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Literature: Incarnations of Immortality
Incarnations of Immortality is an eight-book fantasy series by Piers Anthony. It tells the story of mortals who assume various immortal offices, becoming the Anthropomorphic Personification of varying concepts. The first five books deal with that person's life as he or she assumes the office, as well as his or her first encounter with Satan, who attempts to use their lack of experience to his own advantage. The series was originally conceived as being only five books long, but by popular demand the author wrote three more. The sixth book tells the story of Satan, and offers a Perspective Flip on some of the events of the previous books. The seventh book deals with a reoccurring character trying to save her baby's soul, and in turn, becoming the Incarnation of good (God). The last book deals with how Nox, aka Night, assumed her Office and became heavily involved in Satan's Xanatos Gambit (explaining some plot from prior books along the way). By the end of the series, all of the Incarnations are related to one another somehow.

The books and the incarnation featured in them are, in order:
  • On a Pale Horse featuring Zane as Thanatos, the Incarnation of Death
  • Bearing an Hourglass featuring Norton as Chronos, the Incarnation of Time
  • With a Tangled Skein featuring Niobe as Clotho and Lachesis (at different times), aspects of the Incarnation of Fate
  • Wielding a Red Sword featuring Mym as Mars, the Incarnation of War
  • Being a Green Mother featuring Orb as Gaea, the Incarnation of Nature
  • For Love of Evil featuring Parry as Satan, the Incarnation of Evil
  • ...and Eternity featuring mysterious stuff about God, the Incarnation of Good
  • Under a Velvet Cloak, which is largely a prequel to the main series, featuring Kerena as Nox, the Incarnation of Night

The series makes use of the following tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: In For Love of Evil, Satan tries to meet up with the other Incarnations and make friends. With the exception of Chronos, they treat him utterly like crap, to the point of watching while Gaea has him raped by an ape.
  • Alternate History: Many minor details about the world are changed because of the existence of magic and divinities. Iraq and Iran are called Babylonia and Persia (but still have a war), India is a collection of unrelated sultanates, Islam is not mentioned (though Allah and Mohammed do receive very brief references in For Love of Evil), and "pigskin" (football) uses magic as part of the game, is measured in feet instead of yards, and is an all-female game.
    • Also, some historical events are changed in-series, up to and including Satan manipulating Chronos into preventing World War II and the Holocaust.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Pretty much the basis of the entire story.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The martial arts master Samurai in With a Tangled Skein.
  • Artistic License - Religion: In Wielding a Red Sword, Mym says that the closest equivalent to Satan in Hindu terms would be Shiva. In actuality, while Shiva is "the Destroyer", he is also a beloved and heroic deity revered by all Hindus. He's the destroyer of evil, the guy who kills demons, and thus could hardly be more opposite to the traditionally held image of Satan (As to Satan himself in this series...it's complicated).
  • Author Appeal: Piers Anthony has been vocal in the past about his belief that sex between adults and minors isn't really as bad as it's made out to be. This is showcased in ...And Eternity when Vita, a fifteen-year-old prostitute, falls in love with a judge in his fifties and they end up in a sexual relationship. It also appears in the description of the tannana in Being A Green Mother, with girls as young as six performing it and Orlene musing that she can understand why many Gypsy girls are sexually active before puberty even sets in.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason Satan helps out JHVH by taking down Adolf Hitler, in order to end the persecution of Jews in World War II.
  • Big Bad: Under a Velvet Cloak reveals that the Incarnation of Darkness, Erebus, has been working on destroying all of reality for some reason or another.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Asian Clotho in With a Tangled Skein; she only falls in love with Samurai after he defeats her in combat and shows her her place.
    • That being said, she was using the Sword of War in the fight, and was therefore literally incapable of losing. She forfeited the match so that Samurai wouldn't be humiliated in front of his students.
  • Better The Devil You Know: After Parry abdicates his position as Satan, the other Incarnations agree that they vastly preferred him to his replacement.
  • Breast Attack: Through electrocution.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Purgatory is like this.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Quite a few. Most notably Orlene, who serves only to set up Norton into becoming Chronos by dying, then becomes the main character of ...And Eternity.
    • Nicolai appears in Being a Green Mother as someone Orb meets during her travels (and is left to find a rich adoptive family for Orlene), but in ...And Eternity he becomes an aspect of Fate.
