AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Satan and the Incarnations of Immortality

Awesometoberfest 2020

Let’s continue my “Devil’s Walk” this month with a look at another fascinating incarnation of the Devil. And this one is a literal “incarnation” from an 80s fantasy series.

My senior year in high school, I had an awesome English teacher named Mrs West. She had a reputation as being tough, and she was, but she was also an awesome English teacher. At several points in the curriculum she would give us book choices and actually let us vote on the ones we wanted to cover which is why we ended up talking about books like Stephen King’s Eyes of the Dragon and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  I was introduced to several things that year that I wound up loving that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise thanks to Mrs West.  One other choice that we talked about that year was a fantasy book by Piers Anthony called On a Pale Horse.  We only talked about that one book, but come to find out, that book was the beginning of a fantasy series called The Incarnations of Immortality.

On a Pale Horse was the first book, and it was released in 1983.  It takes place on an alternate Earth in the near future.  Humans have developed magic alongside science.  You can do things with magic, but it’s hard, there are a lot of rules, and sometimes it’s just easier to flick on a light switch.  Or light a match.  So both exist simultaneously and both are ubiquitous on this Earth.  We meet poor, down on his luck Zane, who has a bad experience trying to purchase a magic “wealth stone” that we ultimately learn only finds pocket change.  Despondent, Zane, with no prospects, decides to kill himself, but as he does, a giant black robed figure enters the room.  Zane, without thinking, turns the gun he had on himself, to the black robed figure and pulls the trigger.  Yes, Zane kills Death.  We are then thrust into the crux of the series.  Zane learns that by killing Death, he must assume the office of Death.  We learn here that the afterlife runs just like any government office.  And each aspect of the afterlife is headed by an Incarnation.  We learn that the main Incarnation offices are Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature.  All the offices are held by people that have assumed that aspect of the office and they are the ones that carry out its duties.   There are also Incarnations for Good (God) and Evil (Satan).  It’s discussed, but you don’t really see the Good Incarnation until the end of the series.  However, the Incarnation of Evil is the antagonist for pretty much the entire series.  He’s constantly popping up and causing problems for each incarnation.  In fact, each Incarnation has to have their own confrontation with Satan after they take over the office as sort of a rite of passage.  So, this version of the Devil is heavily involved in the entire series, even getting his own book.

But before I get there, the original series included 7 books that started in 1983 and finished in 1990.  Anthony did write an 8th book in 2007, but I haven’t read it, and I’m not entirely sure I’m going to just yet.  Ok, I say that, but I’ll probably fold like a deck chair and read it.  If I haven’t already.  Like I said, I read the first book back in high school and I liked it so much I picked up the second book, Bearing an Hourglass, and read it that year as well.  For some reason I stopped there, and I’m not sure why.  Then, in 2001, a co-worker heard I’d never finished the series and said I should get on that.  So, thinking back fondly on those first two books, I decided to re-read the first two, then I continued to read the entire series through book 7.  The overall concept of the series is GREAT.  The entries themselves are mostly hit with some misses.  So, when thinking about using this series’ Satan as one of my AWESOME-tober-fest picks, I didn’t want to re-read the *entire* series, so I picked a few of my favorites to re-read before reading Satan’s book.  The books I decided to re-read in the series are Books 1 (Death), 2 (Time), and 4 (War).

Death Time War

Aside from Book 6, which was all about Satan, these are the three books I remember liking the most (the last time I read these were back in 2001).  The concept, again, is really good. Satan is the antagonist in all three. He’s a schmoozer, a wheeler and dealer. He is the Father of Lies, so he is always speaking in half and veiled truths. But he’s very charismatic and in many cases, on the surface, he makes a lot of sense. It’s why this Satan works. He greets new incarnations, he never shies away from his bad reputation, explaining it away as misunderstandings, and tells his version of things in an engaging way. It’s only after the new Incarnation has gained some experience that he sees Satan for what he is. These three books are great setups for that, and it sets the expectation that Satan is the ultimate antagonist for the series.

Then you get to book 6, For Love of Evil.

This is the book that focuses on the office of Satan.  After having been conditioned through five books to see the Incarnation of Evil as the villain, this is the book that shifts things around a little and adds all of this unexpected context to the idea of Satan, as he pertains to this series.  This book starts hundreds of years before the first of the series.  We meet Parry.  The book follows the established formula of the series.  You start off and meet the human characters before they become incarnations.  Some more than others.  Zane from On a Pale Horse, we only meet for a few pages before he becomes Death.  Norton, who becomes Time, we see a LOT of him before he becomes Time.  Same with Mym before he becomes War.  And especially Parry.  There’s nearly 100 pages before we even get to the point of him taking the office.  That time is well used, though.  He starts off as the son/apprentice of a powerful sorcerer.  He meets and courts a woman.  There is a sudden attack on his father which puts Parry on the run.  He realizes he has to hide and stop using magic as his pursuers have another powerful magician waiting for Parry to use magic so it can be tracked.  So Parry hides in an order of dominican monks.  He becomes a very canny searcher of evil and increases the influence of his monk order many fold.  It’s in this position Parry is approached by Lilith, a minion of Lucifer, the current office holder.  She is there to tempt him, and this is where the story really begins.  Parry winds up taking the office, becoming Satan, and ruling for hundreds of years.  We see his domain of Hell and how, when he takes the office, disorganized it is.  While Parry is the Incarnation of Evil, he does seek to make the punishment and redistribution of souls a more efficient process.  He even creates a mini-Heaven within Hell to hold souls who have been mis-classified and are awaiting release to Heaven.  ‘

We also see many of the events of the previous books from Parry’s point of view.  His confrontations with the previous Incarnations Zane, Norton, Mym, which I just reread, as well as his interactions with the other incarnations I didn’t reread; Orb (Nature), and Niobe (Fate).  Like I said, the events in those other books are addressed here.  I really like how we see this whole series from a new perspective.  Parry isn’t evil.  He runs an office that is evil, but he himself is not evil.  There’s even a point where he goes to meet with Heaven to stop the ridiculous race for souls between the two of them.  It’s inefficient and it harms more souls than it helps.  This was a really good book and I really enjoy how it absolutely fits within the framework of this whole series, but also sort of turns it all around and looks at it from behind.

If you remembver up top, I mentioned that an eighth book was released a few years ago, and that I never read it.  It was a small printing and it’s hard to find.  The character in that book is Nox, the Incarnation of Night.  She appears in this sixth book.  A few times, actually.  I really enjoyed this reread.  I enjoyed it enough to say that, yes, I’ll probably wind up reading that eighth book, just to see how it ties in.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

One Response to “AWESOME-tober-fest 2020: Satan and the Incarnations of Immortality”

  1. I didn’t realize there was an 8th book! I read these back in high school also, although I’ve never gone back & re-read them. I bet they’re still at my parents’ house.

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