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  • JRR Tolkien loves this trope; any endings that aren't bittersweet are almost always downers.
    • The Lord of the Rings: The good guys win. Aragorn takes his rightful place as king. Sauron is defeated permanently, and the Ring destroyed... but this also destroys the power of the Three Rings that has sustained Lothlorien and Rivendell, and the Elves leave. Frodo, unable to bear the weight of all he lost to save the world, leaves with them, as does Gandalf, and magic begins to go out of the world.
      • But considering all the terrible things that magic can do, this may not be such a bad thing after all.
    • The Silmarillion: Morgoth is defeated and permanently banished from the world until the end of time. The two Silmarils remaining in his crown are stolen and then Lost Forever. The continent is mostly destroyed and many of the Elves sail to the West.
      • Another example from The Silmarillion is the romance between the mortal Man Beren and Elven beauty Luthien. The good news is that Luthien becomes mortal, allowing her to follow Beren when he dies (Men and Elves have very different fates after death). The bad news is that Luthien becomes mortal, and thereby passes out of the world and is lost to her people.
        • In The Hobbit, Bilbo returns home rich, but ostracized as a weirdo by his fellow hobbits. Nevertheless, "he remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long."
      • Even the happy ending for Arwen and Aragorn is somewhat tainted, since now Arwen is mortal but still can't quite understand what death is and that it's not always horrible. Imagine living thousands of years and suddenly being faced by a single century. So when Aragorn is dying and tells her that they'll meet again she's freaking out, and spends the rest of her life moping in an abandoned Elf forest.
        • "She laid herself to sleep upon Cerin Amroth, and there is her green grave." Sounds more like suicide...
    • Oh, Lord of the Rings is much, much more bittersweet than that. Middle-Earth is saved, and the line of kings restored to its rightful rule... but Word of God has it that Middle-Earth is Europe before the Indo-Europeans came. So, at some point an unknown number of years after the story ends, barbarians out of the east come and wipe out all traces of everything, except for a few crumbling structures (mistakenly called "cyclopean" by Greeks)and a few ancient books that Professor Tolkien found and translated.
    • Everything comes to an end, just so long as someone recorded what happened.
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl, although the main characters are very accepting of the ending. In some ways they seem to welcome it. But the boy is unlikely to outlive his grandmother, his only living relative and the only person who seems to care about him. This just makes it worse. It should be noted that the film added a happy ending.
    • Given that he'd spent much of the first half of the book despairing over what would happen to him if she did die before him, I think it's further to the happy end from his point of view.
  • The fantasy novel Sirena: Sirena the mermaid lets her human lover go.
    • Mermaid stories seem prone to these. Take Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid: The prince falls for the woman he thought rescued him. The poor transformed, mute mermaid sadly carries her train at the wedding. When offered a chance to become a mermaid again instead of dying by killing the man she loved, she decides not to take it. She does die physically, but God transforms her into an air spirit. This is because mermaids don't have immortal souls, and in fact the mermaid hoped to gain one by marrying the prince. As an air spirit, she will have the chance to shape a soul for herself, though it is clearly stated it will take centuries. Not surprisingly, many prefer the Disney Animated Canon take on this story.
    • Or it's because of the fact that how long the mermaid stays as a soulless spirit is explicitly tied to whether little children are good and obey their parents or not.
    • An Aesop notwithstanding, that is the whole point of the mermaid tale: don't throw away everything for love, especially if the person you love doesn't even know you exist.
  • In Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings series, Fitz ends the Farseer trilogy without the woman he loves, telling himself he didn't love her, in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, visited once in a while by a woman who he doesn't care about throughout the series and is mainly a pest.
    • Though in the sequel trilogy, The Tawny Man, things get better. There's still Bittersweet qualities, but it is overall a happy ending despite the characters that died on the way.
  • Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising ends with the good guys winning, but with everyone but Will forgetting everything that ever happened.
  • Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials ends with The Authority destroyed and his Regent, Metatron, eliminated... but in the process, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are trapped in the space between worlds for eternity, and Will and Lyra are separated into their own worlds because moving between worlds results in the end of Dust.
    • Lyra and Will would've been able to stay together, but people who stay in a non-native world lead shorter lives than they would in their native world, typically dying only a few short years after traveling of disease. Truly unfair.
  • The Great Escape. One or two guys escape successfully. Most of them die in the attempt, as it happened in real life.
  • In The Brothers Karamazov, Smerdyakov finishes his Xanatos Roulette by killing himself, Dmitri is convicted of a crime he didn't commit when everyone thought he would be acquitted; a subplot character the reader begins to empathize with dies of disease, and his poor father goes insane with grief; and Ivan has gone insane because no one believes him even though he's telling the truth. It's not all bad though; arrangements have been made to break Dmitri out of prison so he can flee to America with his love Grushenka, and Ivan has a possibility for recovery. Alyosha gives a speech about how Life Goes On And We Should Cherish It.
  • The prequel Kingpriest trilogy of Dragonlance. Sure, the Balance is restored, the Kingpriest gets his comeuppance, and the Peripas Mishakas, the setting's Bible is saved, but somehow this doesn't make up for the gods having to blow up half a continent to do it.
  • The true ending of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
    • Under the Dome: The heroes' plan works, and (most of) the main characters get out alive. Unfortunately, they are pretty much the only people who survive. Almost the entire population of Chester's Mill is dead. To top it all off, the box used to generate the dome is still around, and there's no guarantee that it won't be used somewhere else on Earth or in the wider Universe in the future.
