Follow TV Tropes


Training From Hell / Literature

Go To

  • Brandon Sanderson likes this trope
    • The Way of Kings (first book of The Stormlight Archive): Variant when Kaladin starts trying to train his bridgemen as soldiers.
      Watching them stand resolute and capable in stances they had only just been taught, Kaladin realized something. These men-cast off by the army, forced to work themselves near to death, the fed extra food by Kaladin's careful planning-were the most fit, training-ready recruits he'd ever been given. By seeking to beet them down, Sadeas had prepared them to excel.
    • Advertisement:
    • Silence Montane from "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell". Silence's grandmother put her through this including sealing her in a silver circle with an enraged shade to teach her how to kill it.
  • The Aeon Legion's training program is extremely brutal since the instructors can just heal the recruits from most injuries. The training's high standards eliminates many recruits the first day and many more drop out voluntarily. The training starts with thousands of recruits and ends with around a hundred. Those remaining hundred still have to survive the Labyrinth, a deadly series of 12 trials.
  • Alex Rider. Most notably the first book where MI6 sends a 14 year old boy through SAS training. That's training which starts out with 200 adult heavily trained soldiers and only about 30 make it. Not to mention the unit he's put with don't make it easy on him.
  • Advertisement:
  • All for the Game has the Edgar Allen Ravens. They're a college Exy team, but they live in their own dorms under the stadium instead of with the rest of the students. They all enroll in the same undergrad program to help them build teamwork, because every Raven graduates ready to join a pro team. They spend all their holidays at the school instead of going home, and they practice at all hours. There's a reason they're the top team in the league, but there's also a reason they're the Opposing Sports Team.
  • Training for any battle/ magical discipline in Atharon can be considered this, although the most lethal one is definitely the training for Mancer discipline Valiria puts her apprentices through.
  • King Silas from The Bridge Kingdom Archives plans to raise a perfect spy and assassin and then send her off to marry the king of a rival kingdom (as a part of a peace treaty, no less). Several of his daughters (he has a huge harem and lots of children) are sent at the age of five to a desert compound to train. There they learn how to withstand pain and torture and also have to fight for their life. Twelve survive to the end but it is mentioned that there were more.
  • Advertisement:
  • Normal soulscaper training is implied to be this in Burying the Shadow, but Gimel put extra pressure on Rayojini to the point Rayo wonders at times if she's losing her mind.
  • Exaggerated to the point of utter ridiculousness by Tom Kratman in Carrera's Legions. There's accepting that a certain percentage of fatal Training Accidents are inevitable when live-fire training is taking place and there's out and out getting recruits killed by the willful negligence of the instructors and calling it "natural selection". See the Hollywood Tactics page for more detail.
  • All agents in CHERUB undergo three months of basic training at the age of 10 to 11- an experience which is explicitly designed to make anything they go through on missions later seem easy. Trainers get away with doing things to preteens that would get instructors on adult training courses punished for hazing. The job of running the training requires so much sadism, in fact, that when Mr Large breaches the code of conduct in a major way, he still can't be fired because the CHERUB bosses can't find anyone else willing to do his job.
  • In The Chosen by Chaim Potok, Danny Saunders is destined to be the rabbi (actually rebbe — yes, some philo-semitic goyim do know the difference, but rabbi is good enough for the moment) of a New York congregation of Russian Jews. Danny is shunned by his own father because "A rebbe must know what it is to suffer". At the end Danny passes the test and receives a "Well Done, Son!" Guy.
  • Thremius apparently sometimes puts Nip through this in The Chronicles of Magravandias. Once he hung upside-down and forced her to speak backwards to him for a week.
  • Jim Butcher also used this training in the Codex Alera series, but mostly off-screen between the fifth and sixth book. Tavi has great potential power with furies (elemental spirits) because of who his father was, but his power came in years later than most people. By the end of the fifth book he has mastered some internal magic and a little brute-force stuff, but is still way behind most people of his caliber. So starting after the end of the fifth book he gets a crash course in furycrafting from a Spirit Advisor. Most of the injuries we see are self-inflicted from his attempts at learning to fly.
