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Heroes Die A man shouldn’t die with no understanding of why he’s been murderedRenowned throughout the land of Ankhana as the Blade of Tyshalle Caine has killed his share of monarchs and commoners villains and heroes He is relentless unstoppable simply the best there is at what he doesAt home on Earth Caine is Hari Michaelson a superstar whose adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on a far off world for the entertainment of his own planet—and bound to keep his rage in checkBut now Michaelson has crossed the line His estranged wife Pallas Rill has mysteriously disappeared in the slums of Ankhana To save her he must confront the greatest challenge of his life a lethal game of cat and mouse with the most treacherous rulers of two worlds I forget for long periods of time how tremendously awesome epic fantasy books can be When they are well written with high stakes well drawn and fascinating characters scenes and set pieces which fit together perfectly constantly ratcheting up the tension and suspense reading experiences don't come much better for meTo be clear this isn't pure epic fantasy it's a combination of fantasy and science fiction where Actors from a future Earth go adventuring in Overworld which is a gritty non medieval fantasy adventure world a la Mieville's Bas Lag without the truly inventiveexcessive weirdness for the entertainment of the masses in the rather dystopian caste based society back home Hari Michaelson is the most famous Actor of this world and his Overworld character Caine is one of the most famous men there relentless unstoppable simply the best there is at what he does though he's not in fact the best fighter in the world or even in the book and he's very far from invincibleThis is probably not for everyone and Stover's writing style can be over the top his personal writing motto is I Swear by the Power of All Dark Gods that I Will Write Every Fucking Word Balls Out for Glory But it's not bad writing as far as writing every fucking word etc etc goes I think it's about as good as it getsStover himself described the book this way It's a piece of violent entertainment that's a meditation on violent entertainment as a concept in itself as a cultural obsession It's a love story romantic love paternal love repressed homoerotic love love of money of power of country love betrayed and employed as both carrot and stick It's about all different kinds of heroes and all the different ways they die It's a pop top can of Grade A one hundred percent pure whip assSo that last line is a bit hokey but otherwise that self analysis is accurate And despite all the macho bullshit recognized as such by characters in the book eventually including CaineHari himself there is in fact character personality and development and intelligent thought and political concern and the realization that physical confrontation can't solve any of the really big problemsI should note though that the physical confrontations are nigh astounding Stover is a martial artist and the fight scenes in this book are some of the most vivid I've ever read Excessive violence certainly but it's there for a reasonPolitically the book focuses primarily perhaps on individual freedom and the individual's Hari's struggle against a repressive government but I think there is honest political engagement on a larger level throughout both on Earth and Overworld Further it's actually surprising nothing turns out uite like I thought it would 45 stars Not uite Mieville or Martin for me probably because of the omnipresent stylization of the writing and the fact that the book seems so intensely personal but it wouldn't have been the same book if Stover's authorial voice had somehow been detached Absolutely worth reading if this review and others piue your interest than they annoy you Okay let me get the following BOLD STATEMENT out of the way If I absolutely HAD to choose my single favorite BADASS “action” protagonist of all time HARI MICHELSON AKA CAINE would get the nod Now I have read many books with main characters who “went to 11” on the 10 level kick ass meter so picking a favorite or comparing one to the other is very hard to do However overall taking all aspects of nut stomping bone breaking dialogue delivering very important head splitting “you done fucked with wrong person today” awesomeness CAINE would get the win He is the uintessential KICKASSER BRIEF INTERLUDE FOR CLARIFICATIONI need to pause for a moment in my homage to Caine to make the following point clear While Hari MichelsonCaine WOULD certainly be high up on my list of all time favorite literary characters his spot at the top if this list is based only on the vastness of “badass” that he possesses Thus favorite characters of mine like Locke Lamora aka The Gentlemen Bastard Tyrion Lannister and Glotka from Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy as awesome as they are