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Literature / Second Hand Curses

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Second Hand Curses is a 2017 fantasy novel by Drew Hayes, set in a world of Fairy Tales.

The novel focuses on a trio of scoundrels, calling themselves the Bastard Champions. The Champions travel the land, helping out those, who come to them, provided the pay is good. Their specialty is dealing with various kinds of magical creatures, from witches to fairies. Jack is a seemingly-unkillable Perpetual Smiler, whose skill with a dagger is only matched by his Silver Tongue and lust for gold. Marie may look like fragile young woman but is constantly struggling to keep the beast within her hidden. Frank is always wearing a hood, hiding hideous scars all over his body, and is the smartest the of three. Their partnership is based on mutual loyalty and trust.


The novel contains examples of:

  • The Atoner: Frank, after inadvertently leading a little girl to her doom, by taking her to see his "father", who ended up chopping the girl up for parts to be used to fix up Frank. Frank killed his "father" and "father's" assistant before being recruited by Jack.
  • The Casanova: Jack is an unabashed skirt-chaser. In the first story, he nearly sleeps with one of Cinderella's stepsisters (and no, they're far from being ugly in this setting). The only woman he doesn't go after is Marie, but it has more to do with their relationship being Like Brother and Sister.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Everyone on the continent, where most of the novel takes place, believes in the Narrative, a mystical godlike force that guides all aspects of life and ensures that good people get their "happily-ever-afters". It's stated that, across the Endless Sea, on the continent Frank is from, people believe in various deities.
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  • Deal with the Devil: Jack pays the Devil-like figure to come back to life every time he dies, with the amount of gold increasing every time. This is the reason Jack always seems so greed - he needs the gold to pay the Devil for the next time he dies. Apparently, Jack's father used to do the same thing.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The young apprentice witch met and freed by the Champions turns out to be the Blue Fairy herself, who is playing with them.
  • Eye Scream: Jack voluntarily gives up an eye for a potion that frees Marie and her kingdom from a rival's Mind Control necklace. The witch warns Jack that the eye isn't likely to regenerate even when using his Resurrective Immortality.
  • The Fair Folk: The fairies in this setting tend to appear as the kind, friendly sort from fairy tales. In fact, they very often trick and enslave others, using their considerable magical powers to get their way. There is a strict hierarchy among the fairies, with the Fairy Godmother herself being at the very top (which doesn't stop the low-ranking fairies from introducing themselves as "Fairy Godmother" to unsuspecting victims). Her lieutenants are the "color" fairies, including the Blue Fairy, whom the Bastard Champions are tracking. Fairies have a number of weaknesses such as a certain flower that can be planted in a circle to trap them (until morning, that is). They are also severely weakened by iron. However, actually killing a fairy requires a special kind of weapon that can only be wielded by a Prince or a Knight on a quest.
  • Fairy Tale: Many of the chapters are centered on certain well-known fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, The Elves and the Cobbler, and The Frog Prince (which is mixed with Vasilissa the Beautiful here). Given the deconstructed nature of the book, every tale ends up twisted. For example, Cinderella ends up indebted to the fairy and is in danger of becoming her slave; Hans and Greta grow up to be witch hunters, who like to steal credit from others; the tinker elves end up being enslaved by the shoemaker, after helping him; and the "frog prince" tricks Princess Vasilissa into kissing him, passing the curse onto her and running away. At the end of the novel, the Bastard Champions agree to help Ali Baba steal from a bunch of thieves.
  • Friend to All Children: Frank will always go out of his way to help children. See The Atoner.
  • The Good King: Marie's father rules justly and recognizes that a king's job is to serve his subjects, not the other way around.
  • Happily Ever After: Many (good) people get a chance at it thanks to the Narrative, although they usually have to work for it. One villain chides Jack for refusing many of the chances to have his own "happily-ever-after", only for Jack to point out that, for a Lovable Rogue like him, happiness lies in the adventure itself, so he doesn't ever want to stop and settle down.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The relationship between Jack and Marie. Both find it awkward to pretend to be married, as neither thinks of the other that way.
  • Lovable Rogue: Jack is this 100%, although he prefers the term "scoundrel" to "rogue". He can charm the skirt off any girl and absolutely loves gold. On the other hand, he rarely goes after the poor, partly due to pragmatism (they don't have much to steal), partly due to his innate sense of justice.
  • Magic Pants: Marie's clothing has been specially made by tinker elves and enchanted not to rip when she transforms. While expensive, it's still cheaper than constantly buying new outfits to replace the torn ones.
  • Mysterious Past: Neither Marie nor Frank know Jack's origins until they happen upon his hometown and discover that he's the same Jack, who climbed the beanstalk, slew the giant, and returned with a golden goose. This is hinted at several times, such as when he tells the others that he's very good at climbing. This is slightly deconstructed as Jack reveals that the giant wasn't really evil, he was only chasing Jack because Jack stole from him, which makes Jack a thief and a murderer, not a hero. By the same token, Jack and Frank are not aware that Marie is a princess. It's also implied that Marie doesn't know of Frank's past, although Jack most certainly does.
  • Only One Name: The trio are almost never addressed as anything other than their single names. In fact, only Jack's last name is ever mentioned in the book. Frank doesn't have a last name at all. Marie's last name is revealed to be Belmont. When questioned by Jack's mother about this, Frank lies that they don't want any of their enemies retaliating against their loved ones.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The tinker elves are tiny, capable of casually walking around on a normal person's palm. However, they are excellent workers and can work at incredible speed. They end up running afoul of their own kindness. They help a shoemaker improve his business. However, when he proves unable to maintain the quality of his goods on his own, he traps the elves and forces them to sign a contract, essentially turning them and their children into his slaves.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Marie has inherited a curse from her father and must constantly keep the beast within her from coming out. She usually lets the beast out during fights, transforming into a furry monster.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Frank is a reanimated corpse, but he does have a heartbeat. He can repair damage to his body with parts from slain enemies. He's Frankenstein's monster, taking the first part of his "father's" name after killing him.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: After passing the frog curse onto Princess Vasilissa, Henry races off on her horse and makes his way to the kingdom's capital, where he enlists into the army in order to make enough money to keep going. How does he hide his identity? By calling himself "Heinrich"... which is German for "Henry". Yeah.
  • Red Right Hand: While Frank is already scary enough to people with his patchwork skin, his eyes tend to unnerve everyone. His dragon's eye has magic-sensing properties, although, strangely, it's his normal, crystal-blue eye that unnerves people the most.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Jack is seemingly unkillable. See Deal with the Devil for the true reason.
  • The Rival: Few things can rile up Jack as much as Hans and Greta, the two rival witch hunters. They usually like to show up just as Jack completes the job in order to steal all the credit and the reward.
  • Royal Rapier: Jack's primary weapon, besides his daggers. He has been known to go toe-to-toe with enemies armed with two-handed swords with the rapier and win.
  • Sequel Hook: The Bastard Champions travel across the ocean to another land, presumably based on "Arabian Nights" Days, while fleeing the newly-roused ire of the Blue Fairy, who is actually playing them all along.
  • Shout-Out: Frank's origins are very clearly based on Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. There are a number of hints towards that effect. For example, there's Frank's chosen name (taken from the remains of his "father's" name tag), his "father's" screams of "it's alive" and the name of his hunchbacked assistant - Igor. Frank briefly considers naming himself Prometheus (the full title of the novel is Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus). He's traveling with a woman named Marie and he used to know a girl named Shelly, both referencing the book's author.
  • Talking Animal: Anyone turned into a frog can still talk, as demonstrated by Princess Vasilissa and the so-called "frog prince" Henry.