  • Cradle Series: Standard practice for all sacred artists. The Sword Sage trapped Yerin in a ring of razor-sharp swords so close that every time she breathed she cut herself, and Eithan locked Lindon in a room with monsters for two weeks. Lindon isn't much better himself, constantly pushing himself even farther and doing the equivalent of training with weights on his arms.
    Yerin: Only storms can turn a fish into a dragon.
  • Roland Deschain and the rest of his original Ka-Tet from The Dark Tower series get put through training from hell by their hard-as-nails instructor, Cort. Borders on The Spartan Way as it is hinted ALL males born to the line of Eld go through this, but falls short of The Spartan Way as the Gunslingers do not represent the army of Gilead, but are in fact ambassadors, leaders and lawmen.
    • The Gunslingers like generals in Gilead's army of militiamen. The books made it clear that the original gunslingers were from the families of the Knights of Arthur Eld, they were never numerous to be an army in their own respect.
  • In The Dresden Files, the magical community at large seems fairly keen on the concept of pain as a motivator.
    • Harry Dresden himself mentions having gone through this. In Small Favor, he trains his apprentice in shieldwork by having her family throw snowballs at her. Her mother asks Harry if he went through something similar. The answer? Yes, but his mentor used baseballs.
    • When Morgan chides Dresden's training of Molly in Turn Coat, Dresden asks about when he was taught shields; Morgan says his mentor used stones. Worse in hindsight when you remember who his mentor is. Apparently using baseballs wasn't just a matter of Justin being evil if Luccio did it too.
    • In Ghost Story Lea is training Molly and has upgraded to rock-hard chunks of ice, and informs her that next time she'll be using knives. Harry objects, and Lea argues that given that people are trying to kill her with bullets and worse and she's currently incapable of blocking any of them, Harry didn't do her any favors by being nice.
    • In Cold Days, we find out that Mab's version of physical therapy is "once he's lucid enough to remember his own name, try and kill him once a day, a different way each day." Usually in the middle of more traditional, mortal-style physical therapy. Mab justifies all of this because she cannot abide by weakness in her servants. If Harry dies, it just shows his unworthiness of being in her court. Hilariously, this is described to the reader as if it were a training montage set to The Foo Fighters' "Walk". The absurd ways she tries to kill him include literal (fire) ants in his pants, a cobra in his bed, lighting the bed on fire, just straight up hitting him with an axe, and locking him in a slowly flooding bathroom full of piranhas. There was also something involving a ticking crocodile, and when all else fails, unloading onto him with an automatic shotgun.
    • Also in Cold Days Sarissa, the changeling Mab assigned to be Harry's physical therapist through the training, was herself being trained for the possibility of becoming the next Winter Lady in the event of Maeve's death.
    • In Cold Days, Lea's reasons for such methods are revealed to prepare Molly for possibly becoming a Sidhe Queen should one of the Ladies die.
  • In Dune the Imperium sends its elite Sardaukar troopers to the hell world of Salusa Secundus for training — thus arguably been Training In Hell. Interestingly, Salusa used to be the capital, having been ruined in an attack, and is therefore kept inhabited purely for this. In the course of the novel, Paul figures out that the Fremen of equally hellish Arrakis are the only people who can match the Sardaukar's skill.
    • In truth, Paul verified it, but it was his father, Duke Leto Atreides, that first suspected and realized the nature of Arrakis and the Fremen. And even he only saw the tip of the iceberg — the Bene Gesserit were guilty of the same oversight when they sent their Missionaria Protectiva agents to seed legend into Fremen culture and wound up providing the basis for the desert people to have their own Reverend Mothers.
    • Extreme training is a theme for many groups in Dune's universe, with various aims. Mentats, Bene Gesserit, etc.
  • In El Conquistador, the Calmecacnote  is depicted that way.
  • In the first Empire from the Ashes book, Colin has to undergo training from hell to master all of the radical enhancements Dahak wrought on his body.
