Literature / The Acts of Caine

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"You, as Actors, have a precisely defined role, irrespective of whether you swing a blade or throw a lightning bolt, joust or heal the sick. It is purely and simply this: Your function in society is to risk your life in interesting ways."
Blade of Tyshalle

The Acts of Caine is a series of fantasy-science fiction (trending toward fantasy) books by Matt Stover.

There are currently four books: Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife, and Caine's Law.

The series's setting is an interesting combination of a futuristic earth run by corporate governments with a strict caste system and loads of repression, and a parallel high fantasy world called Overworld that earth humans have learned to travel to and exploit. This exploitation initially takes the form of The Studio, a company that produces a sort of reality entertainment by sending "actors" to Overworld. These actors are trained in either magic or combat, implanted with a kind of video recorder and sent to Overworld to "risk [their] lives in an interesting way". On the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, the series tends towards cynicism, although it's not without bouts of idealism. A more detailed synopsis here, with minor spoilers from the first three books.

The books are centered on the character of Caine and his actor Hari Michaelson. Heroes Die tells the story of Hari/Caine as he tries to rescue his love interest Shanna/Pallas Ril from Ma'elKoth. As with all the books in the series, Heroes Die comments on the morality of violent entertainment and explores of a myriad of other moral questions.

Blade of Tyshalle takes place seven years later, reintroducing Hari and Shanna in their later married, unhappy and semi-retired lives (along with the no longer divine Tan'elKoth). This tedium is of course shattered by plots set into action by the corporate leaders of Earth which Hari's friend, Kris Hansen/Deliann Mithondionne tries to avert. This novel turns the moral philosophizingup to 11 or 12, adds questions of identity, resource usage, destiny (or lack thereof) and humanity's drive to exploit and use up everything. It also features the end of the world, in a way.

Caine Black Knife follows Caine in both the present (three years after the end of Blade of Tyshalle) and twenty-five years ago as he interacts with the Black Knife clan of Ogrillos. The present arc of the story includes a broader exploration of Orbek Black Knife, a side character introduced in Blade of Tyshalle. The philosophizing is turned back down to about 8, but questions concerning the legitimacy of guerrilla warfare and online FPSs are still asked. Also has some rather overt references to either the Iraq War or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complete with a suicide bombing.

Caine's Law follows immediately after (and in some cases, simultaneously with or even preceding) the events of the third book, as Caine faces the consequences of a deal he made with a god at the start of his Acting career—and the fallout from the last book, as timelines begin to get screwed around and gods start to intervene. The philosophical questions return with the advent of a mysterious mythical woman called "the horse-witch" and a recurring theme about the treatment of horses and humans. Caine travel through different parts of his life, trying to put things in order for an explosive showdown with the dark Powers at work.


These books provide examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Kosall combines this with Vibroweapon.
  • Action Dad: Caine, from second book onward.
  • Action Girl: Talaan in Heroes Die, Marade in Caine Black Knife, Angvasse in Caine's Law.
  • A God Am I: Shanna/Pallas Ril and Hannto the Scythe/Ma'elKoth. To be fair, they actually became gods.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: In the end, Kollberg is taken by the Social Police.
  • Always Save the Girl: "I'd burn the world to save her".
  • Anyone Can Die: Many central characters have died. Several have died and come back. One character got killed, came back as a semi-god, got killed again, and then became a true God.
  • Anti-Hero: Caine.
  • Anti-Villain: Toa-Sytell.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "What do you want?" About two-thirds into Blade of Tyshalle Tommie asks this of Deliann, which takes a little under a page and a half. "What do you want?" happens to be both the identifying code phrase and the central tenet of the persecuted philosophy Tommie holds. Tommie has to ask the question, with mildly different phrasing, over five times. No, Deliann, not what you feel guilty about, not what you think went wrong in the past, not what you like or wish or would settle for. What you want.
  • Artistic License Medicine: An In-Universe example in Heroes Die. Hari complains to the guys at The Studio after playing their Bloodier and Gorier version of one of his adventures that the wounds Caine took should have had him immobilized from pain and shortly dead of blood loss.
  • Ascended Extra: Raithe.
  • Author Tract: A few times, though it never goes on for more than a few pages at a time.
  • Background Magic Field: The "Flow" is generated by all living beings and can be used by magical adepts for their own purposes.
