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Literature / The Avatar Chronicles

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The Avatar Chronicles is a trilogy of young adult novels by Conor Kostick.

In a World… where skill in a massive, intricate MMORPG has become the way through which matters of economic and juristic disputes are settled and where high-level players reign supreme, both in the virtual and real world, a small boy from a coastal village bets all and wins high — but the system has its issues with that.

Epic is a novel by Conor Kostick, published in 2004. Epic is set 20 Minutes into the Future, on New Earth, a planet 'somewhere in the universe' which human colonists have settled on long ago. With them they brought Epic, a vast fantasy game originally invented to prevent psychological problems from isolation and boredom during the long travels through space in a semi-frozen state, Epic now dominates the colony's culture. The game's currency is valid for real resources. Loss in in-game tournaments gets you assigned to worse jobs. Social status and personal wellbeing all depend on your character's level, equipment and status. To make matters worse, Epic is Nintendo Hard — once your character is dead, all their stuff is gone as well, and you have to start all over again. And to compound matters, high-level equipment, spells and skills are almost exclusively in the hands of Central Allocations, a group of nine people, which dooms most appeals against their decisions to failure.


Epic is also the colony's only outlet for any sort of conflict; violence is seen as absolutely despicable in the colony, and merely the act of striking another human is enough to warrant exile onto a small island.

The protagonist of Epic is Erik Haraldsson, who lives in a small village that produces olives, and whose fate is about to turn for the worse: his mother has had little luck in the game, having just 'died', and so they are about to be forcibly moved to an assignment in the salt fields or coal mines, when Erik decides to defy a trope and creates a new character...

The sequel to Epic is Saga, a much Darker and Edgier story set in a virtual world which was originally designed to be like Epic, only Cyberpunk as opposed to Heroic Fantasy. After 2,000 years of existence, however, the "game" has become alive, and is pretty much a universe in its own right. Saga is ruled over by the Dark Queen, who has created a card system to indicate the rich and the poor, with Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet colored cards. The poorest of the the poor (these being the majority of Saga's citizens) are Red, with Violet being for the super-rich.


Naturally, not a lot of the Reds are in favor of this system, causing a lot of young Reds to become anarcho-punks. One such group of teenagers are our main characters, Ghost, Nathan, Athena and Milan.

The third book in the trilogy is Edda. Penelope's lived her entire life in the equivalent of a hospital bed, spending all her time in the virtual world of Edda (yet another world designed to be like Epic and Saga), coding the game to create modern weapons and vehicles for her caretaker, Lord Scanthax. Scanthax's goal is to make himself ruler of all the virtual worlds, and it's only Saga that stands in the way.

Now that Penelope's a teenager, she's begun to question her own background: Why would a baby have been left behind when her planet was evacuated? Does Scanthax really care for her, or does he only view her as a high-maintenance tool? Are there other humans or at least some sentient virtual life besides Scanthax's manifestations that she can connect with? As she tries to find answers, and Scanthax continues in his conquest, all the virtual worlds will be affected.

