It's a murder mystery. It's a thriller. It's a love story. It's science fiction. It's fantasy. It's got conspiracies, cat people, angry wizard sex, and mercenary biker gangs.
It's apparently what happens when some longhaired metalhead decides that since he doesn't have the friends or musical chops one normally needs to record a prog metal concept album, that he'd write a novel instead. Even worse, it's supposed to be part one of a series called Starbreaker. God have mercy on us all.
Set in an alternate-history near future setting decades after a near-total collapse called Nationfall, Without Bloodshed concerns the efforts of an Adversary, an enforcer for a NGO called the Phoenix Society, to prove that he isn't just a killer, and that the Society doesn't just assassinate its critics.
From the back of the book...
"All who threaten me die."
These words made Morgan Stormriders reputation as one of the Phoenix Societys deadliest IRD officers. He served with distinction as the Societys avenger, hunting down anybody who dared kill an Adversary in the line of duty. After a decade spent living by the sword, Morgan seeks to bid a farewell to arms and make a new life with his friends as a musician.
Regardless of his faltering faith, the Phoenix Society has a final mission for Morgan Stormrider after a dictators accusations make him a liability to the organization. He must put everything aside, travel to Boston, and prove he is not the Societys assassin. He must put down Alexander Liebenthals coup while taking him alive.
Despite the gravity of his task, Morgan cannot put aside his ex-girlfriends murder, or efforts to frame him and his closest friends for the crime. He cannot ignore a request from a trusted friend to investigate the theft of designs for a weapon before which even gods stand defenseless. He cannot disregard the corruption implied in the Phoenix Societys willingness to make him a scapegoat should he fail to resolve the crisis in Boston without bloodshed.
The words with which Morgan Stormrider forged his reputation haunt him still.
This novel provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Naomi Bradleigh, Sarah Kohlrynn, Catherine Gatto, and Miria Deschat. Naomi's a retired Adversary who takes up the sword again. The others are currently on active duty, and held the Phoenix Society's Boston Chapter against several dozen mercenary bikers and Munakata Tetsuo, who had put previously put three other Adversaries to the sword before they could draw their weapons.
- Action Girlfriend: Naomi is this for Morgan after Chapter Six.
- After the End: The novel starts just after Winter Solstice of 2112, and frequently refers to Nationfall, a near-total social, political, and economic collapse that began in 2048, killed off most of the human population, and left most of the survivors with severe authority issues. This was All According to Plan.
- Almighty Janitor: The Phoenix Society's Boston chapter has an unnamed sysadmin who somehow knows how to handle a 40mm grenade launcher.
- Alternate History: Two supporting characters, Saul Rosenbaum and Iris Deschat, were officers in the North American Commonwealth's navy during Nationfall, and commanded a nuclear submarine called the NACS Thomas Paine. According to the author, the Commonwealth arose after the War of 1812 when Canada responded to a US invasion attempt by invading and annexing the entire US.
- Anti-Hero: Morgan Stormrider is a hunter of people who misuse power. He would be a serial killer if he wasn't on the Phoenix Society's payroll. Instead he's the Society's hitman. He had no trouble with this until he started to doubt the Phoenix Society's propaganda. Now he's out to prove he's not just a killer primarily for his own peace of mind. He's after Imaginos because It's Personal.
- Anti-Villain: Imaginos falls primarily under the He Who Fights Monsters, Noble Demon, and Well-Intentioned Extremist types. He's trying to keep a Sealed Evil in a Can they call Sabaoth from getting free, appearing before humans, and inducing them to join an army of fanatics he will then use to destroy the devas. In the past, that meant manipulating humans into killing each other instead of his own people, to cull from humanity the tendency to obey authority. This culminated in Nationfall in 2048CE. As a deva who became an ensof like Sabaoth, Imaginos knowingly became a demon to fight demons, but believes the preservation of intelligent life on earth must be accomplished by any means necessary.
- Artificial Human: The 100 Series asura emulators. There are six hundred and sixty-six of them, of whom Morgan Stormrider was the last. They all grew up in human foster families, partake of human culture (Morgan, for example, is a progressive rock guitarist), and experience the full range of human emotion. This is by design; their creator allegedly designed them to serve as biomechanical soldiers with the ego-strength necessary to fight demons without being dominated by them.
- "Awesome McCool" Name: Morgan Stormrider. His name was originally Morgan Sturmjäger, due to his foster family being transplants from Berlin.
- Badass Biker: Most Adversaries are this, and they sometimes deal with mercenary biker gangs like the Fireclowns, the Godhead Riders, and the Transmaniacon MC.
- Badass Boast: Morgan to every suspect he was ever sent to arrest, but ended up killing: "All who threaten me die."
- Badass Bureaucrat: Iris Deschat and Saul Rosenbaum combine this with Retired Badass as the former captain and first officer of a nuclear submarine who joined the Phoenix Society as Adversaries and now command Adversaries themselves.
