Two things you need to know about this week's Friday Five:
1) It is written by Saad Hossein, author of Escape from Baghdad!, which is easily one of the best books of 2015 - a brilliantly farcical romp that's like a contemporary fantasy version of Catch 22. Spectacular stuff. Saad also has a story in the brand-new The Apex Book of World SF 4, so, you know, there you go.
2) As you might guess from the title, ZOMG TEH SPOILERZ. Harry Potter, Sandman, the Mahabhrata, Malazan and the Broken Empire are all very much spoiled in this post. So, you know, click on, but don't say I didn't warn you. (If you're fussed about spoilers, just go mosey off yonder and get a head start on Escape! instead.)
And with no further ado, over to Saad...
I love a good death. Killing off a major character in a spectacular way - the gravitas, the show, the sheer tragedy… it’s just one of the real privileges of being an author. To be honest, I’m surprised when any of my people make it out alive at the end.
I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for the past twenty five years, and long after the heroic quests and big battles have faded from memory, those great deaths have remained lurking, reminding me why I love this genre in the first place. Here’s my top five.
5. The Broken Empire series
Honorious Jorg Ancrath is the prince of thorns, a real bastard who’d put most villains to shame, he fights tooth and nail to stay alive through three volumes, only to voluntarily die in the end trying to save his dead brother. This was an interesting mix between sci fi and fantasy, set in a post technology world recovering from some kind of nuclear holocaust, and Jorg was a really good character. The author could have easily eked a few more books out of him, but sometimes a good death gives that satisfying closure which is priceless. I just finished reading this series, which might explain why he’s on the list.
Dreams’s probably the second best character ever written in graphic novels (after Lucifer of course), and what a story he gave us, culminating with an awesome death. He’s Endless, and has no business dying, but in the words of Gaiman, he’d rather die than change. Just the sheer momentous nature of his death, the depth of his tragedy, plus the epic quality of Sandman buys Dream into this list.
3. The Mahabharata
This is religious mythology, but as the story contains so many elements of fantasy, I feel it’s eligible. Karna is a truly tragic figure. The son of a god and rightful heir to the kingdom, he’s abandoned by his mother and raised as a lowly charioteer. Even though he’s a great warrior, he’s humiliated continuously for being low caste. Destined to face his brother Arjun in war, he’s so generous that he gives away his invincible armor as alms, and then actually promises not to use his top weapons more than once. He still cannot be killed in combat, so they just go ahead and shoot him in a rather unsporting fashion while his chariot is stuck in the mud. Throughout this entire farce, Karna pretty much acts like a gentleman. The scale and scope of the Mahabharata dwarfs all other mythologies, and Karna is quite simply the best character in it.
Well, Voldemort’s the Dark Lord, isn’t he? There have been a lot of Dark Lords but we’ve got to sort them out, and some of them are just smoldering pots of evil with no rhyme or reason. Sauron was the Dark Lord, but in the minutiae of Tolkien’s Lore, we learn that he’s actually a second lieutenant to the real Dark Lord Melkor, who fell at an earlier time. So Frodo’s great quest was against a kind of glorified guard or door keeper.
Vader was a Dark Lord, but his heart was never really in it, and anyway, the Emperor was really the master of the two. Robert Jordan had the Dark One in the Wheel of Time, but he was just a poor version of Satan, lumbering around inside a mountain.
The best Dark Lord is clearly Voldemort. He just wants to live forever, wipe out some mudbloods, and it’s really unfair that everyone is out to get him. He dies unrepentant, fighting against his myriad enemies, battling to the end for the rights and privileges of evil wizards everywhere.
I’d give two entries to Steven Erikson, because he kills off two great characters in Itkovian and Anomander Rake. Itkovian is an ordinary man who sells his life dearly. Rake is a creature of god like power who sacrifices himself to bring about change for his stagnant and dwindling people. Whereas A Song of Ice and Fire aims to shock with the killing of main characters, Erikson uses heroic deaths to explore the concept of sacrifice, to underline that a way of measuring valor is by counting personal cost, rather than destructive power.
Your turn - given we're well into the spoiler zone here, go wild! Which do you think are the best deaths in fantasy?