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The Doctrine of Labyrinths is a series of four fantasy novels by Sarah Monette, largely featuring the incredibly dysfunctional Lord Felix Harrowgate, a very powerful wizard who nearly managed to put his baseborn past and unsavory history behind him, and his equally-dysfunctional younger brother Mildmay, whose personality is just as fractured and whose past is just as dismal.

The character-driven plot is too complex to relate here; there are many sub-plots, minor characters, and dangling plot threads. As a whole, the books mainly focus on the emotional and psychological trauma that accompany Mildmay and Felix, the trials and tribulations that their (again, extremely dysfunctional) defense mechanisms result in, and how those trials and tribulations have fractured their emotional states even more.

Felix is generally a vain, self-centered ass, and Mildmay generally attempts to protect him and keep him out of trouble, with varying levels of success. Combine their wildly different personalities, two more first-person narrators, more minor characters than you can shake a stick at, an assload of labyrinths, and you've got The Doctrine of Labyrinths.

Among other things, the series should be noted for its extremely realistic portrayals of posttraumatic stress disorder, insanity, and the personality and behavioral consequences of childhood abuse; the characters never really get over what has happened to them, so much as... work through it to pass for halfway-normal.

Set in a fantasy version of what roughly correlates to the Industrial Revolution-Era France, the series goes out of its way and bends over backwards to subvert, avert, and deconstruct as many tropes as it possibly can, especially the Standard Fantasy Setting. Perhaps due to the subject matter it covers, the series is not very well known, which is a shame.

The series consists of the books Mélusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, and Corambis. [1]


This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Or as close to parental figures that the brothers had after they were sold at the ages of four and three, respectively, and that's just the main characters.
  • Accent Relapse: In rare moments of overwhelming emotion--usually fear or rage or both--Felix will lose his posh accent and slip into a Lower City one.
  • Agent Peacock: Felix is this trope to the very core: beautiful, vain, cruel, and shallow, but still an extremely powerful wizard.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Averted. Felix is so obviously not the more stable of the brothers, not that that's saying much.
  • Animal Motifs: The people Felix mistakenly believes are animals while insane. Perhaps tellingly, Gideon is just a green blob.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Why hello there Mr Mildmay the Fox.
  • And the Adventure Continues...: The end of Corambis. The author has said she wanted to make it clear that the story didn't end with the narrative, and she definitely did.
  • Anti-Hero: Felix is the Type IV variety, sometimes skirting type V (for example, when ordering Mildmay to kill Vey Coruscant or when torturing prostitutes). Mildmay at his best is Type II, but he generally stays at Type III and his past indicates Type IV.
  • The Apprentice: Felix takes Corbie as an apprentice after swearing off taking an apprentice for years for fear he'd abuse a young wizard as he was abused. To his amazement, he does a pretty good job.
  • Arc Words: Arguably, "The doctrine of labyrinths", or "Every maze has a monster at its heart." The continued motif of "the heart and the center of a labyrinth are not the same" also deserves honorable mention.
  • Asshole Victim: Austin. Isaac Garamond.
  • Attempted Rape: Far less common than actual rape. Discussion continues over whether this is a subversion, making the story more realistic, or... not.
  • Attention Whore: Methony is implied to be one. Felix can sometimes be one, too. It would be a gross understatement to say he loves attention.
  • Badass: Mildmay, through-and-through, even after his leg goes wonky. His reputation as a badass kept even an extremely powerful blood witch away from him and his girlfriend, until It Got Worse, and he was sold out to the police.
    • Also, Kay.
    • Felix is a magical badass, described as the most powerful wizard in around a century. The oaths he's taken as a Cabaline wizard, however, keep him from using his magic on people, which seriously dulls-down his on-screen Badass factor.
    • Mehitabel Parr, international spy and an actress so talented that her cover as an actress works flawlessly? All the Po V characters are Badasses in their own right.
  • Badass in Distress: Mildmay is the resident Badass, but at one point he gets locked in a farmhouse cellar and has to get rescued by Felix who is completely insane at this point and fights like a little girl even at his best.
  • Badass Normal: Despite the fact that Mildmay is completely magicless, he never gets lost (even in ancient labyrinths and mazes), and is fully capable of taking out powerful wizards and heavily armed politicians.