  • Deconstructed in Ender's Game: Ender Wiggin does not have it easy, especially being 6 years old or so at the beginning of the story... After enlisting him in Battle School, the military changed the rules of the school multiple times to make his life as hard as possible in order to bring out the best of his abilities. And purposefully provoked other kids into bullying him. After this training has finished, he went through another Training from Hell in Command School. The result is that he's a brilliant commander but also a emotional wreck that culminates in him sacrificing his entire fleet and blowing up a planet in an attempt to get expelled, then he finds out it was real and he just won the war. This, combined with the fact that he's actually congratulated for his acts, results in a total emotional breakdown, leaving him scarred for life.
  • In The Faithful and the Fallen, this is how the Vin Thalun train their pit fighters- before you even start learning how to fight you have to help row the ship from wherever they captured you back to their islands, and most people die from that alone. The idea is to weed out the weak, and anyone who manages to live through their first fight is treated really well, firstly becuase by that point they're too valuable to mistreat, and second because it helps the Stockholm Syndrome kick in.
  • Opinion is divided as to how far Guy Sajer's book The Forgotten Soldier counts as autobiography, or just as embellished reporting. But several chapters are devoted to the brutal training regime of the elite Wehrmacht infantry division Grossdeutchland. An Army elite that modeled itself on what it saw as best in the Waffen SS, training was in 36 hour blocks that left only six hours in between for sleep and personal maintenance. live ammunition and explosive were routinely used, it was not unknown for a percentage of recruits to die on field exercises, and men who dropped out were subjected to a punitive prison regime.
  • In Helm, Dulan de Laal subjects his son Leland to this for seven months after he wears the Helm — Leland is forced to undergo every kind of manual labor Dulan can come up with while being attacked without warning several times a day with bamboo sticks by his brothers.
  • The H.I.V.E. Series: From what information we're given, Raven seems to have spent her childhood in this kind of training, the basic rule being, try not to get killed.
  • I Become Shadow: The Shadow training is very intense. They have to fight until someone is unconscious, often with weapons. Many get injured, die, or go insane.
  • Kate Daniels receives this from her stepfather for her entire childhood, beginning from the day she took her first step. Early training included leaving her in the woods with nothing but a knife, and forcing her to run wearing a backpack full of rocks. At the age of twelve he left her in the ghetto for a month and she was almost raped twice. At the age of thirteen he entered her in a gladiatorial arena to fight in multiple consecutive death matches.
  • Labyrinths of Echo had kings following a special magic tradition which allows them to ensure the land's prosperity. Thus each crown prince is trained on an assumption that in such circumstances few people are insane enough to attempt regicide, but everyone and their dog will try to influence them. The monarch may look affable, melancholic, nice and rustic, or fatalistic — but if necessary, an unflappable badass with steel self-control and Compelling Voice emerges in an eyeblink. So the explanation why an old-time king born with Arbiter power managed to avoid accidentally killing himself or even messing up the world around too much (which the protagonist barely avoids despite several near-crippling safeguards) was simple: "he was a crown prince".
  • Le Pacte des Marchombres: Training exercises to become a Marchombre include, but are not limited to : swimming through raging waters during winter, staying balanced on a rope during a gale, escaping an island surrounded by a lake where a huge crocodile livesnote , traveling through hostile lands to reach a mountain that will attempt to drive you insane if it deems you impure, and climbing a mountain with your arms and legs tied up.
  • The Fourth Year at Brakebills in The Magicians. Up until now, the students have been obliged to merely study the circumstances that effect how their spells are cast in books; here, they have to learn how to act on them without even thinking through a grueling training process that begins with the Fourth Year students being transformed into geese and sent on a journey from New York to Antarctica. There, at Brakebills' southern campus, they are returned to human form and promptly put under the tutelage of Professor Mayakovsky, who renders them mute for the duration of their stay to ensure that they can't be distracted by friendly communication. In between mind-numbing bouts of magical training, they are taught how to transform into polar bears and arctic foxes and endure the embarrassment that results from combining an animal's instincts with several months without sex. And at the end of the year, there's an exam that forces the participants to walk to the South Pole — naked, with only their magic to protect them from the elements. (The last part is seemingly optional, although they're not informed of that. All but two students flat out refuse to do it, and suffer no apparent consequences.)