  • Children Are Innocent: Mostly. Oddly enough, children can be "tainted" by their circumstances, in which case they are not evil but are still treated as such by the system.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Incarnations of good and evil gain power by how many people believe in them. When religions fade away, so do their respective Incarnations of good and evil.
  • Completely Missing the Point: When Zane was still human, he was a photographer. He discovered how to take pictures of people's auras. He became depressed when his customers ignored the beautiful auras and only bought his photos because a side-effect of the aura-capturing technique was that the subject appears naked.
  • Cool Car: Death's car, Mortis.
  • Cool Horse: Death's steed, Mortis. War's steed, Werre.
  • Cool Old Guy: Nicolai and JHVH.
  • Cue the Flying Pigs/Brick Joke: Orlene, when inside the body of one of the flying saucer hostages, has to tell the terrorists that the captain refuses to surrender control to them. The person she's possessing is too frightened to do so, so Orlene does it for her with the rather ballsy, "when God kisses Satan and the Incarnations applaud, maybe then". And then it happens at the end, once she is made God(dess) and kisses Parry in thanks for him making it all possible.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Molly Malone, Jolie, and Orlene.
  • Death Takes a Holiday: On a Pale Horse, naturally.
    • At the end of ...And Eternity, Death briefly takes a holiday again - and so do all the other Incarnations, for one hour, while they all select a new Incarnation of Good.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Part of Satan's desire to take power from God is because he discovered that this is the case in Hell: People are damned for relatively minor sins or sins that were justified under the circumstances. (For example, there's a guy in there whose only sin was stealing food so that his family would have enough to eat.) He wants to change this situation, but is unable to do so because changing the definitions of good and evil requires him and God to reach a mutual agreement, which is impossible because God isn't paying attention.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first book, Death is never referred to as "Thanatos". Also, the other incarnations don't really display much open hostility towards Satan (or even seem to really care about his meddling). Later book has the other Incarnations pretty much all treat Satan as a foe or someone they dislike and distrust. Similarly, in the early books, Satan is pretty much openly evil, advertising in the mortal world even to tempt mortals to doom themselves and go to hell, which clashes with his later stated goal when the author decided that Satan Is Good - wanting to prevent souls who don't deserve to go to hell from winding up there. When we see things from Satan's point of view, we see that the ad campaign is one of Satan's means of separating those who possess Hidden Evil from those who are good, since only the evil would fall for the lies he sets forth.
  • Electric Torture: Luna gets this. Her kidnappers strip her topless and then zap her bared nipples. It's made explicit that it's very painful.
  • Everyone Is Related: The Incarnations make a pretty big tangle.
  • Fisher King: Gaea's feelings affect the planet. It rains when she cries, and her anger can cause earthquakes.
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: Played with. In the first novel, it isn't so much that Death forgot that he could change the rules; it's that he didn't know that he could (in fact, he didn't even know half of them), causing infant souls born under questionable circumstances to go to Purgatory and later triggering an end to all death worldwide because he refused to take one soul. At the end of the book, he realizes that it's his prerogative to do what he damn well pleases as the Incarnation of Death, and that all of Satan's rulesmongering didn't mean a damn thing. He also changes the rules regarding infant souls, sending one to heaven instead of Purgatory in the end. The last is retconned in later books, as Death is acting outside of his authority.
  • Fox-Chicken-Grain Puzzle: Presented as a Demon-Rapist-Girl Puzzle, with three women and three demons, and if the demons outnumber the women at any point they'll be raped.
  • Gambit Pileup: Satan, various Fates, Norton as Chronos, Nox, and the Archangel Gabriel have all set up Xanatos Gambits and Roulettes, some hundreds of years long, to manipulate each other, the other Incarnations, and any mortal who might be useful in the final conflict, until everything finally comes crashing together in ...And Eternity. Subverted in the end, everyone won. And I mean everyone. Except Erebus.
  • Gender Bender: Orlene getting temporarily turned into a man as described in I'm a Man, I Can't Help It below. There's also Nicolai turning into a woman when he becomes an aspect of Fate.
  • GIFT: Possibly predicted in an older form, and alluded to, in Bearing an Hourglass, when Chronos encounters a wall covered in graffiti, and muses that perhaps, in a perfectly free society, people do behave badly. He concludes that both the best and worst in society are equally necessary.
  • God Job: How the Incarnations work.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The fact that Satan's agents frequently interfere in the mortal world, while God apparently does nothing, is initially attributed to God and the Devil having made an agreement to leave the mortal world alone, which the Devil of course immediately broke but God still keeps. (This eventually turns out not to be true, but it's initially portrayed as a straight example of the trope.)