These books provide examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Breaker: In Epic, Erik figures out that the Red Dragon can be defeated by a group of comparatively low-level characters by exploiting its attack patterns — it will always attack the one who dealt the most damage, or, if the damage is roughly equal, whoever attacked the most recently. He gets a group of characters together with an insane amount of arrows, and two party members take turns firing at the dragon from opposite directions, so that the dragon can't make it to the first attacker before the second attacker triggers it to move in the other direction (with backup archers in case either one misses), repeating until the dragon suffers Death of a Thousand Cuts (and, when both the main and backup archers fail, Erik's Draw Aggro move is used to finally defeat it).
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
    • The now self-aware Epic has become schizoid — one part gives life to NPCs and wants to be friends with humans, but also wants to end because it is lonely. The other part is a vampire, wants to continue living, and can kill people in the real world with hypnosis.
    • In Saga, the Dark Queen effectively killed all humans on Earth.
    • In Edda, Lord Scanthax seems incapable of thinking of anything in terms other than conquering the world by killing everyone not from his kingdom.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Any sort of violence, even just slapping someone, gets you banished to an exile island for lifetime.
  • Anti-Escapism Aesop: Fleeing into virtual realities and not doing the things that need to be done in the real world is bad. Which goes into Broken Aesop, because their colony is only declining because people are forced to depend on Epic.
  • Apocalypse How: The end goal of Epic is to completely destroy the game's world, effectively deleting the entire virtual universe.
  • Arrested for Heroism: Harald was exiled for life — because he punched someone in order to stop an Attempted Rape.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Erik does this. His careful observation of Inry'aat the Red Dragon's attack patterns allows him to discover a loophole that he and his friends can take advantage of to kill the dragon, an unheard-of feat since it is supposed to be unbeatable.
  • Axe-Crazy: Ragnok, what with throwing a wheelchair-bound old man out of a high tower's window over a game character and committing a real life murder — perhaps the first in all of the colony's existence.
  • Bag of Spilling: Epic erases your entire character when you die, forcing you to restart from zero with absolutely nothing to your name.
  • Bond One-Liner: Ragnok specifically prepared some for his Total Party Kill of his colleagues.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Reversed. In-game money is useable in Real Life; many people have to play Epic in order to be able to buy necessities. A game over can plunge you into deep poverty.
  • Character Class System: Each player must choose a character type. Erik chooses Swashbuckler for his character Cindella, which is a very rare type almost unheard of since most people create strong, warriorlike characters.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The medallion the archbishop gave Bjorn in return for his god's bell. Turns out that merfolk are really thankful to that god.
    • You remember that cursed dagger and invisibility item that got Anonemuss' avatar killed? That Lord Scanthax's troops took back with them? Yeah, they're used by Assassin at the end of Edda. If he hadn't been using those particular items, he'd still be alive and Ghost would be dead, and chances are Lord Scanthax would not have been defeated.
    • In the beginning of Epic, Antilo the jeweler gives Erik (in the form of Cinderella) an amulet that when later shown to Antilo awakens the sentience within the game to come have a chat.
  • Chekhov's Skill: When Erik creates his Cindella character, he's mildly interested in the fact that Mock is listed as one of her combat skills, but can't picture a time when he'd use it. Erik uses it to distract Inry'aat, the Red Dragon, at a critical moment when they're fighting him and about to be killed.
  • Color-Coded Castes: In the virtual universe of Saga, society is ordered in seven ranked color tiers, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet, in increasing order of status. Each citizen is issued a card of their rank's color, and the color of your card determines what stores and homes you have access to, where you are and aren't allowed to go and so on. Most of the world's population is Red and lives in poverty, and only the highest elite is Violet. The Dark Queen, who rules over the world of Saga, is the only one to possess a Black card, which grants her authority to do whatever she wants and go wherever she pleases.
  • Combat and Support: Players of Epic will often team up to fight enemies like this, and the final battle ends up being like this as well. The "Combat" portion is made up of warrior-type characters, while the "Support" portion is made up of spellcasters and healers, who stay out of the thick of the fighting.
  • Competitive Balance: Since farming enemies in Epic is the main source of real-life money and fights are used for settling conflicts, a focus on combat is established, and people don't usually choose classes with noncombat focus or seemingly gimmicky stats like Beauty.
  • Complacent Gaming Syndrome: In-universe. Since "Epic" is Serious Business, everyone sticks with the predictable classes, even though there are loads and loads of them. invoked
  • Cool Sword:
    • Thunder and Lightning.
