Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency

Go To

Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency (Тайный сыск царя Гороха, Tainyi sysk tsarya Gorokha) is a series of novels by the Russian fantasy author Andrei Belyanin. Like all his other works, the series is full of deliberate anachronisms, magic, and humor. The protagonist of the series, Mladshiy Leytenant (Third Lieutenant) Nikita Ivashov, is a modern-day Russian fresh-out-of-the-academy policeman. One day, during field training in an abandoned village, he enters a hut's basement, which someone immediately shuts on him. After getting out, he finds himself in a Medieval Russian city called Lukoshkino ruled by the strict but just Tsar Gorokh. After explaining who he is to the Tsar, Nikita is asked to head the first Russian detective agency using modern investigative techniques (technically, the wording used for the agency better translates as Secret Police, but Nikita's job description is exactly what you would expect a police detective to do). Setting up his office in the home of Baba Yaga, whom he recruits as an expert on forensics and all things magical (thanks to her criminal past), he is also given a simple-minded village boy named Dmitriy "Mitka" Lobov, as a "junior associate". Being a clear example of both Dumb Muscle and Mother Russia Makes You Strong (apparently, he bends horseshoes with his bare hands for fun), Mitka frequently creates more problems than he solves. In later books, he is also given a company of Tsar's streltsy (guards) under Sotnik (commander of 100) Foma Yeremeyev to add manpower to the agency.

In a typical fashion, seemingly small cases usually unravel into huge conspiracies, frequently leading back to a single Diabolical Mastermind named Koschei the Deathless. In fact, it's usually a surprise when a conspiracy doesn't lead back to him.

The initially strict Tsar quickly mellows out to Nikita and considers him a good friend, although, when necessary, he reminds the detective who the autocrat is. However, the boyars (noble advisors) consider Nikita to be an upstart, especially since he doesn't recognize their Blue Blood and occasionally treats them as much suspects as any peasant. Another enemy of Nikita in Lukoshkino is Deacon Filimon Gruzdev, a low-ranking member of the church who also serves as the Tsar's scribe (being one of the few who can read and write).

The series consists of 10 novels and is the author's longest running series:

  1. Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency (1999)
  2. The Plot of the Black Mass (1999)
  3. The Flying Ship (2000)
  4. Bride Elimination (2002)
  5. The Case of the Sober Buffoons (2004)
  6. Detectives on Vacation (2006)
  7. To Marry and Neutralize (2009)
  8. Tsar Gorokh's Rusty Sword (2014)
  9. Tsar Koschei's Black Sword (2015)
  10. The Dead Must Be Taken Alive (2017)

The books contain examples of the following tropes:

  • All Psychology Is Freudian: After Mitka learns to read, he borrows a psychology book from the Austrian tsarina, has the German ambassador translate it, and begins to style himself an expert on psychology. Naturally, his attempts at psychoanalyzing random people frequently result in him getting pummeled for using long words on people. And yes, he will often try to ask about parental relationships, even though the events in the books supposedly predate Freud by many centuries.
  • Anachronism Stew: The series doesn't appear to try to stick to any historical time period, instead going for a generic "Medieval Russia" feel with some magic thrown in for good measure. The first novel has various birds show up in Baba Yaga's yard when she summons them. When Nikita is listing the birds, turkeys are mentioned to be among them. Turkeys are native to North America and wouldn't be imported to Russia until centuries later. On the other hand, Nikita does at one point mention the 16th century, and turkeys were introduced to Europe in 1519.
  • Arch-Enemy: Koschei the Deathless is frequently behind the conspiracies threatening the tsardom. As Nikita puts it, Osama bin Laden is an amateur compared to this guy.
    • For less serious examples, there's Matryona who sells sauerkraut at the market, and Mitka considers it his civic duty to personally inspect it for quality, frequently calling her the most dangerous criminal in the whole city for "tricking honest people into buying poor-quality sauerkraut."
    • Then there's Baba Yaga's rooster, whose adversarial relationship with Nikita is legendary, stemming from the damn bird calling out every sunrise right under Nikita's window. After a few thrown objects, the rooster has grown to be adept at dodging them and will sometimes jump on the windowsill to scream in Nikita's ear just for kicks. However, it does save Nikita and Baba Yaga's lives in one novel by scaring away Koschei (in Russian folklore, evil is supposed to be scared of rooster calls, as they normally herald the sun).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Mostly subverted, but most of the boyars do indeed hate Nikita for daring to treat them as ordinary "citizens", as if they were commoners. In the seventh novel, though, they attempt to execute Nikita after he displeases the Tsar, only for the Tsar to force them to stop at the last moment. In the third novel, they form their own temporary detective agency to find the missing blueprints with a drunk servant and Deacon Filimon Gruzdev at the head in order to show up Nikita. Naturally, neither the Tsar nor Nikita think that the "alternate agency" has a chance in hell of finding the blueprints, and the Tsar asks Nikita to utterly humiliate it, so that he can stick it in the boyars' faces. Boyar Kashkin is a definite subversion, as he deeply respects and supports Nikita, although even he bristles when the Tsar treats Nikita as an equal.
    • When the Tsar goes missing in The Case of the Sober Buffoons, the boyars are quick to lock his wife in her room and temporarily seize power, claiming to act as the sovereign's stewards in his absence. When the incredulous Lydia asks if it's a coup, the surprised boyars tell her that they're simply taking over the masculine duty of running the state; after all, running the nation is not woman's work. Nikita admits to himself that they really are thinking that what they're doing is best for the tsardom and will gladly relinquish power once the Tsar shows up. Which doesn't stop him from summoning his streltsy and having them detain all the mutineers.
    • In the 9th book, when Nikita disappears for several days, and Gorokh runs away to try to rescue his wife himself, the boyars are quick to shut down the detective agency, arrest Baba Yaga, and send Yeremeyev's streltsy to patrol the distant border of the tsardom.
