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Literature / The Brightest Shadow

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"The arrival of the Hero was worse than anyone could have imagined."

The Brightest Shadow is an Epic Fantasy series of novels, written by Sarah Lin, and also the title of the first book in the series. Its setting is a blend of Wuxia and high fantasy elements, notable for heavily subverting many of them. The world of Myros is split between two species: humans and mansthein.

The first book introduces a Legend about a Hero killing the Dark Lord and all his Deathspawn minions. Except when the Call to Adventure happens, it's treated as a horror story. The "monsters" think of themselves as The Federation and the Hero's plan is essentially genocide.

So the real story is about characters who aren't the Hero trying to make peace despite the forces of destiny. The Hero is somewhere between an unstoppable force of nature and a roaming murderhobo. But it isn't so simple, because the mansthein have some tendencies of The Empire and many are far from innocent. So the conflict is about Grey-and-Gray Morality being forcibly rammed into a Black-and-White Morality framework.

The Brightest Shadow contains examples of:

  • Absurd Cutting Power: Reasonably competent warriors using sein can cut through iron, strong warriors can cut through armor, and it's unclear what the limits would be in the hands of a master.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The exact appearance of the fantasy ethnicities is unclear due to Unreliable Narrator POV, but several different ethnicities appear to have brown skin of some shade.
  • Arc Villain: Aryabaus is not a general or major leader, but serves as the main antagonist (even if sometimes in the background) for the first book.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Played with. The Catai are automatically of a higher rank, but are subordinate to administrators and politicians. In several human organizations, all the leaders are those who can fight.
  • Battle Couple: Logically a common feature in the world of Myros. In the first book, particularly Veron and Graenin.
  • Black-and-White Morality: How the Hero sees the world, even to the extent of immediately turning on anyone who stands up to him. Notably not very concerned with morality in regard to anything the Hero doesn't care about.
  • Blood Knight: Though common among warriors, Zeitai Xetsu takes this to the logical extreme.
  • Broken Aesop: Intentional with the Hero, who draws moral lessons from events that can be very different than what anyone else thinks about morality.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Though a common beast of burden is called an aurochs, they're said to have claws and sharp teeth, implying a much more monstrous origin than real cattle.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Conspicuously not used. Words for magic or other races that are familiar to the protagonists are never capitalized.
  • Cosmic Horror Reveal: That the Legend seems to be true on a fundamental level and cannot be stopped. If a Hero is killed, someone else becomes the Hero and things just get worse.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Common, both in terms of characters referring to parts of the world not immediately relevant, and several epigraphs that refer to highly ambiguous events.
  • Dehumanization: Literally, with the mansthein being considered subhuman monsters.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major feature of the story, as many characters readily adopt the horrifying morality of the Hero, in contrast to the reader's expected reaction. To a lesser degree, mansthein culture varies from human culture in various ways.
  • Doorstopper: The first book of the series is quite long, which is unusual for Amazon-published novels, and the others are planned to be the same length.
  • Eternal Recurrence: The Hero's arrival is essentially this if the cycle is ever reset, leading to bloody/climactic battles every time.
  • Evil Overlord: Subverted strangely. There is a character literally called the "Dark Lord" but it's unclear if he's in charge and his goals are completely ambiguous.
  • Eye Colour Change: Characters who become the Hero tend to have their eyes get lighter, eventually becoming unnatural white. It's ambiguous if their natural eye color becomes lighter, but it definitely appears white when the Hero is on a rampage.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: Monstrous aurochs seem to fill the role of cattle, cockatrices are raised like chickens, and bicorns are similar to goats.
  • Fantastic Light Source: Sein spheres provide consistent light in tunnels and other areas that couldn't logically be lit constantly by torches.
  • Fantastic Livestock: Monstrous aurochs — the wild ancestors of domestic cows — fill the role of cattle, cockatrices are raised like chickens, and bicorns are similar to goats.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Heavily downplayed. Though many of the cultures have clear Asian inspiration, they rarely match any real culture for more than a few elements. Several of the cultures seem similar to Native American tribes as well, with the Tribal Confederation strongly resembling the Iroquois Confederation.
  • Final Solution: The "happy ending" promised by the Legend is total genocide of all mansthein.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The actual morality of the series. Neither humans or mansthein are all good or bad, and though some characters are better or worse than others, there are no shining heroes (except the horrifying one).
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: The Hero appears able to enforce this, causing mansthein and humans to attack one another in a rage even if they intended otherwise.
  • Healing Hands: This is one of the major branches of sein, not incompatible with combat sein but requiring a high degree of specialization. Notably played with in potentially causing complications, such as rapid healing causing a condition that is strongly implied to be cancer.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Played with. Often averted in the case of real tacticians (or justified by sein), but the Hero uses blunt movie tactics and forces them to work by bending reality around him. (Trope administratively locked.)
