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Literature / The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin

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"Blood is the river that flows between worlds."

The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin is the first book in the Sister Verse series by Amelie C. Langlois. It follows John, a detective who is being slowly driven insane by a shapeshifting entity known as the Lord in White, who created his reality for the sole purpose of making him suffer.

It's very much a story about violence, and it has plenty to go around. It's divided into three acts, each introducing a new set of characters who have to wade through an ocean of Mind Screw and Gorn as they try and piece together whatís actually happening to them. It doesnít quite work out.

Followed by The Sister Verse and the Devouring Glass.

The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin contains examples of:

  • After the End: Everything but act 1. The Lord in White and the darklings have already destroyed civilization and much of its infrastructure. The characters seen in the story are the ones still trying to recover from it, even hundreds of years later.
  • Anyone Can Die: Most characters have a very short life-expectancy, but a few get better.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The Willow and the Flame. Records from Mercury Station and Project Merlin in act 1 also get progressively more dire as the scientists realize what they're actually dealing with.
  • The Assimilator: The Sister Verse and its avatar, the Lord in White.
  • Autocannibalism: John starts eating his own fingers and licking up blood when the Lord in White possesses him on the highway.
  • Beneath the Earth: The waygate beneath Octavia.
  • Blank Slate: Implied to be the fate of everyone trapped in the Sister Verse. Jacob also somewhat fits this, being a composite of dead halaani.
  • Blood Knight: Ragnar, the Lord in White, and all the Sisters of Ruin.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Lord in White is completely aware that itís in a fictional universe, and is implied to have the power to rewrite parts of the story, being the avatar of the Sister Verse. It often refers to the reader directly, as well as real world occurrences and future in-universe events, to the point that it literally recites lines from the book. The documents interspersed throughout the text follow conventions that hint at them not being entirely real, such as almost every number being a component of the perfect number 6, and the total number of sixes being divisible by 3. This, combined with the artifice of constant references, makes the reader doubt whether anything after act 1 is even happening, or if itís just another one of Johnís lives.
  • Byronic Hero: Diana is a violent and selfish person who has no problem with killing anyone she even remotely dislikes, often lapsing into the territory of Villain Protagonist.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: A lot of details are set up in advance, and then show up again in a later chapter or act. This is essentially the purpose of the documents, apart from providing backstory.
  • The Chessmaster: The Lord in White and the Astral Lords. Jin is implied to be this, though arguably failed.
  • Combat Tentacles: Some of the Lord in Whiteís more bizarre forms.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: John and the darklings. Diana, to some degree.
  • The Conspiracy: Literally everything.
  • The Corruption: The Lord in White, and the blood of the Astral Lords, both of which seem to turn everything into horrific monsters.
  • Cosmic Horror Reveal: When the Lord in White starts formally showing up, but the Mercury Station documents imply it beforehand.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: What the story is eventually revealed to be.
  • Cosmic Plaything: All the characters do very little of their own free will, and itís implied that the Lord in White has control over all the events of the story. Diana would like to be free of this, though itís unclear if Singerís plan will pull through.
  • The Cracker: Diana and Elliot make a living off black hat hacking. Their heist in the story has them acquiring and selling the password hashes of a banking conglomerate.
  • Crapsack World: And how.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: This happens a lot, in vivid detail. Itís probably a lot harder to find instances of clean deaths in the story.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Literally every character. The Lord in White makes fun of John and Diana for this, even though it essentially created them.
  • Death Is Cheap: Played with. Everyone's copy dies in the first part of act 1. They wake up physically intact in the second part, and apart from Ragnar, remain that way until the Lord in White shows up. Otherwise, people in the Glade technically canít die unless they're psychopaths, but whatever they ultimately wind up as usually bears no physical or mental resemblance to the original.