    • It's also revealed that Mitka has managed to get the younger boyars to respect the detectives.
  • Artistic License History: While the books are hardly historical, one glaring mistake the author has made is his confusion over the Filimon Gruzdev's title and job description. In Russian, his position is "dyak", which basically corresponds to a chief clerk or secretary. It's a secular position that has nothing to do with the Orthodox Church. The author constantly confuses "dyak" with "deacon" (an actual church position), probably because the two words share the same origin. So, in the novels, Gruzdev is both a clerk and a member of the clergy.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: The Austrian ambassador Alex Borr is the complete opposite of his gentlemanly Prussian counterpart Knut Spitzruttenberg. He's rude, scheming, and looks at all Russians as if they're beneath him, even the Tsar himself. He's known for his dueling skills and isn't above tricking another into challenging him. It turns out he has a trick sword that allows him an extra few inches at the press of a button, which is how he wins his duels. It's also revealed that, just prior to the events of the fourth book, he secretly demanded sexual favors from Princess Lydia, his own sovereign's daughter, knowing she would be too proper to tell anyone about it. She refused, resulting in him attempting to poison her and several other princesses, as well as stealing the ceremonial mace the Cossacks were going to gift to the Tsar. He returns in a later novel, working for Koschei this time.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Koschei's Cool Swords. They tend to be 2 meters long. He tries to take one out while on horseback and can't. Later on, he has another sword that clamps to his hand and won't let go until it sheds blood. Nikita admits that it's useful in that it can never be knocked out of Koschei's hand, but then Mitka gets Koschei to stick the sword through a metal gate and then bends the blade, getting it stuck.
  • Been There, Shaped History: In the ninth book, Koschei brags that he and Zmey Gorynych are inadvertently responsible for several historical fires, such as the fire at the Library of Alexandria (they got drunk, wanted to read, and Zmey burped loudly) and the burning of Rome (Zmey had some pizza with sea salt and some local wine, then threw up). He says that their partying across Europe has resulted in common portrayals of dragons and knights. Nikita tells him that it's a good thing he isn't responsible for the fire of Moscow in 1812. Koschei appears interested and asks for the date again, claiming that he'll definitely participate if he lives that long. Nikita mentally curses himself and hopes that historians weren't wrong in blaming Napoleon and Russian patriots for the fire.
  • Big Bad: It's usually no surprise that Koschei the Deathless is usually behind the latest crime. In fact, it's usually surprising when he's not involved. In the fourth novel, the villain is the Austrian ambassador Alex Borr. In the sixth, the villain is Koschei's estranged wife, although he is also trying to take advantage of her coming rampage. In the tenth novel, Koschei doesn't even appear, although he's mentioned once. The ultimate villain here is Prince Johann, who turns out to be the leader of the werewolves, seeking to carve out his own kingdom in Germany.
  • Buried Alive: After Nikita is poisoned, everyone assumes that he's dead (he survives only thanks to Baba Yaga's timely intervention). In order to catch the poisoner, Baba Yaga orchestrates a public funeral for Nikita, giving him a concoction that immobilizes him for several hours, planning to dig him up later. However, hours pass, and no one comes for him. Luckily, his poisoners decide to make sure he's really dead and dig up the coffin, allowing Nikita to escape. He finds out that the poisoners have put everyone to sleep, which is why none of them came to dig him up.
  • The Cape: In the fifth novel, Mitka is framed for the kidnapping of several young girls. In order to protect him, Nikita sends him back to his mother in the village for a vacation he originally asked for. A few days later, a strange man dressed in red and blue and draped in a cape starts meting out vigilante justice. Nikita immediately realizes who it is and regrets telling Mitka about Superman.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: The Tsar initially objects to being called a "polyglot", after Nikita finds out that he speaks numerous languages. Also, Mitka's attempts at psychoanalyzing people frequently result in public beatings, as most have no idea what any of those longs words mean and assume it's some sort of insult.
  • Clueless Detective: While Nikita is actually pretty good at his job, in the tenth novel, he utterly fails to pick up on the obvious clues that his wife is pregnant. He's playfully called out on this.
  • Cool Sword: In Tsar Gorokh's Rusty Sword, Gorokh's family relic, the fabled Kladenets sword goes missing. According to legend, Gorokh's ancestor Bova the Prince was given the sword by the giant Svyatogor in order to fight Zmey Gorynych. With the sword, Bova cut off Zmey's middle head, sending the dragon packing. Since then, the sword is rusting in a basement storage room of the Tsar's palace. When shown, the relic doesn't look like anything special, and Baba Yaga can't detect anything magical about it. Koschei later reveals that the sword can change size when a special word is uttered. It was once been wielded by a giant, after all. Reversing the spell requires saying the word backwards.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Everyone in the city is slowly becoming this in the seventh novel thanks to the one-eyed Liho, an evil spirit that preys on people by deliberately giving them bad luck. Each misfortune is greater than the last, as Liho's powers grow. Nikita realizes that Liho is none other than Odin who has somehow survived the Ragnarok and gone mad in the process. In the end, Nikita accidentally neutralizes Liho/Odin by having the evil spirit look into a broken mirror, giving the spirit 7 years of bad luck (meaning any attempt to give other people bad luck will invariably backfire).
  • Dem Bones: Zmey Gorynych's servants are animated skeletons. One is visibly amused by Nikita greeting him in the modern Russian police/military way: Zdraviya zhelayu ([I] wish you health), since health isn't something a skeleton is concerned with.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In The Case of the Sober Buffoons, Nikita keeps encountering two guys, who keep talking about the circus goat, who they believe is supposed to be able to talk but just hasn't done that yet. In the end, the goat turns out to be one of Koschei's agents in disguise.
