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Pyrrhic Victory / Literature

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Pyrrhic Victories in literature.

  • Angel in the Whirlwind:
    • In The Oncoming Storm, Kat Falcone manages to turn what should have been a major defeat for the Commonwealth into a strategic victory. Kat ruins the Theocracy's surprise attack by finding their staging area, forcing them to launch the invasion before the supply ships had caught up. Kat then leads most of a fleet weakened by an incompetent admiral into an orderly retreat under fire, then joins with forces in much better shape to come back and rescue trapped Commonwealth ground forces and go scorched earth on the system's industrial base before also retreating. The Commonwealth is down a system but took relatively light casualties, while the Theocrats are stuck with a worthless system and serious supply problems.
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    • In Falcone Strike, characters on both sides regard forcing Pyrrhic victories in this manner as a winning strategy for the Commonwealth. Unlike the single-system polities that the Theocracy has rolled up before now, the Commonwealth is big enough to trade space for time as it ramps up war production, while the Theocrats are lacking in the required industries (due in part to revolt-suppressing economic strategies). If the Commonwealth can survive for two years or so, they'll gain the advantage.
  • Animorphs ends with a cliffhanger implying the deaths of all but one of the surviving protagonists. While worth it for the free fate of Earth (at least temporarily), almost all of the children who survived until the end of the war were emotionally broken beyond repair from their trauma and the things they were forced to do.
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  • The ending of Gifts, the first book in Annals of the Western Shore. Canoc gets his revenge for his wife Melle's death by unmaking Ogge Drum, but he's killed by a Drum crossbowman. With Orrec unable to fulfill the duties of brantor through lack of gift, it's implied that Caspromant will lose its standing and, at least for the time being, become a part of Roddmant.
  • In Arena, a short story by Fredric Brown, an energy being, right before the first major battle between humans and aliens, states that they cannot coexist peacefully, and a war between the two will end in one extinction and one stone age. Since both races had the potential to evolve to the energy-being's level, unless their civilization was ruined by this war, the energy being snatched up both a human and an alien Roller and pit them against each other in a one-on-one duel with the complete and instant annihilation of the enemy's battle fleet up as the stakes specifically to avert this outcome.
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  • In Arrivals from the Dark, the Earth governments turn the Curb-Stomp Battle that was the Battle of Martian Orbit (where a Faata starship obliterated a dozen human warships) into this trope in order to conceal the truth about the true nature of the defeat of the invasion (assistance by another alien being) and to maintain morale and faith in the Space Navy. As such, the official story holds that, while the Faata did indeed destroy half of the Third Fleet, they also sustained damage in the process, which eventually proved fatal when they attempted to land the ship in the Antarctic.
  • In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, whenever the looters are going to seize one of the properties of the actual or future strikers, they end up with a worthless property. D'Anconia blows up his ore mines and docks, Dannager abandons his coal mines, Wyatt blows up his oil fields, Rearden walks away from his steel mill, etc.
  • In Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. Dad sounding out Mum over been scammed for the Rock Garden Julia responds with an exchange:
    Julia: In my exam today this term I'm not totally sure about, Pyrrhic Victory came up. Do you know what a Pyrrhic Victory is Dad?
    Dad gave Julia a very complicated stare.
    Jason: A what victory?
    Julia: Pyrrhic. Ancient Greece. A Pyrrhic Victory is one where you win, but the cost of winning is so high that it would’ve been better if you’d never bothered with the war in the first place. Useful word, isn’t it? So, Jace. Looks like we’re doing the dishes again. Wash or dry?
  • In Dickens' Bleak House, one of the major plot points of the book is the infamous legal case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Near the end of the book, the characters finally win the case, but the cost and time — several years, and the modern equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars — that had to be invested in trying to untangle its legal Mind Screw rendered it bankrupt by the time they finally finished. It ate up all its own assets, which would have been worth a fortune if it had been some halfway competent lawyers who drew up the mess in the first place.
  • The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Marcy and the others' efforts pay off, and Ms. Finney is reinstated... only for her to promptly announce her resignation, because the community is divided enough as-is, and she wouldn't be able to go back to teaching the way she did before with so much scrutiny on her. Marcy, having fought tooth and nail for this victory, doesn't take it well, but does come to terms with it.
