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The book I’m looking for takes place in a fantasy world ruled by a corrupt church. The main character is a vagrant who survives by stealing and violence. (Possibly his name is something like “Baras” but I may be making this up.) He does things like steal alcohol and get in fights, where he graphically kills or maims people. When he sleeps outside he is arrested for vagrancy.

At one point someone tries to give him a place to stay and medical treatment, but the main character steals from him and runs away.

I think the story also mentions a drug that gives you the feeling of insight, but not necessarily any actual insight. This was just one scene, not central to the plot.

I think the plot centered on the main character stealing a magical item, and the church chasing him to get it back.

At some point point we learn more about the main character’s backstory. If I remember correctly:

He was a soldier, fighting on the side of the church/government. Someone he loved was killed, and maybe the church betrayed him somehow.

The story ends with

the main character being caught in a magical explosion that destroys the soul, which means he won’t have any afterlife. The explosion also destroys some evil entity / demon, which saves the world.

It was probably published around 2005-2009, as a dark blue hardcover.

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Monument, by Ian Graham. First published in 2002, but there were several later editions, and you may have run across one of those, years later. The version that I read was a paperback edition, but it certainly had lots of blue in the cover art.

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As you say, the main character is a scoundrel who wanders around, steals things, gets stinking drunk when the opportunity arises, is not ashamed of using brute force to get what he wants (such as money for his next drinking binge), and so on and so forth. He has a serious shortage of friends. His name is "Ballas," so your memory came close.

Early in the novel, in a sequence that I assumed was meant to be reminiscent of the opening pages of Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Misérables, a very sincere young priest attempts to aid Ballas. He has recently been beaten to a pulp (because he had stolen a man's purse with a week's wages in it, and the man had some husky friends to help him seek revenge), and he was left for dead in the street. The priest, named Brethrien, came along in time to realize Ballas was still alive, and persuades a friend with some knowledge of medicine to treat him. The friend does his best, but advises Brethrien not to trust this drunken lout.

Darn good advice, of course. In Victor Hugo's version, the charitable behavior of a clergyman caused Jean Valjean to rethink his life. In this version, Ballas keeps right on drinking and stealing and so forth, showing no particular sign of being favorably influenced by Brethrien's attempts to help him recover from that severe beating.

Eventually, when Ballas is fit enough to move around the city again, he ends up stealing an iron disc which has four rubies and one strange blue gemstone set within it. It also appears to have some uncanny abilities, but Ballas knows nothing of magic and is initially just hoping to sell it as quickly as possible in exchange for a large quantity of gold coins. Things do not go as easily as he had hoped.

As you indicated, this theft -- and especially his attempt to sell it at a high price -- eventually leads to his being targeted by the Pilgrim Church (often called "The Church" for short). Considering that the story starts out in the streets of Soriterath, the city that serves as the headquarters of that powerful Church, it is extremely unlucky to attract the unfavorable attention of the Church's senior figures (called "the Blessed Masters").

Ballas is clever and ruthless; when he realizes there are lots of armed guards at the gates, searching everyone who tries to leave the city (this is unusual, and he deduces they must be looking for him in particular), he starts a big fire to create a diversion, then makes it out of the city undetected. We are over halfway through the book before he begins to understand just what all the fuss is about. (He has become the object of a huge manhunt.) A new acquaintance asks him to describe that iron disc (which is not in Ballas's possession at this point), and then tells him it might well be a magical artifact created by a nonhuman race called the Lectivin.

'The Lectivin spoke to their dead through a device known as the sivis. There is no precise translation. The most satisfying equivalent is "monument". In our culture, a monument is any testimony to the dead. Usually the term means something large, grand; a statue or edifice. For the Lectivins, the scale was unimportant. They were magical creatures. Familiar with the world of souls, and the edges of the Eltheryn Forest, they did not construct monuments of remembrance. The Lectivins did not remember their dead. They spoke to them.

'The Lectivins created many sivis, and they were used not merely during the War, but in periods of peace as well. They enabled the Lectivins to seek advice from their ancestors. From long-dead rulers, philosophers, engineers. Even magickers. Any Lectivin at all from the past.

'And maybe that is why the Pilgrim Church wants you dead. Maybe they believe you used a sivis, and learned something terrible, something dangerous from it.'

And as you said, Ballas dies in the end, achieving something heroic, even if his motives for the choices that led him to that point were distinctly less than heroic. In a conversation between a couple of the Blessed Masters at the very end of the book, we learn a few things about his history -- such as his previously having served with an elite military unit during a war to defend the Church from a rebellion. They also mention the idea that his soul is gone forever as a result of the unusual circumstances surrounding his death.

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