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Literature / Wrong Time for Dragons

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Wrong Time for Dragons (Не время для драконов, Ne vremya dlya drakonov) is a 1997 fantasy novel written by the popular Russian science fiction and fantasy authors Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov.

Victor, an ordinary man from our world, finds himself embroidered into a conflict between worlds after meeting a mysterious 13-year-old girl name Telle. He finds himself in the Middle World, located between our world (the Underside) and the magical world (the world of the Natural Born). The Middle World is occasionally attacked by the latter, requiring great efforts to fight off. However, the next attack is supposed to be the most devastating, and many doubt that it can be stopped.

The pillars of the Middle World are the four Elemental clans. Normally, when faced with a serious threat to their world, the four clans join together to form a united front. However, this time, there is a division that turns into a bloody conflict between the clans over the extraordinary measures that need to be taken to stop the Natural Born. The Air Clan argues for the return of the Winged Masters, the Dragons who used to rule the Middle World until their defeat (ironically, by the leader of the Air Clan, the last Dragonslayer). They are opposed by the Water Clan, the most powerful of the four, who are determined to prevent the rebirth of the Dragons. Both sides eventually focus on Victor, who is prophesied to be the next Dragonslayer.


Loy Iver, the leader of the Cat Clan, finds out about the mysterious stranger and seeks out Victor, using her feminine wiles and catlike cunning to get her way. She joins Victor and Telle on their journey to get Victor exposed to the four Elemental magics and become the Dragonslayer. In the process, Victor finds out more about himself and his destiny.

In 2020, the authors published a sequel titled Wrong Place for People. The sequel is set a quarter of a century later and features Victor's daughter as the protagonist.


The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Misnaming: In the second book, when Eric first encounters Notty, he sees her wearing an outfit that looks very much like a traditional Bavarian dress. When she wakes up, he introduces himself, "Ich bin Eric." She chuckles and says that Ichbin is a very strange name. She continues calling him that until he corrects her.
  • Aerith and Bob: Many of the Middle World names are not something you hear in everyday life (e.g. Ritor, Loy Iver, Telle). Some are fairly normal, though (e.g. Liz). Victor doesn't count since he's from our world.
    • When Victor first meets Telle and hears her name and that she was cut by a saber, he immediately assumes that she's LARPing.
    • A good number of people with "normal" names are arrivals from our world, such as Sandra, a first-rank Air mage, and Liz, a second-rank Fire mage.
    • A first-rank Air mage is named Boletus Edulis, and Ritor wonders about the origins of the strange name. It's actually the Latin name for a common edible mushroom. As expected, he's also from the Underside and likely thought that the term sounded appropriate for a mage.
  • All Just a Dream: Victor wonders if this is what's happening. More accurately, he wonders if he actually had a psychotic break and is currently lying strapped into a cot at a psychiatric institution. He muses that any moment now, he might wake up to an orderly holding a syringe. Until that happens, though, he will behave as if it's all really happening.
    • A variation with a continuous dream that Victor experiences every night. He finds himself on a shore with snow-white sand and black water. In the nearby woods, there is a Bigger on the Inside shack. in the shack, a dwarf dubbed "Glutton" by Victor is busy making some sort of potion or meal. Every night, the dream continues, although Victor always appears on the same spot and must find his way to the shack. Later on, he finds a burning city. The final dream reveals that this was not a dream but the Keeper of the Dragon Island attempting to show Victor the world of the Natural Born and convince him to become a dragon instead of the Dragonslayer. When Victor finally meets the Keeper, he looks different but still has the same voice as the Glutton.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: According to Loy Iver, the Natural Born want nothing less than the complete destruction of everyone in the Middle World and the Underside. When Victor tries figuring out their motivations, she brushes him off, pointing out that diplomacy may work in the Underside, but not against the Natural Born.
  • Anti-Magic: The Borderer and his sons are wearing amulets that protect them against Water magic. Unfortunately, the Punishers sent after Victor are also quite skilled with swords. There are also limits to the protection of the amulets, and they do little against the Spirit of Water (basically, a water golem).
    • Additionally, elves and dwarves have a degree of magical resistance. Some of it is natural and some caused by the use of potions (mainly in regards to elves elves).
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The Middle World is full of all manner of fantasy creatures, including elves, dwarves, dragons, undead, trolls, shapeshifters, etc. But when Victor asks Telle about Hobbits, all he gets are blank looks. After he explains what they are supposed to be, she tells him that they were probably made up by someone in the Underside.