  • Badass Beard: Caine and Ma'elKoth.
  • Badass Boast: More than a few:
    • Heroes Die:
    Caine: "He who lives by the sword can die by my knife."
    • Blade of Tyshalle:
    Caine: "Rule #1: You fuck with me, you die. No questions, no exceptions, no second chances."
    Caine: "THEY TOLD YOU I WOULD DIE DOWN THERE! I TOLD YOU I'D BE BACK!"
    • Caine Black Knife:
    Caine: *to a band of Black Knife ogrillo hunters, after killing one of their number in single combat* "Did anybody not UNDERSTAND what just happened here? Does anybody need it EXPLAINED? This place is MINE. You can go anywhere you want, but you can't come HERE. For you here is DEATH. Here is PAIN. He died EASY. You will die HARD. You will die SCREAMING. Your bitches will HOWL. Your pups will STARVE. I will FEED YOU YOUR FUTURE."
    Later, "I told you I'd feed you your future. Did you think I'd make you eat it raw?"
  • Badass in Distress: Seems to still happen more often to the females.
  • Badass Normal: Caine, at first. Also, the Monastics and the Khryllian armsmen.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Qualifies for this trope only due to what the protagonist must become to stop the antagonists, and how badly the "pure" heroes like Deliann and Pallas Ril manage to fuck things up.
  • Blood Knight: Caine and Berne.
  • Blood Sport: The whole point of Actors like Caine and their Studio-sponsored adventures on Overworld.
  • Book Ends: in Blade of Tyshalle.
  • Bread and Circuses: The function of the Adventures on Overworld is to turn an entire planet into the arena of a Blood Sport for the entertainment of the masses on Earth.
  • Briar Patching: In Heroes Die, Caine uses this as part of tricking Ma'elKoth into following his Batman Gambit. He directly refers to the trope name while doing so.
  • Broken Bird: Angvasse in Caine's Law.
  • Catch-Phrase: Berne: "Fuck me like a virgin goat."
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Hari/Caine. In Heroes Die he tries to vent his anger against a gel punching bag that hardens against force up to the strength of human bone before resetting. Well before he's gotten the rage out of his system, he's easily, repeatedly working it over.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Toa-Sytell's poisoned dagger.
  • Church Militant: The Knights of Khryl.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: "A powerful enough metaphor grows its own truth."
  • Clasp Your Hands If You Deceive: Subverted in Heroes Die, where Kollberg does this to try and keep calm while talking to the Board of Governors rather than trying to be cunning.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Caine/Hari embodies this trope.
  • Consummate Liar: Caine is immune to the truthsense of Khryl's holy knights for reasons he doesn't quite understand. Though it might have something to do with the fact that he would rather kill a man than lie to him. Maybe that kind of "honor" just confuses the poor god trying to read him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Marc Vilo.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: In the prologue of Blade of Tyshalle, protagonists Kris Hansen and Hari Michaelson plot to get Hari out of Magic School and into Battle School. Their plan hinges on getting Hari to demonstrate his fighting prowess by "saving" Kris from a rival, crippling him in the process. Afterward, the head teacher tells them their plan has succeeded, but laments that another person's dream was crushed so that they could have theirs, adding plaintively "Couldn't you have asked?"
  • Crapsack World: Earth.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Orbek. The irony lies in that Caine originally targeted Orbek first when breaking up Orbek's old gang because he thought the young ogrillo was the gang's weakest point.
  • Cutting the Knot: Caine's usual way of solving problems.
  • Dead Guy on Display: In Blade of Tyshalle the body of Caine's late rival and master swordsman Berne is kept as a tourist attraction on Earth in the Studio Curiouseum. Ultimately his body is kidnapped and reanimated so it can kill Pallas Ril.
  • Deconstruction: Of a wealth of Fantasy tropes, being a Low Fantasy take on archetypal Dungeons & Dragons settings like the Forgotten Realms.
  • Defiled Forever: An interesting example. There's a religious sect of priestesses who are completely chaste virgins, to the point of dressing like men to stave off advances. If they ever give into temptation, they lose their power. If they are raped, however, they basically turn into a magic nuke. Unfortunately, they rarely survive the massive influx of power, not to mention the resulting destruction.
