Friday, February 13, 2009

Caine Black Knife

Title: Caine Black Knife
Author: Matthew Woodring Stover
Series: The Acts of Caine, 3rd book in the series
Genre: Fantasy, novel
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Worth reading for those who liked the first two books. Read only if you have a stomach for graphic violence.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: The premises of the series is that there are two worlds: the Earth of a rather dystopic future and the Otherworld, a fantasy land to which actors from Earth travel and have adventures that get recorded and transmitted back to Earth. This book that tells two parallel stories of Caine, an actor from Earth. One is a story of his first adventure, where he fights against the most feared tribe of ogrillo: Black Knives. The other is 25 years later, Caine travels back to the site of the first fight and makes some new discoveries.

Reactions: I've read Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle, the first two books in the series, back in 2003. I don't own the books, so I decided to go ahead and read this one without re-reading the first two. Now I wish I had re-read them for two reasons. The first reason is that there were plenty of references to the first two books in this novel. We get to meet some characters we've seen before and Caine reminisces about some of the events. I only remembered some of what I read 6 years ago and I felt it could benefit the reading experience to know more. The second reason is that I remember REALLY liking the first two books when I first read them whereas this book while entertaining did not leave me with the same impression and I don't know if that's because it wasn't as good or just because my opinions changed in the last 6 years. Perhaps it's both.

Caine Black Knife is somewhat complicated in its format. It tells two stories in parallel, one in the present and one in the past. These are fairly easy to tell apart because they alternate between chapters. However, there are also some trips back to the memory lane within chapters and all these time movements make it difficult to follow the story sometimes. The story from the past tells the adventure that made Caine a famous actor back on Earth. I enjoyed it more than the story of present where Caine returns to the site of his first adventure and gets tangled in political intrigues.

There is a ton of gratuitous violence, graphic descriptions of bodily functions, and swearing. But that is in line with earlier novels and it's definitely meant to shock the reader. Caine is very much an anti-hero and I would say he's barely likable. At the same time, the writing is good, and Stover definitely knows how to paint the picture and convey the tone. Here's a small excerpt from the novel:

Ule-Tourann, the Family Bishop of Purthin's Ford, moved up one of the sanctum's ramped aisles in a loose-jointed shamble. From under the Bishop's biretta straggled curls of oiled hair the same color as the grease spot on his surplice. He moved like a man who'd heard of exercise but had never actually seen it done. And he yapped. Yap yap yap yap: a stupefying endless river of content-free noise.

I thought the description was pretty funny if not particularly kind and it's a pretty good sample of the writing style in its milder form.

The plot itself has a lot of politics and intrigue as well as fighting between Caine and various persons. The end of the book had some very interesting plot twists, but even though the book held my interest, it was not the kind that grabs your attention so much that you can't stop. In fact, I found it to be somewhat slow, particularly in the present time storyline. This is meant to be the first part of The Act of Atonement, with part two, His Father's Fist, currently being written. Stover clearly left some story lines open for this continuation, but somehow I am not particularly eager to read it, which pretty much sums up my mild disappointment with the book.

Despite everything, Caine is still a kick-ass fighter and there's plenty of interesting scenes and relevations in the book. I suggest those new to Stover should pick up the first two books of the series first and proceed to this one if they enjoy the first two.

No comments:

Post a Comment