  • The Archmage: Mages of the first rank are at the apex of their magical power. The clan leaders are, usually, the most experienced. This includes Ritor (Air), Torn (Water), Anjey (Earth), and Loy Iver (Cat). The Fire Clan lacks any first rank mages, as they were all killed in conflicts with other clans and by the Water Clan's betrayal just before the novel. With the deaths of Navajo (who fits this trope) and the rest of the Fire Clan's first-rank mages, the Fire Clan is led by a second-rank mage named Siward who lacks leadership experience.
  • The Atoner: Ritor feels that he has made a terrible mistake all those years ago when he slew the last dragon and ended the Winged Masters' brutal rule over the Middle World. Now he believes that a dragon is the only thing that can stop the Natural Born from invading the Middle World and is determined to stop the new Dragonslayer. Many others disagree and think that bringing the dragons back is a terrible mistake.
  • Back for the Dead: Torn and Anjey are killed by Eric in their one and only appearance in the second book, along with a new Fire mage. This almost happens to Ritor, but he's healed by Vsevolod and Notty.
  • Badass Normal: The well-trained soldiers employed by the Air Clan lack any magical skills but make up for it with undying loyalty to the clan and great skill in battle. They typically wield crossbows and are extremely deadly with them. Each experienced warrior has a teenage apprentice.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: The living and the undead have agreed to divide the Northern lands with a Grey Border. Everything to the North of the Threshold belongs to the undead. The undead don't cross the Threshold, but the same can't be said for an occasional brigand from the South of the Threshold. None return.
    • Victor later finds out that the undead have no problems with the living. In fact, there are many descendants of the living soldiers who fought in the battle that created the undead who have sworn to protect the Grey Border... from the other living. Why? Because someone has already damned the undead to an eternity without rest, and there are plenty of living thieves who want to go across the Border and steal from the undead.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: In the second book, it's revealed that the Unknown Clan had a strange characteristic in that men became Dragons while women became Unicorns. Both had their own kinds of magic, with the latter being more subtle, and the former being all about strength and power. In the second book, Notty laments that she can never become a Dragon like her brother Vsevolod, who is being groomed to one day rule over the Middle World. Except Glutton reveals that this isn't always the case. There have been a few female Dragons and some male Unicorns. A lot of it depends on the personality.
  • But Now I Must Go: At the end of the second novel, Victor and Telle leave the Middle World to try to shepherd the new, immature worlds that were created due to Victor's carelessness. They leave the Middle World in Vsevolod and Notty's hands, although Vsevolod says he isn't ready to take up the mantle of the Dragon (or even the Unicorn) yet and instead heads east in order to establish a school for monster hunters. Notty is left to rule alone as the new Dragon, although her great-grandmother Vera returns from the Underside to help guide her. Meanwhile, Eric decides to follow in Glutton's footsteps as the Keeper, allowing his father to leave and try creating a new world.
  • Capital City: Each of the four Elemental clans has a capital, usually a castle or a fortress.
    • The Fire Clan's capital is the castle of Oros. It's actually located underground. Fittingly, the area used to be the capital of the dragons during their rule. Additionally, due to the fact that the Fire Clan has the best battle mages, Oros is the only Elemental capital that is not protected by walls. It has never been taken by enemies.
    • The Water Clan's center of power is the majestic city of Hundred Fields, the largest population center in the Middle World. Beautiful fountains and canals are found throughout the town, and each night a light rain washes away the dirt and filth into the sea.
    • The Earth Clan is based in the well-fortified city of Feros.
    • The Air Clan rules from a mountain peak called the Fang of the Four Winds (or just the Fang), where the nonstop winds deliver news from all over the world. A small town is located under the mountain. Nearby is the major city of Horsk. The capital of the Air Clan is the only settlement to be protected by stone walls. Everyone else uses wood.
    • While most Totem clans are not centralized enough to have a capital, the Cat Clan is ruled from a wooded castle located between the borders of the Air, Water, and Earth clans. The castle is protected by a living wall of thick trees surrounding it.