  • Dented Iron: Caine, who considers himself the sum of his scars.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Berne.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Caine tends to come up against Physical Gods a lot.
  • Disabled Snarker: Caine after Heroes Die. "It's like having a pair of dead dogs strapped to my ass. Except that I can't eat them."
  • Dirty Coward: Lamorak.
  • Doorstopper
  • Due to the Dead: The Last March, a funerary procession of drummers and the bodies of fallen soldiers.
  • Dystopia: Earth in a nutshell.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Insomuch as there are happy endings.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Inverted in the Blind God, played straight with the "god" of the Black Knives.
  • Elite Mooks: The Social Police, the Black Knives, Esoteric Friars, and the Grey Cats.
  • Eureka Moment: Toa-Sytell has one when he reads the Monastic records on Caine and realizes that he's an Aktir.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Ma'elKoth's voice is usually described as rumbling.
  • Eye Scream: The first book opens with one. And then there's the Black Knife Kiss.
  • Faceless Goons: The Social Police.
  • Fantastic Racism and Fantastic Slurs: Played with in that the Earth fantasy names for the species are considered slurs: elves prefer to be called primals, dwarves to be called stonebenders, orcs to be called ogrilloi, and pixies to be called treetoppers. The ogrilloi have an interesting nickname in their language for humans too.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Initially starts this way, but gets violated by the end of Blade of Tyshalle. By Caine Black Knife Overworld not only has shotguns and automatic weapons they captured as trophies, but figured out how to produce more.
  • Finger Tenting: Subverted in Heroes Die, where Kollberg laces his fingers together not as a sign of deception, but to try and keep calm while talking to the Board of Governors.
  • First-Person Smartass: Justified. The protagonist is having his experiences as a particularly violent sort of adventurer in a fantasy world recorded for the entertainment of the masses on a dystopian future Earth.
  • Foil: Berne to Caine. To summarize a lengthy spiel, while both are vicious and skilled fighters, Berne is The Hedonist, while Caine has a cold discipline.
  • For the Evulz: Inverted. The bad guys always act out of self-interest, ideology, or pure hedonistic lust. The protagonist is the one who, for fun, escalates conflicts almost compulsively. This includes "escalating" a verbal argument into a lethal fight, a skirmish with an ogrillo tribe into ethnic cleansing, and a minor political conflict into a civil war. And the bad guys are still worse.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Ma'elKoth used to be the wimpy necromancer Hannto the Scythe.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Chambaraya through Pallas.
  • Genre Mashup: Dark Fantasy meets Dystopia.
  • Glory Days: Ma/Tan'elKoth, Hari, and Shanna in Blade of Tyshalle, some of the surviving Black Knife Nation in Caine Black Knife.
  • God-Emperor: The Most Beloved Ma'elKoth.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Gods only have power from their worshippers.
  • Good Is Dumb: Shanna/Pallas's blindness and moral obliviousness ironically only get worse when she becomes nearly omniscient.
  • Handicapped Badass: Caine/Hari before he he figures out how to magic the bypass. Even with that he's got a noticeable balance problem, and that magic can be shut down.
  • Healing Factor/Healing Hands: The Knights and Priests of Khryl have both — but, seeing as Khryl is a god of war, their powers only work on wounds sustained in battle.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Initially Caine.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Caine after Shanna's death.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Caine skirts the line of this. Well, maybe dances on it. Okay, he does a full soft-shoe number up and down with Broadway routines and a full stage orchestra in the background.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Talaan in Heroes Die, Deliann in Blade of Tyshalle. Subverted in Caine Black Knife, where Caine acts to make the Adventure look like this but is really just planning to mess up the Black Knives for the hell of it.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: Comes at the end of the Xanatos Gambit Caine spent all of Caine Black Knife finagling into place. Caine has just royally screwed the Board's plans up. Their two choices are: reward him for sabotage and murder of one of their number by giving him a total pardon and more authority and free rein than they gave to the guys sent out to catch him, or permanently lose access to Overworld and possibly risk Overworld's most powerful empire marching over a portal with dragons and warmages to blast Earth into submission. Caine is happy to unveil all the details because he's not afraid to die and they have no alternatives.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Khryllians, which Caine thinks is stupid for two reasons. First, because despite being merely a grade six fighter, he's managed to kill more than a few Knights by not adhering to any codes. Second, because at one point when Caine insults a Knight's honor by calling him a coward, it ends in a duel to the death.
