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A fantasy novel written by Eve Forward.

Good has not only defeated Evil in the last great war, but continues to hunt down and eradicate all representatives of darkness. While this makes the world a happier, safer place for the common folk, this also puts the protagonist, Sam, out of a job. After all, Sam is an assassin, and since the world's in a state of peace, calm and goodness, there isn't much call for his services.

But wait! There's more: as the forces of Good continue to eradicate Evil, the balance of the world shifts. After Sam and his friend companion often annoying acquaintance Arcie narrowly escape the forces of Good, they stumble across a druid who tells them the ugly truth: if the forces of light continue to overwhelm darkness, the balance will be irreversibly disrupted and the world will be consumed by Good.

As in, cease to exist.

So, they form a Five-Bad Band of Evil Counterparts to Save the World and Set Wrong What Once Went Right. Mostly notable for taking the usual "Evil trying to take over the world" fantasy yarn and turning it on its head. Even if the villains aren't exactly all that evil.

Tropes include:

  • Artifact of Doom: Valeriana's medallion is one of the last surviving Hellgates (called Darkgates in the book). A very small one, yes, but a Hell Gate nonetheless; given that, you'd think Sam would know better than to put the damn thing on, but that's part of its evil, tempting power...
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: The very premise of the novel, with a small twist: if the world remains precisely balanced too long, it will be locked in stasis for all eternity. Periodic fluctuations in balance are just as vital as making sure neither side gets the upper hand for long.
  • Black Knight: Blackmail.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Sam. Though he usually has it dyed black to be less conspicuous... and he's more of an Anti-Hero than actually evil.
  • Brainwashed: The plainer term for "whitewashing", where a wizard in service of Good forcibly drives out the evil in a person, leaving the victim in a state best described as Good Is Dumb. Could be considered a form of Mind Rape.
  • Can't Argue with Elves: Well, Mizzamir seems to think it applies, and most everyone he talks to either agrees with him already or does by the time he's through with them (see Brainwashed). Subverted in that Sam refuses to give in and just keeps trying to kill him.
  • Chess Motifs: "In chess, someone has to take the black pieces."
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The reason why the druids are all but extinct. Once Good overpowered Evil, the druids were obligated as keepers of the balance to join with the forces of Evil. Unfortunately, they're Stereotypical Evil, and both sides killed the Druids...
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: Straight and subverted. Sam wears black, Mizzamir wears white. The subversion lies in that Mizzamir is a deluded wizard who only cares about Light and Dark, not right or wrong. Sam is an ordinary bastard, in both senses of the word.
    • Sam also notes that assassins take this to the logical extreme of wearing black undergarments, the better not to give away one's position if one's outer garments tear on an assignment and, as he puts it "show a white bunny tail."
  • Cosmic Keystone: the Spectrum Key, used to seal off the main Hell Gate, then fragmented and each part hidden in a trial (just in case it's needed, however unlikely).
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Kaylana (and Robin after his Heel Face Turn) are nominally part of the dark side, despite lacking evil traits. Sam and Arcie aren't particularly bad sorts either, their professions notwithstanding, and Blackmail, for all his Black Knight trappings, proves to be downright noble. The only one of the protagonists who can really be described as "evil" in any way is Valeriana.
  • Deconstruction: The book's goal.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kaylana.
  • Epiphanic Prison: The Labyrinth of Dreams, the last test the protagonists face, works only if you believe in the illusions.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Arcie's thief-friend Kimi left the Thieves' Guild for love. Also Valerie, easily the evilest person in the entire party, had her entire family was slaughtered by the Verdant Company, which is one reason she hates Fenwick so much. Blackmail left the Six Heroes for his brother's sake. Sam's first murder was of his mother's rapist.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Sam.
  • Evil Feels Good: An implied effect of Valeriana's medallion.
  • Evil Gloating: Subverted, when Blackmail finally gets around to talking; he keeps fighting all the way through his monologue.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion
  • Face Heel Turn: Blackmail, as far as the Six Heroes are concerned. Also see Heel Face Turn.
  • Feed the Mole: When Robin is found out, everybody starts giving him false info
  • Five-Bad Band, with Robin as the Sixth Ranger Traitor / Sixth Ranger
  • Good Is Dumb: The common and whitewashed segments of the population.
  • Heel Face Mind Screw
  • Heel Face Turn: Robin and, before the start of the book, Blackmail, for certain values of "heel" and "face."
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Kaylana, since she's got both Sam and Fenwick trying to get her attention.
  • I Lied
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: When the knight in jet-black armor shows up, the protagonists have to come up with a name for him (he declines to give one, or even say anything). They settle on "Blackmail". For extra fun, his real name is Sir Pryse.
    • Not to mention, the names of the Six Lands themselves - Ein, Dous, Trois, Kwart, Seicks...
  • It's Always Spring: Explained as a side effect of Good having such a stranglehold on the world; the characters note that it should by all rights be autumn, but the sun only stays up longer (to the point where Kaylana's attempt to tell time by the sun's position is four hours off) and the flowers only get more abundant.
  • It's Personal: Cited as the reason behind Blackmail's final break with the Six Heroes. His brother started going evil, he asked Mizzamir to be merciful... and Mizzamir turned his brother into a horse.
  • Knight Templar: So-called "Good," in a nutshell.
  • Last Of Her Kind: Kaylana and Valeriana
  • Lawful Stupid Chaotic Stupid: The main problem with the premise is that it depends heavily on Lawful Stupid and Stupid Good behavior from the ostensibly "good" antagonists in order to keep them in conflict with the protagonists, who aside from Valeriana really aren't at all evil.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Barigans are stand-ins for hobbits, with Arcie going so far as to lampshade this. On a more parodic level, the Gnifty Gnomes are thinly-disguised Smurfs.
  • Light Is Not Good: The behavior of the side of Light being obvious enough.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Mizzamir and Sam.
  • My Name Is Inigo Montoya: Sam, during the climax. Mizzamir raped his mother, conceiving him and indirectly putting Sam on the path to becoming an assassin. Also, this leads to Mizzamir's death at his hand in the end.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Averted.
  • Plot Coupon: the fragments of the Spectrum Key.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Kaylana (who was a child during the last war between Good and Evil... over a hundred and fifty years ago.)
  • Saving the World: from the forces of so-called Good, no less.
  • Soul Jar: The heart stone acts as a variant of this. It's also a subversion, as Sam is a hell of a lot more vulnerable with his entire skill set locked away in the thing.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Fenwick.
  • Super-Powered Evil Side: Sam, courtesy of Valeriana's medallion.
  • Take That: To the Smurfs.
  • The End of the World as We Know It
  • The Mole / The Infiltration: Robin.
  • The Reveal: Blackmail is Sir Pryse, one of the Six Heroes.
  • True Companions: By the end of the book, the main characters.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Or at least the Good crowd thinks it does, if it's even occurred to them that not everything they do is automatically right in the first place.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy: Mizzamir.
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