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Literature / Forlorn Hope

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Forlorn Hope is a 2019 fantasy novel by Stephan Grundy. Set in a world equivalent to the 16th century Holy Roman Empire, it focuses upon a company of Landsknechte - the infamous and flamboyant German mercenaries of the time. Specifically, it focuses upon a disenfranchised half-elf nobleman named Wolfram who has had a promising career in the Silver Eagle Landsknecht company, only to be framed for dereliction of duty and condemned to service in the Silver Eagle's Forlorn Hope: a squadron of criminals who are sent on what are essentially suicide missions.

Wolfram's condemnation comes just as the Silver Eagle are hired to serve in a war between two feuding noblemen. Is the conspiracy against him part of some larger plan to undermine the war effort? And can he be sure of his own innocence when he comes from a breed of elves predisposed to violence and treachery? With only an apprentice mage willing to consider that he might be innocent, Wolfram sets out to figure out who betrayed him and why, all while trying to stay alive day by day in the harrowing den of cuthroats that is Forlorn Hope.


This work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: Fortunately the manual is included as an appendix at the end of the book, explaining many of the more confusing aspects of the intricate society Grundy creates, along with its various races and religions.
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted but still played with on occasion. Being a nobleman's son, Wolfram bears a reasonably nice suit of plate armor and keeping it maintained is a constant preoccupation of his. It saves his life repeatedly in combat, but it dampens blows rather than nullfying them, and he still suffers pain and injury from blows that would have been fatal otherwise. At one point a blow to the head intended to kill him is thwarted by his helmet, but only because it wound up not being a direct hit. It still rings his bell hard enough to render him unconscious until the next day.
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  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Being a mercenary company, the Landsknechte draw members from all walks of life, including the less savory ones, and they travel with an extensive baggage train of prostitutes and camp followers. Then there are Forlorn Hope itself: criminals even by mercenary standards who take this trope up to eleven.
  • The Berserker: Sasha. He's so tough that it takes blowing him up twice to kill him.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Sasha. Not only does he die in a prolonged and horrific manner at the hands of an enemy mage, (although he takes said mage with him) he is also the only one of the major non-evil characters to die.
  • Blood Knight: Sasha and Fredrik. They're the two best fighters in the entire company and they serve in Forlorn Hope voluntarily because it's the only way they can get into fights that actually give them a challenge.
  • Covers Always Lie: The inexplicable sailing vessel on the cover. The story never ventures anywhere near a large body of water, let alone onto a ship.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The dominant church of the setting is that of the god Donnar and his prophet, St. Hildebrand. The religion is different from medieval Catholicism, yet similar enough to make for an acceptable stand-in.
  • Deuteragonist Wolfram is the hero, but Gudrun, the mage who is investigating his case, gets equal screentime. She's even the one who takes down the Big Bad because without magic no one else has a shot against him.
  • The Empire: A fantasy counterpart to the real-life Holy Roman Empire.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Obrist Helmuth remarks that this is one of the Empire's greatest strengths: that when push comes to shove even the most wicked noblemen generally know it's better to stand against the gods of darkness rather than for them.
  • Exact Words: When questioned under magical compulsion a cultist names his co-conspirators as the evil gods he worships. Technically it's true, and he wasn't asked to name mortal co-conspirators, after all.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Alberich
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Wolfram finds himself falling for the auburn-haired Gudrun, and she for him.
  • Klingon Promotion: Gudrun takes down Alberich and is quickly promoted to the latter's position.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Alberich. Gudrun is particularly horrified upon realizing that every interaction they've had together has involved extensive psychological manipulation on his part.
  • Nobody Poops: Being an unflinching look at life in a early Renaissance mercenary company, this trope is harshly averted.
  • Mundane Solution: Mages' powers include, but are not limited to the ability to pull out and read every single memory a person has ever had, utterly remove said memories altogether, and calling down massive amounts of fire on their enemies. So how do a group of evil ones intend to cause the collapse of the Empire? By engaging in non-magical price-fixing with mercenary contracts, of course.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Wolfram only sets out on the trail of the conspiracy because the Big Bad drags him into it. Had they just left him alone Wolfram probably would never have had a reason to do all the detective work that brings the conspiracy down.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of The Sun Azure's mage when the man he just called down magical fire upon keeps coming at him. Alberich later remarks that had he retreated instead of panicking and trying to cast the same spell again he probably would have survived.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Elves in this world have senses beyond those of humans, are stealthier, better at magic, etc. They are even born knowing their peoples' language and can rewrite their own memories.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Sun Azure Landsknecht company serves as the Silver Eagle's primary antagonist for much of the novel. But both sides being mercenary companies they understand it's nothing personal and are perfectly civil toward one another whenever they are under the flag of truce, and they treat captured hostages with dignity and respect.
  • Religion of Evil: A cabal of renegade mages (and possibly Dark Elves as well,) are plotting to debilitate the Empire in the name of the setting's three gods of darkness.
  • Squishy Wizard: The battlefield mages are utterly devastating, but lacking the training and conditioning of other Landsknechte everyone - including themselves - sometimes forgets that they are soldiers too. They are also accordingly fragile and can be taken down as easy as any civilian if you get past their magical defenses, causing them to travel everywhere - including into battle - under heavy bodyguard.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Obrist Helmuth doesn't have the authority to arrest Alberich or break his contract with Graf Sigfrid and he knows it, but goes through with them anyway because it's the right thing to do.
  • Suicide Pill: Alberich has a magic failsafe that accomplishes this effect, but not before those doing the interrogating acquire a great deal of useful information.
  • Unperson: Wolfram's antagonist attempts to inflict this on a hostage who fills Wolfram in on the skullduggery involving the mercenaries' contract bids. They do so by making the man vanish in broad daylight and erasing any record of his existence.
  • Victory Sex: Gudrun and Wolfram try to hold on off on having it on account of their new responsibilities on top of danger they're still in. Obrist Helmuth isn't having it, and orders them to finally go and enjoy it already.
  • What You Are in the Dark: At one point Wolfram has to pay ransom for both himself and Mishi, but can only raise enough money to save both of them if he parts with his father's sword. The sword being the only tie Wolfram still has to the home and family that he had, he considers keeping it and leaving Mishi to die, figuring that no one will ever know except for himself. He dismisses the thought quickly and gives up the sword, saving Mishi's life.

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