  • Cat Fight: The first meeting between Loy Iver and Telle degrades into this, after their initial deadly magical attacks against one another result in No Sells (presumably, Victor intervenes). Telle is a teenager but is able to hold her own, especially since Loy's hair is longer (i.e. easily pullable). It's fitting given that Loy Iver is of the Cat Clan. Eventually, Victor stops the fight the same way a person might stop two actual cats fighting - by splashing water on the girls. The "man staring" part of the trope is averted, though. Victor is not amused at their behavior (especially since there's a lot he still doesn't know at that point) and warns them that he'll throw whichever one tries to fight again into the river to cool down.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: This seems to be the case for mages of the Cat Clan. It's stated that Loy Iver lost one of her lives during the battle with the Naturalborn in-between the two novels.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Averted. Victor's medical skills don't really end up being useful in the novel.
  • Chosen One: Victor. Naturally, it take him a while to accept this.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The only Underside religion to survive in the Middle World was spread by a Franciscan monk who built the only church in the whole world. There are still a few devout followers, but no one else regards it seriously. Can be justified by the fact that Functional Magic is real in the Middle World, thus rendering the concept of miracles pointless.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Members of the four Elemental clans were clothes of their element's color. For example, Fire mages wear orange cloaks, while Water mages don pale-blue jackets. The Totem clans tend to wear clothes reminiscent of their particular animal, except for the Panthers, who walk around naked, claiming that such artificial concepts as shame and taboos are not for them.
  • Cool Train: The steam locomotives operated by dwarves/gnomes are definitely impressive. Based on the description, they are far larger than the steam trains in our own history, with massive gleaming copper boilers and multiple stacks, followed by three or four tenders full of coal. The higher-end passenger compartments are the height of luxury, although they are pretty pricey. They can also go as fast as top-of-the-line steam trains in our history.
    • Like in Real Life history, the trains in the Middle World are named. For example, the older, four-stacked monster is appropriately called Four Smokes, while the newer, faster, luxurious and gleaming train is the Thunder Arrow.
  • Dirty Coward: After being told of the Natural Born invasion, Anjey runs away, claiming he needs to prepare.
  • Dishing Out Dirt: The Earth Clan doesn't appear much in the novel, despite being stronger than the Fire Clan. However, its leader Anjey is a cowardly pedophile, so it would make sense for him to want to stay out of the fighting. The Earth Clan is the most prosperous of the four, being able to easily find underground resources and ensure bountiful harvests.
    • The only reason Anjey is even involved in a fight against Victor is because of the humiliation Victor gives him earlier.
  • Dragon Ancestry: Victor is eventually revealed to have both dragon and human blood in him: his grandmother was pregnant with a child of a dragon when the latter was killed and she, raped by his killer and banished from Middle World. This becomes a plot point late in the novel, when he must decide whether to become a full Dragon or a Dragonslayer—a human with the power to kill dragons for good. The sequel reveals that he has become a Dragon and now rules the Middle World. The same is now true about Victor and Telle's children.
  • The Dragons Come Back: The whole reason for the plot and the main conflict.
  • The Dragonslayer: Victor is destined to be the next Dragonslayer. The previous Dragonslayer was Ritor, the current leader of the Air Clan. Ironically, Ritor has since decided that the killing of the dragons was a mistake and is now working to stop Victor. The second novel reveals that Ritor wasn't the only Dragonslayer. There were four, one from each Elemental clan. The other three were killed by the Dragons, but Ritor and the armies they gathered finished the job. History has forgotten the names of the other three. Also, in the second novel, Eric is the new Slayer, although it's pointed out that a Slayer isn't just meant to kill Dragons.
  • Elemental Nation: Each of the four Elemental clans controls a sizable territory of non-undead portion of the Middle World. Each one is The Magocracy, since the vast majority of people living there are Muggles. The Totem clans are typically scattered, without a unified leadership. The exception is the Cat Clan, whose HQ is located on a tiny territory between the borders of the Air, Water, and Earth clans.
  • Elemental Powers: The four Elemental clans form the pillars of the Middle World society. They are more powerful than the Totem clans, but their powers fluctuate depending on the time of day, meaning there are times when a Totem clan is stronger than an Elemental clan.
    • The Hour of the Waking Water (midnight - 5 AM) is the strongest time for Water magic and weakest for Air magic.
    • The Hour of the Open Sky (5 AM - 10 AM) is strongest for Air and weakest for Fire.
    • The Hour of the Raging Flame (10 AM - 3 PM) is strongest for Fire and weakest for Earth.
    • The Hour of the Calm Earth (3 PM - 8 PM) is strongest for Earth and weakest for Water.
    • The Hour of the Grey Dog (8 PM - midnight) is when all Elemental magic is at its weakest.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: A variation. Sandra speaks the local language very well, having lived in the Middle World for many decades (if not centuries). However, when seriously wounded, she shock causes her to temporarily switch back to her native Spanish. This is also when she reveals that she is from Cabo Fisterra.