- Badass Creed: Every Adversary takes the following oath: "I swear eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the individual mind."
- Badass Crew: Also a Five-Man Band
- The Leader: Morgan Stormrider
- The Lancer: Originally Edmund Cohen, but Naomi Bradleigh takes over.
- The Smart Guy: Claire Ashecroft, the team's hacker and Only Sane Man
- The Big Guy: Sid Schneider. Dude's seven feet tall, masses 150 kilograms, and is fucking ripped. He's also a gentle giant and a family man.
- The Chick: Sarah Kohlrynn. She's The Chick because she hasn't worked with the others before, but she's handy with a Kalashnikov.
- Badass Normal: Edmund Cohen is just a sleazy old soldier who happens to be a crack shot with a Dragunov sniper rifle.
- Barbarian Longhair: What you get when an Adversary like Morgan moonlights as a rock musician.
- Battle Couple: When Morgan and Naomi aren't in the studio composing literary rock operas, they fight crime and expose corruption.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Naomi Bradleigh is soft-spoken, polite, and will hold you at bay with your own illegally carried revolver if you try to coerce a false confession of murder out of her.
- Cat Folk: Devas (and the asura emulators derived from the devas) are sufficiently human-like that they can get away with claiming that they are humans with a genetic condition called "congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder". People with CPMD can't breed with normal people, but for some people that's part of the fun. Their eyes are closer to feline; their ears are more delicate, triangular, and have tufted fur that most devas hide by wearing their hair long and loose so that it blends in; and they have multiple pairs of nipples (through the extra pairs are vestigial in women).
- Cowboy Cop: Morgan is supposed to bring suspects in alive so they can be given the due process. If you take a shot at him, the only due process you're likely to get is a sword ripping out your throat or a bullet in the head.
- Cultured Badass: Morgan got that way Good Will Hunting style. Naomi attended the Juilliard Conservatory in New York. They write progressive rock operas based on classic literature like Prometheus Unbound and Journey to the West.
- The Determinator: Morgan's built for this, like every other asura emulator. It doesn't matter how badly you hurt him. Even if you kill him, he'll get over it and Pay Evil unto Evil.
- Femme Fatale: Ashtoreth/Elisabeth Bathory. Saul Rosenbaum thinks of her as the sort of woman a man begs for a collar.
- Heartbroken Badass:
- Imaginos hoped to trigger a controllable version of this trope by killing Christabel Crowley. While Morgan is committed to finding out who offed his ex, it's as much a matter of principle as a personal score.
- Imaginos is also afraid that an uncontrollable version of this will apply to Morgan should Naomi Bradleigh be killed.
- Historical Badass Upgrade: Elisabeth Bathory isn't just a countess who ruled with an iron fist in her husband's absence, but an immortal sorceress once venerated as the fertility goddess Ashtoreth.
- Gun Porn: Lots of it. Every major character has their favorite gun, and the capabilities of a new type of "devil-killer rifle" so powerful that the woman who figured out how to mass-produced it refused to do so prove plot-relevant because one of the antagonists got the specs, found somebody to make them, and is selling them on the black market. One suspects the author OD'ed on Metal Gear Solid during his formative years.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Averted, since the only character shown using a katana — Munakata Tetsuo — is Japanese and not the hero. Instead, he's The Dragon to produce wholesaler turned gunrunner turned dictator Alexander Liebenthal. Morgan Stormrider proves his equal at least twice using a European sword, though both blades were forged by Nakajima Chihiro using advanced techniques and proprietary alloys.
- Lady of Black Magic: Thagirion. From Desdinova's viewpoint at the beginning of Chapter 19 we get the following: A woman of her psychoenergetic talent and experience was not to be touched by any man without her consent, on pain of immediate cremation.
- Lady of War: Naomi Bradleigh holds this pose until she sees Alexander Liebenthal take Morgan's sword so he can finish the kill as Morgan lays broken on the stones of Boston Plaza. Then she goes into Violently Protective Girlfriend mode.
- Lightning Bruiser: All of the 100 Series asura emulators are designed for this.
- Living Legend: Morgan is notorious for killing suspects to try to kill him or his companions, attack non-combatants, or have already killed other Adversaries. He's made himself the Phoenix Society's avenger because he believed he could save more lives in the long run. It makes his current mission a bit complicated.
- Magnificent Bastard: All of the major events in the book are a test Imaginos designed for Morgan to determine if he can be trusted with a weapon capable of killing gods, the Starbreaker, and to give Morgan cause to hunt down Imaginos and challenge him so he can administer a final test of Morgan's abilities. It's a Batman Gambit that depends on Morgan refusing to turn his back on the whole mess and walk away.
- Major Injury Underreaction: To Naomi's chagrin, Morgan is almost completely blase about injury due to his Healing Factor, and is prone to say, "I'll get over it."
- No Badass to His Valet: Morgan gets this from Naomi and Eddie for various reasons. Naomi's seen him naked. Eddie was his mentor as a recruit.