  • In the Legacy of the Twins trilogy for Dragonlance, towards the end, Caramon travels to an alternate reality showing what will happen if Raistlin succeeds in opening the portal and confronting Takhisis: Raistlin defeats her, and all of the other gods, and becomes the sole god of the world... and, in the process, he exterminates all life. Absolutely nothing is left on Ansalon or in The Multiverse, just Raistlin, slowly dwindling away into oblivion as his madness and his empty, futile hunger consumes him utterly, as he is so corrupt and evil that he cannot even create new life to replace the old. Caramon's revelation of this so horrifies Raistlin that he gives up and allows himself to be trapped in the Abyss, where Takhisis torments him forever more, because he cannot bear the thought of such a "victory".
  • Dreamblood Duology: Ehiru manages to stop a major war between Gujaareh and Kisua... by basically making it possible for Kisua to walk right in and invade Gujaareh.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Grave Peril: Harry risks everything to try to save Susan from the Red Court Vampires, and he succeeds. But Susan has been corrupted by the vampires: while she isn't a full vampire, she is nonetheless irrevocably halfway towards becoming one, and she leaves town to protect herself and Harry. Also, Harry's actions to try to save her resulted in the White Council of Wizards going to war with the Red Court of Vampires, which has devastating consequences (people die in wars), and Harry also killed a lot of vampires with his magic, and possibly some humans as well (though it's hard to say), which indelibly stains his soul. Of course, the consequences of not doing all that ( Amorrachius, the Sword of Love, Excalibur, one of the greatest weapons of against the darkness, would have been unmade and destroyed permanently) were even worse.
    • Turn Coat: Morgan is dead, the (only identified) traitor in the council is dead, Dresden and McCoy have no further information on the Black Council, the White Council has lost three of its most valuable members (the man Morgan was framed for murdering, Morgan, and the traitor), virtually everyone within the council needs to go in for deprogramming from mind-control magics, the Senior Council is now living in a permanent state of wondering if their actions were truly their own, and their newest member may or may not be a member of the Black Council.
    • Changes: So Harry won the war, wiped out the entire Red Court, and saved his daughter. He only had to make a Human Sacrifice of his daughter's mother and become Mab's servant. And as Ghost Story shows, destroying the Red Court only led to an Evil Power Vacuum and even worse forces moving in.
    • Skin Game: Not for Harry this time, but Nicodemus. He managed to recover the Holy Grail, but lost the other four artifacts (which were strongly implied to have been his real targets), two Denarians and their coins, his followers, his influence and reputation in the supernatural world, and even his own daughter. And if that wasn't enough, the only other success he had from the book, shattering the Sword of Faith, was undone when Butters turned it into a lightsaber.
  • Duckling Ugly: Cara, a girl so ugly she was once called "the Flock's Rest Monster", is invited to a paradise called De Leon where a magic fountain makes her supernaturally beautiful. She returns to Earth to take revenge on Marisol, a girl who bullied her, by stealing her boyfriend and using magic to make her ugly. She succeeds, but in doing so, she unwittingly activates a curse that causes everything and everyone around her to become ugly and rotten, while she remains beautiful. As a result, she is kicked out of Flock's Rest. When she tries to return to De Leon, she finds out that she can't go back, because the portal is closed. She is forced to wander eternally in search of a way to return to De Leon, never able to stay in the same spot for long lest everything around her turn ugly.
  • The first Dune novel ends with Paul Atreides defeating the Harkonnens, overthrowing Emperor Corrino by marrying his eldest daughter and receiving more praise from the Fremen for being The Chosen One. Come the next novel, Paul's fanatical followers unleashed a jihad which destroyed many worlds in his name which gave him a lot of enemies and conspirators inside his court. Likewise, he's trapped in the prescient future where he couldn't do anything to stop the jihad that he created and feared that his family name would forever be tarnished including all the achievements that his father, Duke Leto, made in the past. Then, he foresaw that his Fremen lover, Chani, died of giving birth to his children and he's unable to prevent it. In the end, Paul went to the desert after being blinded by a stone burner while his twins and his empire are left in the hands of his sister, Alia, who is slowly possessed by their grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
  • Ender's Game has Ender defeat the Buggers, only he ends up doing so by wiping them out entirely when they were revealed to have attacked only before they realized humans were sentient, and he gets exiled from Earth as well (not to mention how every human ship involved in the battle is destroyed either by Bugger Defenders or the M.D. Device).