wouldn’t get out of the first round in the TAC Tournament of Badass Champions END BRIEF INTERLUDEAnyway just for comparison's sake and so you know I have thought this through here are a few of my favorite characters that Caine was reluctantly reuired to bitch slap on his way to the title of HIS ROYAL BADNESS AND MOST MAIN MAN 1 Roland Deschainand I cry your pardon Gunslinger 2 John Clark aka Mr Clark Tom Clancy novels3 Lancelot Fionavar Tapestry by Kaymaybe the heroest hero of them all4 Helikoan aka Aeneas from Gemmell’s Troy series5 Parker Richard Stark novels6 Takeshi Kovacs Richard Morgan novels7 Emile Khadaji “The Man Who Never Missed”8 Kane 9 Druss the Legend10 ConanWAITHOLD UPHoly literary faux pas BatmanI almost forgot 11 Logan Ninefingers from Abercrombie's First Law Trilogysorry Bloody Nine All of you guys are awesome but unfortunately somebody had to winSo let me tell you a little about Hari Michelson and the world of Heroes Die The book itself is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE novels This is always the FIRST book I recommend when someone is looking for a “fun kickass action orientated” science fiction or fantasy book For what it is I think it is almost a PERFECT novel namely a high octane fast paced brutally violent story with an original science fictionfantasy back story and well you already know how I feel about the main character BACKSTORYEarth of the future is controlled by mega corporations that have developed into a rigid occupation based caste system Society is now separated into 7 corporate based castes that include Leisurefolk top of the food chain think “idle rich” Investors Businessmen Administrators Professionalseg white collar workers with degrees like doctors lawyers and accountants; Artisans; Laborerseg unskilled labor pool In addition there is a uasi 8th group known as “Workers” who are prisoners dissidents and other unfortunates who have been “lobotomized” and turned into something similar to a cybernetic zombieThe social and political aspects of the society in the novel are very interesting but barely explored I would love to read an entire book focusing only on this aspect of the society In Heroes Die we only get enticing bits and pieces but they are fascinating In this world of “scare resources” with the “haves” having to keep control of the “have nots” the ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY is king and ueen You see on Earth people no longer “watch” TV or movies Instead technology allows audiences to literally share the experiences of “actors” as they participate in “Adventures” on a planet called Overworld BRIEF PAUSE FOR DESCRIPTION OF ACTORS AND OVERWORLDOverworld is Earth in a parallel universe the “how” is explained in the book so just accept it for now Overworld is your standard sword and sorcery fantasy realm in which magic works humans live side by side though not peaceably with all manner of fantasy creatures and the technology is a cross between uasi medieval and uasi industrialActors Fantasy special forces commandos Actors are not the Hollywood stars of today They are men and women who have first spent years of training learning how to be either a magic adept or a fighter and then years in Overworld learning how to speak the language and practice their skills before being accepted as Actors ready to go on “Adventures” Basically this is you basic fantasy fan boys dream come true I would also mention here that the training is very expensive and so “would be” Actors need “patrons” from the higher castes to pay for it in the hopes of making money on their later Adventures END BRIEF PAUSESo when their years of training is complete Actors will be transported to Overworld known by the locals as Ankhana and assigned real life “roles” to play in the events of Ankhana The dangerous and life threatening the entertaining and the profitable Thus these actors get involved in political disputes gang wars military campaigns and often die as a result But heyTHAT’S ENTERTAINMENTYou see by plugging into a special chair and donning a special helmet an audience member can literally become the Actor and shares the Adventure as if they were there themselves though without the whole fear of death thing You hear what they hear smell what they smell and even taste what the taste The chairs also provide life support and nutrition for the audience member so they can stay plugged in for days at a time This sort of “first hand” Adventure is very expensive and usually only the Leisurefolk and Investor Class can afford it For everyone else there are “replays” and are real than virtual reality but not uite the same as the expensive version So with ALL of that backgroundit’s time to meet Hari Michelson aka Caine Hari Michelson is the most famous Actor on Earth I won’t give you all of his background because it is fun to learn about it for yourself but he was born into the Labor class and was “discovered” by a Businessman who