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Literature / Twig

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Our devastatingly interesting protagonists. Top: Lambs. Clockwise from left, Sy, Jamie, Mary, Gordon. Images by Mahasim

The year is 1921, and a little over a century has passed since a great mind unraveled the underpinnings of life itself.

Twig is the third Web Serial Novel from Wildbow, following on from his superhero novel Worm and the modern fantasy-horror story Pact. The story follows a group of children with extraordinary abilities from the Lambsbridge Orphanage—The Social Expert Sylvester (AKA Sy, the main protagonist and narrator), The Leader Gordon, borderline Humanoid Abomination Helen, The Team Normal Lillian, and Jamie, who has Photographic Memory—as they make their way in a world loosely inspired by Frankenstein, where the dead walk again, Immortality is within reach and bio-engineered monsters roam the streets. The basic story concept of a small group of supernatural orphans escaping from oppression and trying to have as much of a childhood/youth as they can on the side as they struggle on alone against a dystopian society thus has much in common with John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos series, although Wildbow takes the premise in a somewhat different direction.


Twig ended on October 17, 2017, to be followed by Worm's sequel, Ward.

This series provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Very few people actually like the nobility, but they vary between terrified of the consequences of saying so and cynically aware that the Crown also benefits them, with a small minority believing that the Crown uniting the world is worth it.
  • Academy of Adventure: Radham Academy are the ones funding the Lambs, but only one of them is a student.
  • Academy of Evil: The setting is built on these; ruthless academic organizations that advance science in the service of a tyrannical, expansionist empire. Yet, for all that they are undeniably highly amoral places with truly abysmal human rights records by our standards, they still have ethical guidelines that they stick to. The Academic system is Lawful Evil in a cutthroat, Social Darwinist-like take on it.
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  • Allowed Internal War: The King allows the Lambs and the Crown States, now under their control, to go to war against the rest of the Crown Empire and Academies in order to purge them of its worst elements and make it better as a whole in an invoked Genghis Gambit.
  • A God Am I:
    • The Primordial refers to itself as a God. Partially deconstructed in that the beast had little knowledge of the concept, except as "the ultimate authority humans answer to," and it was trying to ensure its survival by asserting itself as such.
    • Also, the Baron Richmond has built a mock church of worship to himself.
  • Alternate Universe:
    • The divergence point seems to be a massive leap forward in biotechnology in the early 19th century.
    • Lillian mentions an Indian Empire that tried making a slave race about a decade before the story.
    • The British Empire spans a third of the globe including the United States, which is known as the Crown States of America. The Academies are its main method of keeping control.
  • And Then What?: Sylvester uses this rhetorical tactic against Mary, pointing out that even if she kills them all and escapes, she'll never be able to trust her creator again. Doubles as an Armor-Piercing Question.
  • Animal Eyes: Lara and Nora. Also used as a cosmetic modification where others might have tattoos in our world.
  • Arc Words: The Crown doesn't lose.
  • Artificial Human: Most of the main cast was created as a group of artificial humans intended to work together.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: ...Let's just say they've all (painfully) adjusted themselves so much, they've hit Humanoid Abomination or Fair Folk levels of totally and dangerously bonkers. Some are more openly sadistic and random than others, but every last noble is most probably batting for Team Sociopathy. This isn't portrayed as all that great for most concerned. Including them. But, just you try explaining that to them without winding up as a toy.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Sylvester uses one to get the Headmistress of Mothmont to institute a quarantine by leaving her a polite note in a locked room signed in his own blood. The Bad Seeds then turn this around on him by catching on and pretending to be agents of the Academy while telling the Headmistress that the Lambsbridge Gang are the Bad Seeds.
  • Beast Man: Numerous examples. Lara and Nora are insects, Arachne is a humanoid spider, even Helen seems to be some kind of part-squid. Horns and other animalistic features are also seen as body modifications akin to tatoos.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Sylvester and Lillian.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: So many examples. The protagonists routinely play the role of cute, scared kids. Lara and Nora provide a more unusual example - they're designed to be terrified of danger because they're so valuable ... but when cornered, they're programmed to fight their way out.