  • Dumb Muscle: Mitka is this trope personified. He is a goodhearted village boy with a huge bulk, the strength of several men, a passion for police work, and a penchant for creative interpretations of his orders. Most of the time, Nikita has to spend time apologizing to people or finding ways to punish Mitka for the latest action. There are a number of times, though, when Mitka saves Nikita or manages to stumble on a key clue to the current case. A part of Nikita's daily routine is to listen to complaints about Mitka's abuse of authority.
  • Enemy Mine: In The Plot of the Black Mass, Koschei invites Nikita to his castle to discuss a temporary truce in order to stop Beelzebub from being summoned in Russian lands. Naturally, being a villain, he has trouble keeping his own word and sends large, red-eyed owls to attack Nikita on the way home. In the ninth book, Nikita is the one who goes to Koschei to ask for help in dealing with Gorynych. Once again, Koschei tries to trick the heroes and, in the end, turns out to be The Man Behind the Man anyway.
  • Eternal Russian: Nikita has no problem communicating with Medieval Russians, although the presence of magic may explain it. He also understands some German and Japanese words.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: In the ninth book, Koschei hires cheap Central Asian migrant workers to rebuild his castle after faking a Zmey Gorynych attack. Unfortunately, the gates they put up turn out to only open outward, which would be a problem, except Nikita accidentally blocks them off with the magical stove he rides in on (It Makes Sense in Context). Koschei tries to blast the gate open with a spell, only for it to bounce back at him, as he belatedly recalls himself enchanting the gate against magical attacks.
  • Evil Sorcerer: The frequent Big Bad is Koschei the Deathless, a Lich-like figure who rules the "unclean" forces. He appears to be a master of the dark arts but rarely uses magic openly, preferring to brew potions and act through his subordinates. Being a Magnificent Bastard helps. There's also the fact that he can't enter the city of Lukoshkino (the setting of the series) thanks to Father Kondratiy's daily prayers. The one time he does, the Father is out-of-town, and the protagonists are nearly killed by Koschei himself and only survive by random chance. He does have two Weaksauce Weaknesses: the fear of a rooster call (heralding the sunrise) and the fact that salt burns his flesh like acid.
  • Eye Beams: In the first novel, Baba Yaga demonstrates that she can do that with deadly precision, even through a closed door.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • In the first book, the treasurer Tyurya fakes his death by having a Shamakhan shapeshift into him before being hanged.
    • In the fourth book, Mitka pretends to eat a poisoned apple to trick the book's Big Bad into admitting they're his.
    • In the ninth book, Koschei fakes an attack on his castle by Zmey Gorynych, leaving a bare skull with a crown behind to fool Nikita. Nikita later realizes there were many clues that something wasn't right, like the skull being way too white and having zero flesh remains on it.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: An in-universe example. When questioning a drop of blood and a tooth (It Makes Sense in Context) in The Plot of the Black Mass, Nikita is amazed to find out that the guards of the German ambassador fit this trope. For example, the blood comes from a guard named Hans Hohenzollern (possibly referring to Hans von Küstrin of House of Hohenzollern). When Nikita asks if this is the same Hohenzollern, the blood replies that it must be a namesake. The tooth comes from the namesake of Georgy Zhukov, a famous Soviet general during World War II. Nikita asks the tooth if all the German guards fit this trope. The tooth doesn't know, but lists a few last names including Mazepa (Ivan Mazepa was a Cossack hetman), a couple of Bourbons (a French royal dynasty), a Romanov (Russian royal family), a Rothschild (a famous banking family), and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnamese Communist leader).
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Nikita once demands that Yeremeyev's streltsy give a warning shot before shooting a suspect. When Yeremeyev points out that their pischals take about a minute to reload, Nikita agrees that they should shout a warning instead. Nobody points out the danger of firing a large musket ball in a city.
    • In the fourth novel, the visiting Cossacks occasionally fire their musket pistols in the air for fun.
    • In the ninth novel, Nikita gets his hands on a small German flintlock pistol and then fires it in the air to get his companions to stop bickering. He then calmly levels the empty pistol at a talking crow and demands the bird come with them. Surprisingly, the crow complies, even though it's obvious the weapon is unloaded (and Nikita doesn't know how to reload a muzzle-loaded anyway).
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Nikita Ivashov is a modern-day Russian cop who finds himself in a mix of Medieval European Fantasy and Russian Mythology and Tales. Strangely, he considers himself to be in the historical past, despite the presence of magic, spirits, the undead, etc.
  • Forced Transformation:
    • Don't anger Baba Yaga if you don't want to end up a toad, or a rooster, a bunny, or a broom. You get the picture. Generally, she'll turn you back after calming down, but you may end up croaking for a while.
    • In the first novel, Nikita accidentally turns himself into a hare after reading a book in Koschei's castle out loud, not realizing it's a spell book. Baba Yaga, initially assuming he's a regular hare and deciding to make soup out of him, realizes the truth and turns him back. Shortly after, Nikita has to run back to check out Koschei's Magic Mirror. Yaga turns him back into a hare in order to get there and back faster.
    • In the second novel, Baba Yaga turns Mitka into a rooster for Nikita's trip to Koschei's castle. Nikita initially assumes that Mitka is Baba Yaga's rooster (whom he hates for waking him up every sunrise) and nearly kills the "bird" with his saber. Baba Yaga realizes she forgot to give Mitka his human voice back and does that. The reason for the turning is that every evil thing fears a rooster call, so Mitka the Rooster is an insurance policy in case Koschei tries something (which he does).
    • In the ninth novel, Zmey Gorynych turns Mitka into a big gray wolf, although Mitka can still speak. It turns out that Zmey doesn't have the power to do that. It was Koschei, who put the spell on Mitka. He tells Nikita how to remove it: take a bath in cold, warm, and then hot water.