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: Or in God's case, zonked out on his own Divine Presence.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Lucifer sent Lilah to turn Parry, leader of the Dominicans and his deadliest foe, to evil. He succeeded...and Parry promptly overthrew him. Remember, Prince of Darkness, Evil Is Not a Toy.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: In addition to Lucifer's attempt in book 6, described above, in book 4, Satan tries sending Lilah to seduce and corrupt the new Mars. Once again, it ends up backfiring.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Satan prevents Hitler's rise to power, and only JHVH and himself remembers this. Orlene, Jolie, and Vita eventually learn about this.
  • The Grim Reaper: Subverted, as it's only a costume Thanatos wears.
  • Have You Seen My God?: The Christian God, who is the current Incarnation of Good, is inattentive because He is contemplating His own goodness to the exclusion of all else. In ...and Eternity, He is impeached and replaced by a new God.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Averted. To repay a debt to the Jewish God JHVH, Satan convinces Chronos through Reverse Psychology to prevent Hitler's rise to power. While there is still a war that Germany starts, it is as the restored Holy Roman Empire, and the Holocaust never happens.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Fate
  • High Heel-Face Turn: Lilah, twice.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Vita from ...And Eternity.
  • Horny Devils: Lilah and Jezebel.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Incarnation Of War is accompanied by Famine, Conquest, Slaughter, and Pestilence.
    • The Incarnation Of Death, of course. The first book lampshades it with it's title being a paraphrase of the bible: Death rides On a Pale Horse.
  • I Hate You, Vampire Dad: Plays a major role in the events of Under a Velvet Cloak, which leads to all the Incarnations being affected in some way.
  • I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: In ...And Eternity, Orlene is transformed into a man and immediately becomes an aggressive, misogynistic, testosterone-charged boor, attempting to rape her friend Jolie. Upon having her female form restored, she and Jolie are horrified and conclude that "Men have passions that women do not", and that the reason all men are not constantly overwhelmed with violent lust is that "they have learned control".
    • Possibly subverted, as both Orlene and Jolie were transformed into a specific man (the grown version of Orlene's child) to show what his genetic affliction would do to him.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Because Orlene is a ghost when she assumes the Office of Good, Vita points out that this makes her a Holy Ghost.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Zane is interrupted by Thanatos and kills him, claiming the office.
    • Also the Asian Clotho in With a Tangled Skein ; she is preparing to commit suicide when the Fates swoop in and make her Clotho.
  • Invincible Hero: Zane in On a Pale Horse. Justified because of the logical paradox that is in play at the time: When he took the office of Death, his soul became temporarily balanced between good and evil. As such, if he were to die, Death would have to collect his soul...and he's Death. Since collecting his own soul is physically impossible, he can't die. Death in general has this. At the end of the book it's revealed that the cloak is more of a Magic Feather: Death can only die if he (at least subconsciously) desires to (Which can happen as Death is guaranteed entry into heaven). As such, the only way for Death to die is if he wants it (Essentially it requires Death to kill Death) or if the other incarnations vote to kick him out of office.
  • Ironic Echo: In book two, when Norton has confronted Satan and undone his latest scheme to take over, and threatens to keep interfering until Satan gives in and fixes the timeline.
    Satan: What do you want?
    Norton: Need you ask, sirrah? Explanation 
  • Living MacGuffin: Luna. Niobe to a lesser extent, before she stops being a chess piece and starts playing.
  • Living Motion Detector: Zane fights a demon like this in the first book.
  • Loophole Abuse: (Spoilers for the end of ...And Eternity) Ain't No Rule that says a ghost can't hold office as an Incarnation. The rule only limits eligibility to those who remain in the mortal realm, which includes the ghosts.
  • Love Redeems: After falling in love with Orb, Satan tries to resign his position kills himself, thereby abdicating the Office of Evil. It doesn't stick, because everyone prefers Satan to his replacement and the Incarnations fish him out of his cell.
  • Louis Cypher: Natasha - Ah Satan, Backwards
  • Magic Feather: All the Incarnations' implements function more or less like this. They're symbolic of the Incarnations' power, but mostly act as tools of visualization and control; Death doesn't need his cloak for invulnerability, and Gaea and Satan use their music as an easy focus for their techniques. The only apparent exceptions are the skeins of fate, and possibly the Hourglass.