  • Big Applesauce: When the Crown States took over the US in the Twigverse, they made New York City their seat of power and renamed it New Amsterdam as a show of power over their new subjects.
  • Biopunk: Bioaugmentation is a very common thing in this universe. Dog and Catcher are a case in point: bio-mechanical revenants of a decidedly clunky-but-deadly nature.
  • Bioweapon Beast: These are the specialty of the Academy. The Empire that the Academy works for is constantly demanding newer and more exciting monsters for use in its wars of conquest, and over the years the Academy has developed all kinds of methods for making new Living Weapons, from Mix-and-Match Critters to mutagenic cocktails to genetic engineering.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The Academy is a horrible organization that does unethical experimentation and has most of the world under their thumb, whereas the rebellion does more or less the same things in their attempts to free themselves from Academy control, including in the case of the Ghosts using Human Resources in the form of orphaned children so as to use their brains as as starters or templates. Of course, as the Lambs discover by the end of the story, the Academy has been doing the same thing all along. That's where the nobles come from.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: When Sy does this and it doesn't happen, he lampshades how cool it would've been if it did. Mary, however, has much more success with this trope. But, then, she is The Perfectionist who practices.
  • Bookends: The end of chapter 11 mirrors the end of chapter 12. At the end of "In Sheep's Clothing", Sylvester has receded so deeply into his hallucinations that he has trouble telling the real Jamie apart from his mental ghost. Come the end of "Enemy", the audience is unsure if the Jamie Sy is talking to is "real" or not.
  • Central Theme: Childhood, and the exploitation of children.
  • Crossdressing Voices: In-universe. When the rest of the Lambs are spying on Gordon's breakup with Shipman, Mary lip-reads and relays Gordon's lines, while Jamie does the same for Shipman.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: The Headsman. He was originally a normal human who got blue eyes because they looked cool.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Happens in the very first chapter when the snake charmer is Eaten Alive by his cat-snake, which has flesh-dissolving venom. It also eats him feet-first, meaning he survives longer. Of course, the Twig universe being what it is, there is a laundry list of other, equally horrifying incidents throughout the story.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The Empire has assimilated the nobility of much of continental Europe, resulting in such noble titles as archdukes (which do not exist in the real-life British peerage) appearing among the villains.
  • Cure Your Gays: Sy notes that the Academy has a way to "fix" homosexuality. Jamie politely dismisses the idea.
  • Dark Secret: The plot is rife with them. Heck, part of the Lambs' job is to find nasty things out and stop them using violence, blackmail or both. And, said nasty things are usually covered in several layers of attempted deniability in the first place. None of the powers that be have clean laundry; nor do the rebels. With Mad Science in play, morality takes a backseat... in the last row, behind a pillar.
  • Decadent Court: Not even the slightest bit subtle about it. Nobles who never killed to rise in the succession are viewed as weak, minor branches subject their children to horrible experiments to gain influence and biological warfare is always a consideration at weddings. In fact one of the purposes of the Lambs project is to develop possible enhancements for royal children.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Mary ends up joining the Lambs after they defeat her. Averted for the rest of the Bad Seeds, who end up being brutally killed.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: Mauer defeats the Duke, a Noble with the best augmentations money can buy, using the newfangled technology of armor-piercing ammunition, an innovation which the Crown and Academy had been intentionally suppressing to preserve the Nobles' image of invincibility.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Once the last surviving Twin is fatally injured, Sy realizes that she could still probably kill him, but doesn't care enough to try, since all her sisters are dead and her brother cares nothing for her.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Arc 3, "Lips Sealed". The one holding the Bowels hostage is Sub Rosa, an experiment that run amok that was the creator of the Bowels as a human, but the shoe fits surprisingly well, all told, up to and including Rosa's Disney Villain Death.