  • Bedlam House: St. Crellifer's.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Ha ha ha no.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Gideon, apparently. Mildmay makes some remark in The Mirador about this.
  • Big Bad: Malkar.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Mildmay is good with children and protective of them, even though his face tends to scare them.
  • Bishonen: Felix is described as "as beautiful as sunlight". Unfortunately for others, he also shamelessly uses his beauty to manipulate and control.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Black Magic: Noirant magic.
  • Blessed with Suck: most of the characters with any significant talent, be it magic, larceny or good looks, end up paying for it more than they benefit. If they don't end up loosing those skills outright in the most thematically ironic way possible.
    • "For all things worthwhile, you must suffer."
  • Blondes Are Evil: Gloria Aestia. People believe Shannon will follow suit if allowed to be Lord Protector.
  • Blood Magic: Malkar and Vey Coruscant are accomplished practitioners. Also Porphyria Levant, for historical figures. They have been using this to keep themselves young and vital for who knows how many years. Vey was terrorizing the Lower City when Felix and Mildmay were children, and when Mildmay killed her she didn't look a day over twenty. Judging by how long it's been since Porphyria Levant died, Malkar has been at it for at least two-hundred years.
  • Blue Eyes: Are everywhere, and in many different varieties.
    • Shannon. Probably closest to the Innocent Blue Eyes variety as while he can be a nasty person, he is also extremely sheltered and naive.
    • Felix, whose right eye is most definitely a Creepy Blue Eye as it's a strangely pale, cloudy blue. In the Lower City with its superstitions, this is blended with Occult Blue Eyes. Given his left eye is yellow, it creates an overall eerie effect that even Mildmay refers to as "spooky eyes."
    • Ginevra, of the Innocent Blue Eyes variety.
    • Color-wise, Corbie's eyes are Midnight Blue Eyes, but this is met with a more Innocent Blue Eyes personality, particularly after she sheds the adult hardness of being a prostitute and acts more her age.
    • Mavortian von Heber has Occult Blue Eyes, fitting his training in divination.
    • The tattoos worn by all Cabaline wizards include Occult Blue Eyes on the palms.
  • Book Dumb: While Mildmay is quite intelligent, he's also functionally illiterate... until Felix begins to teach him to read in 'Corambis'.
  • Boring Return Journey Happily subverted in The Virtu.
  • Brains and Brawn: This is what Felix and Mildmay are, respectively, to outside eyes. However, it's really subverted, because while Mildmay never had formal education, he's still more sensible than Felix. Felix, who was educated, but only pragmatically, and as such has huge holes in his knowledge and habitually makes terrible decisions.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: It's hinted that Mad Elinor slept with her brother to produce her heir, Henry Ophidius. The other possibility was her father. Either way, Henry was peculiar.
  • Butt Monkey: Just about every protagonist in the series is this to one degree or another. Most notably every character who gets a POV... and also Gideon.
  • Camp Gay: Felix is very fashion-conscious, refers to other people of both sexes as "darling" (usually when he wants to be mocking; it's something he picked up from Malkar), and also is extremely beautiful.
  • Card Sharp: Mildmay is such a good card player that he pays his and Felix's traveling expenses without even needing to cheat.
  • Catch Phrase: "Fuck me sideways 'til I cry!" "Darling." "Acting the swan daughter."
    • Also: "Fuck this for the Emperor's snotrag!" and "Fuck this for a half-wit dog."
  • Children Are Innocent: Oh so heavily averted.
  • Character Development: The main arc of the story is centered around how Felix and Mildmay, and to a lesser extent Mehitabel and Kay accomplish this, becoming functioning members of society again, or... ever.
  • Child Soldiers: The wizards of the Bastion (like Gideon) are drafted into the military at age 13 or 14, and then sexually preyed upon by the older wizards.
  • City Guards: The city watch if you're upper class. The Dogs if you're from the Lower City.
  • Classic Villain: Malkar, inverted/invoked/Lampshaded when Mildmay points out he was, "just like them evil wizards in stories," to which Felix notes, "he would have loved the comparison," implying Malkar was playing up a trope on purpose.
  • Come to Gawk: Felix is paraded through Mélusine after he was framed for breaking the Virtu.
    • Kay is put on display in public after he's blinded and forced to surrender his army.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Mildmay. He's gone below the belt several times in fights, once even kicking Felix... anyway, yeah, he's gone below the belt several times.
