Sunday, March 25, 2007

Heroes Die, by Matthew Stover

"I Swear by the Power of All Dark Gods that I will write Every Fucking Word Balls-Out for Glory." - Matthew Woodring Stover
I first knew Matthew Stover as the author of one of the absolute best Star Wars novels: Shatterpoint. And then as the author of the novelization far superior to the movie: Revenge of the Sith. But, it turns out the man has written his own original fiction and that as good as his tie-in fiction is (and it's good, trust me), his original fiction is that much better. Trust me on that, too.

Heroes Die is a brutal balls out for glory story where Hari Michaelson is an Actor on Earth who is better known as his alter-ego, Caine. The Blade of Tyshalle. On this dangerous vision of future Earth there is a rigid caste system and with the discovery of this Overworld where humans can transport to, the future of movies has transformed to Adventures where people back on Earth can first-hand or second-hand and live that Adventure the Actors go on. Caine is the most popular living actor and he is known for his brutality and his successes in being a killer and providing the most violent entertainment for the viewer's dollar.

Michaelson has tired of all the killing and assassination he has been involved in, but to save his ex-wife, Pallas Ril, Michaelson agrees to return to the Overworld once more as Caine to save her...but saving Pallas Ril means he must perform one more assassination under the guise of revenge.

Matthew Stover initially presents Caine, or Michaelson, as being a cliche of pulp fantasy: this warrior killer, cold blooded and reckless. Caine is all that, but Caine is so much more. Caine has a mind and over the course of the novel he shows the reader as well as the other characters that he knows how to use it to his benefit. The image we have of Caine at the beginning of Heroes Die is vastly different than what we have at the end, and through this character transformation Stover lets Caine remain the violent man he is but become so much more. Make no mistake, Heroes Die is not a character study. This is an ass kicking fantasy with more violence than you can shake a club at. Stover says that he will write every word balls out for glory and that is exactly the kind of novel he delivers with Heroes Die.

The reader gets the sense that with Heroes Die, Matthew Stover is really reaching for something and that with the fight of Caine against powers on two worlds, Stover hits the cliched ball out of the cliched park. Stover challenges the reader at every turn about the nature of fantasy and the possibilities of storytelling that actively strives to be something great. The exciting aspect here is that Stover succeeds at every turn.

With hints of the epic and classic style fantasy, Matthew Stover turns it all on its head and gives us something intense and provocative, bloody and gritty, funny and brutally painful, exciting and satisfying. Heroes Die is a novel that shows the reader what else fantasy can be.

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