  • Dislikes the New Guy: Sy dislikes Lillian at first because she's the newest and is a normal (albeit very bright) human while everyone else is an experiment of some sort.
  • The Empire: The British Empire has apparently conquered a full third of the globe, surpassing its real-world counterpart, and seems to have assimilated much of Europe as well as the United States.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Crown, with its Academies, might have been standing behind the potted plants while morals (and human rights) were being handed out, but it has legal and ethical standards it goes all out in sticking to. As becomes apparent the more you read: Lawful Evil is somewhat less hellacious than Chaotic Evil, and is enforced in preference.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The Academy's stringent regulations on their knowledge not only serve to preserve their power, but also prevent people from trying dangerous, insane things that the Academy has learned not to do at great cost. Like creating life that can modify itself.
  • Eye Scream: Used as torture by the Crown several times. Later weaponized by Sylvester against the Baron.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: In Esprit de Corpse 5.13 a soldier takes pity on the Lambs (Sy, Mary, and Gordon) and doesn't kill them when he has the chance and instead takes them to a doctor to be healed despite likely having direct orders against that. How do the Lambs reward such kindness? The moment Sy's confirmed okay the Lambs murder him, the doctor, and another soldier in the room before making a break for it.
  • Flesh Golem: The Stitched, which are made from either people or animals.
  • Foreshadowing: The interludes for Arc 7, Tooth and Nail, which are from the point of view of the Lambs, excepting Jamie and Sy and divided into boys and girls, hint that the Lambs will become Sy's enemy in the future as all other interludes had been from enemy perspectives, and that Jamie, who is in neither interlude, is neither male nor female.
  • The Gadfly: Sylvester tends to speak in order to troll people. In fairness, this isn't purely to be annoying; it helps make people more predictable.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The universe of Twig is built around biotech.
  • Genre-Busting: Compared to Worm and Pact, Twig is very hard to place as despite its Biopunk nature it also has elements of numerous other types of works.
  • Go for the Eye: The Noble's reinforced skeletons don't protect them from injections directly into the brain.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Mauer's primordials were meant to present the Academy with a potential world-ending threat and thus force it to go to barbaric extremes. This succeeds rather too well as the last primordial to die unleashes a horrifically lethal plague to curse Mauer for murdering them.
  • Gray Goo: The Academy's equivalent is "primordial life," life that's constantly creating new adaptations for its environment, with the great fear being that it will become able to understand, record, and control its changes, creating a new form of life which will render humanity obsolete. Mauer creates several of these in Lugh, and they rapidly develop human-level intelligence before he puts them down, along with humanlike emotions such as spite. The final one goes so far to declare A God Am I before it releases a final plague.
  • Groin Attack: *winces* The wannabe student political activist, Walter, gets to learn that Helen can, let's say, grip a guy's attention rather firmly.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Against Nobles and Warbeasts, anyway, and they're notably ineffective against many of the threats the Lambs face (like Sub Rosa.) It's later revealed that the Crown has been deliberately suppressing advancement of armor-piercing rounds to encourage this mindset.
  • Hand Signals: The Lambs have a complex language of hand signs bordering on a Signed Language which they developed to communicate without their doctors noticing and for use in the field. It's notable in that they deliberately made it unintuitive and difficult to learn, to prevent an astute observer from quickly figuring it out.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Sly uses this to turn the tables on Mary, who has him at gunpoint, in Taking Root 1.7, using his enhanced intelligence and some quick guesswork to learn far more about her than she manages to learn about him, then turn this around to make her doubt herself. He's doing well enough that when The Cavalry arrives to rescue him, he's disappointed.
  • Healing Factor: The Tender Mercies have an enhanced healing factor.
  • Hive Mind: A two-person example in Lara and Nora.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: in the first chapter the Snake Charmer, a Mad Scientist the Lambs are after, ends up getting eaten by his own creation.
  • Horror Hunger: Helen, kind of. She seemingly has only one emotion, combining her drives for food, affection, and to inflict horrible tortures on her prey.
