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Literature / Worlds of Shadow

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The cover of the reissued first book
Worlds of Shadow is a trilogy by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It's the tale of an Unlucky Everydude and his friends and family as they find themselves caught up in a battle against an Evil Overlord who's taken over a fantasy universe and is attacking a sci-fi one. According to the author, "That would imply that the series is science-fantasy, blending two genres — but actually, it's more like horror, because in none of the three worlds do the good guys always win."

They are as follows:

Out of This World (1993)

In the Empire of Shadow (1995)

The Reign of the Brown Magician (1996)

This series provides examples of:

  • Aliens Speaking English: Justified-there are an infinite number of parallel universes, but contact can be made only if those sending and receiving are of similar species and speak a similar language.
  • Anyone Can Die: Many of the starting characters don't make it through to the end of the series.
  • The Archmage: Shadow is the last of these, a matrix wizard, having killed all the others. Pel is taught how to be one as well later.
  • Artificial Human: The simulacra, people created by magic with samples of hair or blood from previous natural ones. Shadow used them to impersonate people in the Galactic Empire as spies. It is implied that the originals have been murdered. The simulacra seem just like normal humans, except they're completely obedient to their creator/master-the only thing that upsets them is the idea of not having one, or failing in a mission.
  • Back from the Dead: The fetches and revenants. Neither are quite the same.
  • Benevolent Mage Ruler: Pel, a good man, becomes one after gaining magic in the world of Faerie.
  • Cain and Abel: Raven and his brother. He's spent years uselessly struggling against Shadow, while his brother lives as a vassal holding their land.
  • Came Back Wrong: Fetches and revenants. There is a "spark" both lack. Fetches can't speak well, while both are entirely apathetic and will follow orders blindly.
  • Child by Rape: Amy gets pregnant due to being repeatedly raped by her owner Walter.
  • Covers Always Lie: The covers (especially the original ones) are very bad in most cases, with little link to the books' contents nor indication who the characters shown even are in some cases.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: Shadow has no discernible motive beyond "conquer everything and make it a hellhole", judging by what most of Faerie became.
  • Evil Overlord: Shadow, the mysterious ruler of Faerie (aside from small areas that are still free), whose rule is marked by people in terror, incredibly harsh punishments for minor offenses, creating monsters for use against enemies and a desire for world (then eventually interdimensional) domination.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Shadow solely uses magic to create monsters, raise the dead as zombie servants/soldiers, murder people and control their minds.
  • Fantastic Aesop: Bringing your dead loved ones back from the dead won't work-they'll just be a Soulless Shell.
  • Fantastic Racism: Telepaths in the Galactic Empire are all highly prejudiced against, as people are very paranoid about them spying on their thoughts, and called "mutants". The main character points out this isn't true, since they all descend from one woman so it's a hereditary trait which breeds true, rather than just a mutation, but he simply gets accused of "standing up for mutants".
  • Geas: Shadow places one on Pel compelling him to do and refrain from doing various things. However, he finds a workaround against Shadow nonetheless.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Raven and Shadow. The former is a man while the latter turns out to be a woman.
  • Genre Mashup: As author Lawrence Watt-Evans said, the series is a combination of High Fantasy, Space Opera and Horror. It starts in our world, when some Americans were contacted by people from alternate High Fantasy and Space Opera universes, who are drawn into a battle against an enemy who's threatening them both. Horror tinges this constantly as well, since the protagonist's loved ones are raped/murdered, he's made a slave with many others on a fringe planet (where the women are raped), the enemy has made corpses into many horrifying undead servants and makes terrible monsters too.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Shadow turns out to be a woman. She's a ruthless overlord who rules with despotic cruelty and wishes to conquer everything she can.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Amy once she gets pregnant due to her rape. She decides to have an abortion quickly, waiting only until she's on Earth. Though she finds it unpleasant, she's not shown as regretting her choice or even hesitating much at all.
  • Humans Are White: Lampshaded in the sci-fi universe, where all the Imperials we see are Caucasians. Though they claim people of other races live there, but separately, none actually appear. It's made explicit that they are also white supremacists, disliking to see black people working at an equal level with whites on Earth, and thus other races in their empire are probably forcibly kept separate in an inferior position.
  • I Reject Your Reality: One character is convinced the events of the story are a dream, and suffers a mental breakdown as a result since it becomes a full on psychological delusion. Nothing he experiences nor anyone says will change his mind about this.