    • Oh hell, way more than half of King's stuff qualifies for this. The Green Mile, Bag of Bones, The Shining, all these and more. It'd probably be easier to find a Stephen King story that's either a Happy Ending or a full Downer Ending. The lists would be a helluva lot shorter for sure.
  • At the end of the Animorphs series, the Yeerk invasion is defeated, but Rachel, Tom, and several supporting characters die in the process. Jake and Tobias suffer from depression and find themselves unable to adjust to life after the war. As if that isn't enough, Ax gets captured by a new enemy and the rest of the Animorphs try to rescue him, only to result in a Bolivian Army Ending.
    • Oh, Cassie survives, since Jake knows she's never been a warrior at heart and doesn't take her on the rescue mission. Despite Jake's suggestion of marriage in #53, they drifted apart afterwards and Cassie is dating someone else. That's both official couples torpedoed, since Rachel is dead.
      • Tobias has Rachel's ashes, and unless he traps himself in a morph that lives longer than a red-tailed hawk, he may get to be Together in Death with her soon afterward. The Animorphs universe apparently has some sort of afterlife, as Rachel's spirit got to talk to the Elemist for a few moments before continuing on its ghostly way to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence or whatever.
  • Brooks' World War Z: We make it, but the whales don't. Also, the death count's stratospheric.
  • "Bittersweet" is probably the most optimistic you'll ever get from George R. R. Martin. He has, in fact, said he'll be shooting for bittersweet at the end of A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • At the end of The Hedge Knight, Dunk has survived his trial by combat and gained a squire, at the cost of Prince Baelor's life.
    • Amazingly enough, he's managed to stay just optimistic enough to make every book in A Song of Ice and Fire have a Bittersweet Ending. Even A Feast For Crows, which holds some sort of record for being the darkest book in an already rather dark series.
    • Read practically any of his short stories and you'll probably find it has a bittersweet ending. Even The Ice Dragon, which was reprinted as a children's book.
  • Neil Gaiman's Stardust has a VERY bittersweet ending. Not what The Film of the Book tells you. The ending is as follows: Tristran and Yvaine can't have children, but live together happily, until he eventually dies of old age. Yvaine lives on more or less perpetually without him, trapped on Earth away from her family. Bittersweet was the point of Neil's ending. It's what made the book meaningful. Avoiding it did make the movie more enjoyable though.
  • Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book also ends on a bittersweet note, with Bod defeating the bad guys so that he is safely able to leave the graveyard and join the outside world. However, doing so means that he can no longer see or hear the dead which he grew up with, including his adoptive parents, and must join a world utterly unfamiliar to him. He's also rejected by his childhood friend Scarlett, the only living person who he had a connection to, who ends up afraid of him and decides that she would rather forget his existence.
    • The Graveyard Book is heavily inspired by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, which also have bittersweet endings. In The Jungle Book Mowgli succeeds in killing Shere Khan but manages to alienate both the wolf pack and the human village in the process. In The Second Jungle Book Mowgli is reunited with his human mother but is forced to give up his life in the jungle.
    • Come to think of it, Coraline isn't that happy in book version, either. The heroine's parents neglect her as before (as opposed to the movie, here it is permanent). And the Other Mother is still alive and may get out should somebody force the door open. And of course, any possible wonders are evil, so we should just stick to our world, with all its problems.
  • The end of the Drizzt Do'Urden novel The Legacy has Drizzt and his friends fighting off the drow and Artemis Entreri... and Wulfgar dying to save his friends from a demon, the brave dwarven priest who was going to officiate his and Catti-brie's wedding being crushed to death, and a threat of an army of drow coming upon Mithral Hall. Yay?
    • The Hunter's Blades trilogy finishes with Mithral Hall holding out against the newly-founded Kingdom of Dark Arrows long enough and bloodily enough that King Obould decides to halt his advance. Gerti Frostdottir, the frost giant priestess, decides to sever her ties with the orc king. Drizzt and Catti-brie finally get horizontal and then get married. The Companions of the Hall have once again come through alive and mostly well. But the orcs have gained a large foothold in the Silver Marches, Pikel Bouldershoulder has lost an arm; Wulfgar's wife, an allied human mage, several of Drizzt's new friends, dozens if not hundreds of elven warriors, hundreds of humans (including civilians), and hundreds if not thousands of dwarven soldiers are dead; as well as many, many orks but well, they had it coming, and Wulfgar's daughter has been kidnapped. On top of it all, Lady Alustriel, the figurehead of the Silver Marches, is leaning on her people to let the orcs stay, as dislodging them would be far too costly to be worth it.
    • Salvatore seems to be leaning heavily towards a Bittersweet Ending these days, likely because of the crap the campaign setting goes through. So while in The Orc King the Kingdom of Dark Arrows and Mithral Hall become uneasy allies and Wulfgar's daughter is found, Wulfgar leaves the True Companions for Icewind Dale, giving his daughter back to her blood mother. In The Pirate King, the city of Luskan is all but destroyed in a war to dislodge its hidden master -- and while he loses, said lich still survives. Meanwhile, Longsaddle is still going, but has been reduced to a sadly blatant allegory for modern America with its security woes. On the other hand, while Wulfgar ain't comin' back, he's not only going to survive, but thrive back in his true home. Finally, in The Ghost King, the Spellplague hits, and while the Ghost King is destroyed, in the process Catti-brie and Regis take the ships a unicorn to Valinor Mielikki's garden, and Cadderly sacrifices his life and indeed the Spirit Soaring itself to do the deed, to say nothing of the destruction of Carradoon and the many many people killed by the Ghost King's attacks, armies, and the Spellplague itself.