  • Bones from the Night Huntress books puts Cat through this, regularly beating her unconscious and chasing her through dark forests at breakneck speeds. It helps that he can use his vampire blood to heal her injuries.
  • In Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' Nyeusigrube books, the Triste witches have several methods of training. Some go slowly, cultivating power in generations. Then there is Pandora. Her training yields the strongest Tristes with the quickest results, but her method also has the highest fatality rate.
  • Old Man's War: The CDF's training regimen for new soldiers sounds terrible, but its purpose is actually to get the soldiers used to their new bodies. They really can run twenty kilometers in an hour, hold their breath underwater for over ten minutes, and bench press ridiculous amounts of weight. It's noted that one of the primary advantages of Special Forces soldiers (who are newborn brains put into such advanced bodies) is that they were never ordinary humans, so they don't have decades of experience with a weak body that they have to get over.
  • In The Pendragon Adventure series, Bobby goes through this ("Warrior Hell 101" is how he puts it) during the sixth book (The Rivers of Zadaa) from Loor, her acolyte, and Alder. Though he willingly admits that he's definitely not the best fighter around, his skills improve immensely (and pay off at the end of the book).
  • In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Elizabeth Bennett went through this kind of training in China so she could fight the zombie menace. It included things like having to do a handstand for six days.
  • Project Tau: Tau and Kata undergo a brutal physical training regime, often being worked to the point of collapse.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Both the Calvarian Blood-Guard and the Glyconese Myrmidons go through this in order to become walking talking murder machines. Only ten percent of recruits survives the Calvarian process.
  • Sethra Lavode seems to put those she trains through this in the Dragaera series. In the prequel books, there are references to a number of her apprentices trying to kill her in response to the training, and she puts the future Empress through severe training to enable her to cross into the Paths of the Dead and retrieve the Orb and be able to come back alive. In the Vlad series set in the present, Vlad meets the character Telnan in the novel Dzur, who is being trained as a future Lavode (basically an expert fighter/sorcerer). Telnan cheerfully tells Vlad that he has only recently been allowed to leave the dungeons.
  • In The Rifter the Payshmura religion trains young men to travel through "Gray Space", a netherworld full of mysterious sharp edges that cut, blind, and occasionally kill them. They also practice bloodletting rituals on the boys, to the extent that most of them have their arms covered in scars.
  • "The Short-Timers" has Parris Island under Drill Sargeant Gurheim. Multiple people suffer breakdowns during training, to the point where there was a standard way of killing yourself. The last one mentioned follows a different path.
  • In The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin, this is technically what happens to the ascendants. They're trapped in a cycle of brutal reincarnation until their flesh has been "tempered" to withstand anything, and in the process, their former identities are almost completely destroyed.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The training of the Faceless Men involves being temporarily blinded, then made deaf, then crippled — and learning to fight and survive with disabilities.
    • The training of the Unsullied is definitely this, beginning with the removal of their sexual organs, and continuing with a training that combines extreme physical stress with deliberate attempts to strip them of any personal identity. They are left without family or names, and are considered some of the finest soldiers in the world. It is mentioned that as many as two-thirds of all boys initially chosen for training will die before its end.
  • In the Star Wars Legends, members of Compforce Assault, the armed wing of COMPNOR, use the motto "Two die for every one that gets through" in reference to the large number of trainees killed in live-fire exercises.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Mobile Infantry Boot Camp is described by Rico as being extremely grueling and even dangerous at times. Out of Rico's original group of over 2,000 recruits less than 200 manage to complete their training (with a handful of recruits actually being killed from training accidents). Later in the book when Rico attends Officer Candidate School he describes it as being even harder than basic training because in addition to all the physical training and combat drills he is also required to become proficient in several academic subjects like math, science, history, military law, and strategy.
    I may have given the impression that boot camp was made harder than necessary. That is not correct.
    It was made as hard as possible and on purpose. ...
    All I can say is this: The next time I have to make a combat drop, I want the men on my flanks to be graduates of Camp Currie or its Siberian equivalent. Otherwise I'll refuse to enter the capsule.
