Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mini-Review: Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover

Caine Black Knife is the third book in the Acts of Caine series by Matthew Stover which is one of those series that is criminally under-read. Basically, if you are a fan of fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, then you need to read these books. If you’re not familiar, take a quick moment to read my reviews of Heores Die (Act of Violence) and Blade of Tyshalle (Act of War), not only are they some of my better written reviews but they will hopefully help show why SFF fans should be reading these books.
Caine Black Knife picks up a few years after the events in Blade of Tyshalle (a book often lauded as one of the best of epic fantasy, period – though there is a minority disagreement of course). Caine Black Knife tells of Caine’s return to the place where he made his fame on earth and we see through flashbacks the how Caine earned that fame through the slaughter of the Black Knife tribe of ogrilloi and his improbably survival through it all. Over and over again the reader sees that Caine is no hero, he is only good in comparison to how bad others around him are.
Caine Black Knife is the first half of Caine: Act of Atonement, Book 1 and you could argue that it’s only the first half of the final book in the series. There is a full story told, but it is clearly the set-up for the book to come. In this respect it’s rather straight-forward and linear in its approach, though few would likely call this a linear book with all the flashbacks and parallel stories.
Stover’s writing is supurb. His characters are deeply developed and as conflicted as people in real life – though thankfully much more interesting to actually follow than most people typically are. Stover writes action and fight scenes better than anyone else writing in SFF today and if there existed a photo of Caine, that would be all that is needed for the Wikipedia page for ‘bad-ass’.
However, to discount Stover as only the best action/fight writer in SFF is an injustice. Because what makes that writing so good is the way in which he makes it mean something. This book is the first part of Caine’s journey toward atonement. We see the past, we see the present. We see the regret and the non-regret. Everything from sacrifice to parenthood is explored, though underlying it all is the idea of what is good versus what is bad versus what simply is. Caine is good. Caine is bad. And Caine is everything in between. But really, Caine simply is. As fans of this series have come to expect, he kicks major ass, he survives and he continues to surprise any and all who find themselves on the wrong side of Caine’s goals.
But Caine Black Knife mostly sets the stage for the Act of Atonement, Book 2: Caine’s Law, the final book in the series. And that book is simply the culmination of all that is Caine and his method of atonement – and that is another story: what Caine will be.
Blade of Tyshalle: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon
Caine Black Knife: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon

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