  • Ethical Slut: Loy Iver considers herself to be one. Despite having a mate, she frequently uses her body to obtain information or exert influence. Her mate Hor is usually annoyed at this but doesn't openly object, since Loy is the head of the Cat Clan. Besides, Loy can easily point out that Hor himself has no shortage of female admirers. The one thing that Loy has a problem with is prostitution. In her mind, love must be given freely, never for a price. There's a bit of Fridge Logic there (besides the fact that prostitutes provide sex not love), since this is exactly what she does, except the price is not monetary. So, sex for political reasons is ok, but sex for financial reasons is not?
  • The Exile: All humans in the Middle World. The non-magical ones come from the Underside (our world). The magical ones have originally come in a massive exodus from the world of the Natural Born. According to many characters, every once in a while, people are born in both of these worlds that don't belong. Eventually, they are compelled to find the Trails that lead from their world to the Middle World. It's usually a one-way trip, although most exiles find their place in this world. It's a little different with the Natural Born, who don't come one at a time but all at once when a critical mass of sorts is reached. Also, it's not uncommon for a Muggle to discover that he or she has magical talent. There is no Fantastic Racism against former Muggles, though.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Loy Iver, the leader of the Cat Clan, as well as the other Cat women.
    • When Sandra, a high-ranking Air mage, offers to use her feminine wiles to get Victor out into the open, Ritor brushes her off, saying that she's no Loy Iver. Sandra doesn't appear to take offense at that. She later admits to Ritor that she used to be a prostitute before coming to the Middle World.
  • Fights Like a Normal: During his final fight with the last Winged Master, Ritor had the combined powers of the four Elements. Instead, both him and the dragon fought as men, with regular swords, with the dragon maintaining his human form. Ritor lampshades this by mentally pointing out that he could have simply crushed or burned the Winged Master with magic, but a sword duel is more fair. This begs the question of why he needed to become a Dragonslayer in the first place.
  • Functional Magic: According to the backstory, the original magic-users came from the world of the Natural Born. However, it took them a long time to master the use of magic in the Middle World. Eventually, the various magical schools split into clans. After many generations, the four Elemental clans have achieved mastery over their respective elements and use them to the benefit of the people in their lands (e.g. the lands of the Earth Clan are always fertile and full of mineral resources, while drought never visits the lands of the Water Clan). The Totem clans' mastery typically involves their mages becoming extremely-capable close combatants and attaining the qualities of their respective animals (e.g. Cats are cunning, seductive, difficult to kill, and lay deadly ambushes). The Totem clans whose animal of choice is sufficiently large are able to shapeshift into that animal.
    • The mastery of magic was initially a necessity, as the settlers were constantly under attack by the Flyings, the native inhabitants of this world. Eventually, the early Air mages learned to hold the Flyings in place to be killed, the Fire mages learned to start fires that kept the Flyings away, etc.
  • The Game of the Book: An Action RPG called A Farewell to Dragons was made in 2007 based on the book. The game was available on Steam for a while but has since been removed.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: As befits a Medieval European Fantasy. Victor notes that coins don't even have any writing or numbers, simply the symbol of a dragon. They also don't have a uniform size, although all gold coins appear to have the same value. On the other hand, the conversion rate between silver and gold appear to fluctuate. Victor almost never uses his copper coins, figuring they're probably useless change.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: One of the first non-humans Victor encounters in the novel is a half-elven brigand, who ambushes him and Telle in the forest along with three humans pretending to be undead. After killing him, Victor finds out that half-elves are rare products of a male human and a female elf (male elves don't find human women attractive). Additionally, all half-elves are male. Victor muses a little about the genetic nature of these hybrids before dropping the idea as ridiculous.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: As Victor finds out near the end of the novel, to fight a dragon, a Dragonslayer must become one. Even worse, as a Dragonslayer's power comes from hate. For all their faults, the Winged Masters are incapable of the sheer amount of hate that a human can muster. In the end, Victor chooses to become a Winged Master and face the Created Dragon in battle.
  • I Believe I Can Fly: Members of the Air Clan can soar on the wind, although the time of day may make it more difficult. The same may be true of the bird Totem clans.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Not a ceremony, really, but for a Dragonslayer to be fully capable of taking on a dragon, he must first be initiated by the four Elemental clans. The initiation can either be done openly or disguised as an attack. After that, the Dragonslayer must open a Door to the Dragon Island, pass the four Elemental trials, and meet the Keeper at the Castle-above-the-World in order to complete the transformation.
