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A fantasy novel written by Eve Forward, daughter of Robert L. Forward.

Good has not only defeated Evil in the last great war, but continues to hunt down and eradicate all representatives of darkness. While this makes the world a happier, safer place for the common folk, this also puts the protagonist, Sam, out of a job. After all, Sam is an assassin, and since the world's in a state of peace, calm and goodness, there isn't much call for his services.

But wait! There's more: as the forces of Good continue to eradicate Evil, the balance of the world shifts. After Sam and his friend companion often annoying acquaintance Arcie narrowly escape the forces of Good, they stumble across a druid who tells them the ugly truth: if the forces of light continue to overwhelm darkness, the balance will be irreversibly disrupted and the world will be consumed by Good.

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As in, cease to exist.

So, they form a Five-Man Band of Evil Counterparts to Save the World and Set Wrong What Once Went Right. Mostly notable for taking the usual "Evil trying to take over the world" fantasy yarn and turning it on its head. Even if the villains aren't exactly all that evil.


Tropes include:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Sam is immune to just about every drug in existence other than alcohol.
  • Addictive Magic: Use of a dark portal is both addictive and corrupting to the user.
  • Aerith and Bob: There's Sam and Robin alongside Arcie and Kaylana. Valeriana is soon nicknamed "Valerie", much to her distaste. Sam is short for Samalander (not "Salamander"), rather than Samuel however. "Arcie" also turns out to be "R. C.", for "Reinhart Corallis".
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Deconstructed with Valerie, whose entire race was wiped out for being "evil." While she at no point denies this, she also had loved ones and a family that were destroyed as a result, and is quick to point out that people's willingness to believe this trope meant it was okay for the heroes to commit genocide on them.
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  • And Then What?: At a point where two thirds of the party are about to try to kill each other, Kaylana defuses the impending fight by asking them what is likely to happen if one member succeeds in killing everyone else. After everyone realizes that none of them can survive in the overly light world alone for long, they stand down.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Just as it seems like he's about to die, Sam shouts to Kaylana that he loves her. They're implied to get together later.
  • Apocalypse How: Of the Planetary scale; if the forces of light continue to overrun the world, the planet will be consumed by light, wiping out everything on it. While having a spiritual vision, Kaylana sees that such an action would inevitably upset the balance of neighboring worlds and possibly lead to a cascade effect, meaning that it could potentially be on a Multiversal scale as well.
  • The Archmage: Mizzamir, who even has this as his title. He is the most powerful wizard in the world left, and the only surviving Hero left from the Victory of Good against Evil (at least before Sir Pryse is revealed as still alive).
  • Artifact of Doom: Valeriana's medallion is one of the last surviving Hellgates (called Darkgates in the book). A very small one, yes, but a Hellgate nonetheless. Given that, you'd think Sam would know better than to put the damn thing on, but that's part of its evil, tempting power...
  • Astral Projection: Kaylana uses this for control over a herd of animals, projecting her mind on theirs. Valerie does the same to search for and find her when she's been taken by a dragon.
  • Badass Mustache: The legendary hero Sir Pryse was a paladin who sported one of these; apparently he set a trend since every other paladin who shows up in the story is described as boasting a thick, neatly-trimmed mustache. When Blackmail removes his armor and reveals his identity, he's still got the same mustache he had as Sir Pryse, now just slightly graying from age.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: The very premise of the novel, with a small twist: if the world remains precisely balanced too long, it will be locked in stasis for all eternity. Periodic fluctuations in balance are just as vital as making sure neither side gets the upper hand for long.
  • Baleful Polymorph: It's implied that Blackmail's horse is actually his brother, transformed into a horse by Mizzamir.
  • The Bard: All of them were killed off in the backstory, as many allied with the druids rather than serve the forces of Light, and shared too many characteristics with thieves. It appears they had magical singing ability as well, and by the end Robin seems on the path to become one.
  • Beneath Notice: Arcie and Kaylana infiltrate Mizzamir's castle by disguising themselves as servants hired on as temp workers for the multinational wizard's conference that Mizzamir is hosting at the time. When they need to get into the archmage's personal tower, Arcie grabs a tray of wine glasses and asks one of the permanent staff for directions, to which the butler's only reaction while giving the directions is annoyance over the fact that this meant that yet another part of the castle would need extra cleaning when the conference was over.
  • Benevolent Mage Ruler: Mizzamir serves as one to Natodik, which he apparently rules.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Despite the fact that Robin is a good-natured centaur, happens to be afraid of many of the dangers out there, and is Mizzamir's spy, the wandering minstrel does have his moments, like when the group gets attacked by skeletal lizardmen — one of the skeleton lizards grabs the centaur's instrument to try to smash it, and gets on the wrong end of a literal Curb-Stomp Battle. Then there was the time that Mizzamir placed a spell of holding on the group, save for Robin, who has, by this time, gone through a Face–Heel Turn / Heel–Face Turn, and thus Robin unleashes a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on him, thus distracting Mizzamir long enough for the other villains to get free of the spell on them. Also, he puts up a decent fight during the final battle.
  • Big Good/Evil Overlord: The book being what it is, Mizzamir blurs the line between these two tropes. He's working for the forces of good and attempting to purge all evil from the world, and will never take the life of an opponent. On the other hand, Mizzamir plays straight a lot of Evil Overlord tropes, constantly spying on foes from a spire of a castle, increasing his powerbase as the world changes, and manipulating his allies for his own ends.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Centaurs are blue-green colorblind in the book's universe, along with (logically) having two hearts and two sets of lungs.