    Caine: In the end, what was he going to kill me for? Because I called him names. I have my vanity, I just don't kill for it. I'm not pretending I'm a better man than him, I just hate that people say he's a better man than me.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Humans are bastards. Well, to be exact, the metaphorical psychomorphic deity-incarnation of humanity is a bastard. But the human hero who achieves its humiliating defeat is also a bastard, so in this series humanity doesn't look good at the individual or species level.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Caine occasionally has these.
  • Indy Ploy: Caine's speciality.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Ma'elKoth has almost said this word-for-word to Caine multiple times.
  • In-Series Nickname: The Social Police are sometimes referred to as "soapies".
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Happens a lot, perhaps best personified by Count Berne.
  • I Have Many Names: There's virtually no god, main character, or figure of power in the novels without at least two names, identities, and/or titles. Orbek and Kollberg are notable by exception.
    • By Caine Black Knife, Caine himself is known variously as the Lord of Chaos, kwatcharr of the Black Knives, Agent of Khryl, and the Hand of Ma'elKoth.
  • Insufferable Genius: T'Passe.
  • Involuntary Suicide Mechanism: Actors are conditioned not to say that they're Actors, speak Earth languages, etc. This protocol is eventually reversed when Aktir hunters get wise to the simple test of demanding a suspect say "I am an Aktir."
  • It's Personal: Subverted. One of the things that makes Caine/Hari dangerous is his willingness to take all fights this way.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Lampshaded in Caine's Law.
  • Knife Nut: Caine.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: The Knights of Khryl in Caine Black Knife. They are good guys...but...
  • Knight Templar: The Knights of Khryl.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Master of One Magic: In Heroes Die, Lamorak is a crappy mage overall, but his Dominate is really good.
  • Master of Your Domain: Monastic Control Discliplines.
  • Meaningful Name: Well, of course. The eponymous protagonist has set in motion events that would lead to the death of his wife, best friend(s), father, the suffering of everyone who's cared for him, etc. etc. If the dude had a brother he probably would have offed him too. Also like the biblical Caine, there are gods looking out for him after his punishment (although gods who want to punish him tend to get owned hard).
  • The Mole: Lamorak.
  • Motif: Fire, Water, and human excrement.
  • Moral Dissonance: Caine's not a nice person.
  • Name of Cain: Obviously.
  • Nay-Theist: The Monastics in general and T'Passe in particular. The Monasteries were, in fact, developed for the express purpose of protecting humanity's interests from the predations of deities.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Fistfight: All Caine has are his fists and maybe a knife, but he tends to come out on top in a fight.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Or rather, new species traits we weren't told about in the last novel, as Caine Black Knife introduces the ogrilloi's horse-outrunning quadripedal lope.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Oh man, poor Deliann...
  • No Dead Body Poops: Repeatedly averted.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Caine in the end of "Heroes Die".
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: They are called Stonebenders ("Dwarves" is a racial slur used by humans) and can do all of the impressive stone- and metalwork associated with the Dwarves with their bare hands.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: The ogrilloi are slightly closer to Warcraft Orcs, with the exception of the Black Knife tribe, who are the ogrilloi that other ogrilloi tell horror stories about and act like Tolkien Orcs on a real bad day. Ogrilloi also differ from the typical depictions of orcs in their physiology (namely their quadripedal lope, ridged back, and fighting claws).
  • Papa Wolf: As per Caine's Third Rule, messing with Caine's family is a good way to get yourself marked for death.
  • Physical God: Ma'elKoth and Pallas Ril, before the events at the climax of Blade of Tyshalle.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: In Heroes Die, Ma'elKoth spends the life of his devotees when using combat magic. Unlike most, he is aware of the cost; when he gives Berne a smidgen of that power to use, he reminds the man of the human cost, and he uses this fact against Pallas Ril.
    • Attempted in Blade of Tyshalle with the Blind God and Ma'elKoth trying to gain control of Overworld by mind-raping Faith.
  • Power Levels: Caine registers as a grade six weapon due to his Monastic training. This is only slightly higher than an armsman, so the Khryllians aren't particularly worried about it. After all, their Knights have divine-given Super Speed and Super Strength, they can deal with entire armies. Caine enjoys proving to them that their system is bunk.
