Everyone knows I’m a Matt Stover fan and that I love the way he wrote Revenge of the Sith (the novelization, although sometimes I wish he’d done the screenplay, too). Some of you readers may also know that one of my first reviews for this site was about Heroes Die, the first novel in Stover’s Acts of Caine series.
Well, its sequel Blade of Tyshalle is easily my favorite non-Star Wars novel that Stover’s ever written. Basically, take everything that he wrote in Heroes Die, push the heroes through a blender of pain and drama, slowly break down their beliefs and make them confront the most painful truths of life, and what you get is a very dark but very fulfilling epic tale. This story gives you humanity at both its very worst and its very best.
The Story: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Mr. Michaelson
Years after his victory in Heroes Die, Hari Michaelson is married and a father, in charge of the Studio running the adventures on Overworld, crippled below the waist, and depressed as hell–and believe me, the more you read this story, the more you will be, too.
We follow Hari as he, his family, and his few friends try to halt the outbreak of a plague on Overworld–the same plague that once ravaged Earth–and discover that they’re up against more than just a conspiracy of heartless aristocrats. Good people die, innocent people are traumatized, and our protagonist will have to decide which life he would rather lead–the empowered fighter Caine or the family man and Administrator Hari Michaelson.
The Cast: Actors Become Elves, Men Become Heroes, And Gods Become Bastards
Hari Michaelson/Caine is our protagonist, essentially deconstructing the whole “Happily Ever After” tag on most fantasy stories. He didn’t live happily ever after, although he’ll be damned if anyone tries to keep his daughter Faith from her own happiness. His marriage with Shanna is also tested, as she now enjoys a lot of power and new personality traits in Overworld as the goddess Pallas Ril.
We also get a deuteragonist, Kris Hansen, who becomes known in Overworld as an elf named Deliann. He provides a more sensitive counterpoint to Caine’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later style, although he’s no slouch with casting fireballs. He also suffers a lot for being such a nice guy, although he does what he has to do to help the good guys ultimately win. And I suppose we have a tritagonist in the form of Raithe, a Monastic adept on Overworld who wants to avenge the death of his mentor (one of the casualties in the last book) whose upbringing mirrors Hari’s and whose path mirrors Deliann’s.
The Style: Sorry For That Lecture, How About A Nice Bloodbath?
This novel is long and complicated, but essentially has two modes of pacing: long segments of exposition or introspection, and gory fight or torture scenes. Now, if this were a Hollywood film, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s like some pretentious summer blockbuster where they have dialogue interspersed with random fight scenes. But there’s nothing blockbuster about this book. The exposition and introspective moments are relevant, providing deep and thought-out themes. And every action scene is pragmatic, brutal, and short, although usually it involves Caine narrating in medical terms how he’s snapping his opponent’s arm or crushing his balls.
Final Verdict: It’ll Chip Away At You, Too, Dear Reader
There are so many spoilers that it makes this review a little difficult. It’d be easier to say that [name deleted] gets her head cut off at the halfway point or that [name deleted] sacrifices himself in the climax, and that both those deaths aren’t meaningless. But rest assured that this story is good, and while there’s a good sequel series, Acts of Atonement, in progress, I’d dare say the ending is satisfying enough for Caine’s story to end right there.
It’s a story that shows how good Matt Stover is in building and sustaining his own worlds, just as he adds on to the ever-expanding world of Star Wars. There is so much good philosophy and fighting for both my inner scholar and my inner child (not that all fighting’s childish, least of all Stover’s real-world variety). It is powerful and I encourage fantasy readers everywhere to pick it up, though it’s not for the faint of heart.
Bibliography: Stover, Matthew Woodring. Blade of Tyshalle. New York: Del Rey, 2001.