  • Magic Music: The Llano, a song that can do strange things. Nature and Satan use it.
    • Earlier, Orb learns the tanana, which is an erotic Gypsy dance with surprising efficacy on nonhuman entities (although this is more likely the result of Orb's nascent powers), and uses it on her quest to find the Llano.
    • Cedric Kaftan and his cousin Pacian (Orb's father) both have an inherited brand of magic that causes invisible orchestras to spring up with sparkly backing tracks whenever they sing. Niobe instantly falls in love with each of them in turn after hearing their singing.
  • Merlin Sickness: Chronos. Understandbly, this gets pretty confusing for other characters. In one scene in For Love of Evil, Satan goes to visit Chronos for advice and finds that the new Chronos doesn't like him. When the new Chronos rails on Satan for his various atrocities, Satan has no clue what he's talking about.
  • More Expendable Than You: When Cedric discovers a plot to kill Niobe, he decides to make the Heroic Sacrifice by taking her place without telling her.
  • Naked First Impression: Zane meets Luna when she is teleported out of the shower.
  • Nature Lover: Niobe in With a Tangled Skein
  • Noble Demon: Pretty much Satan in a nutshell. His reason for the war against God is that the system for determining whether a person goes to Heaven or Hell is flawed, and he gets too many good people. He makes a deal with the Archangel Gabriel to keep the war from harming mortals. He is friends with JHVH, the previous Incarnation of Good.
  • No Name Given:
    • With a very few exceptions, none of the Incarnations other than the specific protagonists of each novel are ever named.
    • Despite getting a fair amount of screentime, Orb's bandmates in Being a Green Mother are only ever referred to as "the guitarist", "the drummer", etc.
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: In On a Pale Horse, Death decides to read his mail against the advice of his household staff, and one of the letters is from a girl who is afraid that she'll die in her sleep because her mother makes her recite this prayer before going to bed.
  • Now It's My Turn: When Cedric confronts four drunk college students who were attempting to rape Niobe, he deliberately allows them to strike him first, which has no effect. He then grins and says, "Now you have had the first blow, I'll have the last," and proceeds to lay out all four of them in seconds.
  • Omniglot: The previous Mars before Mym.
  • One Degree of Separation: Everyone's related! Justified by the Gambit Pileup revealed in the later books.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage
  • Pretty in Mink: An heiress in the beginning of the first book.
  • The Problem with Fighting Death: Well, sort of. If you kill Death you get his job — whether or not it was intentional or you want the burden. Although in that case you can just find someone more willing and let them kill you.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Satan, particularly as characterized in the later books, is just doing a dirty but necessary job in tempting humans to sin and punishing the guilty. Most of his predecessors really were genuinely evil, leading to some really ugly office politics before Orlene becomes Goddess and patches things up.
  • Rerouted From Heaven: The system for processing souls is rather messed up, due to God slacking off. Zane, the new Death, is unsatisfied with babies going to Purgatory, and manages to get the system adjusted to send them to Heaven instead. Later on, when Parry takes over running hell in For Love Of Evil, he realizes a large portion of souls arriving there don't deserve it, and tries to show the A Hell of a Time instead. Eventually he instigates a Plan to get God replaced.
  • Really Gets Around: Is there anyone Nox won't sleep with?
  • Reset Button: The ability to push this (albeit only under the most dire and necessary of circumstances, since it would tangle the threads of Fate) is one of Chronos's main and most useful powers. One of its most notable uses is in Being a Green Mother when, after she agrees to marry Satan, Orb's use of the Llano to bring about The End of the World as We Know It is undone this way.
  • Retcon: Satan in the first four books appeared to be pure, irredeemable evil. In the fifth book, he gets cast more sympathetically, and after that he's a Necessarily Evil Punch Clock Anti-Villain.
    • Similarly, the succubus "Lila" sent to seduce Mars in book 4 turns out to be much more than a low-ranking Horny Devil: she was "Lilah", the same succubus that turned Parry to evil, and was also the "Lilith" of folklore who rejected Adam because he refused to acknowledge her as an equal.
    • In the original book, the office holder of Death is never called Thanatos. The name only is given to him in the subsequent books, to match the fact that all the other Incarnations have a name based of Greek or Roman mythology.
  • Runaway FiancÚ: Asian Clotho in With a Tangled Skein; she runs away from her strict family because she doesn't like the husband they have chosen for her.
