Villains By Necessity, by Eve Forward, is one of my favorite books. It’s a stand alone book that works both as epic fantasy and as a subversion thereof. It follows the world’s last villains—an assassin, a thief, an evil sorceress—and a neutral druid (plus one minstrel spy for Good) as they try to save the world by restoring evil to it.
The armies of Good have vanquished the armies of Evil and sealed the Darkgate, thus ending the influx of evil into the world. This is a problem. The world is now out of balance and going to be sublimated in Light.
Arcie, the world’s last thief, and Sam, the world’s last assassin, don’t know about this yet. They just know all their friends and colleagues have “whitewashed”, turned honest good citizens. When they get arrested in a bar, they find out the whitewashing is more like brainwashing —the great elven wizard Mizzamir has perfected a spell that strips all the darkness out of a person. Understandably not wishing this fate, they escape and wind up in the forest of the last druid, Kaylana. She recruits them on the mission to save the world.
Later Arcie, Sam, and Kaylana meet Valeriana, the last Nathauan—a race of subterranean cannibals—and last evil sorceress. (You’ll notice a lot of “lasts” here.) Then they’re saved by the last dark knight, a silent fellow welded into his armor, that they decide to call Blackmail. After that Mizzamir has the minstrel Robin insinuate himself into the group to keep an eye on them and find out what they intend to do.
Arcie is a fairly straightforward affable fellow. Sam tends to brooding when he can, but has a suitably dark and trouble past to get away with it. Kaylana is aloof, suitable to someone not used to other people. Valeriana (who gets nicknamed “Valerie” by Arcie much to her chagrin), is controlling but practical. Blackmail has both a sense of humor and honor. And Robin, a centaur, is so far out of his depth he couldn’t touch bottom with a hundred foot pole.
As they themselves admit, if it were anything less than the fate of the world, they’d never work out.
3—The Saving the World
Needless to say, saving the world requires an Epic Quest, in this case to find the scattered pieces of the Spectrum Key. Each piece resides in a trial designed by one of the Heroes who finally defeated evil in the Victory. Luckily, each of our villains has what it takes to win their particular trial.
Not that it’s easy, what with seemingly every hero left in the world hunting for them. Not to mention Mizzamir, who only wants to “help” them. No one seems to realize every last one of them would prefer death to whitewashing.
There’s a lot of making fun of common epic fantasy tropes. Some of the later heroes that show up are expies of Dragonlance heroes. And Gnifty Gnomes—oh god, the Gnifty Gnomes—thankfully only around a short time. There are also a few puns scattered about. The book is a lot of fun.
I freaking love this book. I borrowed it from my best friend years ago, and had she been less than my best friend I’d have stolen it from her. Then recently I happened to find it in the used bookstore and I snatched it up. Needless to say, I was elated to finally have my own copy. So yeah, I recommend this book.