  • Black and White Insanity: The heroes suffer from this, and their attempt to only push for the forces of light endangers the world, kicking off the book's plot. Our own group of Villain Protagonists reason that the world is more complex than that, and attempting to categorize things leads to the heroes performing morally dubious actions simply because they're "on the right side."
  • Black and White Magic: This is the contrast between Valerie and Kaylana. In the former's case, she largely uses magic to kill or destroy (aside from a couple instances). Kaylana uses hers to heal others and speak with animals or control them largely.
  • Black and White Morality: Discussed and averted. Robin is astonished that the villains don't fit many of the bad guy stereotypes, as they can still be kind and work together. They explain that an evil person can do good things, and vice versa, while most acts can be done by both, with different motives. Moreover, there are many cases where an act is ambiguous. Killing is wrong, he agrees, yet the forces of Good try to kill the villains. Sam killed a man trying to rape a woman, so was that good for saving her, or bad for killing him? He concludes that whether or not its Good, their cause is right.
  • Black Knight: Blackmail. He rescues the protagonists from a dragon, and they nickname him this due to his armor. Unlike most examples, he never even speaks. By the end of the book he's revealed to be a legendary paladin who was part of the team of heroes responsible for tipping the Balance Between Good and Evil to the light, and proves his Dark Is Not Evil credentials by sacrificing himself to keep the world from being consumed by the light.
  • Black Mage: Valerie. Aside from a couple instances, she entirely casts spells to kill and destroy.
  • Black Magic: Valerie's magic, which is almost entirely about killing or destroying. She admits this is her specialty. That said, she's capable of other kinds, it just doesn't come up except for a few times.
  • Black Magician Girl: Valerie, who's the only truly evil member of the party. Her magic is almost entirely offensive, and she's self-described as liking to hurt people.
  • Brainwashed/Brainwashing for the Greater Good: The plainer term for "whitewashing", where a wizard in the service of Good forcibly drives out the evil in a person, leaving the victim in a state best described as Good Is Dumb. Could be considered a form of Mind Rape.
  • Brought Down to Normal: In order to acquire the final key, Sam is forced to give up his self-identity as an assassin. Blackmail helps him restore it just in time to have a final confrontation with Mizzamir.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Well, Mizzamir seems to think it applies, and most everyone he talks to either agrees with him already or does by the time he's through with them (see Brainwashed). Subverted in that Sam refuses to give in and just keeps trying to kill him.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Sam almost never drinks since it could potentially interfere with his job, and he needs to keep his instincts and reflexes honed. As a result, when he does drink he goes down fast, though Arcie just attributes this to Six Landers' innate "fragility".
  • Cessation of Existence: The entire universe will be "sublimated" in a flash of light if the "Good" side isn't stopped.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sam makes Kaylana a garland of exotic flowers. Many chapters later, she uses some of the flowers as reagents for a spell to save the party.
  • Chess Motifs: "In chess, someone has to take the black pieces."
  • Chest Monster: Called an "Aydaptor", one nearly devours Arcie. Later it's domesticated with a spell into a pet by the adventuring party following them, to its horror.
  • Child by Rape: It turns out that Sam is one, via Mizzamir.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Almost deconstructed.
    • The reason why the druids are all but extinct. Once Good overpowered Evil, the druids were obligated as keepers of the balance to join with the forces of Evil. Unfortunately, they're Stereotypical Evil, and both sides killed the Druids...
    • In the present, the group remark on the stupidity of this trope as a stereotypically villainous act, since adhering to it is what led to evil being mostly wiped out. The villains note how backwards it is to be at the throats of your own allies, even when in a position where you can trust no one. They themselves manage Teeth-Clenched Teamwork to get through the adventure, eventually growing into actual trust.
  • Code of Honour: A paladin who fights Blackmail is astonished when the latter allows him to get his sword after he was disarmed and is left defenseless, as this follows the code paladins have. This confuses him as Blackmail is supposedly evil. It foreshadows that Blackmail is really Sir Pryce, a paladin.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • Played straight and subverted. Sam wears black, Mizzamir wears white. The subversion lies in that Mizzamir is a deluded wizard who only cares about Light and Dark, not right or wrong. Sam is an assassin, but other than that quite a decent fellow.
    • Sam also notes that assassins take this to the logical extreme of wearing black undergarments, the better not to give away one's position if one's outer garments tear on an assignment and, as he puts it, "show a white bunny tail." At the start of the book, Sam has also had his naturally blond hair dyed black for the same reason.
  • Compelling Voice: Kaylana is able to use this power in a limited manner. She has to look in the subject's eyes, and it works better on animals than people. In the latter case it hurts her.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Kaylana's long life is the result of all the other druids passing some of their power to her as they died.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Mizzamir, the most powerful mage still living who just happens to be there in Bistort so he can come into contact with Sam and jump-start the plot. He turns out to be Sam's birth father too.
    • The floral wreath that Sam makes for Kaylana just happens to include several exotic flowers that can be used as reagents in certain druidic spells.
  • Cosmic Keystone: The Spectrum Key, used to seal off the main Darkgate, then fragmented and each part hidden in a trial (just in case it's needed, however unlikely).