  • Fountain of Youth: In the ninth book, Zmey Gorynych (actually, Koschei) turns the old hag Baba Yaga into a young beauty again. She complains at first, claiming that an old mind in a young body is no picnic and that no one is going to respect her back home, while she's looking like a foolish young girl instead of a wizened old woman. Then she grows to like being young and runs away crying when Nikita suggests she remove the spell. He does leave it up to her and is told that, if the spell isn't removed in a month, then it becomes permanent. The end of the novel leaves her choice ambiguous.
  • Freeze Ray: Grandfather Frost's staff can freeze anything he points it at. When the "trigger" is pressed harder, it fires a large icicle. Unusually for this trope, the staff can also unfreeze what it froze. Apparently, he has a number of these items. Nikita asks if the weapons are registered, causing the slightly panicked Frost to reply that he was planning to do that.
  • Glamor Failure: The Shamakhan sorcerers are able to make themselves look and sound like anyone. The only things they can't hide are their small impish horns and pig-like tails (although hats and pants are usually helpful in that regard). Also, the Tsar's chrysoprase ring, when worn on the pinky, allows one to see right through the disguise. In The Case of the Sober Buffoons, Nikita borrows the ring to confirm his suspicions about the circus goat being his Love Interest Olyona in disguise.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: While averted with Tsarina Lidia, who ultimately means well, it's played straight with Koschei's estranged wife (whose name translates as something like "Arrogant Hag"), if Koschei can be considered the king of the evil forces. Koschei is so afraid of her, he had her entombed in a mountain of salt (the only substance that can weaken Koschei or her). In the tenth novel, the detectives visit the castle belonging to a woman Baba Yaga calls the Black Queen, although Nikita prefers "Black Baroness". Yaga brushes him off, claiming it doesn't matter what they call her. The Black Queen/Baroness is in cahoots with Prince Johann.
  • Gratuitous German: Knut Spizrutenberg and Lidia Karpoffhausen's speech is peppered with German words, although less so in the first case. Being the German ambassador to Russia, Spizrutenberg commands excellent Russian. After marrying Lidia, Gorokh also occasionally throws in some German words into his speech when talking to her, like "meine liebe".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: In the seventh novel, after receiving a diplomatic mission from Japan, the bored Gorokh decides that he will now be Japanese. Besides dressing in a kimono and writing haiku (in Russian, though), he tries to insert as many Japanese words into his speech as possible.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: In the ninth novel, it seems that Koschei has been finally supplanted by Zmey Gorynych as the biggest threat. Except Gorynych isn't as smart as he believes himself to be and has been unknowingly manipulated by Koschei all this time.
  • Greedy Jew: Abram Shmulinson occasionally shows traits of this. Being a stereotypical Ashkenazi Jew, it's inevitable. In the fourth novel, he's made the official referee in the Lukoshkino Hockey Championship (as the only unbiased party due to the absence of a Jewish team). He figures out a clever way to make some money on the side while still running a fair game: he privately offers to rig the game to both team captains with the stipulation that he returns the money if the team loses. Thus, no matter what, he gets paid, and nobody can claim the game was rigged. Unfortunately for him, the wives of the captains end up meeting, and the truth comes out. The captains also frequently take him out to dinners. "Coincidentally", his wife and kids show up at the tavern to ask him how he can eat when his children are starving (in fact, he makes a decent living as an undertaker and usurer), causing the other people to feel guilty and feed them as well. Every time Nikita asks Shmulinson to help out in a case, the first words out of Shmulinson's lips are about the payment he can expect for his services.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: In the fourth novel, Baba Yaga returns from the Tsar drunk on champagne. The following morning, she has a bad hangover and instructs Nikita on making a cure. The ingredients include brine, valerian, motherwort, ant alcohol, honey, red pepper, gunpowder, rock salt, coal, cardamom, and anise. And it must be mixed with a silver spoon, not a wooden one. Then it turns out Baba Yaga forgot to tell him to add some yeast into the concoction. When Nikita adds the final ingredient, the whole thing blows up (too much anise and yeast, the ant alcohol wasn't properly mixed). Surprisingly, the explosion not only cures Yaga's hangover but also her backache.
  • Historical Re Creation: In the fourth novel, Nikita summons Abram Shmulinson to answer for trying to trick two hockey teams into bribing him, while still reffing a fair game. His arrival turns into a public spectacle. Nikita sees a crowd of people in the distance. When they approach, he sees the Jewish undertaker/carpenter/usurer carrying a big cross on his back. When he finally gets to the precinct, Nikita asks him what the hell he's doing. Shmulinson's explanation is that he was working on a cross for a client of his, so, when the streltsy came to take him to Nikita, he asked if he could finish his work there. They agreed but did not offer their help in carrying the thing. Naturally, on the way, the locals saw a Jewish man carrying a cross and assumed that it was a Bibleic re-enactment, forming a crowd. It doesn't take long for Nikita and Shmulinson to realize that everyone is waiting for the logical conclusion: crucifixion. Nikita sends the people home, although a few monks grumble that it's not Christian to bring a cross and not crucify someone.
  • Hockey Fight: In the fourth novel, Nikita introduces hockey to the people of Lukoshkino, with many guilds forming teams. Naturally, fights are a frequent occurance, especially against Deacon Filimon Gruzdev, who plays on the Holy Fathers team. The visiting Cossacks also form a team and, being hot-blooded, also get into fights. Nikita mentions that they provide the carpenters with plenty of work, having to replace at least ten hockey sticks after each game.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Tamtamba Mumumba, an Ethiopian princess who arrives to Lukoshkino in the fourth book in an attempt to marry the Tsar, appears to be a voodoo practitioner. She makes wax dolls out of some of her biggest competitors with things like hairs and nail clippings inside. Since magic is real in this setting, it's not a stretch to assume that voodoo works here as well. However, Nikita points out that voodoo only works on someone who believes in it. It's all fine until Tamtamba explains to the Tsar what voodoo is, making him vulnerable to it. Indeed, the very next day he announces that he wishes to marry her. When Nikita searches her room and finds the wax doll of the Tsar, he breaks it open, freeing the Tsar from its spell (in fact, the Tsar doesn't remember the past day at all).