  • Contemptible Cover: Horrendous for the first book, got a bit better for the second and third, and then dipped to a new low just in time for the finale.
  • Cult: Methony was in one when Mildmay was born, thus the ridiculous name she gave him, and Gideon's worship of the White-Eyed Lady.
    • Also, the ancient, and different, cult of the same White-Eyed Lady, which involves some pretty darn spooky labyrinths...
    • And the cult of The God of The Obscured Sun.
    • Mélusine (the city, not the book) is just chock full of cults!
  • Dark Is Not Evil Felix is described as a noirant (black magic) wizard and a natural necromancer. Did I mention he's the protagonist?
  • Dark-Skinned Redhead: The inhabitants of Caloxa and Corambis are naturally dark skinned and red-headed or blond.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Mirador. It's like peering into a pitch-black cave.
  • Dead Little Sister: Joline is this for Felix. After she died, he never really trusted anyone until Mildmay. Mildmay reminds him of Joline, too.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The court of the Mirador. And it's implied that Tiberia has this too.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Felix's legendary acid tongue.
    • Mildmay could count as this is some situations. As well as Gideon even after The Virtu when his tongue has been cut out. His conversations with Felix and Simon imply this. And Stephen, if the end of the Mirador is anything to go by.
  • Death By Origin Story: Methony, Joline, Iosephenus Pompey, Zephyr Wolsey, Gerrard Hume and the list goes on...
  • Deconstruction: The series is a massive, excruciatingly realistic deconstruction of the fantasy genre in general and the over-the-top traumatic pasts most (suspiciously well-adjusted) fiction characters have in particular. In general, it relies on invoking the tropes in question (traumatic pasts especially) and then playing them as realistically as possible, showing it's not so glamorous to have been raised as a beautiful prostitute, a deadly assassin, a skilled spy, or a noble warrior.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Tends to be subverted, more often than not, with many a character noting that they would have fended off attempts at help... if they weren't really, really in need of it.
  • Doorstopper: Each (paperback) book is at least 400+ pages of really small font.
  • Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): There aren't very many characters in the series who think the fact that Kolkhis started sexing Mildmay up when he was fourteen is wrong, but no one ever outright calls it rape. In The Mirador, Mildmay says that "she could make [him] do it, whether [he] wanted to or not." Even Mildmay doesn't seem to think of it as abuse. Surprisingly, Felix does.
    • Subverted in Corambis by Edwin Beckett's attempt to restart the Clock of Eclipses.
  • Downer Ending: All of the books have quite somber endings, but The Mirador takes the cake in the 'depressing ending' department.
  • Dramatic Irony: Used very well; unsurprisingly, Monette has a Ph.D in English Literature. For example, in The Mirador, Felix doesn't want Mildmay to go to the St. Dismas Baths in the Arcane, and uses the obligation d'ame to enforce his wishes. Mildmay thinks he's being a dick (which he is), but that's not the only reason. The St. Dismas Baths are where Felix goes to clean himself off after he gets done having extremely violent S&M sex with random prostitutes, some of whom he nearly kills.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Explained as a kind of magic, oneiromancy.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Powers and saints, where to start? Fucking everyone in this series is screwed-up beyond repair. But Felix and Mildmay, due to their horribly miserable childhoods, really take the cake, with the other two POV characters, Mehitabel and Kay, as close runner-ups. Gideon, Thaddeus and Mavortian get honorable mention: we never quite find out what happened to them, but it's implied to be bad, or at least soul-crushingly depressing.
    • Felix can only correlate love with sex, is mean and hateful to even those he loves (even when he recognizes it and knows he should stop), is a sadist when it comes to sex, is manipulative and controlling, and has a Guilt Complex the size of a horse's small intestine.
    • Mildmay has horrible self-esteem and huge trust issues, is self-degrading, only wants to be loved in a non-sexual way, and still hangs around Felix even after Felix does and says seriously horrible things to and about him. While he was Kolkhis's assassin, he was clinically depressed. He falls back into that after Ginevra dies, pulls himself out of it when he meets Felix, and then falls right back into it again after Felix sends him, using the obligation d'ame, to murder Vey Coruscant, which he does. Malkar catches him and tortures him for around a month. And he has amnesia regarding what happened. And it's implied his amnesia may be a forced coping method that he has to maintain.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Done very well in the ending of Corambis. Felix and Mildmay are technically being banished again, this time out to the back of beyond, but they've both (mostly) come to terms with themselves and each-other, and promise to try to be happy with each-other.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Mildmay, until Mavortian forced him to stop dyeing his hair. Kolkhis is also mentioned as having this complexion, leading many people who knew Mildmay as a kept-thief to assume they were related... and ergo committing incest regularly for years.