  • Covers Always Lie: While the cover's image actually happens (Blackmail fights a dragon in the book), the blurb starts out describing the characters as being "a depressed thief who dresses in black, his short, feisty sidekick"... The one in black is Sam, an assassin rather than a thief (that is his "sidekick", although Arcie isn't really that either). He is literally the first one introduced, and we learn his profession almost immediately. It seems odd that whoever decided this just couldn't get such a basic detail right.
  • Create Your Own Hero / Create Your Own Villain: For a given value of Hero, or Villain, Mizzamir and his allies are responsible for Sam and company going out on their quest to save the world from the forces of Good.
    • Arcie, the head of the thieves' guild, was captured by the local guards and sentenced to be whitewashed, until he "hired" Sam to kill the wizard, and the pair escape during the confusion.
    • Valeriana, a dark sorceress, saw her family, including children, be murdered by Fenwick.
    • Kaylana, a druid, is the last survivor of her kind due to the Heroes killing the others during the War.
    • Blackmail/ Sir Pryse a Dark Knight, a former Hero who changed sides after his brother, who turned to the dark side, was turned into a horse by Mizzamir.
    • Robin, a centaur minstrel, Ironically enough, was chosen by Fenwick and Mizzamir to spy upon the villains, even reporting their movements, until they save his life, and caused a change of heart in him.
    • Sam, an Assassin, his mother was raped by Mizzamir, which, in a sense, set everything in motion to Mizzamir's eventual death by Sam's own hands.
  • Cruel Mercy: Mizzamir's punishments on his enemies are ultimately this. He does everything but kill people who defy his rule but he'll do just about anything else. His dealings with criminals include Whitewashing, turning them to stone, and turning evil-doers into horses. As pointed out by the villains multiple times, many would prefer anything to what Mizzamir would do to them.
  • Cult of Personality: Mizzamir's home providence of Natodik has one based around him. Wizardry is a popular subject, everyone wears robes that mimic his, and citizens believe he is watching them at all times.
  • Damsel in Distress: Zig-zagged. Finwick believes that Kaylana is being manipulated and misguided by the villains, possibly being held against her will, and resolves to rescue her. By sending a dragon to abduct her and hold her hostage, requiring the villains to storm the dragon's keep and save the damsel from the heroes.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Kaylana (and Robin after his Heel–Face Turn) are nominally part of the dark side, despite lacking evil traits. Sam and Arcie aren't particularly bad sorts either, their professions notwithstanding, and Blackmail, for all his Black Knight trappings, proves to be downright noble. The only one of the "villains" who can really be described as "evil" in any way is Valeriana, and even she had children and a husband she loved. Which also lends her a sympathetic backstory, since they were slaughtered by "heroes".
  • Dark World: The parallel world the shadow walkers enter. All the shadows are there, and through these shadow walkers can exit into the normal world wherever they exist, making it a godsend for assassins like Sam. He fears, though, that as the Light grows, the shadow world will fade and eventually disappear.
  • Deader Than Dead: In order to insure that someone stays dead (given that powerful healers are able to resurrect them), the assassins will burn the body, take off the head or cut out their heart. Sam's done about a dozen "permanent" hits.
  • Deconstruction: This the book's goal in regards to fantasy fiction, turning the most basic idea — good versus evil — on its head. Some readers feel it fails though, since the "villains" are not so bad, with the "heroes" having very nasty sides in some cases.
  • Defector from Decadence: Sir Pryse, in the guise of the black knight Blackmail, joins the "villains" when Mizzamir's Knight Templar vision of "good" becomes apparent with Mizzamir, it is implied, having transformed Sir Pryse's brother into a horse.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kaylana. Over the course of the book she slowly warms up under Sam's romantic attention toward her, and at the end she finally laughs at something he says. It's implied they are together after this.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sam was raised by his mother alone, who could not remember who his father was or where he went. It turns out this is because Mizzamir raped her, conceiving Sam, then wiped her memory to save his reputation.
  • Druid: Kaylana, who's the last one left. There used to be thousands more, but they were all killed. Most of their traits are typical, though the book adds that they also believe in keeping the balance between good and evil (to the point of pure stupidity-this is what killed the others).
  • Embarrassing First Name: "Arcie" comes from "R. C.", for Reinhart Corallis, much to Arcie's embarrassment when it's revealed near the end.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: This is the threat the protagonists are trying to stop. Assuming the forces of Good aren't thwarted, the entire world will be "sublimated"-vaporized in a flash of light.
  • Epiphanic Prison: The Labyrinth of Dreams, the last test the protagonists face, works only if you believe in the illusions.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: A running theme throughout the book is that the villains don't really hold personal points against you for any reason as long as you can get results, while the heroes tend to be (at best) patronizing to anything that doesn't quite fall inside their worldview. Our heroes are a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits of varying races and backgrounds that manage to get along and form friendships. The world's heroes, however, have been wiping out evil races, slowly eliminating all dissenting and "disruptive" opinions, and hunting down creatures who they've labeled as evil. Kaylana especially is regularly mocked by the heroes for being a Druid and following a "backward" religion that insists on balance as opposed to good destroying evil.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Arcie's thief-friend Kimi left the Thieves' Guild for love. Also Valerie, easily the evilest person in the entire party, lost her family and entire people to brutal slaughter by the Verdant Company, which is one reason she hates Fenwick so much. Blackmail left the Six Heroes for his brother's sake. Sam's first kill was of his mother's rapist.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Sam. He explicitly states that none of the assassins ever killed an entire family, plus they make their killing quick and painless.