  • In the Farsala Trilogy by Hilari Bell, the Roman Empire Expy have many rules about their conquering of other territories and one of those rules is that if they don't have full control of the country within a year then they will withdraw their forces and offer allegiance with it instead or just leave it alone. This rule was put in place because early in their history, they were victors of this and vowed that victory would never cost so high again. According to the books, they're so good at taking over countries that out of the dozens they'd taken over only two were been able to resist past the time limit.
  • Described as an inevitability in Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Genome in a war between two galactic powers with relatively equal military strength. A historical example is cited with the ancient Taii Empire, whose territory once spanned much of what is now owned by the younger races. They engaged in an all-out war with another empire, resulting in a Taii military victory but at the cost of utter devastation of their empire. The Taii briefly described in the book are now a dying power, holding no more then several dozen worlds and flying enormous ships that are ridiculously inferior when compared with more modern ships of the younger races. The same fate is predicted for the humans or the Czygu in a total Bug War. This prospect would force the humans to recruit the aid of a colony of Church Militants whose goal is the total extermination of all aliens for the betterment of the "true children of God". This would cause all other alien races to ally against humanity, resulting in this for everyone who survives.
  • The Great Pacific War: The US victory is portrayed this way, wrecking the American shipping fleet and sending the economy into decline, causing it to lag behind Britain and Germany as a world power.
  • In Handle with Care, Charlotte wins the lawsuit against her best friend Piper but is left friendless with no social life and lost both daughters - one to shipped away to sort out her bulimic problems and the other drowned in a skating incident. Piper lost her job and her reputation is destroyed. Charlotte never had the chance to cash in the cheque because Willow died, placing the cheque in her coffin, making all her efforts moot.
  • In Harry Potter, the backstory of Voldemort's wizarding ancestors the House of Gaunt reveals that they were originally very wealthy and influential in wizarding society. However, they were also VERY arrogant, to the point that they maintained their blood purity (namely from Salazar Slytherin, one of the founders of Hogwarts) via inbreeding. This had led to a NUMBER of defects in the family line, which included mental instability. By the time of Voldemort's birth, the Gaunts had managed to maintain their blood the cost of their family fortune, sanity, and prestige, all of which would have given their boasts a LOT more credibility.
  • In one of The History of the Galaxy novels, the first battlefield use of the LIGHT annihilator device by La Résistance results in the total destruction of not one but two Earth Alliance armadas. However, the colonists lose nearly all ships in the process, leaving them with a total of eight warships, while Earth still has plenty of ships in other systems. They also lose the only existing annihilator they have (at the moment). Their only advantage is the fact that Earth has no idea the colonies are virtually defenseless. The new colonial admiral manages to enact a daring plan to steal two flagship-class cruisers from an Alliance shipyard... by stealing the shipyard with tugs. Oh, and the admiral's own son was killed in the explosion.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the Mesan Alignment managed a potentially crippling strike on the infrastructure of Manticore and its ally Grayson, just in time for their manipulation of the Solarian League leading to the largest navy in known space launching an overwhelming attack at Manticore. It seems to go off brilliantly, but it puts the Manticorans in such a precarious strategic position that they're willing to accept not only a permanent peace treaty with their decades-old enemy Haven but a formal military alliance when it's offered, and the Havenites deliver proof Mesa was behind everything, including their long war. The end result is that the two most technologically advanced and combat-experienced navies in the known galaxy team up, utterly curb-stomp the Solarian invasion force in the most one-sided battle in human history, and launch a plan to tear the Solarian League apart while also looking for revenge against Mesa. The Alignment leadership realizes things did not turn out quite the way they'd hoped.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • Winning the Games is depicted as such. Because There Are No Therapists, survivors of the arena walk out with wealth and fame for life, but with severe PTSD and nothing to help them cope with their experiences — and if they're attractive enough, they're pimped out by President Snow as Sex Slaves — and they have to mentor the tributes for the following Hunger Games, until they die. For example, Haymitch, the mentor to Katniss, has spent twenty-four years trying to mentor children and bringing home corpses. The trope is Invoked in this case — the Capitol doesn't want the Victors to be able to lead a coup.