      • On top of that Cadderly's spirit can't move on, because he has to continue circling the ruins of Spirit Soaring to renew the spell that prevents the Ghost King from coming back. Good times, huh?
      • Oh, and its stated flatout that Mielikki's garden is a "private" afterlife, so no Together in Death for Drizzt. Ouch.
  • Forgotten Realms' Starlight and Shadows trilogy: Most participants who managed to stay alive grew wiser. Part of damages from the Times of Troubles is repaired. Liriel survives and finds some friends, but Fyodor is dead and not to be resurrected. Products of drow radiation magic works on surface without deterioration - mixed blessing at best (though may be Weave repair).
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000: Ravenor series, the title character finally brings the Big Bad Molotch and two other Big Bads to justice, effectively saving the entire Imperium of Man. However, by the time it's all over, his entire retinue has reached the emotional breaking point. Pretty much all of Ravenor's remaining followers are either arrested, leave, or disappear with only one member loyally staying by his side. The last book ends with Ravenor himself having to appear before his peers in order to answer for his actions as a rogue inquisitor.
  • Lloyd Alexander examples:
    • The Chronicles of Prydain end with Taran essentially making the opposite of Frodo's decision in Lord of the Rings. While his friends and companions go off to a paradise across the sea to spend eternity in happiness, Taran chooses to remain behind to attempt to restore Prydain. Sure he gets to be High King as part of the deal, but that doesn't take the sting out of never seeing your friends again. At least Princess Eilonwy decides to stay with him too. The ending gets extra bitter points as Taran tries to rebuild Prydain because he made promises to comrades, often over their graves, to finish their work for them. His World of Cardboard Speech to the other companions, explaining why he cannot go with them, drives home for everyone just how much it cost to win peace for Prydain.
      • In other words, Taran gets Samwise's ending (without the Ringbearer tag).
    • The Westmark Trilogy ends with the country retaken, the people finally given a democracy, and Official Couple Theo and Mickle married after years and two books of waiting; but with half the supporting cast dead including all of Florian's "children" besides Theo and the companions going into semi-volunary exile.
    • "The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha" ends with the main character saving the day, learning his lesson and being very violently torn from all the friends he's made over the course of the book including the girl he may or may not have fallen in love with, along with any influence he may have had over that world. Instead, he is sent back to his home where everyone thinks he's a worthless layabout and no one believes he was almost a king, and a good one at that. He leaves the town in order to spend his entire life searching for a way to get back into Abidon.
    • "The Rope Trick" ends with the characters very narrowly escaping the bad guy's clutches, the main character finally accomplishing the thing she's been trying to do all novel, and entering a land of peace. The bitter part? None of them know if they're alive, dead, or nonexistent. Lloyd Alexander is quite fond of these.
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. The Big Bad is defeated and his army routed. Jezal is king. West is a Marshall. Dogman is a respected leader in the North. Glokta is both Arch-Lector and married to Ardee. Logen has settled his score with Bethod. Ferro gains new powers to enable her to take her revenge. On the other hand, Bayaz is revealed to be a megalomaniac dictator no better than Kahlul. Jezal is a puppet utterly cowed by Bayaz. West is slowly dying from exposure to the Seed. Logen may or may not be dead by Black Dow's hands. Lastly, Adua is left utterly in ruins and afflicted by the sickness brought on by the Seed.
  • In Ray Nelson's short story Eight O Clock In The Morning, the protagonist, through a mixture of resourcefulness and sheer determination, manages to lead humanity to rebel against the man-eating lizard men who had taken over the world... and used their mind control powers to keep anyone from even realizing it. However, he never actually gets to see this, as the command that gives the story its title kills him the next day.
  • The conclusion of Garth Nix's Abhorsen: Hedge is dead, Orannis is bound anew, and most of the main characters, plus the innocents they were trying to protect, survive. However, Lirael loses her hand, Nick will have to struggle against the Free Magic still in his blood for the rest of his life, and the Disreputable Dog is dead. Or is it? This is one of the Seven we're talking about here...
  • The Name of the Wind: Kvothe saves the village of Trebon from the rampaging Draccus, finds the titular name of the wind, avoids being expelled from The University and is actually promoted up the ranks, and beards his rival Ambrose yet again while his fame rises. However, in doing so he had to destroy the Tannen Resin he was hoping would provide for his future, the villagers of Trebon bury the remains of the Draccus (costing him and every other researcher the chance for a unique study), and, worse, because he Cannot Spit It Out to Denna he winds up becoming something of her Unlucky Childhood Friend. Not to mention the seething hatred Ambrose has for him is cranked up yet another notch (and it was already at murderous levels). He himself sums it up best: "Oh, it's just the same thing you've heard a hundred times before. Prince Gallant kills the dragon, but loses the treasure and the girl." From the way the Framing Device is set up, it's implied that his whole adventuring career has been this way.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy ends with Nathaniel redeemed, Bartimaeus freed, and the commoners gaining a greater voice in their own government. Of course, it also ends with Nathaniel dying at the moment of his redemption and Kitty's budding friendship/morethanfriendship cut off, leaving her alone and aged from the effects of Ptolemy's Gate.