  • Evil Feels Good: An implied effect of Valeriana's medallion.
  • Evil Gloating: Subverted when Blackmail finally gets around to talking; he keeps fighting all the way through his monologue.
  • The Evils of Free Will: In a rare twist, it's said by the "good" guys, who "whitewash" villain's minds to make them good citizens.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: The options facing the world. Ironically, it's the "good" side obliviously pushing the world toward destruction.
  • Evil Weapon: Inverted; Finwick wields a holy blade called Truelight that exists to cut down evil. Sam actually uses this weapon to cut off Mizzamir's head, reasoning that however truthful or holy you make a sword, it's always going to be a weapon made to kill.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Blackmail, as far as the Six Heroes are concerned. Also see Heel–Face Turn.
  • Familiar: Valerie's raven Nightshade is hers, doing things such as spy or perform small tasks she orders. She also has genuine affection for him-he's more than just a tool. Good mages also often have them. The downside however is that having a familiar requires a kind of psychic link, so any harm is shared. Sam and Arcie quickly exploit the fact when Valerie takes over the group by holding Nightshade hostage until she gives up her amulet. Later, Nightshade fights some familiars of Good mages, and kills two in one go this way. Kaylana also has a wild cat who acts like this, along with many other animals. Fenwick's sun eagle is one, and it spies on the villains for him.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Bariga seems to be one for Scotland here, judging by its cold, northerly location, the Scottish terms that the Barigans use, and Arcie's surname, MacRory.
    • The Gypsies also, who of course fulfill the general stereotypes of Roma in real life — some being thieves, having a wise old woman who tells fortunes, painted wagons, etc.
  • Feed the Mole: When Robin is found out, everybody starts giving him false info.
  • Fiery Redhead: Kaylana mostly averts the stereotype, but when greatly offended (usually by men crossing the line with her), she'll lash out in anger.
  • Five-Man Band: Our protagonists, who coincidentally form the Evil Counterpart to the legendary Heroes that saved the world in the great war. Due to the book being what it is, the line between a typical evil party and the heroic Five-Man Band winds up rather blurry.
    • Big Bad: Sam, professional assassin and Hitman with a Heart, who keeps the band together and decides on the next course of action, thereby leading a team of villains to unleash unspeakable evil into the world. He's also personally devoted to murdering the archmage Mizzamir, striking from the shadows while he lives in the light.
    • The Dragon: Arcie, a thief who robs everything he can find. Closer to The Lancer than a typical Dragon, being a voice of reason and largely acting as Sam's backup through the adventure.
    • The Evil Genius: Valerie, the sorceress who seeks the death of those who wiped out her people, bringing magical knowledge and ingenuity.
    • The Brute: Blackmail, a perpetually-mute Black Knight who's by far the most physical presence of the group and the best at direct combat.
    • The Dark Chick: Kaylana, who's really only villainous by association and seeks to restore balance to the world rather than cause the world any real harm.
    • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Robin, the Non-Action Guy who's sent to the group by Mizzamir to act as a spy. He eventually has a Heel–Face Turn (depending on your viewpoint) after realizing the villains are right and the world is going to end, on the motivation of not wanting to die.
    • Team Pet: Nightshade, Valerie's familiar. Also for a time Blackmail's horse.
  • Foreshadowing: There are several hints about Blackmail being Sir Pryce and Sam being Mizzamir's son. Blackmail is from Kwartz, Sir Pryce's country, and defeated when a paladin whom he's fighting prays to Sir Pryce for aid. Robin, while looking at a painting depicting the youthful Mizzamir, finds his features then look oddly familiar. Because he resembles Sam. Plus the fact that a magical ward reacts to him and he can get a magic mirror to work, which shows he has latent ability inherited from Mizzamir. Also, Blackmail lingers over a mural showing Sir Pryce arguing with Mizzamir. Similar conflict led to him breaking with the Light. There's a hint also that Nightshade is not a normal raven before he's shown to be Valeriana's familiar. When he gets noticed by Arcie in the woods watching him while they're hungry, his suggestion is they eat Nightshade. He reacts by shifting away while on a branch. While ravens are pretty intelligent, a normal one probably wouldn't understand and react like this.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Kaylana is always very concerned for the wellbeing of animals she encounters, far more than she is toward humans or other sapients, and relates to their concerns generally. In turn, they're drawn to her and will help Kaylana in various ways. It's downplayed, and due to her power as a druid.
  • Gilligan Cut: Quite often. One particular note is when sneaking into Mizzamir's tower, Valerie remarking how odd it is that such a powerful mage has no defense against prowlers. The narrative then cuts to Mizzamir's office, where a proximity alarm is going off, explaining that he would hear it if he weren't attending a magical symposium.
  • Ghibli Hills: Natodik is made up of these, surrounding Mizzamir's shining white tower carved from diamond. The land used to be a harsh desert, but Mizzamir's magic transformed it into an idyllic paradise overflowing with greenery and life. To the villains, having to journey here is the equivalent of walking through Mordor.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Almost deconstructed. After the forces of darkness have been all but entirely wiped out, heroes swarm the world brainwashing evil-doers and driving monsters to extinction. The fact that the world needs evil to exist (and will literally cease to be without it) is something none of them can understand, and the book's group of villain protagonists are forced to fight against them until the end.
  • Good Is Dumb: The common and whitewashed segments of the population.
