A look back: Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony

Warning: This contains spoilers of the books.

When people ask me why I read so much science fiction/fantasy stuff my immediate answer is the “Incarnations of Immortality” series by Piers Anthony. I’m sure I read some fantasy stuff before that series, but that’s the one that really opened the door for me in the fantasy genre. From the first moment of On A Pale Horse I was completely hooked. That book is about a young man named Zane, who kills the Incarnation of Death just a split second before Zane was about to kill himself. Killing Thanatos (the Incarnation of Death) is how one becomes that Incarnation, so Zane becomes the new Incarnation of Death. Like all the books in the series the early part of On A Pale Horse is about Zane taking the place of the previous Incarnation and all the issues he has doing it. The second part is about how Death interacts within the world.

I remember the second book, Bearing an Hourglass, really confusing me and I had to read it twice to totally understand it. That one is about Norton, the Incarnation of Time. What was confusing for me when I read it the first time was I didn’t get that Time was living his life backwards, that his past was everyone else’s future. It actually is a sad story because of the way Incarnation of Time works Norton is very lonely. The third book, With a Tangled Skein, was full of puzzles as it’s about the Incarnation of Fate, who is really three different people in one body. The book centers on Niobe, who at different points in her life is two of the three aspects of Fate. It’s in With a Tangled Skein that all the main character’s relationships with each other begins to be explored.

Wielding a Red Sword is the fourth book, and it’s really pretty straight forward, one of the only books in the series without some major plot twist. The book is about Mars, the Incarnation of War, who only leaves office when the entire Earth is at peace. Obviously that just about never takes place, but Satan makes sure it happens just so the inexperienced Mym can take over the office and hopefully be manipulated to do Satan’s bidding. As with the other Incarnations, Mym foils Satan and all is right with the world once again.

The fifth book is Being a Green Mother, and it’s about The Incarnation of Nature (AKA, Mother Nature). The whole book is about Orb trying desperately to not fulfill the prophecy that she marries Satan. But Satan tricks her and she falls in love with him and she does indeed marry him. The end of Being a Green Mother is their wedding, and after Orb sings a song about love to him Satan sings a song back, but one that is forbidden for him to sing. When he finishes he is no longer the Incarnation of Evil, having fallen in love with a good woman he is forced to abdicate.

I read the first five books in order and then had to wait for the sixth, and back then there was no internet so there wasn’t any way to know when the next book was going to be released. So once a week, usually on Friday, I walked the mile or so to the Tatnuck Bookseller to ask them if it had come out yet. I didn’t even know what the title was going to be, I just knew there had to be another one coming. I remember the folks there being so nice about it too. They’d know what was just released and what was coming in the next few weeks, but I’m sure they too were looking forward to the book coming out just so I would stop asking. The one good thing was that there were a couple of science fiction/fantasy fans working there so they were able to point out lots of good stuff I could read while I was waiting.

One week when I got there they were all smiling and told me the sixth book, For Love of Evil, was coming out in a few weeks. I remember them playing a joke on me when I got there on Friday after its release date, telling me they had sold out of it. I was stunned to silence for a few seconds until they let me off the hook and handed me a copy they had behind the counter for me. I went home and read that book all night, finishing in the wee hours of the morning. I was originally disappointed because while the early parts of For Love of Evil is Parry becoming the Incarnation of Evil the middle is essentially just Being a Green Mother told from Satan’s point of view. But the more I thought about it I thought it was a great story, because now everything was known about what had happened.

The last part of For Love of Evil was where the real action took place when Parry reassuming the office of the Incarnation of Evil after the other Incarnations help him remove his replacement, a sadist that has automatically assumed the position of the Incarnation of Evil when Parry abducted. It was, at least I thought at the time, a great ending to the series. Only it turns out there was one more book to go.

A couple of years later I happened into Waldenbooks and saw that a seventh book in the series had been released called And Eternity. I remember being shocked to see it, and was unfortunately broke at the time so I had to wait until payday to go get it. It was a great addition to the series, with the story being the Incarnation of Good being unable (or unwilling) to carry out the powers of his office so he is needed to be impeached. So instead of the battle of Good vs Evil being on the battlefield it is waged in Congress. Somehow Luna, the original girlfriend to Zane (Death) and granddaughter of Niobe (Fate) gets the vote for impeachment. Then came the hard part…the other Incarnations, including Satan, each nominate mortal to take over as the Incarnation of Good, but the vote on the successor must be unanimous.

There is only one real choice, Orlene; Nature and War’s daughter and Fate’s granddaughter, and Satan’s step-daughter. So she becomes the Incarnation of Good. Unlike the other books, And Eternity is entirely about how Orlene gets to the office. At no time does Anthony even hint at what God does in his office nor what the powers of the office are. It was an even greater ending to the series.

There is in fact another book in the series released a few years ago, Under a Velvet Cloak. It’s about the Incarnation of Night. I know this because I looked it up. I’ve not read Under a Velvet Cloak, nor will I ever buy a copy of it. For me my favorite series ended years ago, and I’m going to keep it that way. And based on the reviews I’ve read, Piers Anthony should have kept it that way too.


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