  • It's Personal: Villains rape and kill the main character's wife and prepubescent daughter.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Shadow turns out to be one, though she isn't so elegant as the usual portrayal, looking like an ordinary middle-aged woman, but still the most powerful magic user in the series, capable of creating huge monsters plus ruling an entire world by herself.
  • Last of His Kind: Shadow turns out to be the last matrix wizard (having killed all the others).
  • Made a Slave: In the first book, the characters suffer this after their ship is hijacked by pirates. The main character is sold as a mining slave, the female characters are made sex slaves and raped repeatedly before the Empire comes to rescue them all. The main character's daughter is also murdered.
  • Maker of Monsters: Shadow has made a number of monstrous beasts as servants.
  • Mind over Manners: Played straight in that psychics follow it, subverted in that most people don't believe they follow it, and consequently don't trust them.
  • Muggle Power: The books here used the Warhammer 40,000 approach to psychics-they're tools, not people. Not because they are actually dangerous, mind you, but just because the society that has them considers them "mutant freaks."
  • The Multiverse: The story reveals alternate universes exist, and are nearly infinite in number. However only two others are actually shown: one is a sci fi style universe with an interstellar empire, the other a fantasy world. It's explained the universes you can visit must have features in common.
  • Mutants: Psychics, despite being highly useful, are viewed as mutants whom most people distrust as a result of their powers. However, they're not actually mutants-they're all descended from one woman, so even if she did have some mutation, for the rest it's a hereditary trait.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Shadow. However, it's revealed this was originally due to being shy. Later however it became appropriate in this sense as Shadow grew evil.
  • Necromancer: Shadow raises corpses to use as zombie servants/soldiers who are called "fetches".
  • Orcus on His Throne: Shadow. For most of the series, Shadow's exact nature is not even known to the heroes, and never leaves the palace. Though some monsters are sent out to stop the heroes, Shadow never just intervenes to crush them personally. It turns out that she is bored and doesn't view them as a threat, concentrating on conquering another universe, with her power on the world of Faerie basically absolute, so this is not surprising.
  • Rape as Drama: After she's bought as a slave, Amy finds out her new owner only wants one thing, and thus she's immediately raped by him. This continues repeatedly until she's liberated. Prossie mentions she was also raped by her owner. Pel's wife and daughter were also raped, then murdered.
  • Red Shirt: Characters with no first name have a poor survival rate. Interestingly enough, the main character considers himself a Red Shirt.
  • Refusal of the Call: Played with. Pel's at first very reluctant to join Raven's war against Shadow. He agrees to visit the other world temporarily, but then they get stuck there. His family get killed, and thus he goes into it for revenge.
  • The Reveal: Shadow isn't an Eldritch Abomination, like most people seem to think. Instead, she's human, just an ordinary middle-aged woman in appearance.
  • Science Fantasy: Watt-Evans describes the trilogy as this, since it has both a sci-fi and fantasy parallel universe interacting with ours.
  • Sex Slave: This is the fate of Amy and Prossie (not to mention, no doubt, many other women) when they get sold as slaves after pirates' hijack their ship. Luckily they are rescued by the Galactic Empire along with the rest of the slaves on the planet where they're being held.
  • Slave Liberation: Some of the new slaves revolt to free themselves while on the fringe planet they were sent to, and the Empire liberates the rest.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Racist and imperialist though it may be, the Galactic Empire is still wholly opposed to slavery, punishing those who bought slaves with imprisonment after they take over a planet. Those who murdered them are hanged.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Shadow is one for Faerie, ruling with a cruel hand for centuries and hands down the greatest magic user still around.
  • The Soulless: Shadow posits that fetches and revenants are "off" because of this. People on Faerie believe that their Goddess places a spirit in them, and thus these may be lacking it, which Shadow admits.
  • Space Pirates: The passenger ship which the characters are traveling on is hijacked by some. In addition to raping and murdering the hero's wife, they sell the rest into slavery on a nearby planet.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Amy wonders whether the "wife" of her owner Walter, who it turns out is also a slave, suffers from this, since she helps him. After determining this isn't the case, she covers up the fact the woman's a slave so she's punished with Walter later.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Shadow is revealed to be just a plump woman whose appearance is middle-aged, though she's actually centuries old.
  • This Is Reality: Not to mention something of a Take That! to two entire genres and their idealistic tendencies. The main character also qualifies as Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Voodoo Zombie: Fetches, who were dead people raised by Shadow with magic. They can't talk well, mindlessly obey orders, are completely emotionless and have a slight smell to them, but that's it. None eats people, nor anything else. They thus have more in common with the original Haitian mythology.
  • Your Magic's No Good Here: Faerie magic and Galactic Imperial tech both don't work outside their respective universes, necessitating indirect measures for action there.