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Literature / Somewhither

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In other words, I consider the book to be, as Lewis considered Narnia, a ‘metaphysical speculation.’
His speculation was what if Our Lord appeared in a world where our legends are real, but the Sons of Adam are but legends?
My metaphysical speculation is what if Saint Ignatius of Loyola were bombarded by cosmic radiation during an experimental rocket flight, along with jolly Saint Nicholas, Saint George, and Mary Magdalene, which gave them Way Cool superpowers, so that, instead of founding the Society of Jesus, he founded the Justice League of Rome, and made their headquarters in the Baxter Building, and fought vampires, werewolves, mummies, Viking Berserkers, Paynim Genii, Albigensian Gnostics, Sauron the Great, and Galactus?
John C. Wright's description of the general mood of the book.

Somewhither is a cross-genre fantasy book by John C. Wright, the first book of a trilogy named A Tale of the Unwithering Realm. It will be followed by Nowither and Everywither.

Ilya Muromets is a boy just entering adulthood, and he has a lot of questions. Why does his dad regularly go on mysterious "business trips" in riot gear? Is his mom really dead, as Ilya was told, or is she still alive somewhere? Is Ilya's Mad Scientist boss really insane, or is his theory right? Why does Ilya look so different from his brothers? And just how many universes are out there?

A lot, it turns out. The Multiverse is real, and each Earth is a world with an entirely alternate history, and sometimes inhabited by creatures that are not man—mostly unfriendly. But what's truly bad is that one of the alternate Earths, where the Dark Tower looms above for tens of kilometers, is the home of a militaristic empire which possesses the secret of interdimensional travel, and has already used it to conquer nearly the entire multiverse. Our Earth is next.

Ilya soon finds himself the only man who can oppose the might of the Dark Tower. With a number of improbable allies from all over the multiverse and with his own strange extraordinary powers, he must save the world — scratch that: save the worlds — and hopefully rescue Penny Dreadful, his boss's beautiful daughter, held within the Dark Tower's clutches.

Somewhither provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All Myths Are True: Pretty much every fictional being from ancient or medieval imagination is real somewhere.
  • Always Save the Girl: Ilya's entire purpose for getting involved in the first place.
  • Always Wanted to Say That: Foster Hidden's request for help.
    "You've been waiting to say that for, like, forever."
    "Since I was thirteen. I practiced in a mirror."
  • And I Must Scream: How wars are waged on Cainem. Since everyone's immortal, the defeated are buried alive in ground to be stuck there forever.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: When Ilya tells Abby that on his world God took on human form and was killed but forgave his tormentors, Abby is incredulous that a god could possibly forgive such a crime. Ilya then responds...
    Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, little sister! You are in an evil magic tower filled with evil magic Astrologers who can predict the future, headquarters of an evil magic interdimensional empire ruling thirty-three parallel aeons of time, and in each of those aeons there is some sort of dark magic or another, including blind guys who eat souls and hairless wolfy things who climb walls, and you are looking for a man who can walk through the clouds, and you rescued a kid who cannot die with your magic shape-changing prehensile sickle of plus-one heat-metal, which enables you to scare the magic cage bars into magically retracting, and you look like a monkey, but you are telling me it is impossible for a divine being big enough to create the whole supercalifragilisticexpialidocious universe to be big-hearted enough to forgive his own murderers?
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Ilya lampshades his tendency to ask Exposition-leading questions. "My name is Distracted. First name: Easily."
  • Badass Boast:
    Ilya: I am Ilya Muromets! Ilya the Barbarian; Ilya the Abomination. I cannot die and I am here to tear this Tower down!
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Abby recommends that when there are alarms blaring, the way to avoid getting caught is to look absolutely unconcerned and do not run or show concern.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Abby, when she hears that God in human form was tortured and killed on Earth. The Ursprache word for "what" is "ayyu", which, as Ilya points out, is highly convenient for shouting in a drawn-out way.
  • Brutal Honesty: Abby's garbled but factually correct recitation of Ilya's reasons for being in love with Penny Dreadful.
    "The one with breasts like melons?"
  • Body Horror: Ilya is in such bad shape after being stuck in a pit, impaled on razor-sharp spikes, and incidentally disembowelled, that Abby is completely creeped out.
  • Badass in Distress:
    • Foster Hidden.
    • When the rescue team finally does locate Penny, she's in her element, surrounded by the dead bodies of the harem guards.