  • Good Is Not Nice: There's Mizzamir, who let's face it, is pretending to be a hero, even if he won't admit it to himself. There's several other "good" characters who indulge in less savory practices. Among the members of a "good" adventuring party were a woman who quite clearly wouldn't have taken "no" for an answer from Sam, while Fenwick tried to date-rape Kaylana, having dosed her drink with aphrodisiacs.
  • Good Needs Evil: The book's central theme.
  • Guilt by Association: In the opening chapter, Arcie gets arrested after getting caught red-handed lifting purses. Sam is arrested as well for... sitting next to Arcie while dressed in black. Yes, Sam was a villain, but the guards had no proof of that, and even after finding all his weapons, could not prove he'd killed anyone, much less any specific person, with them. However, it would be enough to show he was a criminal, which is all they cared about, as they're now just being brainwashed into becoming good citizens, and not punished for anything.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Sam, whose father is Mizzamir, the elven archmage.
  • Heel–Face Brainwashing: The effect of "whitewashing" is to turn evil people good by force.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Robin and, before the start of the book, Blackmail, for certain values of "heel" and "face."
  • Hero Antagonist: The side of light is, unknowingly, destroying their world by eradicating every speck of evil in it, to the point that they are annihilating everything that could be qualified as "not-light". This included the druids, who were keepers of balance, and the bards, who were more or less neutral. They then begin whitewashing thieves, assassins, and other criminals, who were more or less just grey. Indeed, the entire premise of the story is basically this: in a world of magic, once the BigBads are fully eradicated, what would happen if the good guys started taking their intended plans for the betterment of the world to their inevitable conclusion? After all, the only way you can remove all evil from the world is if you remove choice, and freedom, from the world.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Played straight in a weird way. Sam has a short sword that he carries with him, but prefers daggers, as he's a villain. None of the other members of the party use swords save Blackmail (who, as it turns out, is actually a fallen hero). Prince Finwick, the hero pursuing our villains, uses a holy sword of truth.
  • Heroic Suicide: The Dark Gate requires a death to open it. Sir Pryse thus kills himself by jumping in, saving the world from destruction.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Kaylana, since she's got both Sam and Fenwick trying to get her attention.
  • High Fantasy: The book is an inversion and parody of the genre, with the villains having to save the world from imminent destruction by cosmic Good.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Sam, who is an assassin but a caring, friendly person overall despite this.
  • Human Mom Nonhuman Dad: Sam, whose mother was human and whose father it turns out is an elf.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Valeriana's people, the Nathauan, commonly ate humans and members of their own kind. She mentions once that her brother had his mother-in-law as a side dish as part of his wedding banquet and speculates about whether a human sailor's flesh would taste of salt at one point. Thankfully she never finds out though. It turns out they also eat their dead.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Sam has an innate magical ability that manifests in how he throws his daggers. No matter when or where he throws, he always hits someone (even if it's not who he was aiming for). At one point he tosses Blackmail his enormously heavy broadsword in the midst of a battle and it manages to clear the distance to him despite physically being too heavy for him to throw that far.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
    • When the knight in jet-black armor shows up, the protagonists have to come up with a name for him (he declines to give one, or even say anything). They settle on "Blackmail". For extra fun, his real name is Sir Pryse.
    • Not to mention, the names of the Six Lands themselves — Ein, Dous, Trois, Kwart, Seicks...
  • Internal Reveal: The readers know from the start that Robin is a mole in the protagonists' group, but they don't find this out until much later in the book.
  • I Owe You My Life: Despite being found out as The Mole, when Robin, due to his fear of heights and a minor head injury, falls off the edge of a cliff, landing on a small ledge and is paralyzed with fear, Blackmail "hires" Sam to help him save the centaur's life. This causes Robin to join the villains (along with wanting to save the world from destruction, which also would kill him), because, by his people's customs, he owes them a life-debt, practically saying the trope's name — "I owe you, Blackmail in particular, my life."
  • It's Always Spring: Explained as a side effect of Good having such a stranglehold on the world; the characters note that it should by all rights be autumn, but the sun only stays up longer (to the point where Kaylana's attempt to tell time by the sun's position is four hours off) and the flowers only get more abundant (in a salt-encrusted desert that shouldn't be capable of supporting plant life).
  • It's for a Book: After suffering through intense Clothing Damage throughout the adventure, Sam is forced to have his Assassin's Guild uniform mended by a tailor. When the conspicuously villainous outfit naturally attracts questions, he claims it's a costume for a play (specifically this world's version of Hamlet).
  • It's Personal:
    • Sam starts the book under the belief that the Assassin's Guild, the closest thing he has to a family, are all abandoning their trade because it's a much less stable business as evil is being wiped out of the world. After finding out exactly what whitewashing actually entails, he realizes they were forced against their will into leaving their old lives behind, and vows to kill Mizzamir for it.
    • Cited as the reason behind Blackmail's final break with the Six Heroes. When his brother turned evil, he had asked Mizzamir to be merciful... and Mizzamir turned his brother into a warhorse. It's implied that this is the same warhorse he rode and lovingly cared for until Fenwick's men killed it.
    • Valeriana's grudge against Sir Fenwick — the Verdant Company hunted her race to near total extinction, including her husband, daughter, and unborn son.
  • Knight Templar: So-called "Good" in a nutshell.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Valeriana fits this trope to a tee, though unlike many she's straight up villainous. Her magic is largely offensive, though she can do other kinds in a pinch. Also it's weaker than in most cases, as Dark magic is fading from the world.