became his patron He was trained and became a member an Actor a member of the Professional caste His alter ego is the assassin Caine aka the Blade of Tyshalle and his legendary Adventures on Overworld are the most popular in history Despite being less than 6’ tall and weighing considerably less than 200 pounds he is WITHOUT UESTION the most feared individual on Overworld His skill in hand to hand and weapons is unmatched and his ruthless berserk style is the stuff of legendsliterally During his “career” he has killed hundreds of people single handedly toppled governments and been the focal point for several of the most pivotal events in Overworld history He is the one guy in the room with whom you DO NOT MESS sorry but I warned you about the gushing character man love at the beginning of the review Well Hari on Earth is much like Caine on Overworld in so far as his attitude goes He rubs the higher ups the wrong way with his insubordination and lack of bootlicking and would have long ago been busted for caste violation except his MASSIVE POPULARITY and hence MASSIVE PROFITABILITY PLOT SUMMARYSo how about the actual plot itself you ask? Well it is involved but oh so tasty You see Caine’s estranged wife and fellow Actor has disappeared while on Overworld Caine being the no nonsense fuck anybody who hurts my loved one kinda guy wants to go start killing people until someone tells him where she is BUT the powers have other plans Caine’s wife’s “ratings” aren’t what they once were and so they will only allow Caine to go to Overworld and attempt a rescue IF he agrees to first assassinate the newly installed “Emperor” of Overworld who has recently assumed power Earth is very worried about the new Emperor because he appears to have the power to bring peace to Overworld This would be very bad for business Bloodshed war and strife make for entertaining and profitable adventuresa stable peaceful Ankhana would be a disaster So Caine finds himself embroiled in political machinations both on Earth and Overworld with enemies all around him including a sadistic brutal villain named Berne who has been granted vast powers by the new “god like” Emperor Yes the odds are very much stacked against Caine JUST THE WAY HE LIKES IT As Caine works his way through the many obstacles in his path he must decide what he is truly fighting for and what he is truly prepared to do to protect those he holds dear The answer is of course isCAINE WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOU STAND IN HIS WAYNO MATTER WHO YOU ARE FINAL THOUGHTSHopefully I have given you at least a sense of how much fun this novel is I know I can not completely do it justice but I would certainly strongly recommend you give it a try ONE FINAL WORD OF WARNING the book is uite graphic and brutal maybe a bit less so by today’s standards but still worthy of comment The language is very coarse the violence almost never lets up there is some significant gore It is gritty violent and morally vague However it is also IMHO as good as this kind of story gets CAINE is the supreme warrior fighting with no rules to protect the woman he loves and bring blood splattering vengeance to those who put her in harms way I thought I would end with a few uotes from the book uoted in another online review so you can at least get a sense of the writing style employed by StoverWhen one of the characters is contrasting Berne to Caine she describes them as follows Berne had a feral uality a wildness of lust and dangerous unpredictability that went with the loose and relaxed jointless way he walked and held himself; he was potently almost fiercely alive at all times Caine too had a uality of relaxation but there was nothing loose about it; instead it was stillness a meditative readiness that seemed to flow out from him and fill the room with capacity for action as though all around him ghosts of imaginary Caines performed every movement that was possible within the space every attack every defense every leap or flip or roll A short while later when Caine learns that Berne is in the area Kierendal's growing insouciance vanished like smoke before a gale; the black and lethal fury that flooded Caine's face when he spoke that name terrified her than had his earlier threats It was as though all of those ghost Caines that had filled the imaginary air suddenly turned and whipped faster than thought back within his body to make him so ferociously present that he seemed to burn with a scarlet flame And a final example of the kind of violent action that takes place in the story I jam the knife into his eye Bone crackles and blood sprays I use the knife to twist his face away from me a bloodstain on this livery could be fatal on my way out He flops like a salmon that's found unexpected land beneath an upstream leap This is only his body's last unconscious attempt to live; it goes hand in hand with the release of his bowels and bladder He shits and pisses all over