  • Can't Catch Up: Numerous fight scenes between Ilya (young and trained, but unused to actual combat) versus older, veteran fighters result in Ilya being horribly wounded immediately.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Ilya's healing ability depends in part on his mood. If he's feeling hopeless and in despair, his body cannot heal right.
  • Cool Boat: Prince Dakkar's ironclad submarine, an experimental ship stolen from the Dark Tower's shipyards, equipped with a prodigious number of super-weapons and magic.
  • Cool Gate: The twilight gates. Golden portals in shape of three-dimensional Mobius strips, with a rainbow of colors and a spherical light-bending portal appearing in the middle when they are active.
  • Cool Sword: Ilya's magical katana.
  • Cool Mask: Abby's monkey-mask, which is a thaumaturgical device which makes it possible for her to breathe in the upper reaches of the Tower.
  • Conversational Troping: Ilya lampshades a lot of tropes throughout the book. Ilya and Foster spend quite a lot of time discussing who is in what character-class, per D&D rules.
  • Cephalothorax: The Blemmyes, headless people with faces on their chests. They have a tough skin, are immensely strong, and have a taste for human meat. They have somewhat bizarre anatomy with ears under their armpits, their noses on the top of their shoulders, and a mouth and stomach which seem to have more room than the Blemmyes' size would indicate.
  • Damsel in Distress: Penny. Who vocally argues the point, and is frankly ashamed of herself for needing rescuing.
  • Defiant to the End: Prior to the final confrontation, Abby's kusarigama-like weapon of living metal was "killed", rendering it much less effective. She still steps up to defend the escaping slave girls along with Ilya and his companions.
  • Didn't See That Coming: A big deal for the Dark Tower, as they normally predict everything that happens, even years and decades in advance. As a result, anyone who manages to avoid having their actions predicted tends to be highly dangerous for their plans.
  • Dissonant Laughter: Ilya at numerous points in the novel. He manages to completely disrupt the calculations of the Tower in their moment of triumph by breaking into calm, joyous laughter.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Ilya, after he realizes that, for an immortal, being horrifyingly wounded isn't and shouldn't be a problem. He proceeds to Squick out quite a number of people by remaining calm, making eye contact, and speaking quietly while, at one point, impaled by multiple telescoping spears.
  • Dope Slap:
    • Ilya (disguised as a slave) is slapped by Pally (a higher-ranking slave) when he mouths off about (not to, about) a non-slave.
    • Foster slaps Ilya upside the head when the latter ignores a warning.
    "When the witchy wise-bird says "Beware", you stop and say, 'Of what, please?'"
  • Dungeon Maintenance: Pally is a plumber in the Dark Tower.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Ilya can regrow his eyes if he loses them, but it's still quite gross.
    "What's that squirmy thing in the back of your eye socket?"
    "My eye. It's regrowing."
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Dark Tower, natch.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Tower vs most of the worlds it conquered.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Host Who Seek Death But Death Flees From Them. They're immortal, and not too happy about it.
    • The Tenth Chamber, which no one speaks of. Why is not spoken of? No one knows. No one speaks of it.
  • Face Palm: Master Ossifrage does the nose-pinch variation of this at one point while Ilya is trying to talk to Penny. Ilya wonders if he has a headache.
  • Fallen Princess: Abanshadi was enslaved by the Tower after her state as a foreverborn—one invisible to the Tower's omnipresent astrology—was revealed.
  • The Fatalist: Everyone who live in the Dark Tower, as their fates are predicted years in advance. "Fate is fated" is a common saying among them.
  • First-Person Smartass: somewhat played with, in that while Ilya's dialogue fits the trope, his internal monologue is far less snarky.
  • Flipping the Bird: To the High Astrologer. In front of his boss, who is visibly amused.
  • Foreshadowing: When describing how understanding the Ursprache feels, Ilya uses his friend's, Foster Hidden's, last name as an example, stating that he understands it either solely as the adjective or solely as the proper name, depending on the context. Later, it turns out that Ilya misunderstood the phrase "Hidden world" in professor Dreadful's notes; it didn't mean "secret world"—it meant "whatever world Foster Hidden is from."
  • Gravity Master: Master Ossifrage has the ability to make things weightless.
  • Gorn: Ilya's many, many horrible wounds. Also a detailed description of the "Two Boats" torture Abby's mother was subjected to.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Foster uses his quiver when he realizes "the little ninja kid" is actually a girl.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Pally is glad to serve the Dark Tower, and is quite shocked to hear that someone might think differently.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Nakasu the Blemmye goes from trying to devour Ilya to aiding him, in thanks for setting him free and because he enjoys seeing the Dark Tower's schemes unravel.
