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All Night And Day

Two-Bit Heroes  (Ivory, volume 2)

By Doris Egan 

20 Jun, 2024

The End of History


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1992’s Two-Bit Heroes is the second book in Doris Egan’s science fantasy Ivory trilogy.

Theodora is smitten with sorcerer Ran Cormallon and Ran is smitten with Theo. Therefore, despite the manifest imprudence of Theo returning to Ivory — planet of magic!1—Theo does just that.

Ran accepts a seemingly easy assignment: vet a would-be groom.

The noble who presents himself to Ran as Tarkal Vellorin is concerned about his daughter’s impending wedding to Vere Atvalid. While the groom’s father is governor of Tuvin province, the Atvalids are far below the Vellorins in social rank, acceptable only because they, unlike the Vellorins, are on good terms with the emperor. Certain dark rumors suggest that the Atvalids may have blotted their copybook. This would make the match ill-advised.

When Ran and Theo arrive in Tuvin they find themselves accused of banditry. Ran is clearly native to Ivory. Theo, just as clearly, is an off-world barbarian. It just so happens that the notorious bandit Stereth Tar’krim, also from Ivory, travels in the company of off-world barbarian Cantry. Clearly Ran and Theo must be Stereth and Cantry.

Fleeing arrest, Ran and Theo run into the arms of waiting bandits. These turn out to be members of Stereth and Cantry’s gang. Now the gang’s involuntary guests, the pair get a quick lesson in local affairs from the lawbreaker perspective.

The Northwest Territory (which encompasses Tuvin province) is known for being home to bandits. It’s distant from the centers of power and effective policing. It’s also the place where rebellions have traditionally begun. In fact, the line between bandits and rebels is very blurred on Ivory. Moderately successful bandits are eventually hunted down and gruesomely executed. Very successful bandits are paid off by the emperor to retire.

One of the limiting factors on the population of bandits and rebels (aside from the whole horrible execution” angle) is that the people of Ivory tend to be cynics. Altruists are seen as tragic figures at best. This being true, it’s hard for rebel leaders to attract like-minded supporters, as betrayal is inevitable. Bandits, of course, recruit those who have no alternative but banditry. Betrayal is just as inevitable.

Theo is a student of myths and legends. Her comments about Robin Hood inspire Stereth. Armed with an exciting new paradigm, Stereth can transition from vexing bandit to rebel leader who is a legitimate threat to the powers that be.

How successful is the rebranding? Just ask the army now bearing down on the rebel base.


As was the publishing custom at the time, while Two-Bit Heroes is part of the Ivory series, the novel functions as a complete story. One does not have to read the first novel to understand what is going on in this one. Perhaps I do not need to say again that I consider this strategy preferable to the current fad for never-ending series in which plot is doled out in tiny, inconclusive chunks.

As a supporting character explains to Theo at great length, to Theo’s immense surprise, Theo is an unreliable narrator whose version of events is one that casts her in the best possible light. An interesting revelation, because Theo’s first-person version of what happened between Ran, Theo, and the bandits paints her as something of an oblivious thickie. One wonders what Stereth’s version of events was like.

I think this book was supposed to be zany and madcap. Possibly my tolerance for zany and madcap has waned… I found spending 319 pages in Theo’s head more of a chore than I had remembered. It seemed unlikely that she would survive Ivory’s cut-throat politics if it weren’t for the fact that being the first-person narrator ensures she lives long enough to tell her story.

That’s my reaction. Your mileage may vary.

Egan later moved into the far more lucrative world of television; only two more books followed this novel2. Despite pleas from her fans for ebook editions, Two-Bit Heroes is out of print.

1: Ivory is the only planet where magic exists. The other, science-based, planets have a simple explanation for this. There is no magic, it’s just that the people of Ivory are superstitious fools. Well, if there is no magic, the sorcerers are faking it convincingly.

2: I own all of Egan’s novels. However, I am unlikely review the last one, the stand-alone novel City of Diamond, which she published under the pen-name Jane Emerson. City of Diamond is 624 pages, which is a bit more than I can read in one day… and I prefer one-day projects.

DAW likes long books, which presents a challenge when it comes to reviewing DAW books.