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Literature / A Land Fit for Heroes

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A Land Fit for Heroes is a 'Fantasy Noir' trilogy by the British author Richard K. Morgan (writer of the gritty Cyberpunk Takeshi Kovacs trilogy). It is written in a similar vein to the Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy, dealing with a fairly Crapsack World fantasy world.

The world the books are set in is, like the First Law trilogy, very far into the cynical hand of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, and the intention to subvert and deconstruct a certain number of Fantasy tropes.

The trilogy follows three heroes of a great war that took place 9 years before the beginning of the story, fought against the aquatic Scaled Folk who invaded the human lands from the western ocean. Hints are given that the Scaled Folk invaded human lands as they themselves were fleeing something even nastier in the west.

All three heroes, previously war-buddies, are now disgusted by their actions following the war, the way their various societies now mistreat and ignore them and are all haunted by the ones they lost during the conflict. Soon, however, they are drawn into a new adventure.

The main characters:

  • Ringil Eskiath - A highly skilled human swordsman who led a now-legendary battle against the Scaled Folk and helped lift the siege of the city of Trelayne. A Straight Gay, which is something of a problem in the distinctly intolerant League, although as Ringil points out "You don't go queer baiting when your victim has a reputation of chopping trained swordsmen into dogmeat at the drop of a hat"

  • Egar Dragonbane - Clan chief of one of the numerous northern Majak Tribes. He earned the title Dragonbane during the war against the scaled folk.

  • Archeth Indamaninarnal - A human-kiriath half-breed who was left behind when the rest of her race abandoned the world in their 'fireships' due to her mixed blood.

Books in the series:

