Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Where the hell can I begin? I'd like to say I'm speechless and drowning in a god-river of awe, but the fact is, I could write twenty-odd pages or more just to expound how much I love this book, and by natural extension of story, Heroes Die.
They're both of one piece, but what really blows my mind is the fact that it's not only as good as the first, but it absolutely refuses to back down and aims for something much, much greater. I'm very afraid that I can't come even remotely close to doing a review justice without revealing not only a dozen great plot turns and surprises from the first novel, and then it gets much worse because there are two dozen great reveals in the second.
With your permission, I will try to gently gloss over What Makes This Book So Great, but be forewarned: Here There Be Spoilers.
[The first book was a self-contained masterpiece with equal parts Hard SF and High Fantasy, where the networks vie for ever higher ratings by sending real humans to a distant world where magic actually exists, where all the High Fantasy tropes are gritty reality, and the Actors (Actirs on the other side) cast their POV adventures back to an overcrowded and very advanced Earth who hail them as celebrities. Hari/Caine was the most popular. His ex-wife, also an Actor, had gone missing/unresponsive on this side and since he still holds a flame, goes over to save her. Of course she doesn't care to be saved, in fact, she's working to free the enslaved and downcast over there. Jump through tons of truly awesome and SMART adventures and overwhelming odds that ended with a huge machiavellian finale to take down a literal and actual god that ended with Hari/Caine's ex-wife dying and being reborn as the goddess of all the waters in the world and fighting the other god for supremacy, and you've got yourself 5-6 fantastic novels wrapped all into one.
When it ended, I wondered how the fuck this author could top it. I mean, Caine's lover is now a nearly all-powerful god, Hari has taken over the network and has built up a little empire of his own out of revenge for what the assholes on Earth had done to him, and Hari/Caine pulled-off one of the funniest and impressive god-takedowns I've ever read. He brought him back to earth, penniless and powerless, with only a fraction of a fraction of his mind left. How could it ever get any better?
Well, it did. He fucking did it. There's never a wasted word, never a wasted sub-plot, and never a wasted moment of character development. And it's 800 fucking pages long. :)
Up the stakes. Oh my god, he just upped the stakes something HUGE. Okay, so we open with a paraplegic Hari heading a losing-money network, his best friend is hugely diminished god from the other world that he defeated, and everyone's setting up some real hell for Caine as the incarnation of satan among all the churches and empires on the other side. After all, he only brings chaos wherever he shows up. Life is pretty bad, years have made him lose any edge (or legs) to stand on, and his relationship is back in the shitter. So how the hell do we get from there to the returned machiavellian re-ascension of the deposed god, learn that there's another that can roll him, and start throwing nuclear bombs, tanks and airplanes at the other world as it gets annihilated by a horrible plague that Earthlings made and almost killed us, AND have Caine win and throw out some really fun surprises on top?
That's the amazing shit, right there. Becoming a god doesn't mean you've landed yourself a story-stopper. This shit is AMAZING, and despite what I said about giving you spoilers, I've still left 90% out.]
Only a truly gifted writer could pull all this off, to keep it always entertaining, moving quickly, with ever-deepening character explorations that makes most SF OR Fantasy authors look like amateurs.
These books are multi-faceted and deeply layered stories that rely more on action and plot progression and revelation than anything else, and it does it so well that even intended themes sneak up on you and they're not just right, but they're necessary to me as a reader.
To say that I love these is to just laugh in my milk. I just spent an hour gushing over the novels to my wife while I was attempting to write this review, and my mind is still spinning from all the little things that happened to it while reading this oh so excellent novel. :)
They may be long novels, but they read quick. I can't honestly believe that people aren't gushing about these novels even now. They're very modern, with modern SF/F sensibilities, and much better than almost any Hard SF OR High Fantasy that I've read in decades, and each side stands with its head high in either. :)
This is no fly-by night operation. This is a SERIOUSLY well-planned, a well-developed, and a blood-sweat-and-tears masterpiece of fiction. It SHOULD be on everyone's must-read list, if you're at all interested in either SF or F. :)
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