himself and his satin weave sheets another one of those primordial reflexes a futile dodge to make his meat unappetizing to the predator HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION WHOAH Blast of testosterone to the face in the midst of my romance novel obsession THIS WAS FANTASTICSo this book is really hard to describe it takes place in a futuristic dystopian society that uses crazy technology to send actors to an alternate reality called Overworld a traditional Fantasy ish world They are watched back home via virtual reality tech as the actors live in the Fantasy world the fantasy people have no idea they're from an alternate dimension The hero Hari is basically the Sylvester Stallone at his peak of actors and his wife another actor gets trapped in the Otherworld and he has to go save her That's the basics It's very Hunger Games esue in a way But way darker WAY darker I mean talk about a dark anti hero Talk about a cool alt SFFantasy world Talk about some violent assholes who populate BOTH universes I mean Hari is one of the biggest badasses I've read in a LONG time Seriously flawed very nihilistic worldWORLDS really he's involved in And yet his journey is so full of emotion you root for him every step of the way This is an Alpha male you can get behind Damn Hot damn Don't read if you don't like profanity unlikeable characters and awesome fight scenes DIf you like really really gritty dark fantasy like George RR Martin Richard Morgan Takashi Kovaks books or ESPECIALLY Joe Abercrombie you should get this book In the author's own words from the interview at the end of the book How would you describe Heroes Die? A It’s a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment — as a concept in itself and as a cultural obsession It’s a love story romantic love paternal love repressed homoerotic love love of money of power of country love betrayed and love employed as both carrot and stick It’s a book about all different kinds of heroes and all the different ways they die It’s a pop top can of Grade A one hundred percent pure whip ass Hari Michaelson is an actor on the top ten most popular stars on the whole Earth Reality shows have evolved in the future to the point where implants in the brain of the actor allow the audience to experience directly all the sensory input and the stream of conscience thoughts of the protagonist The game is played on the Overworld an alternate Earth accessed through some sort of harmonic resonance device that opens a portal between paralell universes Overworld is a fantasy realm home to mythical creatures dragons elves goblins and much where medieval style kingdoms and empires fight it out with enchanted swords and magic spells The catch is this actors transfer to the Overworld bodily their resonance tuning is only good for a limited period of time and death as a result of their risky behaviour is very much on the cards Your function in society is to risk your life in interesting ways Hari specialty is dealing with problems in the most violent way possible and if there are no problems he'd better start a ruckus The public is not interested in gardening or saloon conversations They want blood In his Caine persona Hari is the most celebrated and the most feared assassin for hire in the Overworld Back home he would like to take a break from the show and try to mend his broken marriage but his producers his agents and most of all his audience would have none of it When his ex wife goes missing on her latest Overworld adventure Caine is forced to get back into the gameHere's what his agent has to say about this But this is absofreakinglutely spectacular — I can’t lose y’know?”Hari understood exactly what he meant he’d heroically save Shanna heroically avenge her death or heroically die in either attempt No matter what the outcome it would reflect admirably on his Patron The concept may not be new it started with the gladiator games and the 'panem et circenses' dictum and recently with The Running Man or The Hunger Games but Matt Stover really pulled off a difficult balancing act writing an edge of the seat action adventure without becoming obsessed by carnage and glorifying the killers One of the tricks used to achieve this result is to make Caine into an underdog vulnerable and constantly betrayed by his anturage something the readers can connect with and cheer for His mission of assassinaton is morphed into a uest to save his marooned ex wife and liberate the people of Ankhana from a tyrant Also he fights mostly using his fists and feet against magic swords and powerful spells putting his life on line and getting hurt every time he goes out Despite his megastar status on the entertainment channels Hari is still an outsider in the rigid Caste system that governs the planet and an outcast on Overworld “Caine and I we’re not the same person all right? I grew up in a San Francisco Labor slum; Caine’s an Overworld foundling He was raised