  • Last Of Her Kind: Kaylana and Valeriana.
  • Lawful Stupid: The main problem with the premise is that it depends heavily on this and Stupid Good behavior from the ostensibly "good" antagonists in order to keep them in conflict with the protagonists, who aside from Valeriana really aren't all that evil.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo:
    • Barigans are stand-ins for hobbits, with Arcie going so far as to lampshade this.
    • The Nathauan also seem like ones for dark elves/drow, given their attributes, and one theory is even that "they were elves once".
    • On a more parodic level, the Gnifty Gnomes are thinly-disguised Smurfs.
  • Life Drinker: The will-o-wisps, who drain life energy from people as sustenance. It's also possible for them to transfer it into someone else, healing wounds or rejuvenating them.
  • Light Is Not Good: The behavior of the side of Light being obvious enough.
  • Living Lie Detector: Kaylana has this talent, presumably due to being a druid. It does have drawbacks, such as lies of omission, and non-verbal communication.
  • Logical Weakness: Robin (like all centaurs in this universe) is blue-green colorblind. Thus he can't tell when the villains replace the blue stones of his magical bracelet (which lets him teleport and deliver spy reports) with green ones, and is unable to escape. Mages also need time for concentration, chanting and making magical gestures, thus Robin can distract Mizzamir with an attack, stopping him completing a spell long enough so they can get away.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Mizzamir and Sam.
  • Magic Mirror: The group runs into one which reveals Robin is a spy to them, as he's seen meeting with Archmage Mizzamir while they're looking in on the latter.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mizzamir names the novel's world "Chiaroscuro", which is Italian for "light-dark", referring to artwork that features this contrast, and of course the conflict centers on the struggle between the forces of Light and Dark.
    • Blackmail meets the group by saving them from a Dragon of Light who's in the process of attacking them. The dragon's name? Lumathix, which literally means "light-toucher."
  • The Medic: Kaylana serves as this for the party, since her magic is primarily good for things such as healing, talking with animals etc.
  • Mind Rape: Mizzamir did this to Sam's mother, to cover up his physically raping her. It left her permanently mentally damaged.
  • Mirror Match: The final Test of the group has this as an obstacle, forcing Sam to battle against a copy of himself in order to claim the final keystone.
  • Mirror Morality Machine: The major unethical act of the main 'good' wizard in this story is to invent a spell which brainwashes the evil out of villains, permanently. (Not a spoiler because it's explained in the first chapter or so.)
  • The Mole / The Infiltration: Robin, who's been sent to join the heroes as a spy for Mizzamir.
  • Murder, Inc.: The assassins' guild Sam used to be a member of.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Sam, during the climax. Mizzamir raped his mother, conceiving him and indirectly putting Sam on the path to becoming an assassin. This leads to Mizzamir's death at his hand in the end.
  • The Needless: One of the many things about Blackmail that raises questions from the rest of the group. He never sleeps, never eats, never tires.
  • Neutrality Backlash: The druids tried to keep both sides in the war between good and evil from winning, as they knew that either side achieving absolute victory would be a disaster. This got them declared an enemy by both sides. By the start of the story (a century after the Victory), Kaylana was the only druid still alive.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!:
    • In an intentional twist, the titular villains are trying to fix what's wrong.
    • In a straight-ish, if from an inverted point of view, the fact that Mizzamir raped Sam's mother, thereby creating a Luke, I Am Your Father situation, and is responsible for Sam being involved in the quest, eventually leads to Sam helping to save the world.
  • The Night That Never Ends: Inverted. As the forces of light continue to spread unchecked through the world, it moves closer and closer to endless day. By the end of the book, the world is sunny and bright in spite of it being eleven at night.
  • Non-Action Guy: Robin is really pretty useless in most combat scenarios, and tends to react to trouble by either running away or panicking. He gets better near the end, fighting fiercely along with the others.
  • Obfuscating Disability: When the Plainsmen take the protagonists captive, Kaylana pretends her staff (really a magical object) is a walking stick she needs due to having a limp. This results in them leaving her with it and unbound, so she can help the others escape later.
  • Offstage Villainy: Not one of the villain protagonists does anything really evil in the story, thus allowing us to sympathize with them. Anything like that is only mentioned as part of their past (for instance, Sam's apparently assassinated dozens of people). The worst is likely Valerie killing some dolphins with magic for sport, but much worse is mentioned as having also been committed by her people. Blackmail also destroys the Gnifty Gnomes, just for being somewhat annoying.
  • Off with His Head!: This turns out to be one of the only ways someone can be permanently killed as otherwise magical resurrection could be done. Sam kills Mizzamir in this manner near the end.
  • Parody: The book is one of the standard "Heroes have to save the world" plot, with some "bad guys" having to save the universe from the "good guys" after they won. It also generally parodies many fantasy cliches, with the Dragonlance characters being possibly more specifically parodied through one band of heroes who try to stop the protagonists, along with borrowing the idea that if good wins, it must turn evil itself in the end.
  • Pet the Dog: The group all have moments and relationships that keep them from being entirely evil people. The most obvious and present is Blackmail's sincere and touching love for his horse, to the point of nearly hitting a Despair Event Horizon when it dies.
  • Plot Coupon: The fragments of the Spectrum Key.