  • The Horde: The Shamakhans are a horde of imps who occasionally raid Russian lands. Twice in the novels they attempt to invade Lukoshkino itself with some help from the inside. However, they never come equipped for a siege and are easily driven off.
  • House on Legs: In the fifth novel, Nikita finds Baba Yaga's old house in the woods. As in the fairy tales it has chicken legs and follows commands. The heroes manage to turn it into a tank of sorts, by loading one of the city wall cannons into it, filling the cannon with salt, and rolling it out when Koschei shows up.
  • Hypno Pendulum: In the fifth novel, Baba Yaga's incredibly smart cat Vasiliy waves a cut-off braid in a pendulum motion to try to get people to remember things.
  • If It Swims, It Flies: In the third novel, Gorokh shows Nikita the latest invention his craftsmen have come up with: a flying ship. The toy model (that looks like a regular ship) lifts straight up into the air, make a circle, and lands on the same spot. He explains that the craftsmen are scaling up the model to full size. He treats it as nothing more than a novelty, while Nikita realizes the enormity of such an invention (i.e. any nation would pay a king's ransom to get its hands on it and build an unstoppable air force). Naturally, the plans for the ship get stolen by Koschei, who ends up building a full-size ship of his own. It turns out that the full-size ship does exactly the same thing that the toy model did (i.e. fly around a bit and land on the same spot). On the other hand, the craftsmen are working on a version with steering, although the Tsar has since cooled to the idea.
  • I Lied: It's pretty much a given that Koschei will not honor his word, so no one expects him to. The same is true for Zmey Gorynych and nearly every villainous character. At least the heroes are Genre Savvy enough not to count on the bad guys keeping their word. In fact, Koschei claims that if he doesn't try to do something villainous (like going back on his word), everyone will lose respect for him, Nikita included.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Abram Shmulinson is shrunk by Baba Yaga to the size of a mouse for insulting Nikita and her and forced to mend clothes in that state under the watchful eye of Baba Yaga's cat (who looks like he's about to eat the tiny man). Shmulinson manages to escape but still has to be turned back into a normal-sized man by Yaga.
  • Intellectual Animal: Baba Yaga's cat Vasiliy is at least as smart as a person and may be either a Talking Animal who refuses to talk to anyone but Yaga or be able to communicate with her in his own way.
  • Kiai: In the seventh novel, the Tsar becomes obsessed with everything Japanese. On the eve of battle with the Shamakhans, he tries to perfect an ancient Japanese art he read about in one of the books given to him by the Japanese delegation. The art involves a warrior screaming in such a way as to defeat a whole army. Mitka just so happens to be in the vicinity and makes a bet with the Tsar who can kill a squirrel with his scream. The Tsar ends up losing his voice from the screaming, just when he's needed to command his troops.
  • Large Ham: Deacon Filimon Gruzdev will frequently try to rile the crowd against the "oppressive" police. It never works, and usually just entertains the people.
    • Mitka gets this in later novels, especially when he's asking for something or apologizing. This is frequently coupled with banging his forehead on the floor, occasionally resulting in some floor damage. Nikita notes that he should be receiving Oscars.
  • Loophole Abuse: In The Case of the Sober Buffoons, Koschei gives Nikita three tasks. If Nikita completes them successfully, then Koschei will release his Love Interest from servitude. If not, the he will kill Nikita and his friends. The first task is to clean the villain's enormous castle by the end of the day using nothing but a handkerchief and a magical thimble that never runs out of water. Nikita has Baba Yaga grow the thimble to an enormous size and flips it over, flooding the castle. In order to avoid rusting his armor, Koschei admits that the task is successfully completed. He then assigns the second task as removing all the water by midnight. Baba Yaga uses one of Koschei's own magical coals that are always hot to heat up the water to create an impromptu steam spa. Koschei, who loathes bathing and steaming of any kind gives them this round as well.
  • Love Interest: In the third novel, Nikita meets a pretty girl named Olyona. By the fifth novel, he is ready to turn heaven and earth to find her. In the seventh novel, they finally marry. She is initially a demoness, sold by her parents to Koschei at a young age. Fortunately, Nikita accidentally gets one of Koschei's Mooks to chew up her contract, and she is turned back into a human, free from Koschei's control.
  • Magic A Is M Agic A: Magic appears to be tied to the land. Baba Yaga explains in Bride Elimination that foreign magic isn't nearly as potent in Russia as it is back home. By the same token, Yaga wouldn't even be able to speak a magic word somewhere in equatorial Africa.
  • Magic Mirror: Koschei has gone through several of these thanks to the heroes. He uses them to conduct remote surveillance on them and on any location he wishes. The mirror can also show a person's true face, if magic is being used to disguise him or her. Koschei accidentally smashes one mirror himself. With the second one, Mitka plays with the settings in order for the mirror show him girls bathing in a river, and Koschei is later unable to get the mirror to show him anything else. He ends up having to order a new one from Venice, but the mirror insists on speaking to him in Italian, annoying him ("Si, Signor Koschento! Bongiorno! Grazie mille! Per favore!").
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A frequent theme in most novels. For example, in the first novel, the theft of the Tsar's chrysoprase ring and a chest of gold coins lead to the unraveling of a massive conspiracy to destroy the tsardom. The ring allows, when worn on the pinky, to see through any magical disguise; it is stolen by the treasurer Tyurya to allow his Shamakhan allies to operate without fear of discovery. The chest is stolen to lead Nikita's investigation away from the ring.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Being a village boy, Mitka is a clear example of this. His enormous physique allows him to carry heavy weights without difficulty.