    • Technically, a Dragonslayer also typically gets initiated by several dozen Totem clans as well, but that's not absolutely necessary, especially when time is a factor.
  • In the Hood: At the beginning of the novel, Ritor arrives to a secret meeting he has arranged with the Fire Clan during the Hour of the Grey Dog (i.e. when both sides would be unable to effectively use magic). Since it's extremely dark, all he can see are figures wearing the orange cloaks of the Fire Clan. Eventually, he finds out that the figures are actually members of the Water Clan, who are opposed to his plan and attack him and his companions just as the Hour of the Waking Water begins (i.e. when the Water magic is as its strongest). Ritor is the only one who escapes alive.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Fire Clan is the weakest of the four, not having a single first rank mage after the last inter-clan conflict and the Water Clan's betrayal just prior to the novel. They ally with the Water Clan partly because the Water Clan can crush them and partly because they revere dragons. Like their Element, they are chaotic and unpredictable.
  • Lady Land: The Cat Clan is a female-dominated, which is a little strange, given their Totem.
  • Last of Her Kind: Telle is the last of the Unknown Clan, most of them having been wiped out along with the Winged Masters.
  • Layered World: Telle explains to Victor that, in fact, there is only one world. Those who see the world one way live in the Underside (our world). Those who see it differently live in the Middle World. Those who see it in yet another way live in the world of the Natural Born. Those who, at first, see the world one way but feel like they do not belong can find a Trail and cross over by learning to see the world differently. Victor doesn't bother trying to understand this and just sticks to the "parallel world" explanation to make it easier.
  • Left Hanging: The novel ends with Victor turning into a dragon and flying off to battle the invading Natural Born. The sequel finally reveals what happened afterwards.
  • The Magocracy: The lands controlled by the various Elemental and Totem clans are ruled by the mages.
  • Making a Splash: The Water Clan's main strength. Not only can they control water around them, but they can also kill people by controlling the water inside them (it's not pretty) or with a water whip (which can be strong enough to cut a person in half). Torn, the leader of the Water Clan, can create a an avatar of himself made entirely of water (he also uses it to have sex with Loy, much to her disgust). Naturally, they feel completely at ease in the water, able to breathe and swim as well as any fish.
    • Water mages can also create the Spirit of Water, which is basically a water golem that cannot be killed by normal means. Any steel weapon just passes through it, instantly rusting and crumbling. The only sure way would be to kill the mage controlling it.
  • May–December Romance: Victor is a 30-year-old man. Telle is a 13-year-old girl. We are expected to believe that Victor doesn't find it a bit odd that they're supposed to end up together. Granted, Telle comes from a Medieval-like setting, where such things were common, but Victor is a modern-day man with modern-day sensibilities (not to mention a doctor).
    • To be fair, he does feel disturbed by Telle's complete lack of preconceptions about things like "a teenage girl sleeping in the same room (nay, same bed) as a man twice her age". He suspects she's less an Innocent Fanservice Girl and more a Shameless Fanservice Girl.
    • Sandra, who's age is unspecified but probably exceeds a century, and Asmund, a gifted teenage wizard apprentice, sleep together before the battle. As a result, they excel at teamwork, feeling each other's moves without thinking. The whole deal is frowned upon by Ritor, but he doesn't interfere.
  • Medieval European Fantasy: The Middle World has this feel, complete with magic, dragons, elves, and dwarves/gnomes, but crosses it with Steampunk.
    • Magic coexists with swordfighting and musket pistols.
    • When Victor finds out that electricity is commonly used by the locals, he feels slighted that his ideas about a magical world are wrong. The hotel where Victor and Telle stay on their first night in the Middle World has both electrical lighting and modern plumbing. Justified, since the Middle World frequently has arrivals from the Underside (our world) by those who feel they do not belong in the world where they were born.
  • Medieval Stasis: Averted, for the most part. While neither humans nor elves are particularly industrious, the dwarves drive the progress in the Middle World, although it's a few centuries behind the Underside. Thus, swords and bows coexist with flintlock muskets and explosives. Torches coexist with electric lights. The progress is hampered by slightly different physical laws of this world. So, for example, while electricity exists and is used for lighting, vulcanizing rubber, etc., it cannot be used to send telegraph messages. No one has yet to figure out why.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the second novel, four mages ask Victor to take them from the Underside to the Middle World. After doing that, he points them in the direction of the closest town and turns to leave. They grab him and tell him they haven't let him go yet and want him to serve as their guide (for payment, of course). Finally having had enough of their bullshit, he turns into his Dragon form and shows them who they're dealing with.