- One-Handed Zweihänder: Sid Schneider is big enough and strong enough to pull this off with his claymore. A Kalashnikov in his off-hand is no biggie, either.
- One Riot, One Ranger: Every Adversary is expected to be this. Most don't. Even Morgan prefers to have his True Companions along as support.
- One World Order: The Phoenix Society, nominally a watchdog NGO dedicated to rooting out corruption and abuses of power in politics, commerce, and religion. It is, in fact, the ruling power on Earth and often accused of creating the same fascist regime it's supposed to prevent from arising.
- Panthera Awesome: Morgan's cat Mordred, a long-haired tuxedo cat the size of a Great Dane. He showed up at the hospital where Morgan and the others were taken for treatment, and *would not leave his side* until Naomi came for him. An earlier chapter suggests he's quite capable of understanding spoken English, and may even be able to read. Alas, being a kitty, his vocabulary is limited to "meow".
- Papa Wolf: Imaginos, as Alan Thistlewood found out to his detriment. Imaginos demands that Alan, "Offer me a reason to the man who laid hands upon my daughter without her consent to enjoy the due process of law." When Thistlewood fails to do so, Imaginos teleports him into space.
- Pop-Cultured Badass: Morgan gets into the zone that lets him use his Time Master abilities by listening to technical death metal.
- Pragmatic Hero: Morgan used to have no objection to killing tyrants as long as they drew down on him or his companions first, attacked innocent people in front of him, or had already killed a fellow Adversary. In fact, he did so to cultivate a reputation as a Living Legend and save lives.
- Retired Badass: Naomi is a former Adversary who takes up her sword so she can fight beside Morgan.
- Serial-Killer Killer: Morgan, again. He became an Adversary because he figured somebody with his penchant for violence could do the most good by killing people who had it coming anyway: corrupt or tyrannical politicians; exploitative executives; and the occasional dirty cleric. His views changed with age.
- Statuesque Stunner: Naomi Bradleigh and Thagirion both stand at least six feet tall, and suffer no lack of male attention.
- Sword and Gun: All Adversaries receive a Kalashnikov and a smallsword manufactured by Murdoch Defense Industries, LLC as standard-issue equipment. Standard doctrine is to only use the rifle when the sword proves insufficient. Many Adversaries upgrade as soon as possible. Morgan favors a German longsword and a .45 USP pistol. Naomi favors an Italian sidesword and a M1911A1. Sid Schneider, due to his size, favored the claymore, but was content to modify his AK with a larger trigger guard. Edmund Cohen, who survived Nationfall, never took up the sword. He uses knives when his Dragunov rifle won't do.
- Technician vs. Performer
- Music: Christabel (technician) vs Morgan and Naomi (performer) in Crowley's Thoth as musicians. Christabel had the best possible tutors, but there's no soul in her music. Morgan's a self-taught rock guitarist who studied incorporating a range of styles from Dimebag Darrell, Joe Satriani, and Syu. Naomi got into keyboards by listening to old Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, and was inspired to sing by Annie Haslam of Renaissance and Tarja Turunen of Nightwish.
- Swordfighting: Munakata Tetsuo (technician) vs Morgan (performer). Tetsuo carefully studies kenjutsu and other Japanese martial arts. Morgan started out learning the longsword by studying a Renaissance-era German fighting manual, and steals techniques from opponents as he fights them.
- Time Master:
- Morgan has the ability to hold his place in time to a limited extent. It first manifested as a limit break; the band he was in was putting on their first live show, and Christabel had offended the crew the would normally set everything up with only half an hour to go before showtime. Morgan did all of the work himself, in fifteen minutes. He spent the rest chowing down on rare steaks and drinking beer to recover his strength.
- Tetsuo learns this ability from Morgan during their duel in Shenzhen.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Where shall we start?
- How about the fact that some of the characters have at least two names (Imaginos/Isaac Magnin, Ashtoreth/Elisabeth Bathory, Adramelech/Abram Mellech, Thagirion/Tamara Gellion, Sathariel/Samuel Terrell)?
- How about the author's tendency to drop references to Tacitus and Hirohito's speech after the Potsdam Declaration in the titles to chapters 2 and 17, respectively?
- How about the expectation on the author's part that readers have some idea how Unix and tools like secure shell work?
- How about the names of all the "revival bands" he sprinkles throughout the story to flesh out the setting, most of which are apparently inspired by existing heavy metal bands.
- Hell, just try keeping track of the book plot, the series plot, the romantic subplots, and who's fucking over whom.
- Villain Protagonist: Morgan, yet again. According to the law he swore to uphold, chief of which is the Universal Declaration of Individual Rights, Morgan is as guilty of tyranny as any of his targets given his penchant for summary execution. The fact that the One World Order lets him do it without even the formality of dragging him before a court martial and acquitting him leads him to suspect that he might not be working for the good guys after all.