    • Not to mention that the new government that replaced the wizards (whom Kitty helped to overthrow) was hinted to be just as petty and corrupt as the previous one, and the unmentioned fact that the Americans will become the next great empire based on magic and subjugation of demons, bringing the whole bloody cycle around yet again.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. The protagonists find Earth and civilization continues to revive, but the Second Galactic Empire will never come, humanity will probably lose its individuality and become part of a galaxy-wide organism. Also, the fan-favorite robot will die in some centuries, but not before he possesses an innocent Solarian child who has the potential to undo 30,000 years of social engineering on its own.
    • Given that the earlier books contain quotations from an "Encyclopedia Galactica" published during the Second Galactic Empire, it seems safe to say that something would have intervened to prevent Galaxia from arising had Asimov decided to finish the series properly before he died. (Or, as suggested at the end of the Second Foundation Trilogy, the Second Galactic Empire was able to somehow incorporate Galaxia.)
  • Scott Lynch:
    • The Lies of Locke Lamora: Locke successfully takes revenge on the Grey King, but he is left with only one of his friends still alive, and he has to leave Camorr forever. Locke himself sums it up: "So this is what winning feels like....it can go **** itself."
    • The sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies: Sure, Locke and Jean have brought down the Archon and gotten away from Tal Verrar, and the pirates aren't going to be hunted down and killed, but in the meantime Jean's girlfriend is dead, they failed in the robbery they came for in the first place--and, oh yeah, Locke is dying slowly from poison.
  • This is about the best you can hope for with anything by Harry Turtledove. If it's not a straight-out Downer Ending, it typically goes like this: There's an overall victory for the good guys, but the world is irreperably changed, a lot of good people died or have their lives ruined, and a lot of bad guys are no worse off.
    • Justified Trope: most of what Turtledove writes is alternative history fiction, which is generally presented in such a way as to be as "realistic" as possible -- and life itself rarely produces anything other than Bittersweet Endings.
      • I have to say, the discription of how Turtledove's stories typically end above sounds a hell of a lot like how most "victories" in the real world actually turn out.
      • Subverted, however, to a considerable extent, in The Guns of the South: the Afrikaner extremists see their attempt to convert the Confederacy into a future ally of apartheid South Africa fail, General Lee's plan to free the slaves wins passage through the Confederate Congress, and Nate Caudell and Mollie get married with a pretty decent chance of a life happy ever after. The book ends on a definitively upbeat note, with Lee acknowledging the homage of his freedwoman servant and getting ready to start another day as President of the Confederate States.
  • Pretty much every book in the Honor Harrington series, due to heavy loss of life during each and every final battle. At All Costs is the worst, with the Manticoran Home Fleet completely wiped out and her friend Alistair McKeon killed only suceeding in gutting the Haven offensive forces with their defenses and production still intact.
    • By Storm from Shadows they stop being bittersweet and start being Downer Endings. Torch of Freedom is a nasty case of Yank the Dog's Chain disguised as a Happy Ending. Reading the books in the correct order means while not quite a Shaggy Dog Story, it's only marginally better as their sucess won't stop Oyster Bay or the eminent war with the Solarian League.
      • The corner has been turned as of Mission of Honor. Oyster Bay has finally had its trigger pulled (with nearly every major shipyard in the Manticore system destroyed as a result), and the war with the Sollies has finally started.... but on the other hand, the RMN has proven itself capable of kicking the Sollie navy's ass without trying, and Manticore and Haven have (finally!) made peace (as well as agreeing to a military alliance that will probably take the starch out of the SLN's impending attack of Manticore).
  • The ending of Patricia Bray's Chronicles of Josan trilogy. Josan, whose soul has been forced into the body of the prince (and later emperor) Lucius, discovers that the body will die in the strain between two souls. He sets things up so he can banish himself, as the interloper, but Lucius takes over the body at the last second to banish himself instead of Josan, having come to the conclusion that Josan is the better leader of the two of them, and more fit for the office of emperor.
  • Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The father dies, completely uncertain and afraid of his son's future in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's believed to have been a worthwhile sacrifice, however, as his son was finally able to find some place safe to be raised by decent people. The ending is then given even more bittersweetness as the epilogue implies that humanity will never be able to recover from the catastrophe that befell the earth, and will eventually die out completely. Still, given McCarthy's usual Kill'Em All tactic, this is practically a parade with balloons and circus animals.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Horus Heresy novel The Flight of the Eisenstein, of all the loyal Marines who fled, three survive. Their last companions are slaughtered by one of their number's succumbing to Chaos taint. One has become The Atoner. They are effectively prisoners on the Moon. The Lord Regent himself comes to assure them -- in person, by way of apology -- that there are plans in motion that will have a place for them, but there is no more detail than that. (Although the details of the plan may hint to the readers what will become of them.) Considering that this is a Horus Heresy novel, this is probably as good as it can get.
    • The Horus Heresy itself has a very bittersweet ending -- the surviving Primarchs drive off the forces of Chaos, and Horus is utterly destroyed (perhaps showing the slightist amount of regret), but The Emperor is mortally wounded, the power of the Imperium is all but shattered, and the galaxy begins its slow slide into anarchy...