  • Mysterious Waif: Telle, a strange 13-year-old girl who doesn't reveal much about herself but appears to know a lot about Victor. She is actually the last of the Unknown Clan and is destined to be his mate.
  • Neck Snap: Victor kills a half-elf brigand this way. Since we don't know how strong half-elven necks are, this may be justified. Also, Victor pushed on his back with his knee while having the brigand's neck in a chokehold.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Victor's maternal grandmother is in her 80s but looks to be in great shape (she isn't even grey yet). She has fought during World War II as a partisan and has once told young Victor about her experiences fighting Nazis. Victor's mother then had a fight with her about telling a little boy about how to properly cut an enemy's throat (on the opposite side from you, so you don't get splattered with blood). Victor later finds out that she was even more badass than that, being a sorceress of the Unknown Clan fighting side-by-side with a dragon. Strangely, her badassness didn't get passed on her daughter, a plump, quiet schoolteacher.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: After being betrayed by the Water Clan, Ritor and his nephew are forced to jump from a castle tower to escape the deadly Water magic (three of the Air Clan's best stay behind to cover Ritor's escape and are gruesomely killed). While members of the Air Clan can normally soar on the winds, the Water Clan's attack happens at the top of the Hour of the Waking Water, when Water magic is at its strongest and Air magic is at its weakest. Ritor's nephew still tries to soar but fails. Ritor uses a simple spell to create a column of compressed air under him that softens his landing (although he is still badly hurt by the impact). Ritor is surprised that his nephew didn't do this, as Air Clan's children play using the same spell.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Not many can pass through the Door to the Dragon Island. This includes Telle, Victor, and any 1st rank mage (e.g. Loy Iver, Ritor, Torn, Anjey). However, according to Telle, this is a fairly recent development. Long ago, many more could find their way to the island.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • The Winged Masters used to rule the Middle World. They could appear as dragons or humans. All dragons were male, but they were always accompanied by sorceresses of the Unknown Clan. The dragons have since been wiped out during an uprising, along with most of the Unknown Clan.
    • The Natural Born are planning to create a dragon of their own to lead their attack on the Middle World. The way to fight the Created Dragon forms the reason for the main conflict of the novel. Ritor of the Air Clan believes that the Winged Masters must be reborn in order to fight the Created Dragon, even if this means a return of their tyrannical rule. Torn of the Water Clan is adamantly opposed to the return of the dragons, believing that a Dragonslayer can handle the Created Dragon.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The dwarves/gnomes (they're called "gnomes" in Russian, since that's the name given to Tolkien's dwarves and the two are generally seen as one in Russian fantasy) are Technical Pacifists who excel at industry and science. They strive to remain neutral in any conflict. One of their greatest achievements is the Way, a railway network stretching through most of the civilized Middle World. Not even the mages of the Elemental clans dare to violate the sovereignty of the Way or attack its passengers. Being unwilling to fight doesn't mean they can't. Dwarven guards are frequently seen protecting key locations of the Way, such as bridges and train stations. Typically clad in heavy armor, they may be armed with hammers, axes, crossbows, or, most recently, flintlock muskets. Dwarves are natural mechanics and have an innate understanding of how devices work. Typical of the setting, they possess a measure of magical resistance and don't much like elves and their alchemy. Instead of elven potions, they stick with medicine manufactured in their factories under strict quality control. Besides the Way, the dwarves also deal with other clans by supplying weapons to human armies and training troops. Very rarely, they may even lead human troops into battle.
    • Besides mastering "steam magic", as many call it, the dwarves have discovered gunpowder, electricity, photography, vulcanized rubber, learned to build rolling mills, airships, and electric generators. It helps that they probably heard of these things from people who have come from the Underside. Strangely, though, certain electrical processes don't work in the Middle World, such as the telegraph. No one is sure why, although, perhaps, a physicist from the Underside might be able to answer that question.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Elves are a race of beautiful people who normally live in forest camps and try to stay out of human affairs, although it's not uncommon for an elf or two to live in a human town. Elven swords are works of art and are as deadly as they are beautiful. An elven-cut blade is designed to inflict ghastly wounds instead of clean cuts, while their arrows are frequently poisoned. Like the dwarves, elves naturally resist magic and instead focus on alchemy. Instead of industry, they focus on craftsmanship and typically eschew technology, as they distrust anything dwarven.