  • Human Resources:
    • During the "wars down south" the Crown would capture enemy soldiers (using parasites that paralyzed them and made them scream so they would be easy to locate) and converted them into stitched for their armies.
    • Lips Sealed reveals that the Academy has a supply of convicts, prisoners of war, and former slaves to use in experiments.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Sylvester is actually a completely normal, if messed up, thirteen-year-old without the monthly injections of the Wyvern formula, which he's been receiving all his life. If he goes too long without a dose, he starts to lose his The Social Expert and Awesomeness by Analysis abilities, and his utter horror at the idea of becoming the normal child he'd be without Wyvern is a major part of what keeps him loyal to the Academy of Evil.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Mary's main method of attack.
  • In Medias Res: The story begins in the middle of one of the Lamb's missions.
  • Insistent Terminology: Evolution is called "Wallace's Law" after Alfred Russel Wallace (who invented the idea just after Darwin in our universe.) Electricity is "voltaic charge", after Alessandro Volta.
  • Invaded States of America: The Crown States entered the Empire as a spoil of conquest.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: The Duke of Francis refers to the Lambs as "it," seeing them as pretty things but having no value of their own.
  • It Only Works Once: Anything that's used against the Academy becomes this, as they have the resources and knowledge advantage to break it down, analyze it, and develop a working countermeasure for next time.
  • Kidnapped Scientist: When Sy and Mary are in Warrick, in need of specialized assistance, they decide to compensate for the absence of Lillian by doing a home invasion on three of the Baron Richmond's doctors and forcing them to manufacture weapons for them.
  • Tap on the Head: Discussed by Sly when he notes that if the child clone Gordon knocked out doesn't come to soon, they would suffer major brain damage.
  • LEGO Genetics: A result of the Academy's deep understanding of biology is their ability to do "plug and play" genetics.
  • Liar Revealed: In Arc 7, Sy admits to Mary that he'd deceived her about Percy abandoning her. She takes it pretty well because Sy is terrible at being honest, and she's already decided that she wants Percy dead because Lillian does.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Sylvester is attracted to both Mary and Lillian, both of whom reciprocate his attraction while still being best friends with one another. However, Mary is also attracted to Gordon, who reciprocates as well, and Sy feels that she would be better off with Gordon than with him. Meanwhile, Jamie has an unrequited love for Sy, which Sy is blissfully unaware of... until shortly before Jamie's kind-of-it's-complicated death. For her part, Helen just wants to hug everybody to death — or, cadge sugary treats from them. Either is good.
  • Mad Scientist: They are everywhere. Radham Academy is suggested to be one of many institutions of scientists which twist and warp the communities that spring up around them. Ilegal, independent scientists follow the formula even more closely.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Gordon. Sy, the Nobles and Mauer occasionally fall into this trope too.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Happens to Sy once upon getting hugged by an older student in Taking Root 1.5.
  • Meat Puppet: Petey's power. Later a more literal example shows up with the spine-bugs, which are controlled using near-invisible threads.
  • Mood Whiplash: Esprit de Corpse 5.1 begins with Sy witnessing a man being transformed into a Stitched, before having him meet up with Lillian where following him needling her they have a Fake-Out Make-Out to fool the children spying on them.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Creating the Ghosts is treated as this for Percy in-universe. Fray also seemingly crosses this when she casually admits the vast majority of humanity may die. Creating Primordials is this to Academy students.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: Gordon's eyes are subtly different shades of brown, betraying the fact that he's been assembled from pieces of multiple people.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The first to appear is some kind of hybrid between a cat and a snake, although it has traits belonging to neither animal.
  • No Item Use for You: Sy is stripped naked and locked in a room cleared of all objects by Mauer's men. He still escapes.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Generally averted, but there are a few examples. For instance, Mauer and his men are able to take down the unstoppable Duke simply with better bullets.
  • No Biological Sex: Jamie and Jessie.