  • "Hell, Yes!" Moment:
    • When Abby mentions that Prince Dakkar's name—Dakkar being the Foreverborn's greatest champion—sounds like the word for "No One."
    Captain No One. That was a weird name.
  • Heroic Lineage: Penny. Quoth Foster:
    "Her dad is a rocket scientist and her mom's a brain surgeon."
  • The High Queen: Ilya's mother is this to her family. It's implied she may be one in truth.
  • Healing Factor: Ilya (and the rest of the Deathless) can heal any injury and draw blood and guts back into his body. This requires conscious effort for the most part, and before Ilya found this out, he was immortal but could not heal any faster than a normal human.
  • His Name Is...: A nonlethal example. The very last line in the book is the Big Bad screaming that the protagonist must be captured, for his mother is none other than— and this is the moment the protagonist is flung through a portal and doesn't hear the rest.
  • Horrifying Hero: As one of The Host Who Seek Death But Death Flees from them—Ilya. At one point, the fastest way to get a spearhead out of himself is to cut it out. The sight of him hacking himself apart so gory that it makes both sides of the battle stop to stare.
  • Hope Spot: Ilya finally figuring out how to climb up from his oubliette and making an attempt for the twilight gate... which opens and dumps him in another, identical, undamaged cell.
  • Humongous Mecha: There's a prayer-powered mecha hidden in one of the worlds, which could give the good guys an edge if they recover it.
  • I Am Who?: Ilya suspected that he's something more than an ordinary boy. It appears he's actually adopted from another world.
  • Immortality: The inhabitants of the world of Cainem (and thus Ilya as well.)
  • I Have Many Names: Abby/Abanshaddi (Mountain Rock) is also known as Pagutu (She-Monkey) and Evenhar (Hope Truly Seen).
  • Immune to Fate: The foreverborn, whose actions cannot be predicted by astrology in advance, and who thus are considered extremely dangerous by the Dark Tower because they tend to be the Spanner in the Works. By extension, anyone who "walks in their shadow" has this extended to them, as long as they don't do anything according to their lower nature (i.e. as long as they don't commit evil acts.)
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Ilya is stabbed through with a spear not long after getting onto the invasion ship, and this is when he finds out he's immortal.
    • Two heroes charging a line of cowering Mook spearmen = being stabbed with a bunch of pointy sticks.
  • In-Series Nickname: Ilya tends to give nicknames to others, usually because he cannot pronounce their real names. Examples include "Abby" for Abanshaddi, "Knack" for Kaqqudu Nakasu, and "Master Ossifrage" for Sua'u-su'u-ussushibu-re'u (a literal translation of his name).
  • Invisibility: Foster Hidden's ability. He can also create a special zone with his magical arrows to make others within invisible.
    Ilya: "Just like the Invisible Girl from Marvel!"
    Foster: "Invisible man!"
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Ilya's weapon of choice. He's been trained at fighting since childhood, so of course he's good with it.
  • Kid Hero: Ilya is at most seventeen.
  • Kill It with Water: Penny has a number of water-based abilities.
  • Language Barrier: While the Ursprache language (which essentially grants Omniglot abilities) eliminates that problem for most servants of the Dark Tower, Ilya hasn't learned it and two of his companions hadn't either, so Abby has to act as a translator between him, Nakasu and Master Ossifrage.
  • Language Equals Thought: Ilya notes that the language used in the Dark Tower includes a lot of specialized terms for specific kinds of maiming and torture.
    It's like the Eskimos having one hundred eighty different words for snow. Except if something dark and evil and sadistic and sick fell from northern clouds rather than snowflakes, making glaciers and icebergs and permafrost.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Ilya smashing an ominous glass-walled container despite warning from several members of the group. Said container contains teargas and "distilled essense of pain." See Dope Slap.
  • The Lost Lenore: Ilya's mother is deeply missed by her entire family.
  • Loving a Shadow: Ilya barely knows Penny and has had only one face-to-face conversation with her.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Ilya dubs Abby his little sister.
  • Magical Girlfriend: Penny turns out to be a "sea-witch" from another world with magical abilities.
  • Magic Music: Penny can sing magical songs to create various effect.
  • Magic Versus Science: "The works of men", i.e. gunpowder, electronics etc. don't function in or near the twilight (the substance from the Void Between the Worlds), since "the darkness is without form, and void, so the works of men must fail in the twilight, because their form is less." It's more than that: each world has different physical laws and different arts which work in it (e.g. advanced science, necromancy, astrology), and the twilight nullifies the technology and magic which is characteristic to a specific world and not common for all of them. Hence also why astrologers of the Dark Tower must use gigantic clockwork Babbage machines instead of computers to do their predictions; only simple mechanic devices function correctly near the sources of twilight.