  • Powers That Be: All other gods besides Ma'elKoth and Pallas Ril.
  • Privately Owned Society: All the world's government collapsed years earlier after a viral outbreak, and society was rebuilt by private corporations, with the current rulers of the world being the Leisure Council, a group of the richest few hundred people on Earth. As a result, the society has a very rigid caste system.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Orbek
  • Rebellious Spirit: Caine and the Cainists in general.
  • Red Shirt: subverted. Guys who seemed like mooks in Heroes Die have plot impacts in Blade of Tyshalle, and the unfortunate death of one guard in Caine Black Knife becomes a point of argument between Caine and his Knight of Khryl escort.
  • Rule #1:
    Rule One: Fuck with me, and you die. This is your only warning.
    Rule Two: What I say goes. Break Rule Two, you get hurt. Break it again, you die. Again, this is your only warning.
    Rule Three: Fuck with my family or my friends, and you're fucking with me. When in doubt, see Rule One.
  • Satisfied Street Rat: Caine to a ridiculous degree, Orbek Black Knife and Majesty/Toa M'Jest to a lesser extent.
  • Schizo Tech: By Caine Black Knife Overworld has shotguns and automatic weapons but is still mainly a medieval-to-Renaissance aesthetic.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Earth's caste system means that most of the Businessmen (management) caste think this way, and the Leisuremen (executives and shareholders) above them are even worse.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Caine gives one to Ma'elKoth.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Caine's very foul-mouthed, to say the least.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Caine.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Ma'elKoth.
  • Staring Through the Sword: The cover of Caine Black Knife.
  • State Sec: The Social Police.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Caine eventually inspires the creation of a Chaotic Neutral philosophy, who tell him that its not about him, just his ideals. Eventually, he performs so many badass acts that the philosophy evolves into a full-blown religion worshipping him (which, considering the way divinity works in this universe, might actually elevate him to godhood at some point). Caine tells the founder to shut it down, and she calmly tells him to his face that she doesn't care what he thinks.
  • Super-Detailed Fight Narration: "The gassy thing about the figure-four headlock..." *cue paragraph of description in loving detail*
  • Survival Mantra: "Keep your head down and inch towards daylight."
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: Kosall, though a Justified Trope here in that Kosall just happens to do a lot of important stuff. Except it turns out it might also be the sword of a god that was also in possession of an order of knights for the past five hundred years (the timeline gets complicated when gods are involved).
  • Sword Pointing: From the Blade Of Tyshalle:
    Ma'elKoth: ...You've learned a new trick. Come, then: Let us meet as men, standing face-to-face, for the surrender of the sword. I applaud your sense of ceremony: Grant and Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, rather than Brutus at the feet of Ant-
    Caine: (points Kosall at him) You talk too fucking much. You and me, we both know what's going on here, and it has nothing to do with surrender.
  • Talk to the Fist: Happens no less than five times in Blade of Tyshalle alone.
  • Telepathy: Kris's "flashes".
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: From Blade of Tyshalle:
  • The Slow Walk: Played straight in Blade of Tyshalle, mildly deconstructed in Caine Black Knife.
  • The Unfettered: The series demonstrate how the Unfettered make setting right and wrong in your story very difficult. Caine, the protagonist, is a prime example of an Unfettered character (but not his alter ego Hari, interestingly enough). He manages to be both a genocidal murderer and the world's saviour, an amoral cutthroat and a loving father. Stover successfully pulls it off because the morality in his novels is more about how much control you are willing to exercise over events to bring around the right outcome and less about whether death is right or wrong. Other Unfettered characters include Talaan, T'Passe, and Tommy to a degree. Ma'elKoth is Unfettered until the Blind God owns him. Berne comes close but loves infamy and pleasure (read: rape) too much. Raithe manages to be Unfettered for about all of two chapters in Blade of Tyshalle.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Trope Namer. In the Blade of Tyshalle, Har, is a paraplegic —and at the moment, he is trapped in a burning building thanks to an assassination attempt. His 200-lb. companion has been knocked unconscious and must be dragged along, the air is full of dust and smoke (making it hard to breathe), his wheelchair is unavailable, and he has to bypass several stories of staircase anyways before he can find an exit. "This, thought Hari, is gonna suck."
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Caine's Law has this in spades.
