Written by Joe the Revelator
For those of you who have read my review of Heroes Die, the first book of the Caine saga, you've already endured my gushing about Matthew Woodring Stover and his unique blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I also complained about the difficulty of finding his out-of-print books, and the relatively low recognition he's received among fantasy readers.
Blade of Tyshalle is the unique, jaw-dropping sequel to Heroes Die, and in my opinion the most gutsy novel to hit fiction shelves in the last few decades. From here on out my review will be littered with --SPOILERS-- for both the first and the second parts of this series, so read no further if you've already sold yourself on Stover's books.
From the blood of the Colosseum:
Caine is back on Earth from his victory over the God-King Ma'elKoth and life couldn't be more of a bitter pill for the actor/assassin. Having sustained a crippling blow from the mythical sword Kosall, Caine is limited to artificial mobility. He gets around in a wheelchair and by a faulty, finicky spinal augmentation, an electrical box on his back that relays the impulses from his brain to his lower extremities. Pain and humiliation are his constant companions, and at every turn he is reminded of the superb fighting machine his body once was, and all he has lost with his new limitations.
By comparison his wife Shanna is adjusting to life with Caine/Hari and their new daughter, the bastard offspring from Shanna's dalliance, which Caine has adopted as his own without reservation. Pallas's role as goddess of the river of Overworld makes for a harsh contrast against Hari's broken body and decaying spirits. And their only family friend, one Tan'elKoth, the now-mortal God-King trapped in our world, visits often and seems to both revel at Hari's pain and sympathize with his weakness and age.
The three of them; Caine, Pallas Ril, and Tan'elKoth, as immensely powerful and confident as these characters are, can't make themselves comfortable in the gray world of Earth. Pallas Ril is drawn back to the river. Tan'elKoth wishes to be a god in his own kingdom again. And Caine wants nothing more than to rid himself of his pathetic state; crippled, and without control over his life.
Rabies for Elves.
Meanwhile, in the land of Elves, Faries, and magic, the entertainment networks and conglomerates of Earth have sent a virulent strain of airborne Rabies to wipe out all life. The love affair between the fantasy world and Earth's hungry public is over, and in its wake is a flood of poison and disease, soldiers and guns and bombs. Like the real-life outcome of most manmade conflicts, when fascination over a new land grows old, the rape of its natural resources and destruction of its people begins.
The resulting conflict as Caine, Pallas Ril, and Ma'elKoth make their return is brutal and awesome. Everything slips into a special realm of chaos where none of the conventional rules of storytelling apply, and can often be as devastating as it is rewarding for the reader. It's not the scale of violence that sets Blade of Tyshalle apart, but the emotional charge behind it. I found myself re-reading many potent narrative chapters simply to experience their impact a second time.
This is why we read...
I've mentioned in prior discussions that much of my opinion, my acclaim for a book, is based on how it effects life after reading it. Some novels are consumed and passed like snack foods, easily forgotten. Others leave a taste in your mouth, whether it's good or bad. Blade of Tyshalle cuts out your tongue and grills it up for you. If you've invested enough time to read Heroes Die, this book will hit you harder and leave your head ringing longer.
Stories like this are why fantasy exists, and why literature isn't restricted to angsty coming-of-age tales and mysteries. This is why we ask the opinion of friends instead of picking up the first fat novel we find in the library. So listen to me now- I'm your friend, and I'm telling you to read this book.