  1. The Steel Remains
  2. The Cold Commands
  3. The Dark Defiles

This trilogy provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Kiriath weapons, including but not limited to Ringil's greatsword Ravensfriend and Archeth's collection of throwing knives (Bandgleam, Laughing Girl and others). Ringil describes the blade as "Kiriath-forged steel, it'll cut your very soul."
  • Action Girl: Archeth, a master knife fighter who can hold her own alongside Ringil and Egar.
    Egar: I'd take you at my shoulder over anyone else I know with a blade, and be grateful for the company.
    Archeth: Anyone else you know with a blade, eh? Thought that'd be Gil.
    Egar: Well. He's got the other shoulder.
  • The Ageless: Kiriath do not die of old age, though they can die of other means. Even Archeth, who is only half-Kiriath, has lived for centuries with no sign of ageing further.
  • Alien Sky: There is no moon, just an accretion disc that the characters refer to as the 'Band'.
  • All There in the Manual: Want to know what the last scene means? Go read the Kovacs novels!
  • Anti-Hero: All three of the main characters.
  • And I Must Scream: See the Losing Your Head entry.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The most recent war was against a race of lizard men led by dragons alongside an immortal race that came from within the earth, but the Aldrain are still considered a mere fairytale.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ringil, who was educated as a Trelayne noble and is well versed in literature.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The gods of the Dark Court occasionally grant the prayers of their worshippers, but rarely is such intervention beneficial.
    Takavach: Here's a young man — quite a number of young men in fact — all dreaming of battling monsters out of Skaranak legend, praying fervently for some opportunity to test their heroic mettle. Wolves, steppe ghouls, flapping wraiths, it really doesn't matter which, their prayers are vague — as long as it's a monster, bring it on. Well, we choose one of these idiots and we answer his prayers.
  • The Berserker: Egar tends to get a bit angry in combat.
  • The Caligula: Emperor Jhiral, who has spent most of his reign conducting executions or playing with his Harem, seems like this on first glance. On the other hand though, he's actually fairly rational and intelligent in a crisis. Later on, he reverts back to type with no crisis to deal with.
  • Captured Super-Entity: The Talons of the Sun are powered by the Source, an imprisoned Book-Keeper.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Well, two-thirds full. Of the three main characters (Egar, Archeth, and Ringil), only Egar is straight.
  • The Chessmaster: The Helmsmen secretly manipulate the heroes from behind the scenes throughout the trilogy.
  • Church Militant: The Yeltethian Church of the Revelation.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The whole trilogy.
  • Cool Sword: Ringil's Kiriath-forged greatsword Ravensfriend.
  • Crapsack World
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: And how!
  • Darker and Edgier: Than most fantasy and arguably than the author's other novels.
  • Defector from Decadence: Ringil abandoning his order due to him being at odds with a certain initiation ritual...
  • Deity of Human Origin: The Sky Dwellers, also known as the Dark Court, are apparently immortal and possess godlike magical powers, but drop the occasional hint that they were once human. Specifically, it's implied that they are characters from the author's previous Takeshi Kovacs trilogy: Takavach/Dakovash is Takeshi Kovacs, Vividara/Fifidara is Virginia Viduara, and Kelgris/Kwelgrish is Quellcrist Falconer.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The religious extremism, sex slavery, war crimes, authoritarian government, misogyny, and general brutality within both major human factions.
  • Deus ex Machina: When the deities in question feel like it. Though they really prefer it when their subjects can save themselves.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The Dwenda are actually descendants of a military starship crew that got trapped in hyperspace. Their surroundings mutated them and gave them psychic abilities.
  • Double-Meaning Title: For all three books. And in each case both interpretations make sense and are supported in the novel.
  • Dragon Ascendant: A rare good version may happen at the end of the story involving Archeth.
  • Earth All Along
  • Empathic Weapon: Implied and then made explicit with Kiriath weapons. Archeth makes clear that it's a form of Magic from Technology.
  • The Empire: The Yelteth Empire; in keeping with the trilogy's general attitude, it is not portrayed as any more evil (although it could be called more decadent) than its northern rival, the League.
  • Fantastic Drug: Several.
    • Krinzanz, a plant-based stimulant with some hallucinogenic qualities. Ringil uses it on occasion, both to get high and enhance his combat reflexes, and Archeth has developed an addiction to krinzanz by the time of the series.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Let's see, among other things our hero burns people alive, engages in Cold-Blooded Torture and organizes gang rapes. It leads to a lot of Not So Different Remarks.
  • Gayngster: Grace-of-Heaven Milacar, one of Ringil's past lovers and a member of the Marsh Brotherhood.
  • God-Emperor: The Warhelms plan to overthrow the current ruler of the Empire to install one. Specifically, Archeth Indamaninarnal, whose immortality would eventually cause people to see her as divine.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The Dark Court are bound by certain rules laid down by the Book-Keepers, most notably that they can only interfere in the world if asked to by a worshiper — though they can be creative in interpreting said prayers.
  • Grand Theft Me: The dwenda plan to resurrect the Illwrack Changeling by having him possess Ringil's body.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Both the League and the Empire take a rather intolerant view on homosexuality.
  • Hollywood Acid: Dragon venom can destroy anything on this world, even Kiriath-made items aren't safe from it. This is what makes dragons such an effective siege weapon during the old war against the Scaled Folk.
  • Last of His Kind: Archeth, last kiriath-blooded person in the whole world.
  • Left Hanging: The main Dwenda plot is resolved. However, the Empire is still at war with the League, Archeth is still on her way back to Yhelteth with her newly sworn bodyguard who consider her a goddess and the Helmsmens' plans are still in play. For all her protestations about leaving Jhiral on the throne Archeth is going to be mightily pissed off when she finds out what he has done to her lover in her absence... It's in keeping with the spirit of the trilogy as it leaves it ambiguous as to if Archeth will usher in the golden age that the Helmsmen are trying to bring about or just be the cause of yet more wars.
  • Lizard Folk: The Scaled Folk.
  • Karmic Death: It's likely Emperor Jhiral will get one, now that Archeth is approaching him as he beats up her lover and furthermore Egil wants Archeth to depose the Emperor and will support her in the event of a coup.
  • Knight in Sour Armour: All three main characters, but Ringil most of all.
  • Losing Your Head: The Dwenda like to cut off the heads of those who displease them and graft the still-living heads to tree stumps as a warning to others.
  • Magic from Technology: The Kiriath firmly insist that what they do is engineering, not magic, though most people can't see a difference.
  • Manchurian Agent: One of the Imperial marines, Sergeant Shahn, is actually a dwenda who erased his own memory to become a sleeper agent. This would allow him to get close to Archeth Indamaninarnal, and if certain conditions were met he would awaken to his true identity and assassinate her.
  • Named Weapons: Kiriath blades tend to have names. Archeth's knives are named "Bandgleam", "Falling Angel", "Laughing Girl", "Quarterless", and "Wraithslayer". Ringil's sword is named "I am Welcomed in the Home of Ravens and Other Scavengers in the Wake of Warriors, I am Friend to Carrion Crows and Wolves, I am Carry Me, and Kill with Me, and Die with Me where the Road Ends, I am not the Honeyed Promise of Length of Life in Years to Come, I am the Iron Promise of Never Being a Slave"; though he usually calls it "Ravensfriend" for short.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: For one thing they're aquatic, don't seem to fly and (as well as breathing fire as normal dragons) have acidic spittle.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The Dwenda.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Steppe Runners.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Grave Mites, a rather new spin on zombies.
  • Rape as Backstory: Ringil, his older brother and father are all members of their kingdom's knightly order. Unfortunately said order's initiation process is gang rape of the initiate by the senior members. This is so that all the members are bonded by the same secret shame.
  • The Republic: The Trelayne League.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ringil makes Kovacs seem positively forgiving.
    • Sharkmaster Wyr in The Dark Defiles also gets a Roaring Rampage of Revenge - which Ringil coldly uses as a distraction from his actual plan
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Illwrack Changeling, Dark Lord and champion of the dwenda, had his soul imprisoned within a sword. The dwenda plan to resurrect him by recovering the sword and transferring his soul into a new body.
  • Stealth Sequel: Has many tonal and thematic similarities to Morgan's Kovacs novels. Turns out it's set in the distant future of those books, and Kovacs himself makes an appearance, although in a somewhat different form. No knowledge of the prior books is required, though.
  • Straight Gay: Ringil, Archeth, Grace-of-Heaven and Seethlaw.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Ringil is a descendant of the Dwenda race through his mother's side. He inherited a portion of their speed and looks, while his mother likely has some degree of longevity - she's known for looking younger than people decades her junior.
  • Take Up My Sword: In both senses of the phrase. Ringil got Ravensfriend handed down to him from its original owner, Archeth's father. He also took up command of the fight against the Lizard Folk in the process.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ringil in retaliation for his cousin being sold as a sex slave has the female crime boss responsible gang-raped for almost a whole day.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: As hinted by the trilogy's title (it's meant with Morgan's usual cynicism), this is the main theme of the series.