Wednesday, 26 March 2014

'Heroes Die' - Matthew Woodring Stover (Del Rey, Orbit)

So that’s another book I can cross off the ‘Really Should Have Read Years Ago…’ list and about time too because ‘Heroes Die’ could easily be the best book I read  this year; right now I don’t see anything else coming close even though we’re only at the end of March. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Readers of my old blog will know that I've been reading the ‘Caine’ series entirely out of order; starting from book three and going on from there. In my defence, these books are difficult to come by over here so I figured that I’d pick up where I could and see where it went from there. I’d heard enough good things not to want to hang around… It’s fair to say that the results were mixed; ‘Caine Black Knife’ and ‘Caine’s Law’ are great books but it’s clear that you really need to have read from the beginning of the series to get the most out of them. So the other day then, I took ‘Heroes Die’ to work with me on the train and completely got lost in the world of Caine. Seriously, when I get home tonight I might just end up ignoring a whole load of jobs around the house (that really need doing…) and dive straight into ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (I’m a firm believer in making up for lost time with books).  Have some blurb to kick things off…

Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana as the Blade of Tyshalle, Caine has killed his share of monarchs and commoners, villains and heroes. He is relentless, unstoppable, simply the best there is at what he does.

At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on a far-off world for the entertainment of his own planet--and bound to keep his rage in check.

But now Michaelson has crossed the line. His estranged wife, Pallas Rill, has mysteriously disappeared in the slums of Ankhana. To save her, he must confront the greatest challenge of his life: a lethal game of cat and mouse with the most treacherous rulers of two worlds . . .

 Where do I start with ‘Heroes Die’? I’m still getting over the rush of five hundred odd pages of Caine’s controlled rage and desire to beat the system on two worlds so he can save his estranged wife… ‘Heroes Die’ is a book that will leave you gasping by the end (and at several points before that) with just how Caine does this. Caine is ferociously violent and has no compunctions about killing or destroying anything that comes between him and his goal (including a god-emperor who is actually trying to rule fairly and well). Caine is also ferociously intelligent though and ‘Heroes Die’ is about him realising this and using it to blindside everyone in a gripping finale. Stover has a habit of meandering with his prose at times (although you could argue this is a necessary approach given how important Caine’s perspective is to the plot) but it all comes together superbly right at the end, making you realise that the whole book is a lot leaner and tighter than you thought at first. There is a point to everything and, more often than not, there is also a point in everything as the body count rises. Stover generally focuses on the supporting cast here (I can think of dozens of soldiers, gang members and a torturers apprentice who wish that they’d stayed in bed instead of coming in to work) but that’s only so the death of a main player has even more impact when it happens. I was absolutely heartbroken (really, I was) when a certain character died.

In keeping with the theme of the book, Stover plays the Ankhanan scenes like a blockbuster film and so ‘Heroes Die’ is full of running battles and spectacular set pieces all tied together by Caine’s laconic commentary. It’s a little bit more than that though as the ‘Earth’ strand of the plot is also a commentary on capitalism gone mad and where it could ultimately lead our society. Hari Michaelson (Caine when he’s back on Earth) occupies quite a privileged position in this society, as an Actor who quests in Ankhana for the entertainment of the masses on Earth, so it’s interesting to see him rebel against it in the way that he does. A gilded cage is still a prison for some people I guess.

‘Heroes Die’ is a dark and brooding affair that explodes into bloody action at all the right moments. Quite frankly, it’s an awesome read that I would recommend to anyone who likes their fantasy dark and very grim (see what I did?)

Orbit publish all the ‘Caine’ books in the UK but only as eBooks so UK readers after a physical copy will have trawl Abebooks and places like that. It’s worth it though, it really is.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, it's interesting what a cover can do for you. I've seen the new black cover kicking around online, and it's held zero appeal for me. It really looks self-published and cheap, and has given me no incentive to check it out.

    Having said that, it turns out I have the paperback on my shelf with the original cover you shared above. That caught my eye, that excited me, and that compelled me to pick it up. I likely never would have made the connection to the new ebook covers if you hadn't already done so.