    • Katniss's mental breakdown in Mockingjay. Even though the Capitol fell, Prim's death takes precedence.
  • In I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Ted is damned to And I Must Scream for eternity, but he manages to save Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok from the same fate. AM itself is also effectively condemned to an equally awful fate; quite who exactly the pyrrhic victor is can be debated.
    "At least the four of them are safe at last. AM will be all the madder for that. It makes me a little happier. And yet... AM has won, simply... he has taken his revenge... I have no mouth. And I Must Scream."
  • Happens in Back Story in Kane story "Lynortis Reprise". When king Masale finally conquered and destroyed Lynortis (which would be impossible without a traitor Kane himself leading him through hidden passages to the city), he had spent so much time, effort, money and men on the two-year-long siege that he had to give up his dreams of conquering the land that lay beyond Lynortis.
  • Lampshaded in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Locke and Jean kill their enemies, but they have to leave Camorr forever, they're both injured (Locke especially so), and all their friends are, by the way, dead. The exchange goes something like:
    Locke: So this is winning.
    Jean: It is.
    Locke: It can go fuck itself.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Lampshaded: "Today we may make the enemy pay ten times our loss at the passage and yet [we may] rue the exchange. For he can afford to lose a host better than we to lose a company."
    • In fact, Pyrrhic victories are quite common throughout Middle-Earth's history. The War of Wrath ended with Morgoth's defeat, but all of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements. Even the final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was Pyrrhic, in that destroying the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-Earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
    • Other materials show the War of the Ring was almost much more this. If Erebor hadn't been held by the Dwarves Sauron's armies would have probably succeeded in destroying the Western lands, up to the Shire, and driving the last of the Elves overseas quicker despite Sauron's defeat. Thankfully averted, as the Dwarves of Erebor and the men of Dale held back part of Sauron's forces long enough for news of his defeat to reach them.
    • The other two Battles of Beleriand against Morgoth (that the Elves actually won) were Pyrrhic as well. The first ended with one faction of Elves demoralized so badly they essentially demilitarized and took to a "stay hidden" policy against Morgoth since the bloodline of their leaders was killed off, while the second ended with the death of Fëanor, greatest of all the Elves. Sure it was still a crushing victory for the Elves short-term, and he was a right bastard to be sure, but one can only imagine what he would have done for the war effort (not to mention morale) had he lived.
    • Nírnaeth Arnoediad was partially this for Morgoth. Despite winning his greatest victory in Middle-Earth and securing much of the North, it is some time before his forces recover.
    • Morgoth also suffered this in his battle with Fingolfin. Though he eventually killed him, ending the life of one of the greatest elven kings, his actual objective was to crush Fingolfin to show that he wasn't a coward and it was futile to oppose him. Then Fingolfin basically ran rings around him for most of the fight, inflicting many wounds that Morgoth only survived due to his giant size, and even when the elf got tired and started taking hits, he still managed to stay standing and maimed Morgoth's leg (giving him a permanent limp). On top of that, the eagle Thorondor showed up to take Fingolfin's body (so Morgoth couldn't desecrate it), and clawed Morgoth's face as a parting shot. It's said that the story isn't told much by elves or orcs: elves, because of the tragedy of losing their hero-king, and orcs, because their God of Evil made such an embarrassing showing.