 Mildmay: "What was I doing wrong that everybody thought I was committing incest once a decad?"

  • Embarrassing First Name: For Mr. Mild-may-your-suffering-be-at-the-hands-of-the-wicked.
    • And for Gartrett Corbie.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Corbie is exceedingly popular with the boys at the Institution and seems to have them wrapped around her little finger before Felix or Mildmay even set foot on campus.
  • Evil Matriarch: Kolkhis.
    • Gloria Aestia, although she's long dead by the start of the series. She plotted to restore monarchy in Marathat with her son Shannon when he was fourteen or so, so she would have several years to consolidate power and make Shannon into a puppet king. Years after her execution, Shannon still flips out when people so much as mention her.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Averted and subverted with Arakhne.
    • "She's mostly there expressly in order for Felix to reject getting embroiled in That Kind of Fantasy Novel." Says the author herself.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Once for Felix in the beginning of Mélusine, and once again at the end of Corambis.
  • Eyes of Gold: Subverted. Felix's yellow eye has nothing to do with his magic or his psychic talents.
    • The Troian people all have yellow eyes and ultimately there isn't anything supernatural about them.
  • Face of a Thug: Mildmay's face is mentioned to be incredibly frightening-- to the point where he never smiles because he knows it would scare other people.
  • Fan Disservice: Half... okay, nearly all the scenes involving sex.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: More or less, the Troians = Ancient Greek, the Marathines = Anglo-French with a dash of Renaissance Europe, and the Kekropians = Modern Greek/Roman. Norvenans are obviously German, and the Merrows are obviously Russian. Midlanders may be Italian? Mind, this is mostly in terms of naming, architecture and language, instead of actual culture... with the exception of Cymellume and Lucere, which seem to be the spiritual ancestors of Ancient Rome and Byzantium. Clear as mud? Cool!
  • Femme Fatale: Mehitabel. It's mentioned that she has around 5 guys on her string at any one time. Then she gets in bed with the Lord Protector. Interesting variation on the trope as she does this as a last resort and because it's the only intelligent means of keeping her afloat, not as her first weapon of choice.
  • Fiery Redhead
  • First-Person Smartass: Mildmay is the absolute king of this trope. His description of Rindleshin's attempted attack on him during the ride through Mélusine had this troper practically dying with laughter.
  • Fish Out of Water: Mildmay accompanying Felix to the Mirador. Definitely not played for laughs.
    • Also Corbie at the Institution due to their general attitude towards women practitioners.
  • Forgets to Eat: Mildmay, especially when Felix is being mean to him. Also hates having people watch him eat, presumably because of his scar.
  • Friends with Benefits: Mildmay and Mehitabel. Sort of. It's complicated.
  • Functional Magic: In several different flavors.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Mirador.
  • Genre Busting: At first glance the series seems to be fantasy, then a horror trip into a crazy guy's head, then a book about people trying (and failing) to overcome the incredible traumas in their lives. Then it throws in some murder-mystery-conspiracy-politics and a whole assload of psychology, and then it ambles on over to Steampunk territory.
  • Genre Savvy: Mildmay, mostly acquired through his extremely rough-and-tumble life.
    • In order for Malkar to embrace his self-titled "evil wizard for a story" persona, he'd have to be this.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Felix again. Sometimes, the people he insults actually flee the room rather than try to retort.
  • Gentleman Thief: Mildmay is again a deconstruction of this. He is not a gentleman, and actually he hates burgling.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Nearly all wizards. Having proper magical training is often--though not always--shorthand for class.
  • Go Mad From the Revelation: Felix. Twice.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: If you want this trope, you're in the wrong book series.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Mildmay is the large scar that distorts his upper lip and stretches up the entire left side of his face (just missing his eye), which has left that side of his face nearly dead. He also has minor scars on his hands and acquires another serious one on his right leg. Felix's back is a mess of ugly scars, though they're easily hidden under clothing.
