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Exactly how far in the future we are never told but far enough that the galaxy is dominated by the Race of Man with two rowdy frontier regions; the Outer and the Inner. Our story takes place on the Inner (coreward) edge of Human expansion. Santiago is a myth, a legend, an outlaw king with twenty million credits on his head. Bounty hunter Sebastian Nightingale Cain, who dislikes his name, his profession and his life (not necessarily in that order) decides to go for the biggest bounty in known space. Along the way he meets many colorful people and the end isn't at all what he'd intended.
An important character, though he never makes a personal appearance, is 'Black Orpheus' the self appointed 'Bard of the Inner Frontier' whose some eight thousand lines of verse immortalize all the major and many of the minor characters, with forty given over to Santiago himself.
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- Anti-Hero: Cain, definitely. A Type III or maybe even IV on the Sliding Scale
- Badass Preacher: Father William bounty hunts to support his work for the Lord.
- Bounty Hunter: Cain (don't call him 'Songbird'!); the Angel; Altair of Altair; Father William and many others.
- Dark Action Girl: Altair of Altair.
- The Empire: The somewhat misnamed 'Democracy'.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Not as depressing as it sounds.
- Fantastic Racism: The Democracy is speciesist by policy. Non-humans return the hate.
- Glamour Failure: Altair of Altair's unique method of killing fails on Cain.
- The Government: "the Democracy isn't truly evil, or even especially corrupt." But it isn't much fun to live under either.
- Humans Are Bastards: Just ask the Great Sioux Nation. For that matter ask Sebastian Cain or Santiago.
- The Ingenue: Moonripple, who somehow manages to remain innocent and sweet dispite a lifetime as a barmaid in the stews of a hundred worlds.
- Intrepid Reporter: Virtue Mac Kenzie, a free lance Going for the Big Scoop and a candidate for justifiable homicide.
- Legacy Immortality: You'll find out who.
- Mathematician's Answer: The Angel is prone to these.
- The Nicknamer: Black Orpheus has tagged every person in his poem with a nickname. Some don't mind (the Angel); others (Sebastian "Songbird" Cain; Virtue "Virgin Queen" MacKenzie) really wish he hadn't.
- Not Quite Dead: Everybody knows you can't kill Santiago.
- No Transhumanism Allowed: The only true cyborg encountered badly wants to die.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Cain killed an estimated five thousand people as a soldier of the Revolution.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Inner Frontier consists of five hundred worlds and who knows how many billions of inhabitants yet everybody has heard of everybody else thanks to Black Orpheus. Cain goes the whole book without meeting a named character who isn't in 'that damn ballad'.
- Shrouded in Myth: Santiago himself and, thanks to Black Orpheus, quite a number of other characters.
- Space Western: Most of the planets are agrarian with shanty-style 'trade towns' and what with the bounty hunters, gamblers and whores the Inner Frontier looks a whole lot like the Old West.
- The Stoic: Cain but to an even greater extent the Angel who edges into psychopath territory but doesn't quite make it because dispite his Lack of Empathy he does not kill for the sake of killing but solely for money.
- You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: What everybody keeps telling Cain about the Angel.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Practically zero. Non-human species are treated like inconvenient vermin and Schussler the Cyborg is property.
- To the Democracy. Cain, though, treats Schussler as a person, sadly granting him what he wishes: permission to self-destruct by flying into a star. Santiago does what he can to protect non-humans who can't protect themselves.
Schussler: Watch for me, Sebastian. It will be twilight soon. I'll wait until then, so that you can see me. I'll be the first shooting star of the evening.
Cain: I'll be watching.