  • In The Lost Fleet, the 100 years war between The Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds is chock full of such battles. Any victory is won with huge casualties. This is in large part due to both sides forgetting complex fleet tactics and switches to an Attack! Attack! Attack! mentality, where each ship individually charges into battle and hopes to win through sheer "fighting spirit". Battleships are considered to be posts for cowards, as they have too much armor and shields and can't get to the battle fast enough. Then Captain John "Black Jack" Geary is discovered as a Human Popsicle and revived and uses his knowledge of fleet tactics to win without this trope... though the Alliance "won" in the sense that it isn't tearing itself apart quite as fast or as bloodily as the Syndicate Worlds.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • The third book, Memories of Ice, has two:
      • First the siege of Capustan is lifted when the protagonist army arrives, but the defenders (who are honorable mercenaries) have nearly been killed to the man.
      • This trope is used again in the concluding battle where the allied armies of the Malazans and Caladan Brood capture Coral. But a huge percentage of the named characters are killed during this second battle and the army is a shell of its former self.
    • In book eight, Toll the Hounds, The Undead army of everyone who has ever died since Hood became the God of Death manages to hold off the forces of Chaos long enough, but most of them are destroyed even beyond undeath.
  • Discussed in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. Some in the skaa rebellion consider the raid on Holstep Garrison to be a victory, despite the fact that they were wiped out to a man once the garrison received reinforcements, because it proved that the long-oppressed skaa that they were capable of rising up and would be an inspiration for generations to come. The main characters disagree, because they lost the garrison shortly afterwards, they needed the army to fight a battle they could win, the nobles barely take notice, and the Lord Ruler holds a public execution of random skaa to punish the rebellion.
  • The trope is discussed in the book Palabros de honor after the idiom was added into the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy. It mentions that the words 'Pyrrhic victory' are sometimes misused in Spanish to refer to a victory by a small margin, before going to the example of an association football match to explain the idiom's proper usage: if a team wins 6-0 (which in said sport is an outright Curb-Stomp Battle), but one of its players is sent off, others are injured during the match, and this means none of them will be available for the next game, which just so happens to be the decisive one, then that 6-0 is a Pyrrhic victory.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians:
    • Kronos, the Titan Lord, is called "the Crooked One" for his ability to engineer schemes which leaves the good guys in a tight spot either way. It is possible to foil him, but it almost never happens without cost, often a heavy one.
    • The third book is a good example of this. They finished their quest, saved Artemis and stopped the baddies from harnessing the powers of a world-destroying beast... but two of their teammates died in the process, and the younger brother of the second one is not happy. It got worse when Percy realized that not only did he have another demigod bent on killing him, but said demigod was a son of Hades, which qualified him for the prophecy that could destroy Olympus and all of Western civilization. Ouch.
  • Perdido Street Station ends on this note. The protagonists have saved the city, defeated the Slake Moths, foiled Mr. Motley's plans, and kept the Crisis Engine out of the hands of those who would misuse it. But in the process, Lin is lobotomized (and may never recover fully), Isaac and Yagharek's friendship is destroyed, Yagharek loses any chance of getting his wings back, a lot of people die, and the surviving heroes have to flee the city forever, as they're still thought to be criminals.
  • The Riftwar Cycle: In A Darkness at Sethanon, the invading army of the moredhel finally captures the city of Armengar, but with devastating losses—not only is the city an invader's nightmare, built with technologies and magic long lost to mankind, but those in charge of the defense blow it up just when the invading army has finally broken through, leaving the moredhel with a ruined city and great losses. Ten years later, the risk of a devastating defeat or a Pyrrhic Victory is what spurs one of the moredhel chieftains to oppose the efforts to launch another invasion, going as far as allying himself with the humans to accomplish it.
  • R.A. Salvatore:
    • The Crystal Shard has the final battle presented as one of these for the good guys.
    • The Thousand Orcs has another. The last of the survivors of the attack on the town are spirited away by means involving a fake idol of Gruumsh, the orc god. When the other orc shamans hear about this, they not only bring in thousands of new recruits to avenge the sacrilege, they also perform a rare ritual on the orc king that makes him permanently stronger and quicker.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This series is rather good at giving us wins with undermining costs attached.
    • It's heavily implied that whoever wins the Iron Throne in the end will have won such a victory, as the cost of warfare is rapidly depleting all their resources while an exceptionally long winter is coming.