  • Downer Ending: Almost everywhere. The last act has a brief hope spot, but even that has sinister undertones.
  • Dramatic Irony: Used in act 1 between John and Paige. Early on, John visits an address in search of a killer. The killer, revealed as Paige to the audience in a previous scene, answers the door and impersonates the owner of the home while the real owner is tied up in the basement. This trope is also an inevitable consequence of reading the documents.
  • Driven to Suicide: Dianaís introduction, but Singer saves her. Rousseau, sort of.
  • Dug Too Deep: The salt mines of Octavia, revealing one of the waygates to the Dreadlands.
  • Dystopia: Diana's world in act 3. Trent's world in act 1 was slowly progressing toward this, at least until the universe implodes.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Lord in White and the Astral Lords, though itís hard to find things in the Dreadlands that donít fit this.
  • Eldritch Location: The Glade, and anywhere thatís been around the Lord in White for too long. Arguably the Sister Verse as a whole.
  • Empty Shell: John is reduced to this at the end of act 1, when the Lord in White breaks his mind through constant physical and psychological torture. Likewise, this is probably the consequence of any ascendant's story in the Sister Verse.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Implied to be the consequence of the wallís destruction, but given that thereís three books left, itís bound to be a slow apocalypse. This is also a potential result of Diana's story, because if she becomes an ascendant, her reality and everyone in it will either cease to exist, or be reinserted into another story.
  • Foreshadowing: Everywhere. Characters, settings, and events in the story are often briefly mentioned or alluded to in some way long before being formally introduced.
  • Garden of Evil: The Glade, in some incarnations, appearing as a foggy, blue hedge maze that gets progressively more disturbing the further you go, or a forest made out of liquid meat.
  • Gender Bender: The ascendants that destroyed most of Jacobís world prior to the events of act 2 intentionally assumed the forms of women to cause infighting among the humans.
  • Good is Not Nice: John is an asshole to almost everyone he meets, and is incredibly unstable, but is ultimately a good person.
  • Gorn: Itís hard to find scenes in the book that arenít vividly describing acts of violence, and some of the fight scenes go on for several pages. The Lord in White references this in-universe while possessing Callisto.
  • Heroic BSoD: When Kal finds out that his daughter was taken, he marches straight back to the mines of Octavia and soul drains any guards who stand in his way Ė something he previously refused to do, which led to him losing his daughter in the first place.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted fairly well in act 3. Thereís some use of future technology, like the bolt drives, but its function is usually just a more efficient analog to something that already exists.
  • Humanity's Wake: The raathi, the Crest, and the halaani.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The story definitely leans more toward this. Almost everyone is completely nihilistic, and anybody who isnít gets a harsh reality check sooner or later.
  • I Have Many Names: The Lord in White, Mercury, the Red Willow, Xil-Nasha.
  • The Illuminati: Implied in act 1 through Jin.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Sisters of Ruin butcher men for their meat. Jacob eats some when invited to by Alasha, much to everyone's amusement, but he doesn't realize what it is.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: The plot surrounding the wall is essentially a massive sequence of these, caught between multiple players.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Jacob. John for the first bit of act 3.
  • Lost Technology: The Sisters of Ruin scavenged their weapons and vehicles from the fallen cities and military bases, and modified them to their own ends.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: The ďmagicĒ of the Lord in White and its darklings revolves around this, usually using some form of extreme body horror as a weapon.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Straddles the line. There are a lot of hopeful moments, but they almost never work out. Diana got the Talons of Ruin, but billions of people died in the process, including most of the halaani race, and whether or not Singerís plan can actually succeed is a matter of debate.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: The Sisters of Ruin are a collective of cannibalistic Blood Knights who use scavenged technology.
  • Mind Rape: The Lord in White in a nutshell. The Astral Lords do this out of indifference, and the dream eater that Kal encountered also arguably counts when it makes him relive his childhood while itís eating all his friends.
  • Mind Screw: The overall arc has a lot of this, but when reality breaks down near the end of act 1, things get weird.