  • Gray Eyes: Stephen and Victoria are type 2. Kolhkis is type 4.
  • Green Eyes: Mildmay. While he has no magic of his own, he has the uncanny ability to never get lost ever, even in the middle of magical labyrinths.
  • Handicapped Badass: Mildmay, who, as of the end of Mélusine, has a nearly lame right leg, and Kay, who is, from the get-go of Corambis, completely blind.
  • Harmful to Minors: Pretty much everything that happened to Felix and Mildmay from age three until adulthood.
    • Mehitabel's pervy uncle, too.
    • Really it's harder to think of something in this series that doesn't conform to this trope, rather than does.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Side characters Simon and Rinaldo.
  • Heroic BSOD: Felix when Malkar rapes him and uses his magic to break the Virtu, and again throughout the course of Mélusine as he bobs in and out of insanity, then again in The Mirador when Gideon is killed. Mildmay suffers one in The Virtu when Malkar tortures him, and then again in The Mirador as he remembers all, exactly, what was done to him.
  • Hidden Depths: Shannon, and many other characters prominently featured in The Mirador.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Mildmay, who in his teens was arguably the most feared and notorious assassin in the city in his teens. Yes, you read that right. He's given it up by the start of the series (he's all of 20), though it keeps coming back to haunt him...
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Corbie. And, after Mildmay gets sick and Felix has to prostitute himself to get money for a doctor in Corambis, Felix himself. Again.
  • I Know Your True Name: In Mélusine, Mildmay warns Ginevra not to use her real name when they go to meet Vey Coruscant. At one point she says his name out loud, but at the time she only knew him by an alias.
  • I See Dead People: Felix, when mad, and Vincent Demabrien.
  • It Gets Easier: Subverted, as time goes on, it gets more and more difficult for Mildmay to murder, until he refuses to do it at all, for any reason. Like most of the things in the books, this reaps terrible consequences.
  • It Got Worse: All the time, especially in The Mirador.
  • It's What I Do: Felix's explanation to Mildmay on why he consistently treats Mildmay like total crap. See Jerk Justifications.
  • Incest Is Relative: Felix and Mildmay and eek. Also, Kolkhis and Mildmay may be an example, considering that Kolkhis raised him from the time he was three, and began sleeping with him when he was fourteen.
  • Insistent Terminology: Thaumaturgical architecture is not architectural thaumaturgy! The heart of a labyrinth isn't the same as the center of one!
  • Jerkass: Felix, to some degree, though it could be argued to be a Jerkass Facade, or at least a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Jerk Justifications: Of the third type. To quote Felix, talking to Mildmay about why he isn't able to treat Mildmay any better:

 Felix: "It's what I do. It's not you. It's... how I've always been. And it's not going to change. I'd tell you that I'd treat you better, but that'd be a lie."

  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Done in The Mirador, and set-up for in the previous two books.
  • Kick the Dog: A lot of things Felix does qualify as this.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Anything Felix does involving humiliating Robert or Thaddeus.
  • Knife Nut: Mildmay is an expert knife-fighter, specifically with butterfly knives. He flips them absentmindedly when upset or annoyed or just thinking.
  • Knowledge Broker: Mildmay's former Keeper, Kolkhis. Elvire, the madame of the Goosegirl's Palace, too.
  • Kudzu Plot: Done very well in The Mirador. The other books, while still complicated, aren't quite so complex.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Mildmay frequently mocks many conventional fantasy tropes and cliches: "Duels are just fancy knife-fights and just as fucking stupid."
  • Last-Name Basis: No one uses Corbie's first name. Probably because it leads to being kicked in the shin.
  • Lighter and Softer: Corambis, while still very dark, is a freaking carnival ride compared to the rest of the series.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: There are at least 50 characters who take a significant part of the plot and that's just from the first two books. Confusing is an understatement.
  • Lovable Rogue Subverted with Mildmay, who goes out of his way time and time again to explain to the reader why what he did was not okay. Most readers tend to love him anyway.
  • A Magic Contract Comes with a Kiss: when Felix puts the binding-by-forms on Mildmay, it's sealed with a kiss—which he doesn't warn Mildmay about first. When Mildmay reacts with shock, Felix just tells him he would probably prefer it to the alternative.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: It's entirely possible that Shannon isn't biologically a Teverius, but he's legally one and the family's sticking to that.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Averted with Stephen, Thamuris, and Julien. Otherwise played straight by most of the cast.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Malkar and Kolkhis both. And Felix counts, too. And Mehitabel. And Mavortian. And Lorenzo, probably. And Shannon. And...
