Tuesday, 4 November 2008

‘Caine Black Knife’ – Matthew Stover (Del Rey)


Ever since the day I first discovered that posting on internet forums is a great way to spend a lunch break (it really is, there are people that I talk to online more than I do with the person sat opposite me...) I’ve been hearing great things about Matthew Stover’s ‘Caine’ books. ‘Heroes Die’ and ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ are set in a fantasy world with a unique connection to a future Earth. Earth and ‘Home’ are connected inter-dimensionally and actors from Earth participate in the most ambitious reality show ever; going on quests and fighting monsters while their experiences are recorded and transmitted to billions of viewers back on Earth.
Caine is the greatest star of all and this is his story...

One of Caine’s most renowned exploits was his confrontation with the Black Knife Clan and its bloody aftermath. Thirty years on, a call for help forces Caine to return to where the massacre took place in an attempt to help his adopted brother out of a fix. Life is never that simple for Caine though, not only must he deal with returning to the scene of his greatest triumph (some would say ‘crime’) but he must also confront the ramifications of what he started all those years ago...

I’ve never read ‘Heroes Die’ or ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ so was a little unsure about jumping straight into the third book in a series. I can’t remember what made my mind up but I figured that I’d have a go anyway and I’m glad I did. ‘Caine Black Knife’s’ structure and content means that it functions well as a ‘stand alone’ tale; Caine’s story is told in flashbacks (as well as current events) which tell the reader pretty much everything that they will need to know and Caine’s internal monologue also informs the reader as to what has gone before. This is the third book in a series though so there are references made that will be of greater import to people who have read the previous two books. This had a positive affect for me though as I ended up wanting to read ‘Heroes Die’ and ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ just to get the full picture!

Caine himself is a character both repugnant and yet strangely compelling through his single minded sense of purpose. This is a man who has had to escape a life of brutal oppression in order to attain a life that’s just as brutal but it’s him who is doing the oppressing. I felt sorry for him but only for a short while, Caine’s only motivation is to make his own life easier (and more rewarding) and this leads him to do things that you wouldn’t normally find the hero doing? Is Caine a hero though? He can be heroic but his motives always undermine his deeds... And yet sometimes he will do something purely because it is the right thing to do, whether it is coming to the defence of his adopted brother or simply telling an innkeeper to get the hell out of town as fast as possible. Moments like these serve a dual purpose in that they show Caine’s more human side while, at the same time, highlighting just how much a bastard he can really be!
Caine is relentless in his purpose and this carried me along for the ride (and what a ride but more on that later). This is a man who just does not stop and this relentless drive exerts a magnetic effect on the reader; it did on me anyway, I just had to see where he ended up...

The story itself follows what felt to me like a standard ‘pulp fiction detective’ plot with Caine being handed a mystery that becomes more mysterious as other players get involved and bring their own mysteries to the table. Caine’s character, and the frantic pace of the story, breathes new life into this setting. Plot twist and ensuing mystery snap at each other’s heels while Stover’s ability to write intense (and bone jarring!) scenes of combat made me wince! ‘Caine Black Knife’ is a book that had me gripped the whole way through and the way it ended left me eager for more (apparently Stover takes his time with these books, hopefully I won’t have too long to wait...)

I’d be hard pressed to find a book that I’ve enjoyed more this year (it’s neck and neck with Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Last Argument of Kings’), hopefully the other two books will be just as good...

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Emily said...

I've never been able to figure out why this series isn't more popular. It's gotta be my all-time favorite. I'm glad to see it getting some love.

If you enjoy brutal fight scenes and irreverent anti-heroes you should check these books out. More fans are needed.