    • Also, the Executioner's Bastard Sword of the Moon.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: The dragon Inry'aat is slain by the low-level main characters filling it with arrows — each arrow only takes a nick out of the dragon's vast health pool, but, provided enough time and a truly enormous supply of ammunition, they're eventually able to whittle his health down to nothing.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: Boy howdy. Complete with full 3D data helmet and in-game tactile sense. NPC AI so complex it reacts to player-made events. All in Real Time, with an ecosystem, everything. But you still can't get ye flask.
  • Defector from Decadence: Svein Redbeard, after he realizes that his government is refusing help to people over a videogame. And he gets petrified, then thrown off the committee. Subverted, in that he doesn't turn up to the battle, and later on wants to preserve the game and tries to kill Cindella.
  • Digital Avatar: Players naturally have to create a character for the games, and throughout the book they're seen through their game avatars just as much as — if not more than — real life.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Punched someone in the face to save someone else from rape? Onto the exile island with you. Enjoy third-rate seeds and rusty tool shipments.
  • Dragon Hoard: Dragons in Epic guard enormous amounts of treasure; Inry'aat's hoard is so ridiculously huge that his slayers need to hire a large team of accountants just to sort through it, work out how much it's actually worth and try to catalogue all the unique items within it.
  • The Dragonslayer: A rare and highly coveted title within the world of Epic, as dragons are both immensely rare and very powerful. The main characters claim it for themselves after slaying Inry'aat the Red Dragon, and the current Central Allocations committee won it several years ago when they slew the Black Dragon.
  • Dual Wielding: B.E. with his twin swords, Thunder and Lightning.
  • Dump Stat: Averted with Cindella, Erik's new character. Otherwise played straight — since Epic is Serious Business, nobody would waste any points into a stat like Beauty. However, it's Erik's defiance that rouses the attention of Epic's kernel, which has become self-aware.
  • Enough to Go Around: Averted. There are several unique items which hold clues to enormous riddles or the nature of Epic (or are just really powerful) but they only drop once.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The game is Epic in every sense of the word. Probably could be applied to the book itself too.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Epic has a dash of everything, from healer and mage characters to elves, dragons, and vampires to colosseum battles and pirate treasure.
  • Fluffy the Terrible:
    "Bouncy?" B.E. groaned with disgust. "Inny, it's an ethereal guard dog. It can detect astral projections and ethereal walkers, let alone invisible and hidden creatures. It can savage a troll single-handedly, and you've called it Bouncy?"
  • For Science!: In the ending, Svein Redbeard turns against Erik in-game to prevent Epic from being shut down — just because there was still so much to explore!
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Count Illystivostitsch can kill you by making you think he's ripping your heart out. From cyberspace. Not your character. You.
  • Game-Breaker:
    • Erik's defeat of the Red Dragon lands him tons of loot for his character. But since the in-game currency is valid in Real Life as well, he is suddenly rich enough to uproot the entire planet's economical system. invoked
    • The government has access to a code that disables PvP protection — they alone can create a character that can attack other players outside the arena. Whilst that means that said character (the "Executioner") is also attackable, it's been equipped with tons of highest-level equipment (including a shield that voids all negative magic) and spells. Also, none of the other players know that it's possible to attack another player.
  • Genius Loci: More like genius ludi, in this case — Epic is alive and aware.
  • Global Currency: Bezant, as well as silver, gold and pennies, serves as the universal currency in the world of Epic.
  • Heart Symbol: Ghost's symbol is a ♥, and is always represented that way. Why is it that symbol? We don't know. As she says in Saga when painting aircars:
    I settled for a pale blue sky with fluffy white clouds as my background, and then filled it with floating red ♥s. Not much of a statement, I know, unless you think about how there are millions of aircars out there, and they are all a standard simple monochrome. To introduce playfulness and individuality is in itself a kind of subversion. Well, that’s if my choice needed any justification.
  • Hive Mind: Epic is all NPCs at once, and the game itself.
  • HUD: Little to none at all. Players have to store their own things, count to check numbers, etc. A Life Meter is mentioned, though.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Averted. When trying to bring down the Red Dragon with More Dakka and kiting, they bought so many arrows they ended up having to borrow two carts to carry them.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Epic, Saga, and Edda are all words that mean a type of usually grand story. They're also all One Word Titles.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The Ethereal Tower of Nightmare.
  • Inevitable Tournament: Justified, as the colonies' government enforces it, and those that do well (usually members of rich families, who get powerful equipment handed down) may go to study Epic at the University, which opens the path to government jobs.