  • Poison Is Evil: Our protagonist, Sam, is an assassin with a vast knowledge of toxins and poisons, which he carries plenty of at all times, having spent years building up immunities to them. He also readily employs Poisoned Weapons and owns a Poison Ring (which, admittedly, he used to stash an extra dose of hay fever medicine rather than anything directly dangerous).
  • Poison Ring: Sam owns one, which he uses to store allergy medication in.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Robin spends most of the adventure confused why the group doesn't act like a stereotypical cutthroat band, and expecting them to backstab one another at any moment. The group realize talking to him that good and evil aren't black and white, and that being evil hardly means you need to kill your friends for no reason. Kaylana points out that had they behaved that way, the party wouldn't've lasted five minutes.
  • Professional Killer: Sam, though he isn't that bad of a person. There used to be an entire guild of them in his home city.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The desert plainsmen of Ki'kartha. They've become more understanding and less hostile in recent years, in the sense that they now arrest trespassers in their land and hand them over to nearby civilized authorities rather than casually kill them as soon as they're found.
  • Punny Name:
    • Blackmail, named after his black armor, and Sir Pryse. Who are the same person. Surprise!
    • The names of the Six Lands: Trois, Dous, Ein, Kwartz and Seicks.
  • The Quiet One: Blackmail never talks, choosing to communicate with the group through gestures, if that.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The protagonists, who are a black knight, an evil sorceress, a druid, a thief and assassin.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Sam believes this, after walking in on his mother after she'd been raped by a drunk. He killed the man, and has killed other rapists since "off the books".
  • Really 700 Years Old: Kaylana, who was a child during the last war between Good and Evil... over a hundred and fifty years ago. Blackmail tops her by being one of the heroes who FOUGHT in the war 150 years ago. In the present all he has is a bit of grey hair. He says his armor is enchanted, implying its magic kept him alive.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After Blackmail reveals his true identity as Sir Pryse, he launches into one at Mizzamir, pointing out that his self-righteous attempt to change the world to fit his image has only endangered it, and that light and virtue are meaningless if one doesn't have the ability to choose it for themselves.
  • The Reveal: Blackmail is Sir Pryse, one of the Six Heroes.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The details of Sir Pryce's Test remain unrevealed during the book. As Blackmail never speaks, this isn't surprising. Even after he does start talking, it's about something far more important.
  • Saving the World: From the forces of so-called Good, no less.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Sam, in the final battle. Though he didn't know that Mizzamir was his father until minutes before killing him for unrelated reasons.
  • Shadow Walker: Sam, which turns out to be very useful in his work. This involves traveling into a shadow world which is entered or exited through shadows, though it doesn't appear to make travel any faster, just easier getting into otherwise inaccessible places. It's stated there used to be others-apparently they all went into the shadow world one by one, though, and never returned... Naturally, the assassins decided it was best to stop teaching it after that. It seems this was due to being addictive magic, Sam grows more and more unable to stand being in the normal world after he starts using it.
  • Shout-Out: At one point Sam attempts to play off his assassin's garb as the costume for a play, "The Tragedy of Oswald, Prince of Volinar." Sam describes the plot as "the one where the fellow's uncle kills his father and marries his mother". He later even mentally quotes "To thine own self be true", ascribed as coming from an "ancient play".
  • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Robin.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The merchant with the booby-trapped money purse. Has no lines, but if he hadn't been Arcie's would-be victim, or if his money purse hadn't been booby-trapped, Arcie and Sam wouldn't have been caught, which kicked off the whole plot.
  • The Social Darwinist: Kaylana's religion seems to believe in something like this, since she tells the Good god Mula that conflict isn't just inherent to nature, but also society, with the strong thriving as the weak die. However, it also advocates balance, as if either Good or Evil wins, this will destroy the world, which is the threat in the book.
  • Soul Jar: The heart stone acts as a variant of this. It's also a subversion as Sam is a hell of a lot more vulnerable having his gift locked away in the thing.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Kaylana is capable of communicating with basically any animal, many of whom are friendly with her, and even can control some (aside from those bound to other mages).
  • Spy Speak: Arcie tries to do this at a bakery that fading thief's sign indicated was a local thieves guild front, only to find that thanks to all the whitewashing going on, it now really was just a bakery. So he buys some donuts and moves on.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Fenwick is a womanizer to begin with, but when he spies Kaylana among the villain protagonists, he immediately decides that he must save her (and give her a personal tour of his quarters) because she's attractive. Doesn't sound creepy? While his constant spying is explainable as keeping tabs on the villains' progress, he obsesses over her presence in specific far more than professionally required. And then resorts to kidnapping her. By dragon..
  • Sticky Fingers: Arcie is the former leader of the (now defunct) Thieves Guild and pockets everything he comes across, even if they happen to be owned by his traveling companions.
  • Stupid Neutral: The druids. First in the backstory they switched sides once the balance tipped in favor of the Light. Naturally the forces of Light killed them as traitors. The Dark meanwhile viewed them as spies for having so recently fought on the side of Light, and killed them as well. Kaylana, the last druid, learned nothing after this, telling her "dark" comrades that she'd turn on them if the Dark ever started winning. What a way to inspire trust...
  • Sugar Apocalypse:
    • Turns out that wickedness and evil are needed in the world, otherwise a cosmos of nothing but virtue and innocence will be wiped out in a great blinding light, essentially this trope.
    • On a smaller scale, the protagonists at one point find a village of Gnifty Gnomes; tiny, disgustingly cute little critters who only want to play games and sing songs. After our villains narrowly escape their proposed party, Blackmail gallantly chops down a tree that crushes their village, wiping them out.