  • Mama Bear: Inverted. Ilya recalls his brothers fetching their shotguns when the Family Services people get uppity with their mother.
  • Master of Your Domain: Rahab's powers as a native of Cainem go far beyond Ilya's Healing Factor. He use his own blood and bones as weapons, control amputated pieces of his body mass, and shapeshift into virtually anything he chooses without regard for conservation of mass. He often travels around in the form of a tempest of bloody mist.
  • Missing Mom: Ilya's mother was lost at sea. Not really.
  • Morph Weapon: Abby's kusarigama-like weapon has a chain that can lengthen or retract, and act as a winch to pull her and others up.
  • Mad Scientist: Even prior to meddling with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, Professor Dreadful was bipolar.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Penny. It's even invoked by name.
  • Moment Killer: Penny surfacing, in a Male Gaze-laden Sexy Soaked Shirt Scene from a pool of water...and turning away to vomit up all the water in her stomach and lungs. And intestines. And spleen. And looking substantially less glamorous, even to the besotted Ilya, afterwards.
  • Multiversal Conqueror: The king of the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower rules a total of 34 alternate Earths, including their own.
  • The Multiverse: The entirety of the setting.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Ilya spends a substantial chunk of the book naked, as he was stripped after his capture and only later is able to get dressed.
    Ilya: "I don't care what science fiction authors say, nudism is not the way of the future."
  • Named Weapons: Ilya's Katana is named Shirabyoshi, "The White Dancing Maiden".
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • Professor Dreadful, though he's not precisely evil. Mostly quite unhinged.
    • "The Dark Tower".
    • Lord Slaughterbench.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Lampshaded by Ilya.
    And, just on principle, I was not helping any group that called itself The Darkest Tower against places called Great Golden City and Land of Light. That was a no-brainer. I mean, get serious. Suppose you were from another world and came to ours circa 1940 and you saw an SS officer in his black uniform with the silver skulls on his collar, and he said he wanted to exterminate some folks called The Chosen People from some place called The Holy Land, who would you think the bad guy was?
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Used frequently by Ilya, when he uses a mild swear in dialogue and then notes in narration that, in reality, he used a much stronger swearword.
  • Necessary Fail
  • Nepharious Pharaoh: The undead Egyptian kings who rule the world of Mizraim (or ruled before they were conquered by the Dark Tower.) Ilya runs into one of them in a chamber within the Tower, and while the pharaoh is clearly malevolent and hateful, he hates the Dark Tower enough to hand Ilya a powerful artifact when he hears Ilya is prophesied to topple the Tower.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ilya and company find a way to kill one of the Host Of Those Who Seek Death But Death Flees From Them: by having a vampire eat its heart and drink all its blood before it can regenerate. Said vampire immediately begins to turn into an even-more unkillable super-vampire the heroes have no means of containing.
    • Penny —who is actually undercover on a mission— is not in personal danger until Ilya blurts out how in love with her he is, and how he intends to rescue her. The Astrologers decide to use this by torturing her in front of him.... which makes it necessary for her to send a rescue mission for him.
  • Omniglot: Anyone who learns the Ursprache gains the ability to understand all languages. Conversely, anyone can understand Ursprache (even feral children who have no concept of language), and even instantly grasp all the little semantic nuances.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Ilya carries Abby fireman-style when they have to run and she can't keep up; he grabs Penny captive-monster style when he gets an excuse to.
  • Prescience Is Predictable: High Priest Enmeduranki, just as the rest of the high-ranking astrologers, lost all ability to derive joy from life because he always knows what's going to happen. He gets more excited whenever something unforeseen happens.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Even though it's not a good thing to have when the forces of evil are about to regroup and come sweeping down on you. "Mmm...not at home. Please leave a message after the beep."
  • Punny Name: Penny Dreadful. Her real name is actually Parthenope, although the "Dreadful" turns out to be a pretty close translation of her adoptive father's name.
  • Rescue Romance: Ilya desperately hopes for this to apply.
  • Ray Gun: The firearms used by the armies of the Dark Tower.
  • Running Gag:
    • Ilya not knowing "which hand to wipe his butt with and which hand to eat with." He eventually ripostes that he does know what toilet paper is.
    • "Muromets" becoming "Marmoset."