    • Historically, the Dance of the Dragons was this. Although the Green faction officially won and crowned Aegon II over his elder sister (Rhaenyra, head of the Blacks), this came at a very great cost to their family as a whole. 1) Almost every Targaryen on both sides was dead. 2) The majority of their strongest dragons were outright dead, the rest were either disabled, very young and/or sickly. 3) All the fully experienced dragon riders and handlers from both sides were dead (the massacre at and sacking of the Dragonpit cannot be highlighted enough), meaning most of their know-how was lost, which then fed back into #2: any sick dragons couldn't get better, since there was nobody left who knew what to do to care for them properly. However, the ultimate tragedy of the victory was that Aegon II died ignominiously via surprise poisoning only a few months in, leaving the throne to... the last remaining son of Queen Rhaenyra, anyway. So, so much for that Green win. Said son (Aegon III) had also observed his mother being eaten alive by Aegon II's dragon, instilling in him a deep hatred for/ understandable fear of dragons. It is maliciously rumored that he was responsible for killing the last Targaryen dragon himself due to this fear/hatred, permanently crippling the Targaryen's strength. Except, he's actually on record as having tried to hatch dragon eggs several times, and then failing to get healthy outcomes. It's more likely that Aegon didn't know exactly what he was missing in the process to both properly hatch dragons or care for the rest, and was desperately trying to work it all out while some of the rapidly diminishing number of pieces of the puzzle were still available to his family. By the time he died in turn, there were no known dragons left in Westeros.
    • Sunfyre was a dragon that had an almost unmatched record of winning fights with other dragons. But, each duel fought added crippling scars to the once-stunning dragon. It died in its last fight in the civil war, a winner who expired as much due to the injuries sustained over years as it did from the fresh batch of Body Horror.
    • So, Theon Greyjoy takes Winterfell in a daring attack using a small band of Ironborn raiders. So far, so good. But, deciding to try holding a large castle in enemy territory with a small number of allies? Not happening. Reality Ensues, and Theon loses the place faster than he claimed it.
    • House Frey, House Bolton, and the Red Wedding. Sure, in the short-term, they are given all of the credit for killing King Robb and decimating the Northern forces in one night, and House Bolton gains control of the North, but Stannis and his armies are coming for the Boltons, the Freys now find themselves the unspoken enemies of almost everyone else in Westeros for violating Sacred Hospitality (the one custom that was thought to be universal across the entire kingdom), and several of their own "allies" are actively working to undermine them, leaving their position more and more precarious. And in the case of the Boltons, Ramsay isn't helping matters by going full-on Stupid Evil. On the other hand, it was Tywin Lannister's plan, and from his perspective, there's no downside at all.
    • The War of the Five Kings was never going to be pretty, always was going to be prohibitively expensive and the harrowing of the Riverlands was worse than it strictly needed to be. But, the clean-up needing decades pales beside the fact that Joffrey and Tywin were killed shortly after, Tyrion is on the run, Cersei is running the Kingdom into the ground and Kevan got killed just as he was trying to fix what he could. Winning only weakened House Lannister.
    • The Battle of Castle Black ends in this for the Night's Watch. Yes, Stannis showed up to save them and Castle Black remains under the Night's Watch's control. However, Stannis soon left to retake the North from the Boltons, meaning that the Night's Watch, already very low on manpower due to the dilapidation of the organization over the centuries, is now dangerously low on men after the Great Ranging and the battle. In addition, several buildings and constructs were damaged quite badly in the battle, and winter is coming, and with it, the Others and the army of the dead.
    • Cersei learns to her cost that populist religious movements are not a toy, even if they initially get you what you want. They play back. With interest.
    • Ser Loras's impatience with the slow sapping operation already in progress leads him to directly charge Dragonstone, securing an important victory for Cersei at a time she desperately needs one, but at the cost of a thousand seasoned troops, none of which would have been lost had Loras been willing to wait.
  • In Starship Troopers, it's pointed out early on in the war that killing 1,000 bugs for each human is a net victory for the bugs, as their soldiers can be hatched at need and can be ready to fight in a matter of weeks, while it takes the better part of a year to make a Cap Trooper battle-ready.