  • Meaningful Name: Cressida is a suiting codename for Mehitabel...
  • Melting Pot Nomenclature
  • Mind Rape: Though there's some actual rape involved, too. Sometimes at the same time. Welcome to The Doctrine of Labyrinths.
  • Mind Screw: Many of Felix and Mildmay's dreams.
  • Mismatched Eyes: Felix has one yellow eye and one (nearly-blind) blue eye, which is blue because he sustained an injury to that eye as a child.
  • Modest Royalty: Stephen and Victoria, who detest pomp in all its forms. Shannon doesn't share this trait.
  • More Than Mind Control: worked on Felix by the Big Bad Malkar, and on Mildmay by Kolkhis, they spend most of the series trying to escape it and rebuild themselves, even after the people who'd been controlling them weren't a regular fixture in their lives (outside of their own constant thoughts, memories and nightmares).
  • Morality Pet: Corbie often plays this role for Felix since for some reason, unlike with Mildmay, he constantly reminds himself that she deserves better than his usual behavior.
  • Mysterious Past: We are never told what, exactly, happened to many characters that made them so traumatized and/or evil.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Felix struggles hugely with the knowledge that he forced Mildmay to kill again, and sent him straight into Malkar's tortuous clutches. He says it himself: "What I did to him could not possibly be described as anything other than rape." Interestingly enough, though, he still orders Mildmay to kill again later. Oh, Felix.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Malkar again, and any other names he's going by.
    • And Kolkhis and Vey Coruscant.
    • Louis Goliath, the spymaster of the Bastion.
    • And General Mercator.
    • And the White-Eyed Lady.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different The Kalliphorne.
  • Overly Long Name: Once again, Mild-may-your-sufferings-be-at-the-hands-of-the-wicked. No wonder his Keeper insisted on shortening it.
    • Also, the prostitute in Pharoahlight that Mildmay mentions in passing: Fly-from-fornication-and-blasphemy. "She went by Butterfly, which went down a whole lot better with her tricks."
  • Parental Abandonment: Felix and Mildmay's mother, Methony, sold them at the ages of five and three, respectively, to their incredibly sadistic Keepers. They never find out who their fathers even were. Not that they care.
  • Parental Neglect: Kay had a much less traumatic childhood. His mother simply wasn't interested in actually being a mother.
  • People of Hair Color: The Troians are the most obvious example.
  • Power Blonde: Corbie, who slowly comes into her own as a young wizard. While a good girl, she isn't innocent or virginal enough to be Hair of Gold.
  • Power Tattoo: Cabaline wizards are tattooed from elbow to knuckle to show they have magic and status.
  • Professional Killer: Mildmay is a deconstruction of this. He's neither well-dressed, nor educated, and all the money he got for his jobs never touched his hands. He was the most terrifying and capable assassin in the city, though, and he takes excruciating pains to keep that fact under wraps, because he's ashamed, and because it's dangerous to let that information float around in the breeze.
  • Properly Paranoid: A variant. Mildmay refuses to allow strangers to walk behind him for fear of being stabbed in the back, gets jumpy when he can't see everyone around him, surveys each room he enters for escapes and weapons, and has to keep himself from attacking people who sneak up on him. Felix hates it when people walk on the side of him that has his blind eye.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone
  • The Quiet One: Mildmay. In fact, whenever he says more than around two sentences in a row, there's a 50-50 chance that the character he's speaking to is going to make a (usually snide) comment about his sudden loquaciousness.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Corbie was raised by her grandmother, who is implied to have died at some point before she meets Felix and Mildmay. Her parents remain shrouded in mystery as she never gives any information about her mother, and all she knows about her father is that he was probably a Ygressine sailor because she looks almost exactly like the Ygressine people about town.
  • Rape as Drama: There is at least one rape or implied rape every book.
  • Rape as Backstory: Felix, Mildmay, and Mehitabel, in different ways.
  • Really Gets Around: Felix. Gideon comments (accurately) that Felix doesn't even know the names of all the men he's slept with in the past two months.