  • Jerkass: Whilst playing as the "Executioner", a character capable of attacking players outside PvP, Ragnok passed the time by sneaking up on an unsuspecting player for a One-Hit Kill — which might just have vaporized a lifetime's worth of Level Grinding and likely as not ruined someone's life.
  • Karmic Death: Very fitting how Ragnok, the only citizen of New Earth who'd successfully gotten away with murder, would also be the only person to ever die in Real Life by the hands of an insanely powerful NPC.
  • Lord British Postulate: This gets the Executioner and Central Allocations, and already got the Red Dragon. Any finite number can be reduced to 0.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Discussed. Anonemuss quotes and discusses the necessity of violence with the group, who live in a world where it is treated... strangely.
  • Magic Eater: In Epic, Ragnok owns a shield holding a magic-eating demon that consume the enchantments of any weapon it touches.
  • Make Games, Not War: Everyone on New Earth participates in an immersive MMO called Epic. In addition to the game dictating one's station in life - for example, do well in it as a student and you get the chance to go to university - player vs player combat is used to settle disputes and grievances, as violence is banned on New Earth.
  • Money Grinding: Most players are forced into a lifetime of this.
  • More Than Mind Control: Even though the vampire is eerily charismatic and hypnotic, Ragnok seems to be acting on his own impulses.
  • Murder Simulators: Discussed, and technically inverted. The point of Epic is to keep violence away from society, by making it the only place where violence may exist.
  • Mysterious Past: Anonemuss. Who exactly is he, and what sort of violence did he commit that warranted an exile?
  • Near-Rape Experience: Whilst it's never mentioned in any detail, the incident that lead to Erik's father punching Ragnok, therefore making himself an outcast, had to do with Erik's mother Freya, who was a)drunk and b)struggling…
  • News Travels Fast: Averted; the world of Epic at large only learns that the Red Dragon has been killed (by a group of children) when a party member lets it slip to an NPC.
  • Nintendo Hard: If your character dies, it (and all your items) is gone. If you're an adult who is fighting in the player-vs-player arena to settle a grievance, you could very easily lose everything you've worked thirty or forty years for.
    • This is a plot hole — it is possible to transfer all your belongings to another player (family member or a friend) before the fight and if you die you can make a new character and get it all back. Freya explicitly sold all she owned to buy arrows (for the dragon fight), which she then gave to Eric. No tax or anything. Basically you can find the character class with most valuable starting equipment/money, stash it all onto a helper, suicide, make a new one etc. and no one would care or be able to trace this.
    • It is also explicitly mentioned that children/nephews of rich people have access to incredibly powerful stuff that their progenitors acquired earlier. Basically the whole idea of Epic implies incredible inflationary potential since no money sinks are mentioned that can contain it.
  • NPC: Their AI, however, is so complex and independent, they're nearly human. Did I say nearly?
  • One-Word Title: Epic, Saga, and Edda are all single words. And they're also Idiosyncratic Episode Naming, because they're all words that mean a type of usually grand story.
  • Only Six Faces: Played with. Being as intricate as it is, Epic is fully capable of rendering stunningly realistic faces, but since beauty is invested in with the Point Build System, has no combat use and is therefore usually a Dump Stat, only NPCs and Cindella have something that looks like a face, whilst everyone else uses a nondescript gray expanse as a face.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: In Epic, they're unique and extraordinarily powerful monsters as old as the in-universe world itself, and guard enormous hoards of treasure. Killing one is almost impossible and awards anyone who manages to do it immense status.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're aware they're in a game, at least.
  • Our Wyverns Are Different: Wyverns are present in Epic as monsters resembling weaker, four-limbed dragons — weaker here being a relative term; wyverns are powerful enemies and entirely capable of delivering a Total Party Kill against groups of low-level characters, but they're nowhere near as strong as the game's nearly unkillable dragons. They're also among the monsters that can be summoned in the training arena, and the main characters practice against wyverns in order to work out a good way to kill Inry'aat.
  • Parrot Exposition: Necessary in conversations with NPC, because, even 20 Minutes into the Future, You Can't Get Ye Flask.
  • Power Perversion Potential: An extremely immerse video game with perfect 3D graphics and sound, tactile sense feedback and NPC that can be arguably alive. Libraries of different body, beauty is a stat that can be levelled very high…
    • The perversion potential is mentioned in-universe as well, though in their world violence is considered a perversion.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: Interestingly enough. Not only does Erik reappear in Saga, but his character, Cindella, is the only Epic character that was transferred over to the Saga game.
    • Possibly Justified, since Erick ended Epic, and Cindella was right at the epicenter of the game engine self destruct. Furthermore, most of the protagonists were fighting to the death outside and might well have lost their characters