  • Yes, at the end of the Star Trek: Destiny series the Borg are eliminated as a threat once and for all. It only cost 63 billion lives, dozens if not hundreds of inhabited planets throughout the Alpha Quadrant, the destruction of almost half of Starfleet, and significant casualties among all of the other major powers of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. President Bacco states that the toll essentially sets the Federation back almost a century.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Invoked by name in Darth Maul Shadow Hunter. This triggers Fridge Logic when you wonder who it was named for.
    • In the X-Wing Series novels Wedge's Gamble and The Krytos Trap, Ysanne Isard attempts to turn the New Republic conquest of Coruscant into one of these by poisoning its water supply with a virus that kills nonhumans but is harmless to humans, trying to Divide and Conquer. The attempt fails.
    • New Jedi Order:
      • In the Enemy Lines two-parter, Wedge Antilles commands the defense of Borleias against the Yuuzhan Vong after the fall of Coruscant. The Yuuzhan Vong gain the planet, but in the process lose a worldship and one of their greatest generals—former warmaster Czulkang Lah—among other heavy losses. The New Republic forces fare far better: while they do end up sacrificing the Super Star Destroyer Lusankya to destroy the worldship, they do so without losing the Lusankya's crew and most of its weapons (which were transplanted to other ships, Lusankya having already taken considerable damage before the final confrontation). Furthermore, the tactical victory was worthless: Wedge's goal in the campaign was simply to drag out the battle and buy time for the New Republic to regroup, while inflicting as many losses on the enemy as possible. Czulkang Lah's final communication to his son, Warmaster Tsavong Lah, shows another perspective on the trope:
      Tsavong Lah: Still, a great victory.
      Czulkang Lah: No, son. Limited facts can point at victory when in fact there is only defeat to taste.
      Tsavong Lah: Defeat? You have achieved the conditions of victory. You have once more brought glory to Domain Lah.
      Czulkang Lah: In a minute I will be dead. Too many clever minds, however heretical they may be, have undone me.
      • A couple books later in Destiny's Way, it's revealed that in the process of conquering half the galaxy, the Yuuzhan Vong have lost nearly a third of their warriors. This results in an untenable position for them, giving the New Republic, now the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, a chance to fight back.
  • The Stormlight Archive: For millennia, the Voidbringers arrived in great Desolations to drive humanity off the face of the planet. Humanity, with the help of the divine Heralds, always managed to defeat them... but not without horrific casualties. It wasn't uncommon for ninety percent of the entire planet to be dead by the end of one Desolation, and they were knocked so far into the Stone Age that the Heralds couldn't be sure they'd have rediscovered bronze by the next Desolation. Eventually, the cycle of destruction became too much and the Heralds gave up, telling humanity they had finally won for good. By the time the next Desolation finally comes back, technology has advanced to the Steel Age, but people have forgotten all the magic and artifacts they once had. The Almighty advises that their best option is to just survive as long as they can; while they can't win without the lost artifacts, if they can convince the enemy that he might lose again, he'll begin making mistakes.
  • Time Scout: Congratulations, Skeeter! You just stood up to a bully! A bully with massive wealth, criminal connections, government power, and a vindictive nature. And you've a checkered past he won't have any trouble using against you.
  • In the backstory of Warday, the US technically won World War III. The Soviet Union is apparently in total anarchy, while the US is merely moving towards a Divided States of America situation.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Dan Abnett's novel Brothers of the Snake, a chapter of Space Marines retake a refinery from Chaos forces. They realize that the place was tainted by something it had pumped up from under the earth, and it could not be used any more — which meant they could just have blasted it from orbit, without losing three Marines in the fight.
    • In a similar vein, the defense of Vervunhive, which leaves the hive with so many dead it is officially decommissioned at the end of the war. Although with Heritor Asphodel dead, Chaos has nothing to celebrate, either.
    • Ciaphas Cain, in Caves of Ice, digs his troops in to protect a Promethium refinery that he later has to annihilate to stop a Necron tomb from reawakening. (Still, taking out an Ork Waaagh and a Necron force is a solid deal for one refinery, especially since they managed to evacuate the facility beforehand.)