  • Pirate Girl: Sandra, a first-rank Air mage, claims to have been one in the Underside prior to her arrival to the Middle World. She frequently uses nautical slang and swears like a sailor. Ritor suspects that she has made up the story as a defense mechanism.
    • Near the end of the novel, she finally admits to Ritor that she gets seasick easily. Before leaving the Underside, she was a port whore at a Cabo Fisterra brothel.
  • Power Copying: Victor finds out that he needs to absorb the powers of the four Elemental clans in order to become the Dragonslayer.
  • Really 700 Years Old: It's not uncommon for powerful mages to be much older than they appear. When Victor finds out that the stunning Loy Iver is over a century old, he has trouble reconciling the two facts. This doesn't stop him from eventually giving in to her desires.
    • Sandra, a 1st rank Air mage, constantly claims to be a Pirate Girl from the Underside. This would make her at least several centuries old. She later admits she was a port whore, but we can still assume that she is still pretty old.
    • It's heavily hinted that Telle is this. The sequel pretty much confirms this. She's stated to have survived the massacre of the Dragons, which happened sometime in The '30s or The '40s.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After finding out that Victor is his grandson, Ritor helps him reach his goal by using up every last ounce of his remaining power. He survives, though.
  • Secret Legacy: Victor turns out to be Ritor's grandson, after Ritor raped the mate of the last dragon, a sorceress of the Unknown Clan, and banished her to the Underside. Both Victor and Ritor find this out at the end of the novel, when Loy Iver spells it out for them. This triggers Ritor's Heel–Face Turn and results in Redemption Equals Death. In the second book, Eric turns out to be Glutton's son, whom he deliberately abandoned in the Underside until the time was right.
  • Shout-Out: Like many other of Lukyanenko's novels, this one has several references to his other works.
    • Danny and Lan from The Boy and the Darkness are mentioned to be members of the Air Clan.
    • Victor has a dream in which he sees a soldier carrying the body of another soldier through the woods. In the novel Dances on the Snow, Lion tells his friend Tikkirey an identical dream (where the grown-up Lion is carrying the body of Tikkirey after a battle).
    • Victor references A Lord from Planet Earth by name when saying he's not this sort of character. He also lists other heroic characters such as Conan the Barbarian in the same manner.
    • One of the characters, Eleneldil, is also an arrival from the Underside, where his name was Nikolai. He tells Victor that he hates being called Nick. A bit of self-deprecating humor from Nick Perumov.
    • In the second book, Victor compares himself to Daenerys burning King's Landing.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: At the end of the second novel, Loy learns she's pregnant with Victor's child from when she had her way with him while retrieving him from wherever his mind went after being struck by Eric.
  • Spin-Offspring: While Victor and Telle are still very much present in the second book, their children Vsevolod and Notty also play a significant role and have their own story arcs.
  • The Spymaster: Loy Iver has agents everywhere and knows everyone important, usually personally. Everyone of import shows up to her balls (the party kind). The unspoken rule there is that no one may settle scores while under Loy's protection. Naturally, she strives to be the star of the party, pretending to get tipsy after a second glass of wine and making out with guests (sometimes, more than making out), which usually annoys her mate Hor (who himself has no shortage of female admirers). Naturally, it's all an act to spread her influence far and wide. Her predecessors were like this as well, keeping the clans from going into an all-out war against one another. The Cat Clan's political power is equal to that of each of the Elemental clans.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Members of the Cat Clan are masters at this, as befits their Totem animal.
  • Steampunk: Dwarves/gnomes have steam trains and other conveniences.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The Air Clan knows that the Natural Born are going to invade again, and they are convinced that the invasion will be on an unimaginable scale. How? Their abilities include being able to sense the winds, so they hear whispers from across the Hot Sea of an armada of ships waiting just beyond the Rift, they smell steel being forged into weapons and potions being brewed, they feel the Northern wind preparing to fan flames over cities, they see birds flying West early and vultures arriving from the East expecting carrion. Beyond that, they have little tangible proof that can be presented at the Grand Gathering of the clans.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Victor in the second novel every time he returns to the Underside, usually to see his mother and grandmother. Since his grandmother is the only one who knows the truth, he's forced to lie to his mother about his long absences. Our world has changed in 23 years, technology has advanced, what with everyone having access to lots of knowledge in their pockets.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: In order to locate the Dragonslayer, Ritor and the other top Air mages get together on top of a tower to weave a complex and dangerous scrying spell. It, essentially, involves trapping the powerful wind in magical wings and forcing it to tell the mages where a particular individual is located. Except you don't want to mess with the wind. While Ritor does get his answer, most of the mages end up nearly killed by the angry force of nature (one actually ends up scalped but survives). The wind also does some damage to the town, but it was specifically built for an eventuality like this.
