Literature / Talion: Revenant

Talion: Revenant is a fantasy novel written by Michael Stackpole and completed in 1986 but not published until 1997, since it was considered too long for a starting writer. It centers around the character of Nolan ra Sinjaria, a Talion Justice who pursues criminals and who people widely fear due to his ability to kill by sucking the soul from someone's body with the magical death's head tattoo on his right hand. Nolan however is a good, honorable man (though he does have his bad moments), who dislikes that Talions are feared (especially Justices) and unlike some of his colleagues works to earn the respect of the people he protects instead of preying on their fears. He was orphaned when his country Sinjaria was conquered by its neighbor Hamis, and joined the Talions (an order that maintains stability in the rivalrous kingdoms) with the hope of someday bringing the man he holds responsible, King Tirrell of Hamis, to justice. Now, though, he has been ordered by his masters to protect that same king from a dire threat to his throne, and while he reluctantly obeys, some of the ghosts of his past begin to return...

Warning, spoilers ahead.

This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anachronic Order: Every chapter alternates between the present day, when Nolan is a Talion, and his past where he was a novice, explaining how we got here.
  • Arc Words: "A tool is just a tool, unless it does the job by itself."
  • As You Know: Done many times.
  • Bastard Bastard: Brede ulRia, the Bastard of Ria (technically he may not be a bastard in the illegitimate sense, as his mother's confession that he was is seen as false, but in the word's other meaning he certainly is).
  • Batman Gambit: A successful one is set up by His Excellency, Lord of Services, and later Marana nearly succeeds with another.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Ul", as the illegitimate descendants of the royal families are known (ulRia, ulHamis, ulPatria, etc.) is Arabic for "of", and specifically refers to illegitimate sons with the phrase ibn ul haram-"son of forbidden" (being called this is a huge insult in Arab culture).
  • Body Horror: The specialty of Chi'gandir, a dark sorcerer who twists people's bodies into horrible shapes with magic and then extorts payment from them to cancel the spell. Thankfully a spell's effect ends with the death of the caster in this 'verse.
  • Duel to the Death: Between Nolan and Lothar over Marana. Also near the end with Captain Herman.
  • Easily Forgiven: Nolan lets King Tirrell of Hamas completely off the hook for invading and conquering his homeland, Sinjaria, which killed thousands of people including Nolan's entire family. It's true that Tirrell seems somewhat remorseful over it, even offering to abdicate in favor of Nolan, but he doesn't even make him withdraw and give Sinjaria independence.
  • Foreshadowing: The book switches between the present and past each chapter, setting up plot points for fulfillment. In particular the frequently quoted proverb "A tool is just a tool, unless it does the job by itself" is said long before its most important reference near the end.
  • Giant Flyer: Talion Elites ride Imperial Hawks, which are six feet tall even when fleglings, and grow big enough to carry off cattle after getting full grown.
  • Karma Houdini: Morai. He isn't a bad sort, but he rides with completely evil characters, putting innocent people's lives in danger, and he's still a bandit, albeit one who isn't shown to harm people himself. Even Nolan, who spent years chasing him, doesn't bring him to justice, apparently because of his help.
  • Love Triangle: Between Nolan, Marana and Lothar. Lothar doesn't take her leaving him for Nolan very well...
  • No Ontological Inertia: Played Straight as its stated the effect of wizard's spells don't last beyond their own deaths.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: They're called the Dhesiri, to start with, they catch humans to eat, live in underground warrens, their society is similar to ants' (they have a massive hive queen who produces them all), their warriors are eight feet tall...
  • Shaped Like Itself: The Shattered Empire. It's the kingdoms formed by the provinces of a former empire that split apart.
  • Tearjerker: What happened to Nolan's little brother.
  • The Chessmaster: His Excellency, Lord of Services. Nolan deeply resents being used by him, especially when it results in harm to those he cares about.
  • The Order: The Talions.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: His Excellency, Lord of Services again. Though he understands and feels sorry about the cost of his schemes, he also thinks its necessary to keep chaos from descending on the kingdoms. He appears to be right in that.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When Nolan's family is murdered, he sees and hears it all, even though he was not in a position where he'd be able to. Magical remote viewing or something could be the explanation, but the book never mentions that, and he is explicitly said to not have magic. Also, his family was specifically targeted because they had a birthright claim to the throne of the invading country, but it is never revealed who ordered it, and Nolan does not even try to find out, nor is it shown how the enemy knew. It's also never made clear exactly what a Tingis Lurker is, except for some manner of magic user, nor what significance the tattoo around their left eyes have.