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Literature / Too Many Curses

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A fantasy novel by A. Lee Martinez about a castle belonging to an evil wizard, which is inhabited by the victims of his many curses and the housekeeper that keeps everything working. When the wizard unexpectedly dies, Nessy the kobold finds herself obliged to seek cures for the cursed, avert a growing series of calamities, and prevent a frightening sorceress from laying claim to or destroying everything in the castle. Which is very difficult to do, in the little time Nessy can spare from her housekeeping duties.



  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Olivia the owl's second curse is to always speak this way.
  • Animated Armor: The castle's entire armory can spring to life, which includes a gigantic suit meant for a dragon, as well as the armor of a legendary warrior known as the Blue Paladin. They're summoned by the castle's soul to battle Tiama.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Tiama is the personification of the castle's evil side. While not a straight example, the animated armors led by the Blue Paladin serve as her opposite number, brought to life by the castle's good side.
  • Apron Matron: Nessy is pretty much regarded as this trope by everyone in the castle except Margle and herself.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Margle, speculating about what terrible fate might await him in Hell, wonders if he might be butchered and eaten alive, alternately frozen and roasted while being fed upon by beasts, or ... be sat on by a big smelly creature while being subjected to off-key folk music.
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  • Baleful Polymorph: Most of the castle's inhabitants are victims of this effect.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Predictably, one of Margle's victims is a prince turned into a frog, who's convinced the spell can be broken with a True Love's Kiss from a princess. Of course, Yazpib doubts his brother's curses could be broken so easily. He's right.
  • Black Comedy: Oh yes.
  • Blob Monster: The trainable fungus Nessy uses as a stand-in for Margle. It's not very good at it, and Tiama isn't fooled for a second, although the lengths Nessy went to in executing her ruse may have impressed her.
  • Bond Creatures: The nurgax bonds with the second creature it sees upon hatching, after devouring the first creature it sees.
  • Brain in a Jar: Yazpib, Margle's brother. who is now nothing more than a brain, eyes, teeth and tongue suspended in a fluid that changes color based on his mood.
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  • The Cassandra: A talking gnat correctly deduces much of what's really going on, but its voice is far too soft for any of the larger curse-transformed castle residents to notice its comments.
  • Cephalothorax: The nurgax's body is mostly muzzle, with small legs and tiny wings.
  • Creature of Habit: Nessy at the start, until one catastrophe after another oblige her to adjust her routine.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: The Vampire King is cursed so that chimes ring with his every movement, thus making it impossible for him to sneak up on a victim. He's reduced to licking blood from Walter, the bleeding wall. After the hellhound devours the Vampire King, it acquires the same curse, and the vampire's ghost retains it after the hound's demise.
  • Deal with the Devil: Nessy makes a deal with the demon sealed in The Purple Room for information about how to dispatch the hellhound stalking the halls. All the demon asks for in exchange is a single lump of coal. Which is all she needs to make her escape.
  • Disappeared Dad: Margle's own mother is one of the cursed, but there's no sign of his father. Ivy mentions raising her boys alone, but it's not stated if their father is dead or just absent.
  • The Disembodied: Echo, a poet reduced to only her disembodied voice.
  • Disney Death: Nessy, who's killed by the Blue Paladin to prevent her from opening The Door At The End Of The Hall, but is brought back by the castle itself using a spell that was meant for Margle.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: While plenty of Margle's victims were genuine enemies, Echo was a poet who'd merely used his name in a bawdy limerick.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Nessy's frequent failure to return home in time to read to the monster under her bed after Margle's death eventually leads to a confrontation highly evocative of a man accusing his girlfriend of infidelity.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Margle turned his own mother into a talking plant, and his aversion of this trope is cited as one of his clearest displays of villainy.
  • Fisher Kingdom: The reason the castle has any good in it at all is because of Nessy's presence. By the end, Nessy officially taking the reins of the castle seems to make it a slightly more pleasant place overall.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: As his transformation from bat to human lasts only a couple of minutes, Sir Thedeus doesn't have time to put any clothes on before battling the hellhound.