  • No MacGuffin, No Winner: The Crown does not lose.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Sy has moments of this as a result of knowing his expiration date.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: This is what Sy thinks about Fray, given their shared use of Wyvern. Subverted later after their second conversation, when he discovers that she's been taking a much lower dose than him and that she always considered herself a doctor first and foremost whereas he identifies as an experiment.
  • One-Word Title: Its meaning is revealed in a Title Drop from the end of Enemy (Arc 1):
    Clones, he thought. From Ancient Greek Klon-. Meaning Twig.
  • Outscare the Enemy: Catcher and Helen brutally killing two of the Ghosts is enough to drive them off when Catcher threatens them with worse.
  • Order vs. Chaos: Most of the conflicts come between the Government/Monarchy/Academy (Order) and various rebel cells (Chaos). Neither side has moral advantage.
  • Pædo Hunt: Exploited by Sy and Jamie when they manufacture fake wanted posters for Dog and Catcher which claim they have a habit of targeting children for nefarious reasons, raising the ire of Dog and Catcher's associates, who they had specifically selected as having soft spots for children so they wouldn't hurt the Lambs when bringing them in. Catcher gets quite genuinely hurt by this, even though both he and Dog immediately admit it to be a valid, if sneaky, tactic.
  • Perpetual Storm: It always rains in Radham, thanks to Academy-created algae that are now part of the water system and fumes which catalyze them when they're in the air.
  • The Plague: the Ravage.
  • Please Kill Me If It Satisfies You: Sy offers Mauer his life in exchange for Jamie and Lillian getting medical treatment and sanctuary. Mauer instead chooses to make use of all three.
  • Power Armour: A rare Bio Tech example in Sub Rosa. Lillian later develops a smaller version for herself.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Bio Tech in the setting in general works like this; most experiments require working on children, at least if you're going to keep up with the people who are working on children, and as a result there's an entire market for disposable orphans.
  • The Profiler: Sy tends to employ this when they don't already know who they're dealing with.
  • Psycho Serum:
    • The Wyvern formula, a collection of spectacularly poisonous substances injected directly into the brain which allows the user to essentially edit their own personality and mental capabilities to react to changing circumstances. Single, low doses have minor long-term effects, but the immediate effect is a massive temporary personality shift as the Wyvern user alters their mind and emotional state to correspond with the situation.
    • Combat drugs also fall under this, granting strength and fearlessness at the cost of a shortened lifespan and psychological side-effects.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The viewpoint characters are a group of neonates and later young teenagers, only one of whom (a budding Mad Scientist) is not an Artificial Human or mutant.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Later on, Sy tries to get one for Gordon, calling one of his lieutenants Gordon II.
  • Safety Worst: Lara and Nora's designers kind of overdid the fear thing.
  • Scale of Scientific Sins: Pretty much everyone in this setting jumps off the deep end very quickly, but most obviously the Academy. The only rule they won't break is creating unique life rather than mutating existing life.
  • Shout-Out: The dime store novels in Taking Root 1.5 reference previous works of Wildbow's:
    • The Doll Man series is the story of Worm from the perspective of Mannequin.
    • "Barber John and the Dark Forest Monster" is Pact's climactic chapter, again told from the perspective of the villain, Barbatorem possessing Johannes.
    • The dime store novel that had a man in a bird mask is referencing Face, a thriller story that was focused-tested at the same time Pact was.
  • Slave Race: The Indian Empire tried making a literal slave race of humans, but it didn't work.
  • The Social Darwinist: Lampshaded and subverted by the Baron Richmond: he knows he's not helping people, he just thinks it's interesting to see how they adapt before they finally break.
  • Steampunk: Although rarer than biological technology, there are occasionally examples of this.
    • Dog of Dog and Catcher, a giant monster covered in mechanical implants.
    • The Engineer.
    • Lara and Nora have implanted "filaments" that serve as biological radio.
