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Book Review Incarnations of Immortality Series

When I was a wide-eyed teenage World’s Strongest Librarian, Piers Anthony was one of my very favorite authors, and there was nothing better than his Incarnations of Immortality series. He also was writing the Xanth books that I was in love with, but Incarnations set my feverish little brain on fire.

Imagine: there are offices for the occupations of Death, War, Nature, Time, Fate, Good, and Evil. Now imagine that the beings performing these duties are suddenly taken out of the action and have to be replaced by normal humans. That, in a nutshell, is the incarnations series.

wielding a red swordOne of my favorite parts of every superhero story, whether it’s in comic, movie, or novel form, is when the transformation happens and the protagonist has to learn how to use their powers. I love the scenes were they have to experiment and learn their new duties.

That is essentially the first half of every Incarnations of Immortality book. It is great fun to watch someone trying to figure out how to go about their job as the new Thanatos, or Death. How do I harvest souls? What do I drive? What am I supposed to do with this sickle? Am I allowed to intervene?

The second half or so of each book concerns the plot of the book and generally advances the overall story arc of the series. What I mean by that is that by midway the hero knows what they have to do and the real meat of the story gets  underway.

Here, in order, are the books in the series. I have read all but the eighth, and from other reviews I have read, I do not think I have any interest in it.

  • On A Pale Horse (Death)
  • Bearing An Hourglass (Time)
  • With A Tangled Skein (Fate)
  • Wielding A Red Sword (War-this one was my favorite)
  • Being A Green Mother (Nature)
  • For Love of Evil (Evil/Devil)
  • And Eternity (Good/God)
  • Under A Velvet Cloak –I can’t tell who this one is about.

I have the feeling that, subjected to my legendary, incandescent critical skills, these books would not be quite as glorious if I read them today. So I won’t, and I’ll keep my memories pure. I’ll look back fondly at these ridiculous little paperbacks and know that they were awesome. Forever!


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  • --Deb November 4, 2010, 8:11 pm

    I LOVED “On a Pale Horse.” I can remember almost everything about what I was doing when I read it the first time–it was a 17th birthday present and I almost didn’t want to put it down to go get my driver’s license (grin). It was creative and a revelation.

    For the most part, though, the rest of the series disappointed me. #5 about Fate came back with a pretty strong ending, so that I wasn’t as skeptical about the book about Evil as I expected to be. Piers Anthony was famous for starting with discreet series that he decided to expand and went way too far with. (The bazillion-installment Xanth series, for example.) The book on Evil, though? Remarkably good.

    Hmm … come to think of it, it’s almost exactly 27 years since I read it Pale Horse.

  • Iain Dwyer November 4, 2010, 8:13 pm

    I have the same feeling. I don’t think I would like the books if I reread them now, but the books were great in my teens. I found ‘Bearing an Hourglass’ needlessly complicated, but it was a good series. I read it on summer break, working in the print shop for the local school board.

    I liked Death and Mars the best, but that’s very likely a result of my being 17 years-old.

    In all superhero style stories (Spiderman, about 3/4 of Piers Anthony books, and pretty much anything else by Stan Lee) the introspection that follows the discovery of powers is the most interesting to me. I kinda feel like that now, as someone becoming more fully an adult.
    I’ve got a career, I’ve got a kid, I’ve got decent finances, a car, the whole deal. I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on society in general. Now that I’ve got that handled, what the hell do I do? Make the world a better place? How? Better by what standard?

  • Iain Dwyer November 4, 2010, 8:16 pm

    @Deb expressed well what I wanted to express. Piers Anthony is one of those authors who is great in your teens, and then quickly becomes lame. I remember losing my enjoyment of his books on a plane to Australia with only him to read (we have a family tradition of buying books for long trips; normally we’re diligent library users)

  • Tadhg December 9, 2010, 2:46 am

    I know how it feels to read those books, and my favorite so far is On a pale horse because I stayed up to 10 o’clock just READING IT! even though I’m nine years old. I’m up to Wielding a red sword which is your favorite.

  • Raven November 3, 2011, 11:44 pm

    Under A Velvet Cloak was about the Incarnation of Night. Just sayin’.

    • Raj September 17, 2012, 7:54 pm

      Nox in particular