    • The final book of the Ultramarines series has a surprisingly major one. The Ultramarines successfully beat back a massive force of traitor marines and permanently kill a daemon prince, an act practically unheard of in the universe, but Ultramar itself has lost several worlds and almost four companies' worth of marines.
    • The novel Death of Antagonis in Space Marine Battles series is just a long string of those for the Black Dragons and just to punctuate it, their Captain goes traitor.
  • In The Warlord Chronicles, the Battle of Baddon Hill is a major one for King Arthur. He smashes the Saxon forces, (including mortally wounding Aelle, one of the Saxon kings), but... his most powerful and reliable ally, Cuneglas, dies in battle, the Christians gain greater influence in the sectarian battle against Pagans, which they later use to undermine Arthur's non-sectarian government, Mordred discovers a taste for battle, Nimue turns against Merlin and Arthur for good, etc. Some of these results are directly linked to Arthur's downfall.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • The Halloween battle. What was originally intended as a cover so that the Goobers could kill Sara Waite turned into a full-on attack on Team Kimba, with many others getting caught in the cross-fire, and it ended badly for everyone- while the Whateley crew won, they ended up with thousands of dollars of property damage, more than a few injured, a staff member dying and that triggering a rager attack by another staff member that turned him almost committing suicide because of the death of his girlfriend. It turned out worse for Englund, the instigator- almost everyone on the staff and more than a few students hated him even though they couldn't prove that he did it, the attack on Sara wasn't successful, and the staff member who went rager now wants to kill him with extreme prejudice. The Syndicate (the main evil attackers) lost hundreds of their soldiers, and the main general ended up nearly losing his boyfriend. In other words, nobody won and everybody lost.
    • The attack on Team Kimba in the simulations. On the one hand, Team Kimba managed to successfully fight off the attackers after being placed in a situation where they had no weapons or armour except their powers, and were placed separately against specially-chosen enemies with the sims turned up so any attacks would really injure them. On the other hand, everyone was horribly injured; Tennyo ended up in the grip of a Heroic BSoD after being forced to remember memories that weren't hers, but that she thought were hers; the New Olympians are now very aware that Team Kimba is powerful enough to potentially defeat them; and while Make and Overclock are captured by the MCO, Ayla and the Mad Scientist reveals that they escaped. Again, nobody won and everybody lost.
  • The backstory to The Wheel of Time series has the triumph of the Light and the sealing of the Dark One in the Age of Legends made out to be one of these for all concerned. The backlash of the sealing left a taint on the male half of the One Power that doomed every man who touched the Power to creeping insanity and death, without exception; this left a bunch of completely insane men with the power to level cities and raise mountains running around causing almost as much damage as the war that they ended would have, destroying so much that the knowledge and culture of the Age of Legends was in large part lost forever. And for Lews Therin, the hero who led the charge to seal the Dark One? His nemesis tracks him down at his mansion and uses a Dark version of Healing to cure his madness, allowing Lews Therin to see that, while insane, he had murdered everyone and everything he had ever loved. He did not take it well.
  • In World War Z humanity managed to be victorious over the zombie hordes. But the war and overall situation devastated the planet.
  • Worm:
    • Leviathan is ultimately forced to retreat from Brockton Bay by Scion, but a lot of people are dead, most of the city is destroyed, and it is sheer anarchy in the streets.
    • Endbringer fights tend to result in this at best. Either a large portion of a continent is rendered uninhabitable or just SINKS, or potentially hundreds of Capes die forcing the monster back. The exception was the Behemoth fight in India, Scion shows up to KILL him! It doesn't stick, because More Endbringers show up in response, and they're unpredictable and immune to the tactics used against the others.
    • The Slaughterhouse Nine tend to provoke this on both sides. The heroes lose members, countless civilians are killed in the crossfire, and members of the Nine drop like flies unless they're Nigh Invulnerable like the Siberian. Their attack on Brockton Bay is a perfect example: They break Panacea, work on depopulating the already devastated city and irreversibly traumatize more than a few of Capes and civilians. In return, the Nine lose Crawler and Cherish, get handed a humiliating "defeat" and have to invoke Lowered Recruiting Standards to get their numbers back up.


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