  • Street Urchin: In Radham, they're called the Mice, but they tend to band together and similar groups exist in many cities, providing shelter for children who slip through the cracks.
  • Super Intelligence: Different variants are possessed by Sy, Jamie and Fray.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The Lambs start out as a group of covert operatives, but a couple of arcs in, the results of their jobs start becoming known, with the effect that they become a known quantity and thus can't be as covert as they were. It doesn't help that as a group of very skilled and intelligent children, they stand out a lot.
    • The Lambs have expiry dates and are sent on very dangerous missions. After the first Jamie suffers a Death of Personality and Gordon and Hubris die, Sy realises that he can't handle seeing any more Lambs die and leaves.
    • Late in the story, Hayle tells Sy that the number one cause of death in Professors and other top doctors and scientists is getting killed by their own creations. Given that said creations are often made to be put through horrible circumstances, others are designed to be mutated beyond recognition and turned into monsters, and many are made from children, some with their brains intact, it's really not surprising.
    • Despite how advanced science is in this world, and how much they've managed to modify the human body, scientists still haven't managed to make humans fly- at the end of the day, the human body is just too damn heavy. Avis can only manage a prolonged glide, and she'd had surgeries done to pare her body down so she'd be as light as possible.
  • Synthetic Plague: Employed by the Crown as a weapon. Also weilded by Primordials.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Sylvester does this to Mary, his Bad Seed counterpart, over the course of the second part of the first arc, steadily picking away at her (engineered) love for her creator, and convincing her that he had abandoned her as a disposable tool.
  • Take Over the World: Downplayed in that it's not the whole world, but by the end of the story the Lambs have managed to take over the whole Crown States and with the support of the King declare war on the Crown Empire in order to restore the world.
  • Tap on the Head: After Sy receives one in arc 14, his "Evette" persona fully takes over and the other Lamb hallucinations disappear. He eventually regains control of his body, only to find himself sharing it with even more hallucinations.
  • There Can Only Be One: The endgame of the Lambs project: the most successful will be kept for further improvement, the others discarded or worn out. It should be noted that even other projects, like Melancholy, think this is completely nuts and boggle at the idea that the Lambs are still loyal to the Academy.
  • This Bed of Rose's: A brothel in Tynewear is one of a few places which provides shelter and protection for runaway children, which Sy takes advantage of to help hide Candida, Chance, and Lainie from the authorities.
  • Title Drop: From the end of Enemy (Arc 1):
    Clones, he thought. From Ancient Greek Klon-. Meaning Twig.
    • And later, foreshadowing the change from "Enemy" to "Lamb" interludes:
    "The Academy experiments, the Academy itself, even the Lambs, especially the Lambs, they’re going to come after us. Because of what I did, and what I’m doing, and because you’re with me, now they’re the-"
    "Enemy," Jamie finished for me.
  • True Companions: The main characters (excluding Lillian) were created to serve this role to each other.
  • Villain Episode: The end of each arc has an Enemy chapter from the POV of the villain. After Sy and Jamie desert the Academy, the interludes change their titles to "Lamb."
  • War Is Hell: The prevalence of biotech has not at all prevented this trope from happening, if the Shepherd's recollections are anything to go by, if anything it's been made even worse. Then we get a series of close-ups. Yup: this trope. So very hard.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Radham Academy is located within the Crown States of America, an alternate US, but its exact location remains unknown. The only information known is that it is not on the East Coast, as one of the characters refers to the "Eastern Crown States" as a distant place. The constant rain may indicate the Pacific Northwest, but since The rain is generated by the academy and laced with chemicals designed to keep experiments dependent on Academy medicine that is far from certain.
  • Xenofiction: Enemy (Arc 9) is told from the perspective of one of the primordials as it manages to achieve sapience.
  • You ALL Look Familiar: the Ghosts have only three appearances.
  • You Monster!: One of the hostages Sy takes calls him this after he has Mary poison a socialite.
    Sy: I’m a monster that knows exactly what he is. You’re three monsters who pretend not to see.