Blade of Tyshalle Mass Market Paperback – 1 Apr 2002
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Top customer reviews
Blade of Tyshalle is the second volume of The Acts of Caine series (four books so far) and is a quite startling deviation from its predecessor, Heroes Die. Whilst Heroes Die was an intelligent, smart SF/fantasy hybrid novel with lots of action, Blade of Tyshalle is an outright philosophical assault on the senses. This is a murkier, more violent and darker book than its predecessor, but also one that is more demanding, smarter and less interested in spelling things out. It is, on almost every front, a step-up from the first book in the series.
In terms of characterisation, the book is highly impressive. Michaelson/Caine himself is a deceptively straightforward figure. When he has an objective, he does whatever is necessary to achieve it. When he has everything he wants - a family, a great job, fame and fortune - he is utterly miserable. When the world sets itself against him (or, in this case, two worlds and almost everyone on them), he shines. When he has the freedom to forge his own destiny, he flounders. It's the classic mid-life crisis narrative, made even harsher by the fact that Michaelson is partially crippled. There's something inherently tragic in the fact that Michaelson's closest friend is also his deadliest enemy, the exiled Emperor Ma'elKoth. Caine is against the odds but also certain to win through because that is the task he sets himself. Some reviews have taken this to mean the book is pro-fascist (The Triumph of the Will could be the title of Caine's biography) but Stover undercuts this by showing that Caine cannot achieve his goals without him relying on his friends and allies (and some of his old enemies).
The book is unusual in that the first-person narration parts of the book are split between Caine and his old friend Kris. The book opens with a tantalising glimpse at Michaelson's youth as he first enters training as an Actor and Kris is assigned to stop him flunking out. The experience changes Kris forever, leading to a fateful decision and a reunion many years later in the main narrative of the book. The rest of the cast is a mixture of returning characters from Heroes Die (such as Shanna, Ma'elKoth, Kierandal and Majesty) and newcomers such as Raithe, a Monastic citizen who harbours an old grudge against Caine. Stover juggles them all with skill.
In terms of the antagonist, Stover does something very interesting by making it more of a force of nature and philosophy than an actual villain (though it is personified when it possesses the body of an old enemy of Caine's). This leads to the book's most stomach-churning sections as this force for evil kills and slaughters on a scale that is quite shocking. The book also muses on the theme of rape, not of the body (though this is implied in several moments), but of the mind. The destruction of consciousness, the stripping of identity and the nature of self are all dwelt on as concepts.
Stover pulls back from these philosophical moments - though the book remains intelligent and sharp-witted throughout - to deliver a finale which may redefine the term 'apocalyptic'. The final 200 pages of the book feels like experiencing the Vietnam War on fast-forwards. It's relentless, grim and action-packed. It probably goes on a little too long - at 725 pages of small print in tradeback the novel is substantially longer than Heroes Die - and there's a few too many endings as Stover tries to wrap things up fairly conclusively, but ultimately it's an ending to be remembered.
Blade of Tyshalle (*****) is a vastly more ambitious book than its predecessor which pulls off what it's trying to do. Action, philosophy and characterisation are blended to create what may be one of the outstanding examples of the fantasy genre in the last decade. Blade of Tyshalle is available now in the USA and as an e-book only edition in the UK.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Now, I finished reading two days ago. And what a book this is.
Mind you: this is not a longer version of Heroes Die. You won't find the same non-stop action here. BoT is a deeper, more thoughtful book, full of philosphical questions and outlooks. The good thing is: you don't miss the action when it's not there, and when it's there, it's good.
The story is more mature. The characters are more mature (and some of them are very dear to me). I loved the philosophical aspects and as always, Stover's writing is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
Naturally, I didn't like everything in this book. The way some things were handled felt off to me (I won't name names in fear of spoilers). But the good far, far outweighs the bad. From the first page to the last I was hooked. You couldn't drag me away from this book, and I will definetely reread it many times. I laughed, I cried, I hated, I loved - it's all here.
Why is this novel not endlessly more popular than it is? Why has it fallen out of print? I don't know, but I'm telling you: get this book. Now. Because this is one of the unique, awesome, and emotional books you will ever read.
Stover's writing is some of the best I've ever come across, and he keeps getting better. All the books in this series are so dense with plot and detail that each time a new one came out, I wanted to reread the earlier books to make sure I remembered everything. And each book not only develops the characters and the world, but pushes the narrative structure harder as well,,until the last one, Caine's Law, is just an amazing ride.
I bought this copy for my son, who's deployed in the military. I had sent him the first one to see if he liked it. Like me, he loved it, and read it much faster than any of the other books I've sent him. So this one is now on its way to him, and I know he'll love it as much as I do.
This second time around, Michaelson isn't only a star antihero, but is also one who doesn't always manage to beat the machine he rages against. In "Blade" he has many unpleasant, humbling surprises in store for him. His protagonist Hari Michaelson (AKA Caine) is complicated, violent, messy, ethical, and oddly humane. Stover's narrative structure flows brilliantly, chapters alternating between Michaelson's life in the "real" world and Caine's life on Overworld, a parallel universe to Earth that's a bit like Middle Earth on meth, where Michaelson is Caine, actor and assassin extraordinaire. But if Caine were just an assassin, his character and the novels wouldn't be anywhere near rich and complex as they are. Instead, Michaelson/ Caine is a real flesh & blood man, with an estranged wife he loves, friends of a sort he protects in the mode of enlightened self-interest, and more convoluted plots and plans underway than any review can or should mention.
After I finished "Heroes Die," I bought the next novel "Blade of Tyshalle" without even taking a break, though you could jump right in with "Blade." It has a creepier, more dissonant feel to its narrative than "Heroes Die," but I consider this one of its strong points. You won't be reading a novel that's "just" a continuation, but a book with all new aspects and ideas, let alone new plot, of course. Stover is an author who evolves and stretches himself artistically with every book, and this is one of the things that makes him a personal favorite. I just reluctantly finished book four, "Caine's Law," because I didn't want the series to end. Rarely has an entire series gripped me the way this one has.
Along with Caine, I highly recommend two earlier novels by Stover set in the ancient world ten years after the fall of Troy, "Iron Dawn" and "Jericho Moon." Somehow, Stover manages to turn the Marion Zimmerman Bradley "Mists of Avalon" paradigm on its head, giving us two books that are an original blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Their protagonist is a tough, resourceful Pictish warrior Barra and her two companions, an Athenian veteran of Troy, Leucas, and Kheperu, an exiled Egyptian ex-priest and con man. How these novels were not instant successes, I'll never know, but I think that Stover in 1997 simply may have been way ahead of the "strong women in historical/ fantasy" curve so prevalent today. But unlike a lot of what's being publishing today in this genre, Stover's Barra novels are GREAT, and she's a worthy predecessor to Caine.
Any reader who's a fan of Joe Abercrombie, Richard K. Morgan (both his sci-fi series with Takeshi Kovacs and "The Steel Remains" fantasy series), and/ or George R R Martin will LOVE Stover's books. Stover's name deserves to mentioned in the same breath as these other literary geniuses, and "Blade of Tyshalle" continues the series brilliantly.