  • Hellhound: Not long after Margle's death, a hellhound starts roaming the castle, devouring the undead with the intention of dragging their souls to hell. Dealing with the hellhound becomes a high priority for Nessy, given how many of the castle's denizens are undead of some description.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: When Sir Thedeus is temporarily turned back into a stark-naked muscular man, all Nessy thinks of his appearance is that the little patches of fur here and there on his otherwise-bald body look ridiculous.
  • I Know Your True Name: Speaking a demon's true name will kill both the demon and the speaker. Nessy uses this threat against the demon that was sealed in The Purple Room to force her to compromise.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Not only did Margle turn his mother (Ivy) into a clump of vines, but he'd previously changed her into a nag, a cow, a shrew, a harpy, and an old bitch before he got tired of this trope.
  • Interspecies Romance: Morton the Mouse and Olivia the Owl. The fact that they're both transformed people probably helps.
  • Killer Rabbit: One of Margle's monstrous creations that Nessy displays to Tiama is a deadly saber-toothed koala.
  • Losing Your Head: Inverted with Decapitated Dan, who starts out as a separated skull and skeleton, then regains his body temporarily during the story.
  • Meaningful Name: Quite a few, though Margle deliberately tailored his curses to his victims. Notable cases include Echo, who is a disembodied voice, and both Ivy and Rose, who were transmogrified into plants.
  • Messianic Archetype: Nessy. Right down to dying and coming back to life.
  • No Name Given: The nurgax doesn't have a name. Justified because Nessy has far too many emergencies to deal with to spend time thinking of one for it.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Margle's transformed enemies expect his death to restore them to their original shapes, and are outraged when this trope is subverted. Yazpib explains that this trope does come into effect with inexperienced mages (who don't know how to extend a curse past their own lifespan) and arrogant ones (who don't believe they'll ever be killed, so don't bother).
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Sword In The Cabbage, which can only be drawn forth from whatever encasing object its previous wielder drove it into, upon death, by an equally-worthy warrior. The last such wielder didn't realize that he was sticking it into a cabbage instead of a stone or tree until it was too late....
  • Phantom Zone Picture: Margle has an entire gallery of royals imprisoned in portraits.
  • Purple Is Powerful: The demon in the Purple Room is the most powerful of the castle's cursed inhabitants/prisoners.
  • Red Herring: The foreshadowing that Margle wasn't really dead and would return to cause havoc. His only real posthumous influence on the story are a pair of spells meant to deal with anyone in the castle upon his death. The true Big Bad is the castle's own evil side.
  • Running on All Fours: Nessy drops to all fours when she's running or thinking hard. She grew up a quadruped, but took up bipedal walking once she became a wizard's assistant and didn't want to carry icky spell components in her mouth.
  • Shout-Out: The nurgax is cyclopic, violet in color, has a single horn and tiny (but functional) wings, and devours Margle immediately upon hatching. In other words, it's a one-eyed, one horned flying purple people eater.
    • The last-minute rescue by the emerged monster under Nessy's bed has a close parallel in Reaper Man.
  • Species Surname: Some invoked examples, as Margle seems to have liked turning enemies into creatures whose species-names starts with the same letter as their real name (Olivia the owl, Morton the mouse, Bethany the banshee).
  • Spirit Bomb: Nessy manages to banish Tiama and all the evil magic forcing its way out of the opened Door by drawing on the strength of all the castle's denizens.
  • Stomach of Holding: The thief-turned-ferret mentions how her father used to hide his stolen jewels this way. It made claiming the inheritance rather grisly.
  • Talking Animal: Margle's favorite curse to dish out, seeing how many characters are talking animals.
  • Talking Weapon: The Sword in the Cabbage.
  • Taken for Granite: The Gorgon Haze floating through the halls does this to anything it comes in contact with, including the air.
  • The Dog Bites Back: In the afterlife, Margle's spirit kicks poor Nessy's with no provocation whatsoever. Nessy finally snaps and bites the hell out of his ankle.
  • Touch of Death: Tiama the Scarred's most dangerous attribute. Anything she touches dies instantly.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Surprisingly, given Margle's tendency to just curse his enemies, he actually averted this in the case of the Blue Paladin, a warrior too powerful to be left alive.
  • Zombie Advocate: Nessy insists on taking steps to stop the hellhound's rampage, even though it poses no danger to the castle's living inhabitants, only the undead ones. Justified because many of the ghosts and animated corpses are her friends, and even the ones that are evil or actively hostile to her are still her charges.

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