  • At the end of Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, the ghosts have been laid, the world is not put under Exterminis, Uriel and Pasanius have been cleared of any taint by the Grey Knights and returned home, but the Unfleshed are all dead -- the Lord of the Unfleshed a Mercy Kill at Uriel's hands -- and he feels unshakeably melancholy thereafter.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 novel Deus Sanguinius, the forces of Chaos have been foiled, and Rafen has even persuaded the Blood Angels to purify rather than execute the repentent ones who had been tricked into following Chaos. But Rafen has killed his brother Arkio with his own hand -- though there is a hint that Arkio has received afterlife mercy -- and he has won the undying emnity of a daemon.
  • One of the Trope Codifiers, Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Pretty much all of Black Flame's Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason X books end bittersweet (or downright bad).
  • The final volume of the Konrad Warhammer Fantasy novels features Konrad defeating the Skaven plot to take over the Empire, and screwing with his adversary's plans. Unfortunately for Konrad, said enemy escapes, and he is forced to behead his first love; for bonus points, it's implied he may not survive what he's getting into at the end. By this point, most if not all of his friends and allies are dead. Of course, this is from a Games Workshop universe, so it should come as no surprise that this is actually the most optimistic part of the novel.
  • Outbound Flight. Some things, like the destruction of the Outbound Flight on the cover and the fact that only a few people survived, are known from Timothy Zahn's previous novel set years later, "Survivor's Quest. We also know that the survivors and their children hate and distrust the Jedi who lead the Flight, none of those Jedi survived, and a lightsaber and one charric, the signature weapon of the Chiss, were found in a certain part of the wreckage.
    • But actually read the novel knowing about this, and you find that the one most sympathetic Jedi on board, the one who was almost able to avoid all that, did a Heroic Sacrifice to save the survivors, which wouldn't have been necessary if they'd just stayed put, and didn't think twice about it. And the Chiss -- who happened to be Thrawn's less-genius brother -- helped, and no one even knew what they did. It's borderline Downer Ending.
  • Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies ends with many of Rannoch's friends being killed off in the final battle, though the evil is defeated and Rannoch becomes Lord of the Herd. Then the epilogue ends with his wife dead, the herd forgetting him, and him wandering off to die of old age. Cheery, isn't it?
    • In a similar vein The Sight, (also by David Clement-Davis) ends with a huge amount of the main characters dead, Larka dying, even though she tried to save herself whilst killing Morgra in the process, and Fell leaving the pack and becoming a kerl -- a lone wolf. Kar meanwhile, beigns to slowly lose the will to live before Larka comes to him a dream, and tells him to snap out of it. On a happier note though, Huttser and Palla have some more cubs, and name them after the dead members of the pack, and the final line is a rather What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic one.
  • PG Wodehouse's Regger Pepper story Absent Treatment. Reggie manages to get his best friend and his wife back together, but the wife grossly misinterprets his actions and they become much more distant from Reggie. He closes by stating that he wants the following to be engraved on his tombstone: "Here was a man who acted from the best motives. There is one born every minute."
  • Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels do this fairly frequently.
    • In Bones and Silence, Peter and Ellie Pascoe finally figure out who intends to commit suicide. Peter can't stop her.
    • The murderer in Deadheads is never caught; in fact, several years later, he's still one of Pascoe's next-door neighbors!
    • Similarly, Dalziel and Pascoe entirely botch the Serial Killer case in Dialogues of the Dead, and the murderer is now dating Hat Bowler...
    • Death's Jest-Book ends on a note of profound gloom: one major player commits suicide; the young male prostitute Wield befriends is killed; and Franny Roote is shot multiple times and nearly dies. To top things off, the murderer from Dialogues of the Dead dies of brain cancer, leaving Hat Bowler distraught.
  • The book version of The Princess Bride has this ending. Sort of. William Goldman relates a cliffhanger ending, and then skips it, and then ruminates that maybe life for the heroes wasn't really perfect ever after, and finally he concludes, "Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."
  • The Dragon Keeper trilogy ends with Ping finding the Dragon Haven, and Kai being revelaed as a dragon of five colours - meaning that he's the next rightful leader of the group of dragons there. However Ping leaves, due to her not belonging there/the other dragons not wanting her there, and she's blinded for flight away so that she will never be able/allowed to find the Dragon Haven again. It's not all bad though, since Ping meets up with Jun and decides to go and live with him, and Kai gave her on of his scales, so that when there's a "Dragon Moon" (a full moon), Ping can dream of him.
  • In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, Morgan has not been executed for a crime he did not commit; he died heroically, and killing the villain. So, they merely say that he and the villain were in league. Thomas is alive but seems to be reverting back to the native nastiness of a vampire. Harry has learned that Luccio never really loved him. The White Council refuses to admit to the existence of the Black Council. So Ebenezer and Harry decide to conspire behind their backs, and will be executed if caught. Although Harry peptalks the rest of the werewolves into carrying on, Kirby is still dead.
    • The next novel, Changes, is worse: The Red Vampires are wiped out (thereby finally facing justice for millenia of torture and enslavement), allowing the people they have enslaved and terrorized to finally forge their own destiny without living in fear. But, in order to accomplish this, Harry not only has to kill his love interest with his own hands to turn the ritual against the Red Court, he also has to sacrifice his free will by becoming The Dragon to an amoral goddess in order to gain the power to save his daughter. Said daughter will never be able to live with him, as he'd be putting her at risk. He also has practically nothing; his house, car and staff and duster are gone, his cat Mister is missing, and his apprentice is currently in the hospital along with his dog. And then someone shoots him.