  • Naughty Nuns: In eighth novel, Nikita learns of a convent not far from the city run by the strict Mother Fevronia. During her youth, she ran a brothel in the city's version of a red light district, but has grown to resent that life over the years and became a nun to atone for the sins of youth. When Nikita, Baba Yaga, and Yeremeyev visit the convent to ask about Gorokh's missing cousin, they are, at first, met with a dozen flintlock guns pointing at them from the battlements. When Nikita requests to speak with Mother Fevronia, she invites him and Baba Yaga in, but demands that Yeremeyev stay outside with the horse and buggy. As they're being led through the convent, Nikita is surprised to see far too many young, attractive women in black cowls than one would expect in a convent, and almost no old women. He quickly learns that Fevronia has not only not given up her old ways but has, in fact, turned the convent into a secret brothel, forcing the initially-unsuspecting girls to sleep with clients.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Baba Yaga may look like an old crone who can barely walk, but she's a powerful witch who can put a curse on those who offend her before they know what hit them. Sometimes, the curse is hilarious (like making the person always speak the truth or making a man speak with a woman's voice), while other times, she can turn the unfortunate person into an animal or an inanimate object (she'll turn him back after calming down). Additionally, in The Case of the Sober Buffoons, Yaga fends off four Asian martial artists with nothing but her cane. She explains that she had to learn to defend herself back in the day when many young heroes would try to get fresh with her.
  • Never Suicide: In the first novel, one of the suspects in the theft of the chest full of gold coins from the Tsar's treasury is Tyurya, the treasurer. However, shortly after being questioned by Nikita, he is found in his home seemingly having hung himself. Everybody assumes Nikita drove him to suicide, but Nikita immediately notices certain inconsistencies, such as the fact that Tyurya would have had to stand on a ladder to hang himself so high off the floor, and the ladder is nowhere to be found. Nikita has no doubt that the treasurer is the victim of a murder. Baba Yaga, after taking a look at the body confirms that someone choked Tyurya from behind with a rope and then put him in a noose. The missing chest is found in the treasurer's basement in plain sight. Nikita doesn't doubt for a second that the chest was meant to be found there.
    • Except, the one hanging in the noose is a Shamakhan made to look like Tyurya. The real Tyurya Faking the Dead to shift Nikita's investigation down the wrong path.
    • Inverted in the third novel with the janitor, who puts cyanide into his own drink after finding out that his daughter inadvertently got herself involved in treason and choosing to go out like his hero Socrates. All this time, Nikita thinks that the janitor is poisoned by the thieves.
  • Nonindicative Name: When Nikita finally sees Koschei's fabled Bald Mountain, he realizes that the word "mountain" is a little strong for a 30-foot hill, under which Koschei's palace is located.
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: In a way. Mitka is a huge guy by Lukoshkino standards, but is actually just average in his village of Podberyozovka. At one point, he tries to assault the village blacksmith, who doesn't even feel his punches, simply lifting Mitka and hanging him upside-down on a fence to cool off.
  • Not Big Enough for the Two of Us: Nikita says this about Koschei to Baba Yaga regarding Koschei's dealings in the city in the third novel. This is despite the fact that Koschei is far stronger than Nikita having both Super Strength and magical powers. The only thing keeping Koschei out of the city are Father Kondratiy's daily prayers, and the Father is away for a few days.
  • Omniglot: Tsar Gorokh is fluent in many European and other languages (English, French, Italian, German, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, Tatar, and Persian) and, in the seventh novel, also receives a Japanese delegation without problems. When Nikita finds this out, he is amazed, calling Gorokh a "polyglot", immediately resulting in threats of beheading. When Nikita explains the meaning of the word, the Tsar simply brushes him off as a necessity of his office.
  • Our Demons Are Different: In The Plot of the Black Mass, a group of misguided Catholics seeks to summon a demon in Lukoshkino in order to drive all the "native" Russian evil spirits out. The demon in question is Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies, who is claimed to be The Devil's Number Two. Additionally, he will not come alone but with his legion of lesser demons. Luckily, Nikita warns Father Kondratiy, whose prayers help bring about some divine intervention in the form of a lightning bolt from the image of John the Warrior.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Zmey Gorynych is a typical Slavic dragon with multiple heads. According to Koschei, he is extremely old and is extremely fond of anything female, to the point where he has tons of lizard descendants (apparently, including dinosaurs). He likes kidnapping women, marrying them, and, after he grows bored with them, eating them. In his human form, Zmey Gorynych looks like a cultured European aristocrat calling himself Von Drakhen. He also appears to be the Greater-Scope Villain to Koschei, who is terrified of Zmey Gorynych. Except it's all an act, and Koschei is the true mastermind, who plots to get rid of both his rival and Nikita in one fell swoop.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The old man who helps Nikita dig out Tyurua's grave and warns him of the undead attack in the first novel fades away shortly before sunrise.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Koschei cannot be killed by any known means. He is a Diabolical Mastermind who is behind most conspiracies threatening Lukoshkino. The only way to kill him is to find his death, which is at the tip of a needle, which is inside an egg, which is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is in an iron chest, which is hanging on an old oak. Being a Diabolical Mastermind, Koschei has planted a whole forest of oaks with chests, hares, ducks, eggs, and needles. Additionally, it turns out that snapping off the tip of a needle is incredibly hard without any tools. Breaking a needle in half doesn't work.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Nikita encounters two of them in the second novel when seeking for the water of life to cure Mitka of a vampire scratch. As befitting the Russian folklore, mermaids are girls who have or have been drowned. As he finds out later, the blue-haired Una drowned herself from unrequited love, while the green-haired Dina was drowned by her mother as a baby for being born out of wedlock. Both have normal human (very attractive) legs and are wearing thin dresses that leave little to the imagination (it helps that the dresses are wet). The myth of the fishtails was spread by women to keep their husbands away from the mermaids. Una and Dina give Nikita what he asks but demand payment in the form of a three-person river party. However, it's a ruse to get him in the water, where they plan to tickle him to death and drown him. They almost succeed, but Nikita is saved by a field spirit whom he had been nice to earlier.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In the tenth novel, the detectives encounter a pack of werewolves in the Black Forest and have to fight them off. Near the end of the novel, they discover that Prince Johann is, in fact, the leader of the pack.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Nikita has to go to the cemetery at night several times in the series, dealing with the undead coming out of their graves.
