Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Don't judge a book by its cover - especially not this.
I bought it as a blind date book, wrapped in brown paper with just a few keywords for guidance. I regretted that when I unwrapped it and judged by the cover, but not after I had started reading it. This book is seriously awesome. OK, it's also bloody brutal, but, surprisingly, I could handle that. Let me start at the beginning, though.
It takes some time to read far enough into the book to grasp the setting (but it's very well done, the explaining within the story), so let me give you an introduction.
The story takes place somewhere in our future - when English is almost the only spoken language left on earth. The society is a rigid caste system, with Laborers, Professionals, Administrators, Businesspeople, and Leisurefolk. At some point in their past, humans discovered that there are parallel universes which, kind of, vibrate at different frequencies, and can therefore be reached by changing your own frequency. One of the parallel worlds is called "Overworld" - and it is here that the fantasy part of the novel happens. On Overworld live not only humans, but also elves, dwarfs, ogres, trolls and so on; there's magick and very real and present gods.
People from Earth send Actors to this world to have Adventures. These can be experienced in real time (or recorded) by the rich and bored on Earth for entertainment. Great, huh? The most famous Actor right then is Hari Michaelson, also known as Caine, whose main talent is killing people. In Heroes Die, he is sent to Overworld to rescue his wife, who doesn't know that she lost her connection to Earth and is - therefore - about to die in a few days. And he won't stop hurting (and killing) people until she is safe.
Strong points of the book:
Emotion. The reader gets to feel what Caine feels, just like his audience on Earth (or almost). That's great to keep you glued to the book, but also means you get to imagine how it feels to have someone stick a sword through your liver (just as an example). Yay?
Action. There is almost no time to breathe, or put that book down. Very good craftsmanship of Matthew Woodring Stover - all around, by the way, that man knows how to tell a story without having to talk to the reader directly (except for once breaking the fourth wall very effectively), or obviously inventing scenes just to get some explanations across.
Warning: If you do not like sarcasm, swearwords, casual rape (mentioned in passing), or lots of graphic violence much, this might not be the right book for you. On the other hand, I don't like violence or torture either, but still loved that book.
I have two questions left in my head the - otherwise wonderfully written - novel did not answer: how does the Ritual work and what's that about the black Shell? Maybe the latter will be answered in the next book in the series, which is unfortunately no longer available in print.
Conclusion? Heroes Die is a SciFi & fantasy mix that's very well done, (but also) full of violence and testosterone. It was so vastly different from the Long Earth books I've read before that I loved it right from the start - no more boredom! I don't know how I'll be able to cope with The Long Mars now... Oh, wait, I'll get the next Cain novel (Blade of Tyshalle) as eBook afterwards, and I'm already looking forward to that!
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