If you like your books uncompromising, with equal parts philosophy, imagination, wit, humor, sarcasm, epic battles, great characters, and gut punching drama, stop reading and buy/download these two books. If you need more convincing, read on.
Many authors have tried to do the anti-hero “thing”, Moorcock’s Elric saga (pic above) being one of the earliest and best-known genre examples. This is a character who is not your typical hero. He’s fallible, tragically flawed and with a moral code that often would leave you cringing. The movie Pitch Black did a decent job of this with its protagonist, Riddick.
Most authors fail. It is an inherently difficult thing to do. How do you create a character that is kindof an asshole – to other people, to objects, to Gods… to himself, but still be likeable/interesting enough that you want to go on the journey with him? It takes a good author to take a hero archetype and create a compelling story…. It takes a great one (or a good one free-basing some serious Muse) to take an anti-hero and elevate him till he resides in the hushed whispers of myth and legend.
Enter Caine. Caine is about as close to a force of nature that a human being can get without being an actual hurricane- with a sharp, intelligent, sarcastic wit that would fit perfectly on FYM Planet. He’s also an asshole (so again… he would fit in). More importantly he’s one of the most bad-ass characters I’ve ever read in fiction or seen on screen. Keep in mind that I don’t often use that term, but it’s appropriate here. This quality is not even mostly due to his lethality – which is more than potent, but more his state of mind. Caine is wracked by internal struggles buttressed by a fierce intelligence and personal code that propels him through these 2 novels like a boar shot out of a howitzer. Oh, he also spends much of Blade of Tyshalle in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. And he’s still a bad-ass. Trust me.
But it’s not just the character, Matthew Stover creates worlds that are frightening but so fantastically interesting that you can’t help but want to live in them.
Blade of Tyshalle and Heroes Die are literally sci-fi/fantasy novels. There are actually two worlds. One, a future Earth that was so decimated by a virus that the entire planet’s culture, in recovery, became one dominated by corporations with a caste system built solely to protect those in influence and power. Caine grew up as a Laborer (the lowest caste) and in this crucible became hard and tough as graphene. It is a dark, cold, ruthless place that has many of the luxuries/advances that you’d imagine from future technology, but these predominantly only benefit the few at the expense of the many.
The other, called Overworld, with elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons and yes… humans -is a harsh/alien place. Elves aren’t Orlando Bloom with Vulcan ears. They are creepy ancient creatures who wield knowledge and magic that would give Gandalf pause. Humans are viewed on with fear/pity because of all Overworld’s races, only humans are fundamentally unaware of their connection with nature. The elves describe this phenomenon by saying humans “worship the Blind God”. This is a useful term I’ve actually used in the “real world” many times to describe the sometimes self-destructive nature humanity has to the universe around it.
Now I may have lost you at “sci-fi” AND “fantasy”, but hear me out. It’s possible, even likely, that many of you are Firefly/Serenity fans. If someone had come up to you and told you that there was this great TV show that was a sci-fi-western you would have politely/impolitely nodded and ignored that the conversation ever took place. If so, you would have been completely wrong.
It’s a similar phenomenon here. Science fiction and fantasy should not go together as a rule. It is just too much disbelief to suspend. However, Stover has done the impossible and weaved these two Worlds together in a way that makes sense and is thrilling. The supporting cast around Caine, from gods to girlfriends, all feel real and consistent with their own internal motivations and idiosyncrasies. He pokes fun/celebrates all the typical sci-fi/fantasy literary clichés while making them new and exciting.
I could go on and on, but I will conclude with why I recommend experiencing these two novels out of order. Some of you may have already checked and Heroes Die is actually the first book in the series. By starting with Blade of Tyshalle you start in the middle of the story, which could be a negative in any other series. It begins though with a middle-aged Caine, who is crippled and past his prime, reminiscing/suffering over old adventures and triumphs. When characters reverentially reference Ma-elKoth or the epic battle on Assumption Day, the reader is titillated by wondering what REALLY DID happen!? Caine’s injury was inflicted by his nemesis, Berne, wielding the great blade Kosall. Berne who is referenced as one of the most brutal and fierce opponents Caine ever faced doesn’t appear except as a stuffed mannequin in a museum of Caine’s past exploits.
Each one of these references piques your interest without being unsatisfying. Since Blade of Tyshalle is the more complex, nuanced, and ambitious novel, it is more rewarding and actually makes reading Heroes Die more enjoyable since you are finally reading the stories that were told like myths in the previous novel. Heroes Die, while still excellent, is a much more straightforward story and benefits from the depth of Blade of Tyshalle.
In short, these two books of fiction are hard to recommend highly enough. There are only a few caveats I will mention to those interested. If you have an aversion to awesome things, especially things that are fantasy/sci-fi or just an aversion to reading in general, then these books aren’t for you. That said, these stories are extremely violent. Unlike Mark Milar comics though, the violence usually isn’t an end unto itself. It’s usually to express revulsion or fear or a variety of things that have a purpose other than to be brutal or gruesome. If you are squeamish about descriptions of broken bones or extreme situations then avoid please.
If you’ve made it to the end of this recommendation, I hope you’re intrigued enough to check these novels out. When you do, leave a comment and/or message me, I’d love to talk about Hari and Kris’s unlikely friendship and their near-death experience at Acting school, one that harkens to Ender’s choices at Battle School.
If not, no worries, but I’ll leave you with some advice Duncan gives to his son, Caine. When things seem like they are at their worst, “keep your head down, and inch towards daylight.”