  • Politically-Active Princess: After the Gorokh marries the Austrian princess Lidia Karpoffhausen at the end of the fourth novel, she begins to institute several political changes, such as demanding irrefutable evidence before arresting someone. This shocks the boyars, who assumed she would stick to the "3 Ks" (Kinder, Küche, Kirche - children, kitchen, church), as a proper German woman.
  • Professional Gambler: Both Leshy (forest spirit) and Vodyanoy (water spirit) are avid card players. Nikita initially tries to trick them into revealing important information on his current case by teaching them poker and taking them for all they're worth (having received some card training at the police school). After they reveal the information to get their stuff back, they explain that they've mastered every card game known to man and were just playing along, letting Nikita win, so they'd be justified in helping authorities without looking like snitches.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: In later books, Baba Yaga gets a new domovoi (house spirit) named Nazim, whose hot Azerbaijani blood boils whenever someone threatens Baba Yaga, causing him to grab his knife. In the eighth novel, one of the princes desiring to marry Gorokh's cousin is Georgian and keeps threatening to stab everyone with his dagger. He also asks Nikita to have the streltsy be a little rough with him to maintain his public image.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Tsar Gorokh may occasionally make bad decisions when angered, but will quickly cool down, apologize, and think with his head.
    • Father Kondratiy is the head of the Lukoshkino church. While he will occasionally take a drink, his daily prayers keep the evil spirits (and Koschei) from entering the city walls. It's later revealed that he can make absolutely anyone become a devout Christian simply by talking to them. Nikita thinks this is the main reason why Koschei avoids him.
    • In later novels, Boyar Kashkin is the only boyar who respects and helps Nikita. When necessary, he will fight his Tsar's enemies.
    • After the second novel, the German ambassador Knut Spizrutenberg, with the innate German respect for law and order, will always aid the detectives and lends Mitka books from his personal library.
      • In his first appearance, though, Nikita asks him how the Germans keep everything so orderly and clean. The ambassador replies that daily floggings are necessary for even the slightest offenses to keep people in line. Nikita leaves the German embassy calling the guy a fascist in his mind.
    • In the fourth novel, Colonel Levko Chorniy, the commander of the visiting Cossack delegation, seems like a decent guy. After discovering that a gold-and-diamond bulawa (ceremonial mace) that he was tasked to gift to the Tsar has been stolen, he calmly explains the situation to Nikita and tells him that, if it's not found, he'll have no choice but to shoot himself to avoid the shame of returning to the Sich (the Cossack capital) in disgrace. Like the German ambassador, he expresses certain anti-Semitic tendencies (both Germans and Cossacks are historically known for their dislike of Jews).
  • Santa Claus: Nikita meets the Russian equivalent at a cemetery at night. They have a nice chat and even share a nightcap. In the 9th novel, Nikita goes to him to ask for help in defeating Zmey Gorynych. The old man lends him his Freeze Ray staff and directs him to find Yemelya, who gives Nikita his magic stove to serve as transportation.
  • Seppuku: After angering Gorokh in the seventh novel, Nikita is thrown into the dungeon (well, politely escorted by the understanding guards). He figures that, after calming down, Gorokh will personally come get him and apologize for his behavior. Gorokh sends a messenger with a package. Opening the package, Nikita finds a clean shirt and a knife, realizing that Gorokh, who is busy pretending to be Japanese, expects him to kill himself in an honorable way. Naturally, Nikita has no intention of doing that. Gorokh does calm down later.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: The tenth novel has the entire agency (plus Deacon Filomon Gruzdev) travel to several European countries, including Belarus, Poland, and Germany.
  • Shown Their Work: Most Russian men in the novels have beards, as shaving wasn't common in Medieval Russia. In fact, during certain periods, it was illegal for commoners to shave. Nikita continues to shave, as beards are against police regulations.
  • Sinister Minister: Pastor Schwabs in the second novel, a German Catholic priest. His goal appears to be to summon Beelzebub in Lukoshkino in order to drive out all the "evil spirits" from the land and then exorcise the demon, getting the Russians to accept Catholicism. In reality, Beelzebub is using Schwabs for his own ends.
  • Sir Swearsalot: Deacon Filimon Gruzdev frequently insults Nikita every time they meet. In the third novel, Baba Yaga has finally had enough and curses him to insult anyone he's talking to or about until the end of the case. So when the Deacon is asked to speak before the Tsar and all the boyars, Hilarity Ensues. Just his greeting is worthy of note, resulting in Stunned Silence:
    May you be healthy, our Tsar, father-bloodsucker! And I bow to you, honest boyars, may you swell from sneezing, damned worldeaters!
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: Nikita insists that the streltsy assigned to him give a warning shot before aiming for a fleeing suspect. When Foma Yeremeyev tells him that realoading their pischals (primitive matchlock firearms) would take too long, Nikita settles for this trope. Strangely enough, flintlock weapons are already shown to exist and are used by Germans and Cossacks, yet the streltsy still use the more primitive matchlock weapons.