  • This Cannot Be!: Shouted by Ritor after discovering that Victor is his own grandson by way of Ritor raping the last dragon's mate and exiling her to the Underside.
  • Truce Zone: It's an unspoken rule that no one may settle scores at one of Loy Iver's grand balls. Even bitter enemies behave themselves and do little more than exchange pleasantries with one another. So when she realizes that the Water Clan is determined to kill Ritor at a ball, Loy forces Torn to let Ritor go, claiming that they can fight somewhere else.
    • Neutrality also applies aboard dwarven/gnomish trains, as the infrastructure provided by the trains is to important for any clan to risk damaging. As such, anyone who purchases a train ticket is automatically afforded protection for the duration of the trip, although the dwarves/gnomes frown upon people specifically buying tickets in order to get their protection, as this threatens their neutrality. From the dwarves' perspective, their trains use all four elements to run: Earth (fuel and boiler walls), Fire (to burn the coal), Water (to boil and evaporate), and Air (to work the steam engine). This necessitates the need for the support of all four Elemental clans.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: In the backstory, the four Elemental clans (even the Fire Clan, albeit grudgingly) joined together to create The Dragonslayer and throw off the brutal yoke of the Winged Masters. Many decades later, this turns out to bite them in the ass, as the dragons have protected the world from the Natural Born.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Loy Iver has one with Torn, despite the fact that Cats traditionally dislike water. Of course, she's only doing it to convince Torn that she's on his side.
  • Unicorn: The Unknown Clan is revealed to actually be a Totem Clan of the Unicorn, when Telle shapeshifts into one in the end of the novel.
  • Vain Sorceress: Being a socialite, Loy Iver definitely fits the bill. Check out her picture from the game. However, when necessary, she can get down and dirty (on the right).
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting:
    • Members of some Totem clans are capable of turning into their Totem animal. The animal in question must be similar in size and mass, presumably averting Shapeshifter Baggage. For this reason, members of the Cat Clan cannot shapeshift (their Totem animal is a regular house cat, not any of the big cats).
    • The Winged Masters spent much of their time in human form and had human mates in the form of the sorceresses of the Unknown Clan. In fact, the last dragon chose to face Ritor as a man, fighting it out with swords instead of magic or fire breath.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Both Ritor and Torn can fit this. Both want to stop the invasion of the Natural Born, but their methods are diametrically opposed, which is where the conflict comes from. While, initially, only Torn is willing to let innocents die to save the world, as Ritor gets more and more desperate, he starts throwing caution and morals to the wind.
  • Wild Magic: The Totem clans use magic themed to a particular animal. The most prominent in the novel is the Cat Clan. All Cat women are shrewd and beautiful, frequently using sex to get what they want. The Cat men are strong and agile, using the feline ability to blend in the shadows to give them an edge in battle. That is not to say that Cat women should be underestimated in battle, as they can employ catlike attacks augmented by magic. As a side note, they don't actually look like cats, and there are other feline clans (i.e. the Cat Clan is specifically about cats not lions, tigers, or leopards).
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Five hundred years ago, a Dragon burned down the dwarven capital city. Even the turquoise walls of the palace were turned to ash. According to the dwarves, they can't rebuild the city without a piece of it to base it on as memory of the past. In the second book, Vsevolod goes to a train station and asks the dwarven stationmaster to make use of his emergency train. When the stationmaster refuses, he gives him a flat turquoise stone. The dwarf immediately agrees and thanks him for giving the dwarves the seed to grow their new capital.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The dwarves are attempting to popularize the use of dirigibles for transportation, although few are willing to take to the skies. It's heavily implied that such a machine would be mercilessly shot out of the sky by the Winged Masters when they ruled the Middle World, as they held the monopoly on flying. A few dwarves, in an attempt to capitalize on the investment use the airships to ferry contraband, since airships aren't stopped by customs officials.

Alternative Title(s): Wrong Time For The Dragons