  • Sugar Bowl: The world is slowly turning into this, with the brainless whitewashed populace only growing, the sun staying out for longer, and the night becoming brighter. The villains notice several times on their travels how sickeningly wholesome and sweet many of the landscapes they traverse are. It's taken Up to Eleven toward the end of the book as the world inches closer and closer to the end. The world has literally no shadows, even inside of people's mouths, and even the black clothing of our protagonists become bright, cheery colors. Nightshade, a raven, turns a bright blue.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Sam, courtesy of Valeriana's medallion.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Mizzamir plays the Palantir Ploy throughout the book. It seems to work perfectly at first, but the presence of both Kaylana and Valeriana in the group causes it to only give him some vague glimpses of the protagonists' progress (Arcie also damaged his scrying font while prying gemstones out of it, reducing the font's power). Later, the protagonists get ahold of a magic mirror which allows them to remotely view Mizzamir, conveniently revealing that Robin in his spy.
  • Synchronization: This is the downside of having familiars in the book's universe — anything which the familiar suffers, the mage shares. Thus when Nightshade, Valerie's familiar, kills a good mage's bird familiar, the mage dies too. Sam and Arcie exploit the fact earlier too by threatening Nightshade so Valerie will release control of the group.
  • Taken for Granite: Mizzamir inflicts this on Sam after a brief encounter, planning to come back and Whitewash him once he recovers from an injury. Valerie remarks that this is typical behavior for a "good" mage; transform criminals to stone, then leave them there until he decides what's to be done with them. Her personal opinion is that a Baleful Polymorph is more useful if you need to keep an enemy alive for a while — frogs and newts are a lot easier to transport than several hundred pounds of stone, and don't attract attention if one suddenly appears in the middle of the street.
  • Take That!: To the Smurfs, and perhaps the fantasy genre overall.
  • Tautological Templar: The side of Good is actually pretty damned evil. Not only is the world becoming "mystically unbalanced" by their actions but they've become a horrible dictatorship and most of them still insist that they are Good and all who oppose them are Evil. As it's put at one point, they know nothing of right or wrong, only Good and Evil.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The party at the beginning. At one point they nearly end up coming to blows, before Kaylana gets the others to realize that none of them can complete the quest — or even survive in the long run — without the abilities of the others.
  • Thieves' Cant: Arcie and Sam speak in rogues' cant multiple times throughout the book.
  • Thieves' Guild: Arcie was once guildmaster of one, and most cities apparently had them, although some only had competing independent gangs.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Zig-zagged. Fenwick tries to kill Sam by throwing his sword at him, and misses — the sword wasn't balanced for use as a projectile, and Fenwick wasn't trained in throwing weapons. Then Sam takes the sword and throws it back at the "heroes", hitting his target — Sam has trained in throwing unbalanced swords, and has magically enhanced throwing skills on top of that.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Kaylana is the only member of the protagonists who's shown as religious (she's a druid, thus a cleric herself), though her religion worships nature rather than the gods, and seeks to keep its balance in the universe, because otherwise the world will be destroyed.
  • True Companions: By the end of the book, the main characters.
  • Undying Loyalty: Blackmail's horse to Blackmail. When the horse is hit in the leg by an arrow, which causes the black knight to fall into a swampy section of the land and the knight's armor causes him to sink, the horse repeatedly tries to use its reins to snag the knight, eventually dragging him out. That being said, if Blackmail's story is any indication, another trope might have been in play as well, that of Big Brother Instinct.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Or at least the Good crowd thinks it does, if it's even occurred to them that not everything they do is automatically right in the first place.
  • Vancian Magic: In keeping with the Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy parody, magic works this way. Valerie duels a good mage, and their spells keep harmlessly blocking each other until they use up all the ones they've prepared. They simply cast their last ones (which are not offensive) then politely take their leave of each other, as neither is capable of harm by magic at that point.
  • Villain Protagonist: Sam, Arcie and Valeriana (an assassin, thief and dark sorceress), though the former two aren't as villainous.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Kaylana turns into a horse at one point as a disguise. Fenwick, thinking she's a real horse, tries to ride off on her. She bucks him off.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Robin, who uses his profession as cover to spy on the villains, using as justification the fact that there aren't many adventurers left, and he wants to write a ballad about them.
  • Warrior Prince: Fenwick, one of the heroes, is a proud knightly prince and a champion for the forces of light.
  • Weird Trade Union: Assassins and thieves organized themselves into guilds in most cities. Sam (assassin) and Arcie (thief) had both been members of their respective guilds, with the latter a guildmaster.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Mizzamir. Though on the surface he is a kindly elven mage, he's also got no problem with brainwashing villains into becoming good. Also it's eventually revealed he once committed rape and confused the victim's mind so she couldn't tell anyone, to protect his good name and reputation.
  • White Mage: Kaylana, as her magic is largely used to heal or talk with animals.
  • White Magic: Kaylana's magic is largely benign, used mostly for healing or talking with animals.
  • White Magician Girl: Kaylana, who's the party healer and voice of wisdom. She holds them together in crises, and provides support to the rest, mostly refraining from direct combat. The source of her power is also a staff.
  • Wizard Duel: Valerie engages in one with a Good mage, but their spells keep cancelling each other until they're used up, and it ends in a draw, with them going their separate ways.

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