  • Sassy Black Woman: The African-American Atropos in With a Tangled Skein.
  • Satan Is Good: The sixth book's entire premise. (Sort of.)
  • Sapient Steed: Mortis.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: A person's faith determines what afterlife it gets. Atheist souls disintegrate upon death.
    • Becomes a bit of a Family-Unfriendly Aesop, or possibly some variety of Take That at faith, when you realize that this means, as far as the universe of the books go, that those who believe will have to suffer for their sins... some intentional, many not... while atheists can be as evil as they want to be without any post-death repercussions.
    • On the other hand, atheists disintegrate. But that's what they're expecting, they don't consider it any kind of punishment or bad thing.
    • It is this system that Satan is opposing through the sixth and seventh books.
  • Sequel Gap: Under a Velvet Cloak was published seventeen years after the previous book.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Judge Scott, with Vita and Orlene in ...And Eternity.
  • Signs of the End Times: Plague, earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions are all the result of singing the Llano of Chaos, which ends all living things within weeks of it being sung. Although one could argue that these are less signs of the end and more the cause.
  • Spell My Name with an S: The succubus "Lilah" goes by slightly different names at different points in the series, changing it depending on the persona she is assuming at the time.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The sixth book.
  • Tangled Family Tree: A mild one as things go, but the Kaftan family still has to deal with time travel, prophecies, and temporary agelessness, leading to Niobe's daughter and first granddaughter being born about the same time, and Niobe herself screwing her second granddaughter's affair from the future. Come to think of it, we should be very grateful that Incarnations can't reproduce while in office.
  • Theme Table
  • Time Stands Still: Chronos and Thanatos can both do this, though Thanatos only because Chronos lets him.
    • Mars can do it as well and its implied that all Incarnations can do it. One of the Office of Time's duties is to allow to the other Incarnations to stop time when it is necessary for them to perform their duties.
      • In fact most of Chronos's job seems to be helping the other Incarnations out when they need to fiddle with some matter of time or another. He does his other main job, making sure time, y'know, exists, just by being in office.
      • As, in fact, do most of the Incarnations. They make sure problems and important jobs are dealt with, and the small things happen automatically.
  • To Hell and Back: After Cedric sacrifices himself to save Niobe, Niobe travels to Purgatory in an attempt to make a deal with death and bring her husband back to life, even if it means she must die in his place. Sadly, Death is not convinced that her "but I love him!" argument outweighs the fact that Niobe's survival is crucial to the betterment of mankind.
    • All the Incarnations visit Hell at some point in their careers. Usually it's a trap, sometimes it's just to negotiate.
  • Twelve Coins Puzzle: Featured in the third book.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Zane, while not exactly ugly, is average at best, while Luna is one of the most beautiful women of her generation. Zane was also destined to marry a comparably beautiful and rich woman before a shady salesman tricked him into giving up this destiny.
  • Vapor Wear: Gaea (the one before Orb) and Lilah. Gaea because she doesn't really see the point in clothing, Lilah because she's a succubus.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Satan in Wielding a Red Sword when Mars threatens to start World War III and the Apocalypse early. Satan may have been faking, though.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Satan advertises hell openly as a "Cool" place to hangout to entice mortals to sin and doom themselves. We find out that this is Satan's means of weeding out those who are latently evil, so as to properly classify them under the headings of "Good", "Evil", or "Neutral".
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Niobe for her generation, her daughter Orb for her generation, and her granddaughter (via her son) Luna for her generation.
  • Xanatos Gambit: By the end, things end up arranged so that Satan gets what he wanted regardless of whether Good or Evil ends up in charge of the world. If Good wins, God gets replaced by someone who is going to do the job properly. If Evil wins, Satan gets to take over. Either way, Hell stops getting souls who don't deserve to be there.
    • Under a Velvet Cloak reveals that the entire series was one for Nox, who was working to stop Erebus from destroying all of reality.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: The office of Death is transferred this way. This is also one of the ways the office of Evil can be transferred.
    • Though Death moves on to the afterlife naturally, with some implication that he gets to go to Heaven as a reward for his service. The previous officeholder of Evil, however, immediately gets damned and can thus be called upon by his successor.
  • You Must Be Cold: Death gives Luna his cloak once.

ImaroLiterature of the 1980sThe Indian in the Cupboard
IncarceronFantasy LiteratureInfernal Devices

alternative title(s): Incarnations Of Immortality
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