by a Pathuan freedman a farrier and blacksmith By the time I was twelve I was a sneakthief because I wasn’t big enough to be a mugger; when Caine was twelve he was sold to a Lipkan slaver because the whole family was starving to death in the Blood Famine” All powerful reasons to identify with his struggle but Caine knows how to subvert his own myth and to accentuate the conseuences of his past 'succesful' adventures The murder of the Prince Regent in Ankhana where most of the action takes place has resulted in a bloody succession war that made way for the ascension to the imperial throne of Ma'elKoth a tyrant who feeds his magic with the blood and the souls of his subjects Even here Stover finds a way to subvert the evil overlord clyche In his own eyes Ma'elKoth is the strong but caring hand that his country needs in order to recover from infighting and from terrorists somehow he has learned about the offworlders and their actions Tell me — try to guess why they come here why they kill My people and try to murder Me why they rape our women and slaughter our children Try”Caine discovered that he had no voice His stomach knotted “It’s entertainment Caine They’re worse than demons — even the Outside Powers that prey upon men do so to feed to sustain themselves upon our terror and despair; the Aktiri do so to divert their idle hours Just for fun” The shades of grey morally ambiguous characters are one of the characteristics of the novel Switching the point of view from the first person angle with Caine to the third person narration of psychopatic killer Berne of ganglords and patrons of bawdy houses in the slums of Ankhana of the palace spymaster or of Kollberg the show producer back on Earth of the 'people's champion' Simon Jester or of her Caine worshipping bodyguard Stover explores the internal reasonings for each character's actions and how they translate into bad decisions that leave hundreds of innocent bystanders deadI have identified few weaknesses in the story development almost not worth putting down making Ma'elKoth too powerful forced a spectacular finale that went just a tiny bit too far in stretching suspension of disbelief the worldbuilding of Earth and Overworld are again a tad underdeveloped The points in favour are easier to make very strong characterization not only for the main heroes but for every part time even walk in roles great action scenes where the author puts his own personal experience in hand combat to good use complex plot that links together fantasy and SF and tackles socio political issues of pressing actuality the misuse of power the control of the media by the elite class liberty of expression ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable’ assuming responsibility for past mistakes our fixation on violent games And the whole world waits and suirms and drools like a glutton smelling a feast for a new Caine adventure beautiful prose that can capture not only the moment of pitched battle but the emotional turmoil of finding and losing friends companions lovers The weight of days presses me down like I’m slowly being flattened under God’s own millstone I slide down the wall to sit on the floor; I search within the sick emptiness in my guts looking for my anger I left a whole week pass after I finished the novel thinking to let some of my enthusiasm settle down and allow for a balanced review but I still feel I have found one of my top five fantasy novels for the last decade despite the fact that I have been lately turned off by explicit gore and language Although they are not exactly similar I would link Heroes Die with the epics of Robin Hobb and James Clavell for the way they can grab my attention to the exclusion of sleep and food and socializing and not let go until I turn the last page exhausted but satisfied in the fantastic journey I just undertook I can't wait to get into the next Caine book maybe write in detail about the Caste system on Earth and the magic system in Overworld Since I started with a uote from the author I will finish with another one that expresses succintly why I come back to fantasy novels so often Much of my life has been an obsessive inuiry into philosophy mythology magic religion and the concept of the Hero in the Joseph Campbell sense SF — fantasy — is the only branch of literature that lets you look at all of those at once

  • Kindle Edition
  • 627 pages
  • Heroes Die
  • Matthew Woodring Stover
  • English
  • 09 February 2015

About the Author: Matthew Woodring Stover

Matthew Woodring Stover is an American fantasy and science fiction author He is perhaps best known for his Star Wars novels Traitor Shatterpoint Revenge of the Sith and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor He has also published several pieces of original work such as Heroes Die which Stover described as 'a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment'


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