  • Summoning Ritual: The main threat in the second novel is an attempt to summon a demon to ruin the delicate Balance Between Good and Evil in Russia.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Unusual for a fairy tale world. In the ninth book, Nikita meets Emelya from the well-known folk tale "Emelya and the Pike". Nikita is a little surprised to find out that he's still living in the same hamlet he grew up in instead of the tsardom he supposedly received from a tsar. Emelya explains that, along with the wisdom the Pike has given him, came the knowledge that running a tsardom is frigging hard, especially with zero prior experience. Also, the tsar's daughter he received in marriage left him as soon as he lifted the love spell. The same wisdom also made him realize that he only wanted her to be with him of her own free will. Thus, he's right back where he's started, in an even worse situation than before, as the house was destroyed by the magical stove, and he's haunted by the knowledge that he has achieved nothing in his life. Ouch. Maybe it's a good thing fairy tales end when they do.
  • Talking Animal: Given the nature of the setting, this is inevitable, although not present in most cases. Baba Yaga's cat Vasiliy may or may not be speaking at several points (Nikita admits he isn't sure if he heard right). Also, in the first novel, Baba Yaga summons various animal groups to her yard to question them about the Tsar's chrysoprase ring with the animals replying in clear Russian. The only one who knows something is one particularly smart viper, who replies in Sssssnake Talk before slithering away.
  • Torture Always Works: The Tsar is convinced that this is true. After all, his Torture Technicians always produce results, and their skills with the rack are unmatched. Nikita, understanding this to be false, still occasionally threatens suspects with handing them over to these "masters". This is mostly in the first novel, though, before Nikita proves that his methods are much more effective at finding out the truth.
  • invoked True Art Is Incomprehensible: Savva Novichkov is a talented painter, who normally works as an iconographer for the church. However, his tastes are a little too avant-garde for the Medieval Russian folk (he admits he can paint as expected, but it's boring). For example, when he gifts a religious painting to Baba Yaga, she is shocked to see anatomically-correct Adam and Eve portrayed in the nude. When asked to paint portraits of most wanted criminals to be displayed on the gates of the agency, he first paints them as if they were saints. The second attempt results in people running away screaming that the end is nigh, as he paints them as bloodthirsty monsters. The latter turns out to be useful in scaring away the invading Shamakhans, who are equally scared to approach the city gates where the portraits are displayed. Nikita frequently calls his art style "Russian cubism". Koschei later purchases one of Novichkov's paintings, intending to resell it later for several times the price.
  • Truth Serums: In the second novel, Koschei gives Nikita a powder that he claims will make anyone tell the truth if put in a drink. Baba Yaga pours some into Deacon Filimon Gruzdev's tea to get some information out of him. Later on, Nikita is called by the guards to a square where the deacon is loudly telling the crowd of onlookers certain things about the boyars, the priests, and the Tsar. Nikita acknowledges that the powder indeed works but worries that the deacon may lose his head over this.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: It wouldn't be Russia without this trope. Naturally, vodka is the alcoholic beverage of choice, although moonshine shows up occasionally. In the seventh novel, the Tsar insists on drinking warm sake or, at least, what he calls "sake". Nikita insists that it's nothing more than watered-down and heated vodka. The German ambassador will, occasionally, gift Nikita with some imported schnapps.
  • Weaksauce Weakness:
    • Koschei the Deathless cannot be killed by any weapon. However, throw some salt on him, and his flesh will melt away. Not only is it extremely painful for him, but it also takes him a long time to recover. He's also afraid of rooster calls. Koschei's wife also has his weakness to salt, which is why he had her imprisoned under a whole mountain of it.
    • Being a cold-blooded creature, Zmey Gorynych is extremely vulnerable to cold. In fact, his castle has a number of large furnaces heating it, and he still wears warm clothes inside, when in his human form. Nikita goes to Grandfather Frost (Russian Santa Claus) for help, who loans him his Freeze Ray staff.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Tsar Gorokh's Rusty Sword is primarily Nikita reminiscing about an old case that chronologically took place between the second and third novels.
  • Wicked Witch: Baba Yaga claims to have killed quite a few heroes in her younger days. Now, she is reformed and lives in the city, after moving out of her traditional "house on chicken legs" home in the woods. In the seventh novel, though, she admits that not all rumors about her are true. Specifically, the ones about her eating children.
  • Wizard Duel: In The Case of the Sober Buffoons, Yaga is confronted by a circus magician who turns out to be a certified sorcerer (he has a degree in Black Magic and everything). Naturally, Baba Yaga manages to one-up the sorcerer at every round. For example, when he turns his fingers into poisonous snakes, she lights the snakes on fire, causing him to jump around, trying to put his fingers out. In fact, one round doesn't even involve Yaga using magic. When the sorcerer turns into an enormous raven, she takes out a slingshot and puts a pebble into his eye. Yaga wins by default when the sorcerer is knocked out by Mitka throwing a strongman at him.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: In the third novel, a woman wearing a cap of invisibility attacks the precinct in an attempt to kill the last surviving witness. The good guys manage to drive her off and give chase. They arrive to a tanner's place and witness Olyona fighting the red-headed Femme Fatale they have been looking for. The two women fall into a vat of water, and the red-headed woman appears to have fallen on her own knife. Later, Nikita is made to realize that Olyona has been working for Koschei all this time. She is the one who attacks the precinct and then kills a fellow criminal to frame her. She does admit it all to Nikita at the end of the novel, explaining that she is forced to serve Koschei until the end of the end of the deal. She still falls for Nikita, though.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In the first novel, the treasurer Tyurya, after being finally brought before Tsar Gorokh, immediately realizes that the Tsar has been replaced with a doppelganger and nearly blows the con. Realizing this, the "Tsar" has his goons kill him on the spot while claiming that this is punishment for treason. In fact, Koschei has a habit of "removing" any servant that has been captured by Nikita and feels absolutely no sense of loyalty to those under him. At least two times, Nikita gets distracted from a promising lead for a minute or two, only to come back and find a knife sticking out of said lead's chest, left there by an unknown assassin.