  • Punny Name: Anonemuss. References to the Internet Hate Machine not intended.
  • Rage Quit:
    • Erik considers doing this to avoid capture, but fears to find his character in the same ship but on the bottom of the ocean when he logs back in.
    • At the same time, Bjorn actually does this, and not only survives due to his helmet of waterbreathing, but finds and befriends the king of all merfolk.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Out of all the Central Allocations people, the druidess Bekka is probably the most Lawful Good. And also the only one not to be oneshotted by Ragnok.
  • Red Herring: Cindella pretends to do a main quest whilst following a different idea altogether.
  • RPGs Equal Combat: Epic was intended as an RPG. Since it became the method of solving conflicts and deciding who goes to the university, nearly all the players spend all their time.
  • Rule of Three: In Saga:
    They tell you at the front of every airboard manual that you have to wear a helmet. Then they tell you again. And just in case you don’t get the message, they tell you once more. Only after that do they tell you how to ride your new airboard.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Low level equipment contains gems such as pot helmets. Which are treated by poor people like gems, and cost around a year's worth of work. Crosses over with Rainbow Pimp Gear.
  • Schizo Tech: Each world has its own technology — for example, since Epic is a Standard Fantasy Setting, you've got only swords, bows, and the like, but Saga is a Cyberpunk City Noir and therefore has high-technology Ray Guns. Schizo Tech is what you get when the virtual worlds collide.
  • Serious Business: Epic controls everything on New Earth — want to appeal to a government decision? You'll have to fight their character. Need an urgent shipment of solar collectors or other supplies, but have been denied? To appeal, you'll have to win in PvP. Lost your job? Arena match! There's also one University for the entire colony. Guess what you study there. It's even the requirement for going for government — having studied an MMORPG. An incredibly complex one, but still.
  • Ship Tease: Between Erik and Injeborg, with notable instances including the explicit statement that Erik wishes he could kiss her and the final line of the story's emphasis on the romantic way she looks at him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In-universe, Cindella's name is a shout-out to "Cinderella" and various characters Erik knows of named Sinbad.
    • Cindella is a swashbuckler, and very good at taunting. Did she just use Insult Swordfighting on a dragon?
    • Epic's two moons are Sylvania and Aridia.
  • Skeleton Government: Nine people make up Central Allocations, which runs everything on the colony world.
  • Slash Command: Well, # — the pound sign is what Erik and friends use to emote in the game.
  • Somebody Named "Nobody": Anonemuss is only ever seen through his game avatars, and all they really know about him is that he's from the isle of exiled criminals.
  • Space Whale Aesop: If your government starts to decide everything through WoW, delete the game so they can relearn real-world skills.
  • Sprint Meter: Depending on your stats, your character can run for only so long. The Executioner manages a couple hundred stairs at full tilt. This is never brought up again.
  • Status Effects: And they are definitely not useless this time.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Justified. Most armor is heavy, and most players don't bother having their character take swimming lessons. In a fight against a member of Central Allocations (a man wants a new hip for his wife and has to play a video game for it), we see his character missing a jump and promptly drown.
  • Talk to Everyone: Actually required; shop NPCs, for example, only reveal the good stuff when prompted through conversation.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: Players' in-game statuses dictate living standards, job opportunities, and anything else in the real-world economy.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Humanity has escaped the old earth, where (we are told) everyone killed each other. Cryogenics and spaceships exist(ed), as well as some very advanced computing technology (Epic itself), but New Earth nevertheless exists (mostly) in Medieval Stasis.
  • Violence Is the Only Option: Played with, and center of the books' Aesop. Whilst, in the real world, violence in all forms is forbidden (to the point where, when Erik loses a tooth due to an accident whilst playing, he has to lie about it lest his friend be seen as having deliberately hurt him and therefore be banished), it's the only way to proceed in Epic and therefore better your lot in real life — instead of forbidding violence and the oppression and differences it causes, New Earth merely shifted it elsewhere.
  • Wallet of Holding: Averted. The heroes have to open a bank account and have clerks rummage through the dragon hoard they looted to see how much they actually made. To do large transactions, they get Djinns they can command to shift the money. But only nine times.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So, aside from Ragnok and Godmund, who got a confirmed death, what happened to the other committee members? We know their characters were killed, but...
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: For all its advanced AI and stunning realism, the dialogue system in Epic is pretty bad. Usually, players resort to Metal Gearing in order to get the NPCs to talk.

Alternative Title(s): Epic