  • Redheaded Hero: Felix and Mildmay.
  • Red Light District: Pharaohlight
  • Reluctant Warrior: Until the end of The Mirador, Mildmay is this, wanting to keep from killing but his lifestyle refusing to accommodate. Up until the end of Corambis, Felix is this also.
  • Retired Outlaw: Mildmay
  • The Reveal: Hugo Chandler!
    • Malkar is Brinvillier Strych.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Felix is mentioned by both Mildmay and Mehitabel as having absolutely no head for the worth of money. Mildmay, in fact, manages the household finances.
  • Scenery Porn: Well, Culture Porn. Each city that Mildmay and Felix travel to is very different and lovingly detailed.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Or magic, works either way, more or less.
  • Seen It All: Mildmay.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Felix. Dear God, Feeeeliiiiiiix. And most other wizards, to an extent. Every pages, Felix would use some new, incredibly obscure word.
  • Sex Equals Love: Mildmay: "Sex don't have to be about love. Most times in my experience it ain't."
    • Felix on the other hand can separate sex from love, but he cannot separate love from sex.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Felix is beautiful, arrogant, well-educated, and useless at anything that's not academia. Mildmay is scarred, has serious confidence issues, looks and talks like a thug, and academically stunted but terribly world-wise and clever.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Mildmay. He is in fact the only person in the story with this coloring.
  • Silent Partner: Gideon.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Painfully, painfully averted. Life in general would be so much easier for Mildmay and Felix if all their defense mechanisms and dysfunctions could be traced back to one thing, but they can't.
  • Shout-Out The author seems to love referencing literary works for geographical names (and occasionally characters). This can be extremely disorienting for some people wondering when the significance of places called Britomart and Gilgamesh will kick in. (Hint: Never.)
    • And the beginning line of the Mirador, which is a shout-out to Charles Dickens.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The series falls pretty evenly down the middle of the scale; despite the horrific abuses that happen to the characters, it still seems to believe that people can heal, and do good things if they put their mind to it.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Mildmay is a shining example of this. People tend to think that because his speech is slurred, his mind is slow. In fact he's a better judge of character than just about everybody and is usually well aware of what people are trying to do when they think they're being clever.
  • Spot of Tea: The Corambins, in keeping with the fourth book's Steampunk feel.
  • Squishy Wizard: Pretty much every wizard in the story. Felix in particular is physically hopeless.
  • Stepford Smiler: Felix, Mildmay, and Mehitabel all seem good enough to get by on when viewed from the outside. Inside is a completely different story.
  • The Stoic: Mildmay again. He mentions once or twice that it's because his Keeper, Kolkhis, liked to screw with his emotions so much, and eventually he figured out how to keep himself from reacting.
  • Student Teacher Romance: Mildmay believes Corbie has a huge crush on Felix. And that the reason Corbie sleeps with him is because Felix is gay and thus off limits.
  • Tear Jerker: Let's see, shall we? Basically anything involving Felix or Mildmay's childhoods, but especially Joline and Zephyr (who, as Mildmay says, "never did anything to hurt nobody"), and Gideon's death and Felix's reaction. Also everything with Mehitabel and Hallam, and the implication that Gerrard never loved Kay and may have mocked him with his wife.
  • Technical Pacifist: As of the ending of The Mirador, Mildmay has decided not to kill anymore, but that sure as hell won't stop him from kicking your ass six ways to Dimanche, especially if you even think about harming Felix. But no killing!
  • Technically a Smile: You really, really don't want Mildmay to smile.
  • There Are No Therapists: Justified that the story takes place in societies with roughly Renaissance/Industrial Revolution-era technology and societal mores; therapists just plain don't exist. And it's not like our boys open up to anyone anyway; it's nearly a miracle they can admit their plethora of issues to themselves.
  • Thieves' Guild: Subverted and averted directly by Mildmay, yelling, "there is no assassin's guild!"
  • Title Drop: The title of the series is the (translated) title of a book in the books.
  • Token Minority/Token White: Played with. Most people in Marathat and the surrounding countries are brown-skinned, dark-eyed and dark-haired, meaning Felix and Mildmay with their pale complexions and red hair look exceedingly odd and out of place. Shannon being blue-eyed and blond also stands out.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Mildmay. From what is known about Malkar, and from what Felix tells us about him, it's heavily implied that Mildmay suffered sexual, psychological, and physical torture at his hands. But even when Mildmay does remember, he refuses to talk or even think about it.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: The kept-thieves exemplify this, being directly modeled after Fagin's whole setup in Oliver Twist. Pack kids don't tend to do much better.