    • Some of the earlier ones aren't exactly uplifting. By the end of Death Masks, the Denarians' plot has been foiled, but Susan has left town again, and Harry comes to accept that they will never be together. He even puts away the pictures and engagement ring he'd kept on his mantle for three years. At the end of White Night, the current antagonists in the White Court have been eliminated in the coup, but Lash (the reformed shadow of a fallen angel) sacrificed herself to shield Harry from a psychic attack.
    • The end of Ghost Story: Turns out that he was Not Quite Dead...but that means he's still the Winter Knight.
  • In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40000 novel Salamander, many of them live, and two have made peace with their troubles, but N'keln has risen to the occasion and is a fine captain -- and is murdered without his Marines even noticing. The Marines Malevolent will be a problem. Dak'ir will be either the doom or the salvation of their chapter and has manifested psychic abilities that put him under a cloud. Iagon has survived his plots without even being suspected for the murders he committed, and although he is angry he did not succeed, he is now bent on vengeance.
  • Warrior Cats: Sunrise. Hollyleaf is presumed dead, and almost everyone's lives have been ruined (it's implied that Leafpool is suicidal), but the prophecy still hasen't been completely fulfilled, and there's going to be another series. From Jayfeather's point of view, the continuation of the series preventing this ending from being final apparantly makes all of this less sad. I mean, things can only get better from here, right? Right!?
  • In The Three Musketeers, the title heroes (plus d'Artagnan) win out against Milady and Richelieu, but at the cost of the death of Madame Bonacieux, d'Artagnan's love interest, not to mention how the trial of Milady has soiled the soldier's life for his three friends, leaving him alone within the Musketeers by book's end.
  • End of Polish novel Wroniec (title doesn't have an equivalent in English, but it's something similar to raven and crow) yeah, main character saves his family, and his Uncle has Heel Face Turn, but he has to sacrifice his gift and a part of his innocence and not only titular Big Bad wasn't defeated but it's clearly said, that even if he would be, another one would just take his place and nothing would change. And poor Mr. Beton was eaten by ravens.
  • In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality Book 5: Being a Green Mother, Orb almost destroys the world in a fit of rage after she finds out Natasha is "Ah, Satan" backwards, but then saves the world by fulfilling her prophecy and marrying Evil/Satan so that Chronos will reverse time to before she got mad. But then it turns out she ends up falling in love with him in the later books.
    • Uh, no. It was made pretty clear in Being A Green Mother that she loved him anyway. "God help me, for I do love Satan", remember? It's Bittersweet because they're separated and it's not until book 6 that we find out how it really ends for them.
  • The Lovely Bones ends with everyone finally moving on from Susie's death and Harvey dead. However, he's never caught and brought to justice for the numerous murders he committed nor were Susie's remains recovered for a proper burial, which still left the entire case unresolved for her family.
  • Push by Sapphire ends with Precious being a little bit better off, but the reader knows that she will more than likely never get out of poverty.
  • The Time Travelers Wife has a two parts bitter, one part sweet ending. Bitter #1: Involuntary time traveler Henry dies at the age of 43, when his wife Clare is 35. Sweet: Henry leaves a letter in which he tells Clare that (while living) he time traveled to the future and they see each other again there. Bitter #2: They see each other 47 years in the future ... when Clare is 82 years old. The Film of the Book softens this considerably by having them meet again not too long after his death.
  • Some of Dale Brown's novels do this. In Fatal Terrain the Chinese threat to Taiwan is defeated, though not before many Taiwanese die, Guam gets nuked and Brad Elliott pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice. In Battle Born the extremist Korean military leader is killed, stopping a war between China and Korea, although it costs one main character's life and China is still very much capable of marching in should it desire.
  • The Keys to the Kingdom ends with Arthur as the New Architect with all of The House destroyed, including almost all of the denizens except for a choice few, as well as his mother. Arthur is split off from the New Architect, but it lied to about being mortal again, and will probably result in Who Wants to Live Forever?.
  • The Divide Trilogy by Elizabeth Kay ends with the eponymous Divide closing - forever, and Felix and Beytony both being split into two copies of themselves (one pair of them in each world) as a result of being across the Divide when it shut. Although each pair manages to find out what's happened, Magic-world Felix will never see his parents again, but learns that his heart condition is perminantly healed. On the other hand, Human-world Betony will never see her recently un-petrified parents, and (apart from her eyes) looks like a regular human, whereas Human-world Felix will probably never learn if his heart condition is permanently healed.
  • The original short story version of The Midnight Meat Train can be interpreted as having one by a sufficiently twisted reader. Sure, the protagonist has gone insane, had his tongue torn out, and is forced to kill people for the immortals who secretly rule New York... but he finally loves the city.
  • Ring World In Larry Niven's The Ringworld Engineers the protagonist and his party kill 1.5 trillion people, a couple hundren times as much as the Earth's entire population. And they're marooned on an alien world far from home. On the other hand they save 28.5 trillion people, several thousand times the Earth's present populations.
  • Les Misérables. Jean Valjean dies, but reunited with Cosette and with an angel waiting to take his soul to heaven.
  • Dragon Slippers- the war is ended and the evil princess killed, but so are dragons Shardas and velika but they get better. as well as several others.
    • but it does end with a ray of hope.