  • Too Cool to Live: Talaan, the main Action Girl from Heroes Die, who may have been a better fighter than Caine.
  • Torture Technician: Arkadeil. His matter-of-fact, scholarly manner of To the Pain arguably makes him far creepier than many who take sadistic joy in it.
  • To the Pain: Arkadeil in Heroes Die has a cold, dispassionate delivery of this as he teaches apprentice torturers.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Deconstructed with Shanna and Deliann, both of whom made significant mistakes that aided the bad guys and put innocents in danger.
  • Torture Technician: Arkadeil in Heroes Die.
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty
  • Twincest: A probably nonconsensual example: Berne is revealed to keep twin sex slaves, one male and one female. This being Berne, if you think he wouldn't order them to have sex with each other, you plainly haven't read the books.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Mentioned in Heroes Die.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Lakefront simulation in chapter 0 of Blade of Tyshalle. The College of Battle Magic has an advanced class that opens with the Lakefront simulation. In it, the student Actor is put into a VR simulation of Overworld, in the docks of the city of Ankhana, where (s)he hears the sound of a woman being assaulted down a nearby alley by a single man. Those actors who confront the man will quickly find out that there are two others waiting on the low rooftops to jump some fool like you rushing to her aid. Even defeating all three won't do; the best student in the College, Kris Hansen, got that far only to be knifed by the woman, who is in on the charade. When Hari Michaelson, a Labour-caste near-dropout with terrible magick skills, enters the challenge, he becomes the first person in the history of the College to beat the simulation. Not bothering with spells, he gets the jump on the first man, KOs the other two before they can recover from jumping into the alley, and knows better than to trust the woman, who gets her throat cut when she tries to knife him. He only fails because the test expected him to use magick, and the instructor hacked the simulation to bring the other players back to life and beat him senseless, something that was never before needed for the Lakefront sim. Regardless, as the instructor points out, the point of the test is to show whether the Actor-to-be can give the viewers an interesting death scene.
  • Vancian Magic: Thaumaturgists pattern spells into physical items, giving them a limited stock, likely as an intentional nod to the series's Dungeons & Dragons inspiration.
    • However, this is subverted in that patterning spells in this manner is done for convenience rather than necessity. Magic requires enourmous concentration to pull off without the aid of these items and only a very small number of extremely skilled thaumaturgists can really kick butt without them.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Talaan gets hit by this in Heroes Die.
  • Walking Disaster Area: Caine is this for multiple reasons. For one, because he was an actor by training and for the longest time either sought out or created violent situations to provide material for his adventures. Also, because the way he forces himself on reality actually causes the fabric of magic and chance to send hell his way (according to his more metaphysically-minded companions). But mostly, it's because the crazy bastard can almost never resist the urge to escalate a fight.
"I love the guy like a brother, but every time he comes to town we end up in another fucking war."
Duke Toa M'Jest a.k.a. Majesty ''
  • Warrior Monk: The Monastics. Played with in that they're not a religious order per se, but a brotherhood devoted to protecting the Future of Man and the Covenant of Pirichanthe that keeps the gods in check.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Deconstructed in Heroes Die. Talaan may have more skill than Berne but it isn't enough to compensate for the latter's superior power, which gets her killed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Eventually, anyone who cares about Overworld asks the Actors this.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Caine has a bit of a warped sense of honor, which has given him the well-deserved reputation that he would rather kill a man than lie to him. The last act of the first book hinges entirely on lies and deceit, which makes him very uncomfortable.
  • You Bastard: In Heroes Die Caine uses this on his audience, who collectively share his body for the duration of his adventures. Due to the character narrating to his own audience, it also ends up directed at the reader by extension.
  • You Just Told Me: In the third book Caine meets a spy for an old friend of his, and instructs the spy to take a message to her. The spy plays dumb for a while, until Caine offers to explain what gave to spy away (so that he can correct the mistake). The spy admits it would be useful to know how Caine was so sure. Caine just says "I wasn't sure."
    Caine: Fuckin' amateur.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: HVRP is rather similar to one. Infectees are fully conscious the whole time, and grow more and more paranoid and violent as their physical condition degrades. It was estimated that every victim with the virus killed 2.8 people. It led to the breakdown of standard government and the rise of the Caste system of corporate overlords. Exactly as the Blind God wanted.

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