Review: Caine's Law by Matthew Stover

Saturday, September 15, 2012
Title: Caine's Law
Author: Matthew Stover
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: Overworld #4
Pages: 496
Published: April 2012
Source: ARC from SF Revu
Rating: 4/5

From the moment Caine first appeared in the pages of Heroes Die, two things were clear. First, that Matthew Stover was one of the most gifted fantasy writers of his generation. And second, that Caine was a hero whose peers go by such names as Conan and Elric. Like them, Caine was something new: a civilized man who embraced savagery, an actor whose life was a lie, a force of destruction so potent that even gods thought twice about crossing him. Now Stover brings back his greatest creation for his most stunning performance yet.

Caine is washed up and hung out to dry, a crippled husk kept isolated and restrained by the studio that exploited him. Now they have dragged him back for one last deal. But Caine has other plans. Those plans take him back to Overworld, the alternate reality where gods are real and magic is the ultimate weapon. There, in a violent odyssey through time and space, Caine will face the demons of his past, find true love, and just possibly destroy the universe.

Hey, it’s a crappy job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Reviewed by April.

Caine is back after a long layoff. He is “up against it,” as usual. This time, though, all of his experiences can only go so far; his heart will have to carry him the rest of the way. In this fourth and probably last novel in the phenomenal Acts of Caine series, Stover tries to pull off a difficult storytelling form in addition to some strange twists to the story itself, and almost succeeds.

The reader should, first off, be forewarned about a couple of things in Caine's Law. This book definitely fixes the long-endured frustration of Caine Black Knife readers who were stuck with the cliffhanger ending in the last book. It also adds synergistically to that story--both novels are better together than the sum of their parts. However, if you haven't read the previous books in the Acts of Caine, do NOT start here. With Stover's use of nonlinear time and mysticism, this could get confusing very quickly. Additionally, keep in mind that Caine is of the Labor caste; he grew up in a slum. He curses constantly. The violence in all the Acts of Caine is fairly gratuitous as well. This is not a series for the faint of stomach heart.

Caine's character has been through hell and back. His no-care, no bull attitude towards life is part of why he is one of the best postmodern sword and sorcery characters in existence. His capital P Presence is again one hundred percent, well, present; he remains Matthew Stover's magnum opus. All the other things fans of Stover have come to expect are here, too: for instance, the various subthemes like personal vs. collective consciousness, the abstract vs. the literal, and individual vs. society. This kind of social, political, and philosophical commentary help make these stories not just action-packed and entertaining, but also intellectually stimulating.

While Caine remains the best example of Stover's ability to create flawed, true to life characters, one particular addition to the cast in this novel was a stroke of genius. Those who know Caine realize the painful journey he's taken in his love life. In several ways, Caine finds peace--at least more than he ever supposed he'd find. One of those ways is through the horse witch: a gruff, mysterious woman with little to say but so much to give. The chemistry these two characters generate surpasses anything Pallas Ril could ever have hoped to have. The most amazing part is that that seems to have been Stover's intention. Chemistry is a tricky thing to try to force, and for this author the generation of relationships both positive and negative falls into place naturally.

Unfortunately, this installment in the Acts of Caine does have a few notable problems. Although it is well worth it at the end, impatient readers may find themselves confused and frustrated with the structure of the story itself. While I admit to spending time trying to dig through a little bit of the story, the bigger problem for me was that Caine becomes too larger than life this time. He's always been over the top to some degree--and in many ways that is what is so awesome about him--but I never got the feeling that Caine's death was imminent, like I did in the previous novels. There was never a doubt that he would win the day. In a way, that's a backhanded compliment though, because it means the protagonist is finally grown up and has found some form of contentedness within himself. While it diminishes the novel somewhat, there is satisfaction in the end of the series as a whole. That's not to say us huge Caine fans out there wouldn't love to see some prequels or novels of Caine between these story events, but it does feel like his journey is finally at the right ending.

So what is Caine's Law? That, you would have to read to find out. While this is not the strongest of the Acts of Caine, it still makes a fine addition to the series and is well worth the read. Caine remains one of the best characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.


This book was sent as an ARC from SF Revu.

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