  • Justified in Super Powereds with the Hero Certification Program in five US universities that train Supers, who wish to become fully-licensed Heroes (no vigilantism in this 'verse). Due to the enormous responsibility and the risk, less than 100 applications are accepted by each school's HCP program per year. Over the 4-year program, that number is whittled down to only 10 per school by graduation time. The program is extremely demanding from both physical and mental perspectives. HCP students have daily gym class lasting several hours that involves tough exercises and training against one another. They are also expected to develop their powers and try to find new ways of using them. All the while, they are expected to do well at their other HCP classes and their normal classes aboveground (all HCP facilities are underground). Also, all HCP students are required to keep the fact that they're in the HCP a secret from everyone outside the program (except their parents, of course) on penalty of expulsion. All students, who wash out of the program are mind-wiped in order to protect the secret identities of potential Heroes. All they remember is that they were in the program but don't recall any details or recognize their HCP classmates. All HCP professors tend to be retired Heroes, so they can share their experiences of Hero life with their students. One of the ways two combat instructors like to introduce themselves is by beating up the entire class in a matter of seconds, showing the students that they still have a lot to learn in order to be able to face down criminal Supers in the real world.
  • A Mord-Sith trainee in Sword of Truth is captured at a young age, tortured mercilessly with a handheld Agony Beam, forced to watch her mother die, and finally forced to torture her father to death. It's said that the candidates for this treatment are selected based on their sweet-little-girl properties: the more gentle and caring she is to begin with, the more ruthless and sadistic she'll be after the training.
  • Margo views her training to be a Time Scout as this, though it's fairly benign studying and training. However, when she gets lost in Ancient Rome, it definitely qualifies.
  • In the Tortall Universe, training to become a knight is very difficult. Noble children at the age of ten train for four years as a page, then four years as a squire, then take an Ordeal that kills or drives some insane. Their busy, grueling schedules are remarked upon as being difficult to adjust to; as a new page Alanna at one point thinks she's too tired to quit and make the long journey home, but they do adjust to those. It was harder for Keladry of Mindelan in Protector of the Small; as the first openly female page in centuries she faced a lot of sexism and unfairness from her fellow pages and her own training master. But Kel was enough of a Determinator to keep going through all of it.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Warriors of Ultramar, Learchus puts soldiers from the planet through severe training. Including intentionally showing off that as a Space Marine, his skills are superior; then, that was so that when he told them that he was So Proud of You, it would have more impact.
    • To quote a Death Korps of Krieg watchmaster (sergeant) from Dead Men Walking: "If you are not trying to kill each other, you are not trying hard enough." This was said after nearly killing a reluctant trainee, who was not from Krieg, and likely to have been conscripted instead of volunteered.
  • Ari Bach's Valhalla explores an extreme of the trope as trainees are subjected to every type of pain known to humankind, even temporary death.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, the training in the Dark Forest involves fighting with claws unsheathed, and all situations could very easily result in a fatal injury. Bonus points because it literally is Training from Hell — the Dark Forest is the feline version of Hell.
  • In order to increase their numbers as fast as possible, the Asha'man in The Wheel of Time force their trainees to use their powers constantly, for everything from common chores to extremely dangerous attacks. And that's when they're not busy training to be blademasters. This naturally incurs heavy losses to death, burnout, and insanity.
    • The training Aes Sedai put their novices through isn't far from this either. The learning to wield your power -part is, theoretically, strictly controlled for safety and the novices are not allowed to channel except during lessons, but nevertheless they'll have to practise secretly just to keep up. And let's not forget that the lessons and the chores the girls have to accomplish exhaust them so that, as one character puts it, "After one month you'll want to run off with the Traveling Folk." (paraphrased) Oh, and when the novice becomes Accepted, it gets worse. Also, the training Aiel warriors go through probably qualifies.
    • Perrin's training to master the Wolf Dream in the thirteenth book. Since he's in a hurry, he accelerates his advancement of dreamwalking skills by literally diving into random peoples' dreams and beating the crap out of their nightmares. But when he's done, he can pull off ridiculous Matrix stunts in the World of Dreams, up to and including blocking the unblockable balefire.
    • The prevalance of this type of training in his writing probably stems from Robert Jordan's experience with the military, boot camp, and his time at The Citadel.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: