lively self.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Theo, aka Septimus Violet, is revealed to be a changeling. The Terrible Child is the mortal who was switched out when he was slipped in, and Dowd did the switching.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Theo's nymph-bond turns out to be crucial in the climax. He enters the water and thereby surrenders to their claim, causing the irrha to lose its lock on him and go after the Terrible Child instead.
  • The Chessmaster: Nidrus Hellebore and the Remover play very complex and long-running games. Hellebore, of course, plans to create an apocalypse in Theo's world in order to restore humanity's belief in the supernatural, and the Remover has been opposing him.
  • City of Adventure: The City is the focal point for the first half of the book, up until Hellebore fully reveals his villainy.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Streedy after his "accident".
  • Creative Sterility: The fairies. The implications, however, are defied.
    Hellebore: I cannot give milk. That does not make a cow my equal.
  • Creepy Child: The Terrible Child, who was created to destroy a world.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The treatment of the goblins closely parallels what both African and American natives suffered at the hands of white imperialists.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Remover's true form and the irrha may count. Old Night definitely does.
  • Empty Shell: The state that Erephine Primrose has been left in after her soul was separated from her body. Funnily enough, her condition is completely perplexing to the fairies, since they don't believe in or think about souls, even though it's one of the first things a human would think of if they saw her like that.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Hellebore plans to unleash a cataclysm on Earth to knock civilization back to the dark ages, thereby giving the fairies a stronger supply of the belief and superstition they need to run their civilization and keeping him stably in power.
  • Enfante Terrible: The Terrible Child is a changeling from the human world, raised in the land of Faerie as a means to link the two realms. Thanks to Hellebore's influence, the Child is both pettily evil and powerfully wrong.
  • Enigmatic Minion: The Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles.
  • Evil Gloating: Hellebore is an egotistical sadist with a flair for the theatrical. Of course he likes this one.
  • Evil Is Sexy: invoked Hellebore is so attractive that even Theo, a very heterosexual male, notices.
  • Evil Uncle: Eamonn Dowd.
  • Equivalent Exchange: The natural laws of Faerie are based on this: "You want it, you get it, you pay for it." The fairies consider this far more logical than the mortal world's laws of physics.
    • This also plays a role in the story. That he betrayed Dowd is on reason why Dowd was able to defeat and steal the body of the Remover. That they betrayed their fellow lords by waking the dragons is why Hellebore and his fellows end up losing.
  • The Fair Folk: The fairy aristocrats - they're not The Legions of Hell by any means, but they're hardly friendly either.
  • Fairy Tale: Deconstructed.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Flowers are generally the same as rich, arrogant humans looking down on everyone else. Pretty much everyone feels about goblins the way some racists feel.
  • Fantasy Contraception: It gets mentioned in passing.
  • Fiery Redhead: Applecore is this trope in miniature.
  • For the Evulz: Neither Anton Hellebore nor the Terrible Child seem to need much reason to do evil beyond personal enjoyment. This is directly contrasted with Lord Hellebore, who always has a purpose for his evil actions, albeit usually one that only justifies things to him.
  • Foreshadowing: Even before Theo enters Fairie, the story occasionally implies that there's something unusual about him - examples are his amazing singing voice and the fact he looks very attractive to both women and men as well as his constant feeling that he doesn't belong.
  • Garage Band: Theo is the lead singer in one. He notes that for a man of thirty, this is rather embarassing.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The fairies are powered by mortal belief. As that's waned, they've had to find other sources of power for their civilization, primarily by draining the magic out of other, live fairies. Hellebore, of course, has a plan to change things...
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The reason the Remover always cloaks himself in shadow - the last person who looked at him directly, Erephine Primrose, went insane on the spot. Theo catches only a quick glimpse of him, enough to know he doesn't want to see any more.
  • Goth: How Theo first describes Poppy.
  • Grand Theft Me: Standard operating procedure for the irrha and also for its summoner, Dowd/the Remover.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Button breaks the oath rod holding the goblins bound to the fairy lords, knowing that even though the other goblins will be pleased by their freedom, they will be compelled by tradition to kill him. They do.
    • Also Theo throwing himself into the Well so the nymph will claim him, confusing the irrha and causing it to go for his "twin", the Terrible Child, instead.
  • Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action: People continually mistake Theo and Applecore for a couple. Later, Applecore does get together with Cumber, a fairy Theo's size.
    • In fact, a number of large-sized fairies hit on Applecore. When Theo asks how intercourse would work, he's told there is surgery to address the issue.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The goblins; they view eating someone as being a high honor to them.
  • Implacable Man: The irrha.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Theo, Applecore, and Poppy all count.
  • Just Between You and Me: The Remover captures Theo for the express purpose of explaining his history and plans to him. This is because it's the last bit of familial duty he feels he owes him.
    • Given the way the physics of Faerie operate, it may be more than that.
  • Karma Houdini: Dowd, lampshaded.
  • Lamarck Was Right: The Remover states that evolution works in a "Lamarckian" way in Faerie.
  • Legacy Character: The Remover. The position has been held by at least two people - Dowd and his unnamed predecessor - but Dowd suspects many more.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Dowd's undoing.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The Remover is really none other than Great Uncle Eamonn Dowd himself - though, because Theo is a changeling, he's actually not Theo's great uncle. He's the Terrible Child's great uncle..
  • Mad Scientist/ Evil Sorcerer: The line between the two is a bit blurry here, as the fairies consider magic and science to be the same thing, but there are some definite examples who fit both tropes - Nidrus and Anton Hellebore, the Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles, and Count Tansy.
  • Magical Land: Faerie, deconstructed.
  • Magitek: Faerie pretty much runs on this - as a general rule of thumb, if Real Life has done it with science, Faerie will have the magical equivalent.
  • Meaningful Name: All goblins have these. The current generation of goblins are mostly named for common household items to reflect their lowly place in fairy society.
  • The Mole: Count Tansy.
  • Narnia Time: Time flows differently in Faerie, though exactly what this means varies.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted with a vengeance - Theo is surprised and more than a little squicked to learn that fairies have bodily functions the same as everybody else.
  • Not My Driver: The trip to the Hellebore club is such a bad idea that Theo briefly wonders whether their driver has been replaced and the whole thing is an elaborate trap.
  • One-Winged Angel: Inverted. The Remover's true form is monstrous, but is also sickly and weak. He can temporarily turn himself into a more able (and somewhat better-looking) form when he has to leave home on business.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The most powerful individual creatures in Faerie, basically, hunted almost to extinction for this reason, though Hellebore bred a handful for when he needed to go for both destruction and grand theatricality.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Though the ruling class of Faerie are just called "fairies", they are very close to typical fantasy elves in a lot of respects.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: An Always Chaotic Evil race that tried to conquer Faerie several centuries previously. They failed, but provided the opening Hellebore and his peers needed to seize power.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Here a sympathetic, downtrodden race enslaved by the fairies.
  • Our Ogres Are Hungrier: They're basically a whole race of Dumb Muscle bodyguards - who are named for whatever their favorite toy was as a child.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The irrha, which isn't actually a single animated corpse but a spirit that possesses and animates new bodies as it needs them to fulfill the task it was summoned for.
  • Overlord Jr.: Anton Hellebore doesn't share Lord Hellebore's grandiose ambitions, but instead is a burgeoning sadist and psychopath, eagerly torturing his father's enemies, including Poppy.
  • People Puppets: Hellebore turns Theo into this during the climactic chapters but the fact that Theo's mind is still free becomes a plot point.
  • Power Incontinence: Streedy.
    • Also, after Theo tricks the irrha into killing the Terrible Child, Hellebore's magic is disrupted and literally tears him apart.
  • President Evil: Lord Thornapple is the official First Councillor of the Realm, though in practice he takes enough of advice from Hellebore that he's the one really calling the shots.
  • Professional Killer: Assassinations are just one of the many services the Remover offers, if you can meet his price.
  • The Queen's Latin: The fairies all have English or Irish accents despite being from Another Dimension. This is justified because of how the magic of Faerie works - it translates languages for visiting mortals, and they hear the words and accents they expect.
  • Rebellious Princess: Poppy.
  • Science Destroys Magic: The Evil Overlord of the Faeries says that this is why life sucks in their world, but he may be lying.
  • Screw You, Elves!: The whole climax is basically this trope writ large.
    • Being raised human, Theo is frequently irritated when the inhabitants of Faerie try to pull the Can't Argue with Elves shtick.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Old Night.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: Oberon and Titania.
  • The Slacker: Theo.
  • Slasher Smile: All the Hellebores seem to have them.
  • The Star Scream: Hellebore and a few other of the highest fairy lords to Oberon and Titania. When the King and Queen were exhausted following the last Giant War, the fairy lords struck and sealed them in a can so they could take over.
  • The Stoic: Most of the fairy lords are very good at keeping neutral expressions, regardless of what they're really feeling.
  • The Stoner: Theo's friend Johnny. Theo himself has done drugs on occasion, but not enough to become an addict.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Poppy.
  • Supporting Leader: Button.
  • Switched at Birth: Theo/Septimus and the Terrible Child.
  • Symbolically Broken Object: Mud Bug Button shows up on television and breaks a small stick. The goblin underclass of The City immediately begin rioting and revolting against their Faerie overlords because that stick was the physical manifestation of the treaty that kept them in subjugation.
  • Theme Naming: All the fairy noble houses are named for flowers... hence the title of the book.
  • Trapped in Another World: Theo, though it turns out he was actually from Faerie originally, and decides to stay in the end.
  • Tsundere: Applecore.
  • Urban Fantasy: Though the city it takes place in is part of a completely separate world, despite its modernity.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Theo's birth parents, the Violets, were powerful fairy lords, but their real passion was music. Theo is somewhat upset to learn that the only thing that made him special, his singing ability, wasn't even really his. Although he's an especially talented musician even in Faerie, this talent doesn't play a role in his final victory.
  • Winged Humanoid: Some species of fairy, though the fairy lords have no wings, and those who wish to imitate them often have their wings surgically removed.
  • You Are Number 6: Theo is not happy when Dowd/the Remover tells him that his real name, Septimus, literally means "Number Seven".
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Anton Hellebore to the Remover. Nidrus Hellebore isn't very happy about this, as while he didn't trust the Remover, he did find him very useful.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Well, maybe not real, but a mortal's perceptions certainly color how they see Faerie.