  • The Last Unicorn has a very bittersweet ending: the unicorns are freed, but Lir loses his love, and the questing unicorn has learned to regret (something her immortal kin can't understand).
  • Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End. Full stop.
  • In Harry Potter, Voldemort and his Death Eaters have been destroyed or scattered, and Harry is free of his burden. On the other hand, many wonderful people have died. The bittersweet tone is rather ruined by the epilogue, however.
  • The first book in the Farsala Trilogy, with an emphasis on bitter. The trilogy as a whole has one, too, though there the emphasis leans more toward sweet.
  • The Golden Age by John C. Wright. Phaethon wins, the Golden Oecumene is warned of danger, the Phoenix Exultant sets sail for the stars with all Phaethon's family on board...but the age of utopia is finished: war is coming; and the last scenes of the book are the Oecumene's oligarch governors, discredited by Phaethon, wearily preparing to Face Death with Dignity.
  • Snot Stew: Toby survives his brutal mauling, but his tail is gone, and the book ends with him reconciling with his sister while crying over the loss.
  • Yagu, the Blue Wolf: the titular character gets rescued by his master, but in the process most of his former pack -including his sister- gets killed.
  • Christopher Moore, a writer who (ostensibly) sticks to the humor genre, has a few bittersweet endings to his novels.
    • Bite Me, the continuation of Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck, ends with the vampire hordes destroyed, Abby and Tommy saved from their eventual deaths as third-generation vampires, and the three vampire lords dead... but Tommy can't handle being a vampire, and Jody doesn't want to return to being human, and so Jody leaves him, presumably forever.
    • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal ends with Joshua dead, despite Biff's best efforts to save him. Biff hunts down and murders Judas, then falls into despair and takes his own life. Happily, though, he and Maggie are resurrected to live happily ever after (except that, of course, Maggie will always love Joshua more.
  • Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis ends with Lalit/Lagan rescuing Safia/Raka, having been encouraged by the (true) story of Farhad and Nittish, who attempted to rescue her. In the attempt though, Farhad is killed, and Nittish is turned to stone after being exposed to tears. However, Farhad gets reincarnated as a good and prosperous man (and is implied to be reincarnated by Krishna himself), and Nittish's soul leaves the statue, entering into the body of a strong young tiger who died and whose soul had already moved on, getting to finally be a normal tiger again.
  • Lots and lots of Poul Anderson's stories. Especially the Dominic Flandry stories from the Technic History series. Flandry succeeds, but loses any woman he truly loves, feels guilty about hurting the feelings of the others, and in one story is troubled by the contrast between a number of honest, decent rebels, who are at best going to be locked up for the rest of their lives, and the decadent, despicable Emperor. The prequel novel had a back-cover blurb which summed up:

 Though through this and his succeeding adventures he will struggle gloriously and win (usually) mighty victories, Dominic Flandry is essentially a tragic figure: a man who knows too much, who knows that battle, scheme, and even betray as he will, in the end it will mean nothing. For with the relentlessness of physical law the Long Night approaches. The Terran Empire is dying...

  • Lord of the Flies: Way to go Ralph! You've managed to get the Navy to rescue you and the other survivors on the island!! ...So does this mean we can forget about Simon's and Piggy's deaths, destroying the island, and proving that Humans Are Bastards?
  • Monster Blood Tattoo: Rossamund and the majority of his friends survive all the adventures, but he can never see any of them again.
  • The Tomorrow Series: At the end, the war is over... but Australia's lost a lot of territory to the invaders, and several of Ellie's True Companions are dead. Then you get to the sequel series...and It Got Worse.
  • Lady My Life as a Bitch ends with the main character stuck as a dog likely forever and forced to flee from her former family...but she now has two fellow dogs as close friends, so at least she won't be completely alone in her new life, and may even come to enjoy it with their help. On the other hand, the man who accidentally caused all this is still at large, and will most likely end up accidentally turning others into dogs further down the line...
  • Mechanicum is either this or a Downer Ending. Through the efforts of the loyalist adepts, the Dark Mechanicum have been dealt serious blows, Dhalia has found her place as a guard of the dragon, and the machine that has been stalking the main characters is defeated. On the other hand, the Legio Tempestus is annihilated, only two of the Knights of Taranis remain, billions of lives have been lost, with many more still to come, along with limitless knowledge and the bright future it could have given mankind with it, and the Book of the Dragon has been stolen, probably to cause doom and gloom in a galaxy full of it already.
  • Malevil has a complex mother of a Bittersweet Ending in part to a Distant Finale spanning the following three years. La Roque and Malevil are working together, they're prepared and capable of thwarting invasion, the harvests are bountiful, everything is going exceptionally well for two years. Until...
  • Laura and the Silver Wolf ("Laura und der Silberwolf") : Two girls, Laura and Eileen share a room in a leukemia ward. Laura doesn't make it, but Eileen does. And if it wasn't All Just a Dream, Laura lives on in Ice-Land.
  • The Land of Oblivion - Jesse is dead but he has a happy afterlife... for now.
  • Any book that centers around a gay teen in or around a high school setting. Yes they will always survive with promising lives ahead of them and learning life lessons, but then the author decides that real life needs to happen, which feels a bit random in some of them, with the main character and love interest going to different collages , friends leaving, and sometimes death. Some examples are:
    • What They Always Tell Us: The main character's love interest goes to a university in New York, his friend Henry moves away, but he gains a new friend in his older brother's ex-girlfriend and hopes to keep a long distance relationship with his boyfriend and he finally has a happy friendship with his brother.