    • Ilya trying to explain some piece of modern technology to Abby, to which she replies that she knows what it is.
    • Ilya referring to Foster's "Invisible Girl power," and being corrected with "Invisible man!"
    • Ilya mentioning some weird but useful bit of trivial knowledge, and then revealing he learned it from a book.
  • Right Behind Me: Ilya at one point goes off on a tangent about Penny, and ends with how he hopes Abby isn't there to hear it. It turns out she's right behind the door, and translates it for Master Ossifrage and Knack.
  • Schizo Tech: The servants of the Dark Tower utilize simple spears and shields and swords, Ray Guns, clockwork Babbage computing machines, etc.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: Much to Ilya's confusion, Rahab can greatly increase his size and mass in blatant violation of conversation of matter.
  • Shipper on Deck: Abby and Knack ship Penny and Ilya.
  • Smooch of Victory: Ilya gets one, per his request, after finally and undeniably managing to rescue Penny from a foe.
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Ilya plucks out his own eye to demonstrate that he's not afraid of torture. His captors, unimpressed, point out that he's just demonstrated how far he's willing to go in defense of his girlfriend... so they're going to nail his head in place, sew his eyelids open, and torture her in front of him.
  • Sex Slave: Penny's fate, if not rescued. Also the rest of the girls in the Harem levels.
  • Snake People: Nagas from Hindu mythology (referred to simply as serpent people") are of the many creatures that live in the setting, and serve the Dark Tower.
  • Slave Collar: The harem girls have these, which constrict and will decapitate any of the girls who leave the harem boundaries.
  • Star Scraper: The Dark Tower is over three times taller than the circumference of Earth. Not the diameter, the circumference.
  • Token Nonhuman: Nakasu the headless Blemmye.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ilya slowly levels up across the book, as he learns about his abilities. It takes a long time because he has to learn about them the hard way.
  • Title Drop:
    Our world is mostly civilized these days, mostly tamed: but I knew there was wildness and weirdness out there. Where? Hither or thither or somewhere or somewhither: In elfland or outer space or beyond the walls of the world.
  • Tower of Babel: The Dark Tower, in an alternate universe where the Tower of Babel was built successfully.
  • Translation: "Yes": The Ursprache includes a lot of brief words for specific, complex types of crimes and torture. For example, "hamhattapars'h" means "a family murder-suicide where a mother kills all her children starting with the youngest, and then herself, on a holy day".
  • Trash Talk: The werewolves engage in it... in Latin epigraphs.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Ilya does this during his first meeting with Penny, when her falcon Wild Eyes startles him. It's a less than successful maneuver, considering that he gets choked by his quiver and loses his knife... and completely fails to impress the girl in front of him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Ilya censors himself in the text (not so much in real life), and at several places skims over embarassing events with just a token notice.
  • Void Between the Worlds: The Deep of Uncreation. Nothing can survive in it—well, except for immortals. It's filled with the black substance "twilight", which can nevertheless be controlled and commanded to some extent by Ilya.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Experienced inhabitants of Cainem can manipulate their body in any way they wish, including detaching limbs and bones and using them as weapons, or growing bone-armor over their skin.

  • Wham Line: "Son, different rules apply during the end of the world."
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The world of Cainem is inhabited by people who were never chased out of the Paradise, and thus never die. This is a very bad thing, since all earthly pleasures will eventually grow stale, while earthly sufferings never get easier. The only thing that slightly excites them is sadism and committing atrocities.
  • Wild Child: All children on the world of Cainem, inhabited by immortals. Once the mother gets bored of the baby (especially since pretty much all children are product of rape), she tosses it child into a random body of water (so that it won't make noise with its cries) and leave it there to fend for itself. As a result, pretty much all children end up what would be considered feral children on Earth.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: What everyone in the Dark Tower generally believes, to the point where it serves to handicap them. For example, when the astrologers predict that a force attacking the heroes will fail and reinforcements will be necessary, they won't just strengthen the first force - because they're afraid that acting contrary to the stars' predictions will curse them. In another case, a Wolf Man leaves the protagonist be instead of fighting him, because she had no victories or losses predicted for that day.
  • Your Vampires Suck: Vampires in the setting are utterly ireedemable, completely evil creatures—in contrast to the Friendly Neighborhood Vampires that frequently pop up in today's movies and TV shows. Foster comments wryly on how Hollywood cannot "make a proper vampire movie any more", while Penny suggests that all the filmmakers are on the real vampires' payroll.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The Dark Tower uses combat airships. Ilya lampshades the trope when he first sees one.