  • Hostile Weather: The Chorhan Expanse has dry/rainy seasons, and the long rains directly correlate with one of the lowest points in the first book.
  • Humans Are White: Heavily averted. Few of the human ethnicities match up with a real world group and they seem to have a wide range of physical characteristics.
  • Insane Troll Logic: One of Veron's main tactics when she's messing with people.
  • Kung-Fu Wizard: Since there is no distinction between magic and ki, this is the most common state for trained combatants.
  • Life Energy: Sein is explicitly this, including the mind and past experiences.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Catai embody this. However, it's also slightly averted in that they have massive linear speed, but lack agility.
  • Lost Language: Many ruins around the world are covered in writing that doesn't match any modern language. Worse, most of them aren't even using similar alphabets.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Sein is deeply embedded in culture and always has been. They may not be completely understood by people, but there is never any doubt that they *could* be completely understood.
  • Magic Knight: Nearly nonexistent, as all forms of magical training also involve training the body. Graenin is exactly this and Slaten appears to be moving that way.
  • Mooks: Heavily subverted. Characters that appear to be nameless soldiers in one character's POV are recognizable to the reader as decent people with full lives, but only met via a different character's POV.
  • Multiple-Choice Chosen: Played with. If one Hero is killed, that person was never the Hero at all and a different person was supposedly the Hero all along.
  • Munchkin: The Heroes are effectively murderhobos.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Zeitai are explicitly this, and Xetsu calls himself "The Bloody Pantomime." For the characters who understand what's going on, the Hero is also this.
  • No-Sell: The end result of any sufficiently superior ability, most directly Xetsu simply ignoring entire groups of people attacking him.
  • One-Man Army: All true masters of sein become this. Actually literalized in that it's implied that in some cultures, masters are actually counted as armies during warfare.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Used along the lines of real world variants. Some cultures consider pants wildly inappropriate for women, others insist on the torso being entirely covered, and the Rhen are considered scandalous by many despite their clothes seeming normal to most western readers.
  • People of Hair Color: A softer and more realistic version of this applies, as most groups are ethnically separate. Rhen all have dark hair, Corans have brown to blond, Estronese have very light hair, etc.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: The Zeitai and other masters can completely decide the course of battle on their own.
  • Power Glows: Subverted, as visible power is generally a sign of wasted energy.
  • Replaced with Replica: A notable twist when Tani's master replaces the original sacred texts with a crude copy, scandalizing all the other Nelee.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Made explicit. Warriors who train in only one capacity will run into problems because they lack the powers to support their strengths.
  • Right Makes Might: Twisted. The Hero's power operates by this logic even when what he's doing is horrifying.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: The terms are used similarly to the trope, but with the added twist that soldiers are usually untrained in sein, making warriors unquestionably superior. In war, they're fundamentally different lines of training.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Both played straight in certain cultures and nonexistent in others. Sein evens out differences between sexes, but mansthein alien biology still emphasizes those differences.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Due to the magic system, all martial arts are this, ranging from superhuman physical capabilities to energy blasts.
  • Super-Soldier: The Catai are mansthein who have undergone an unnatural rebirth that makes them far larger and stronger, plus makes their skin impervious to ordinary weapons.
  • Super-Toughness: One common use of sein, ranging from making someone slightly tougher than normal to Catai shrugging off bladed weapons to Xetsu ignoring an entire group trying to kill him.
  • The Chosen One: Subverted, as the Hero's purpose is horrifying except for a few.
  • The Horde: Subverted, as some humans believe the mansthein are a Deathspawn horde, but they're actually a complex government with many opposing factions.
  • The Prophecy: Subverted, as the Legend is vaguely defined and interpreted negatively by most.
  • Upper-Class Equestrian: Subverted among warriors, as the most powerful members of society are expected to travel under their own power.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Each POV is deep inside the character's head and so it reflects their personality and limitations. This ranges from missing details other characters notice to being wrong in ways the reader can identify to deceptions the reader needs to interpret.
  • Victory by Endurance: One of the methods by which the mansthein conquer. If the enemy destroys one army, they can just send another.
  • Weird Weather: Both clouds and sunlight are influenced by the Legend, both influencing the people below and leading to strange phenomena like the sun seeming to stand still in the sky.
  • Wham Episode: A regular occurrence at the end of each part of the book, notably:
    • When the main city is abruptly torn apart by the arrival of the Zeitai.
    • When the true traitor is revealed and a large number of characters die.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Regularly occurs between different cultures, such as normal Rhen sexual relationships being considered inappropriate by Corans.