  • Misery Builds Character: Literally. Flesh that falls under the Lord in Whiteís influence is tempered by pain, granting it the superhuman durability and strength that John and the darklings have.
  • More than Mind Control: A recurring theme in the story. John, Kal, and Exoniga are the most frequent victims. Diana is in it for the long game.
  • Muggles: The citizens of the fifth sphere in act 1 really hate the marks, and seem to be perfectly fine with leveling entire city blocks just to stamp them out.
  • Mushroom Samba: Mercury Station and the Glade are like this, but not because of drugs. Act 3ís journey through the Dreadlands reads like this, thanks to the Lord in White blending all the worlds together. It's implied that John had a little too many of these in his past.
  • Mystical Plague: What people initially think is happening when they start getting possessed by the Lord in White.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The ending of act 3, but itís apparently for the best.
  • One World Order: Just about every corrupt government in the story.
  • Pieces of God: Xil-Nasha translates to ďthe shard,Ē because the Lord in White was split apart by the materialization of the wall.
  • Precursors: The Crest are implied to have been a distant evolutionary state of humanity wiped out by the Lord in White. They made the Dreadlands, and much of the ruined infrastructure that still remains in it.
  • Properly Paranoid: John thinks heís constantly being watched. He is.
  • Psychological Horror: The Lord in White tortures its victims with this by forcing them into vivid hallucinations. The Astral Lords do the same to Diana, albeit probably unintentionally.
  • Rape as Backstory: John was mercilessly abused by his father at the Lord in Whiteís request, so his hallucinations tend to be uncomfortably sexual. Paige is implied to have suffered a similar fate, though it's difficult to say what actually happened.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: John's mindset when he sees what the Lord in White likely did to a little boy in the town of Antigone, likely because it reminds him of his father.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The story is difficult to completely understand on the first go, and a lot of the scenes read completely different if you know what's going to happen.
  • Scavenger World: The Dreadlands, and Jacobís universe.
  • Shapeshifting: Constantly used by the Lord in White, most notably to impersonate Echo in act 2.
  • Shout-Out: Enough that James starts pointing them out. To name a few: the SCP Series, Jacob's Ladder, Silent Hill 2, Saya no Uta, A Song of Ice and Fire, Katawa Shoujo, Path of Exile, EVE Online, Starcraft, Warhammer 40,000, Mad Max, Magic: The Gathering, The King in Yellow, and Martyrs.
  • Sinister Surveillance: In most of Meridian, much to Diana's displeasure. Also present in act 1, though how much of it is actually real is up for debate.
  • The Sociopath: Ragnar, Paige, and probably Gaius. Diana has little regard for anyone but herself, and goes along with Singerís plan almost entirely out of self-interest. Itís arguable whether she cares about Elliot or not, especially after what happens in the Glade.
  • Spider Limbs: A feature associated with the Lord in White, and presumably with much of the Outer Dark in general. Or at least, thatís how we see it. It could just be an echo of Johnís fear of spiders.
  • Surreal Horror: This story lives and breathes this trope, particularly when the Lord in White or the Astral Lords are involved.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: John, Jacob, and Diana. Hallucinations are very common, especially around the Lord in White.
  • Time Abyss: The Lord in White and the Astral Lords. Everyone that's been to the Glade is usually extremely old, thanks to its time-warping effects, but Diana and Elliot got out relatively intact.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Sister Verse.
  • Training from Hell: Implied to have been what happened to Paige. This is also technically the fate of the ascendants, given that a side effect of their reincarnation cycles is the tempering of their flesh.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Johnís ďlivesĒ are designed to be this, and that probably goes for any other ascendants trapped in the Glade. Exoniga and Kal's storyline in act 2 is literally just an endless sequence of tragedies.
  • Uncertain Doom: Implied to be the eventual fate of everything.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: What usually happens to people that use the Lord in Whiteís powers. Darklings donít seem like the most stable bunch.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: All the extradimensional characters. When the Lord in Whiteís form starts to destabilize, all anyone usually sees is bloody teeth. The closest approximation is implied to be the liquid tree void in the Glade. Najaka manifests as ultraviolet light, though Diana can supposedly see her in the end when the Lord in White renders her catatonic.