  • Tyke Bomb: Mildmay's skills as a cat burglar were trained into him starting around the age of three when his Keeper bought him from his mother. His training as an assassin started when he was fourteen, and as an older teenager Mildmay the Fox was known through the lower city as one of the most skilled and dangerous killers around (two different and powerful wizards, three men in three different districts in three different ways in one night) and he was still entirely subservient to his Keeper Kolkhis until he ran away at seventeen.
  • Un-Equal Rites: There are different schools of magic in each country, so a lot of the rivalry is tied up with politics. Most wizards don't study other schools of magic for this reason, even though they would probably be capable of more than one type of spells. Also, wizards visiting another country have to be very careful what they do—for example, in Mélusine it's considered heresy to cast a spell of any kind on a person.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: Felix and Mildmay look shockingly like each other, and equally shockingly unlike everyone else.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Mildmay and Felix both tell the truth as they see it, but that doesn't mean their truths are the same. This is actually Lampshaded in Corambis.
  • Urban Segregation: There's the poor, run-down and dangerous Lower City, which is separated from the fairly well-to-do rest of the city, which is separated again from the towering and imposing Mirador where the Cabaline Wizards and Aristocracy live/visit.
  • Upper Class Wit: Felix especially, but in general it doesn't seem as if the wizards of the Mirador do much more than bicker and gossip amongst themselves and attend parties.
  • Vestigial Empire: Cymellune and Troia.
  • Weasel Words: Mavortian von Heber does this constantly, to the point where Mildmay actually calls him out on it, literally telling him, "them's weasel words." Inverted when, just afterward, Mildmay notes that kind of talk 'sounds great in stories', but in real life you have to watch the guy who's doing it very carefully regardless of what you said, or you'll get fucked over.
  • Wham! Episode: The last 100-or-so pages of The Mirador.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Mildmay's absolutely epic line about helping the cook on the Morskaiakrov: "When it comes to scrubbing potatoes, I don't fuck around."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Mehitabel often calls out Felix on his abhorrent treatment of Mildmay. Felix... keeps on keeping on.
  • When She Smiles: Corbie is a pretty enough girl, but Felix says she's absolutely lovely when she smiles.
  • The White Prince: Sheltered, rich, royal Shannon. Gerrard, who actually is a prince/king, counts too.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Kind-of, due to Felix's lust for Mildmay. They don't. Also with Mildmay and Mehitabel... They do. But are they in love? Uh... (it should also be noted that in early drafts of the books, Mehitabel and Mildmay get married). And then again with Mildmay and Kay they don't, and then with Kay and Felix they don't. But, again, in earlier drafts of the books? They totally do.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Everyone with a traumatic past. Which is all of the POV characters. None of which are over thirty.
  • Wizarding School: The Gardens of Nephele in Troia and the Grevillian Institute in Corambis. All other references to schools of magic in the series--Cabalines, Eusebians, etc.--have to do with schools of thought, not the actual training of wizards.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Averted. Mildmay comments to Mehitabel that he wouldn't have any problem with hitting a woman who "deserves it". However, he does instantly apologize for saying it. Felix also mentions, several times, wanting to strike some woman or other for being flip. (Of course, Felix wants to strike everyone, so...)
  • Xanatos Gambit: The plot to put Shannon Teverius on the throne, as formulated by Vey Coruscant, Kolkhis, and a spattering of the Polydorii.
  • X Meets Y: Self-described by the author: "It's Jane Eyre meets Huckleberry Finn... with magic!"
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The huphantike Thamuris seals when he does pythian casting with Mildmay.
  • Younger Than They Look: Due to his scar and his emotionless expression, Mildmay is consistently taken for being much older than he is. By the time Mélusine starts, he's a little over 19; when they meet, Felix thinks he's much older than that. And throughout the series, Felix often makes comments to himself about how young Mildmay actually is.

Notes

  1. A septad is seven of something, usually seven years. A decad is ten days. An indiction is one year. Any other terms the reader is unfamiliar with can probably be found in a larger, more extensive dictionary; they are all historical in nature.
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