    • The Vast Fields of Ordinary: The main character learns that no matter where you go your problems will haunt you until you confront them, which he didn't completely comprehend until his ex-Whatever committed suicide by running his car into a tree. Various things that weren't a side effect of this and the author trying to make this as bittersweet as possible, his best friend Lisa goes back to California but visits often, his perfect boyfriend stays in town to take care of his grandma and they mutually break up because the main character has to go to college where he makes new friends and finally starts being happy with what life throws at him.
  • In the Black Magician Trilogy, they defeat the Ichani but Akkarin, Sonea's love interest, dies giving Sonea all his power.
  • In Marti Steussy's s-f novel Forest of the Night, the main character fulfills her childhood dream in the end. But by then, her mentor is dead, as is the disabled native child whom she'd befriended. She's had to dump her boyfriend, because it's clear he'll never fully understand her. And she's become generally disillusioned.
  • The ending of the series as a whole was actually pretty happy, but a number of the installments in Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords series were bittersweet at best. Most notably, Mindsword's Story was almost just a Downer Ending. Yes, the threat posed by the Mindsword has been repelled, at least for the moment, but it has hardly been defeated altogether. In fact, Vilkata is still at large and in possession of the Mindsword. Murat, who started the book with the best of intentions is dead along with his son, who really was innocent. On top of which, Princess Kristin is crippled and still in love with Murat, insisting that Mark is no longer her husband. At the end, Mark has won, but he's left standing there in the rain.
    • The Third Book of Swords, the conclusion to the earlier trilogy, also has a somewhat bittersweet ending. Yes, Vilkata is defeated, and Mark gets to be a prince, so it's a basically happy ending. But even though the gods were, frankly, jerks, it's still rather melancholy to see them die. And not every single one of them was evil; Aphrodite's death was particularly poignant, precisely because she had come to sympathize with mortals.
    • The ending of the Empire Of The East trilogy, set in an earlier period in the same universe, is happy except for one key point: Ardneh dies.
  • Although the Sentinels beat the Big Bad, Wearing the Cape ends with a state funeral for close to half the team.
  • One Day ends with one protagonist picking up the pieces of their shattered life and moving on after the love of their life was killed, while keeping the memory of them as a couple alive.
  • Number the Stars: Ellen and the other Danish Jews escaped to safety, and after a Time Skip Denmark is liberated from the Nazis. However, Peter dies and is buried in an unknown grave, instead of with Lise. Also, Lise's death before the story becomes bittersweet once it's revealed that she was part of La Résistance and was actually run down by a Nazi car.
  • Kurt Vonnegut wrote many of these:
    • Player Piano: Dr. Proteus participates in the initially successful revolution with the Ghost Shirts, but in the end, they realize that they have little hope of changing the society further.
    • The Sirens of Titan: Rumfoord dies (or rather, disappears in space) without making amends with Salo, and Malachi Constant dies. Salo does, however, create illusions that make Malachi's final moments happy.
    • Mother Night: Campbell's status as a double agent is confirmed, therefore clearing his charges for crimes against humanity... but he chooses to hang himself for "crimes against himself".
  • Purple Hibiscus has one of these. The main character is a confident, free young woman but her father is dead, her brother is in prison and her mother is traumatised. It is implied things will soon take a turn for the better, however.
  • The Elenium ends with the death of Azash and Sparhawk returning home to his wife and daughter, but along the way we have the deaths of Kurik and Martel, an entire nation left with no government or diety to watch over it, and an entire pantheon of gods who have retreated from interacting with mortals after realizing that they can be killed just like Azash.
  • The last book from the Inheritance Cycle ends in a way that many fans (mostly those who like romance) will NOT like. In the end, even though Eragon manages to defeat Galbatorix and all ends well in Alagaesia, he end up having to leave the place. Even after Arya and Eragon all but say they loved each other they still end up apart in the end because of their duties(which brings the question: why did Islanzadí died? That made no sense and spoiled her daughter's romance). As if that wasn't enough, poor Nasuada was left alone by Murtagh, when he leaves for his soul-healling trip. It can't be called a very happy ending, BUT the fans may yet hope for a fifth book (the author said he's likely to write it one day) that may contain a bit more of romance.
  • I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It ends with Alley's zombie boyfriend Doug dying her arms, but not before they say "I love you" and Will is defeated. It's also shown at the end that Alley has changed for the better.
  • The ending to Stravaganza: City of Masks is bittersweet. Lucien has stravagated to Bellezza and is held hostage by the sinister Di Chimici while his real body is still in the real world in a coma. Lucien's parents can't wake him up so they take his unconscious body to the hospital, where his body is put on a life-support machine. He doesn't recover as he can't return because he needs a Bellezzan book to return home and because of the Di Chimici holding him prisoner, so the doctors switch off the life-support machine and his real body dies, leaving Lucien unable to ever return home. The Di Chimicis' evil plans are thwarted, however.
  • The House at Pooh Corner ends with a fairly sad note, as Christopher Robin is going to leave Hundred Acre Woods. The final chapter is about his farewell. While the ending remains true to the fairly lighthearted tone of the series, what Christopher is saying remains very poignant - he's growing up and can't be a child anymore.
  • Daniel Quinn's Ishmael ends with the titular teacher's death, but he had taught all that the narrator needed to know to save the world.
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