December 21, 2008
Review of Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, and Caine Black KnifeJohn Scalzi's "Whatever" blog and I saw his Big Idea column on Matthew Stover's new Caine Black Knife book. I read the first bit of the column, but then quit because it sounded interesting and I didn't want to have the books ruined for me. If you plan on getting the books my suggestion is to go in cold, because it is quite a ride when you don't know what is coming.
What really surprised me is that I went in thinking that these were fantasy books. It says right on the cover "A Fantasy Novel", which I thought was pretty strange. What sort of novel needs to proclaim on the cover what it is? Usually these categorizations are fairly straightfoward and you don't need to try to convince the readers what kind of book you are. (Well, that probably isn't true, but just from a straight consumer point of view, I hadn't seen something like that before.)
When I got the first book - available from Amazon Japan! - I put it on my pile of books and eventually got around to starting it. I read the back cover, and started to get a bit depressed: according to the back of the book, this was actually a sci-fi / fantasy combo type book that uses a device that I've really just grown sick of lately: the concept of alternate worlds. This concept is all over the place, I probably first ran into with Piers Anthony's Xanth series when I was a kid, and then the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (I didn't realize that that series was still ongoing) and it pops up all over the place really. I'm just sick of it. I don't like this idea of a real world and a fantasy world. If you are going to do alternate worlds, I have a hard time seeing how you can do it better than Roger Zelazny and maybe I'm just tiring of the whole idea. It seems to be popping up in video games a lot too, from Zelda the Twilight Princess to the more recent Metroid game and a whole bunch of Silent Hill games (but I haven't played many games lately, so I'm just getting that from reviews and other stuff I see on the web.)
I would rather have a story in a well-developed world rather than one that marginalizes one world or the other, or is a ridiculous escapist fantasy about escaping a boring real life and going into some exciting alternate reality (.hack and persona are two more that annoy me in that way.)
So I was really expecting to hate Heroes Die. I expected that I would put it down after ten pages, and regret buying.
I was wrong. The book completely sucked me in. I don't know if it was the characters, which are great, or the subtle undertones (or not-so-subtle as the case may be) of existential philosophy and commentary on totalitarian regimes and the "bread and circus" trap, but I really, really enjoyed these novels. I had to go out of my to track down a copy of Blade of Tyshalle, which was hard for me to get in Japan but one of the Amazon.com third party merchants shipped it to me no problem ($25 for a paperback though, a bit expensive!) and luckily Caine Black Knife is also available on the Amazon Japan site. I went through each of these books in about a week, reading snatches here and there. I think I even got my wife angry at me once because I pulled the book out while we were waiting for a train, which apparently wasn't the correct ending for an otherwise romantic evening seeing the movie Wall-E.
I just finished reading "Caine Black Knife" three days ago and I'm disappointed that the second volume isn't out yet. I hope that it will be out soon, but knowing how these things go it will be a while.
The good news is that it looks like "Heroes Die" and "The Blade of Tyshalle" will be put out in ebook form soon - I am looking forward to that so I can add them to my growing ebook collection so re-reads can be done on my ebook reader, currently but I'm hoping to get if they ever release a version for Japan. I keep asking the digital contents guys if that will happen, but they haven't given me a straight answer yet. :)
So, in summary: go and buy Heroes Die and the other two Caine books. They are really great. I should mention that they are really violent, and have some philosophical discussions about free will and the nature of man. The violence makes those sections a bit easier to bear for some people, I'm sure. :)
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