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The Acts of Caine by Matt Woodring Stover [Are these books rarer than gold?]


Veltigar
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14 hours ago, wolverine said:

My cover of Heroes Die (Book 1) was so awful...

Amongst the three different covers that I have for his books (3 and 4 are in the same style), it's the only one I kind of like. It's still not great, but it has a sort of classic flair to it which I can appreciate.

It also cracks me up, since the one thing I find hilariously awful about the books are the constant mentions of Caine's generic leather outfit (which is such a blatantly stupid fantasy trope, and the books just lean into it like crazy); and my cover of the first book depicts the outfit in all of its glorious stupidity.  

14 hours ago, wolverine said:

Cain is not pure evil, he does have a conscience. Just an asshole mostly.

 

Blade of Tyshalle was probably my least favorite.  I didn't really like the concept of "actors" heading into the first book, but man that book was great. 

I hope I'll feel the same way after I'm done reading the series. I'll finish up my other book first and then hopefully I'll have time for book 3.

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  • 3 months later...

Due to travel and other books, it took me longer than expected, but I finally got around to reading Caine Black Knife. I definitely preferred it over Blade of Tyshalle (As an aside, I don't even remember why they call Caine that, can anyone explain?), but I'm not so sure about where it stands compared to Heroes Die.

Overall, I enjoyed it, although I definitely was more engaged by the flashbacks than the actual "present day" plot. Perhaps a lot of that plot will pay off in the (weird as far as everyone seems to think) fourth book, but I keep on thinking that Stover's a writer who bites of more than he can chew.

The flashbacks in this novel basically serve as an illustration of his main strength as a writer. He writes great action set pieces and his characterization, particularly of Caine is engrossing. He does quickly lose me when he tries to go for more intricate plotting and, in general, I think his prose tends towards the purple. Some of the jumps or reasoning this book takes, mostly in its present-day plot, are kind of difficult to follow.

Curious to see how it ends, although I will probably read something else in between. 

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On 1/15/2024 at 12:52 AM, Veltigar said:

Due to travel and other books, it took me longer than expected, but I finally got around to reading Caine Black Knife. I definitely preferred it over Blade of Tyshalle (As an aside, I don't even remember why they call Caine that, can anyone explain?), but I'm not so sure about where it stands compared to Heroes Die.

Overall, I enjoyed it, although I definitely was more engaged by the flashbacks than the actual "present day" plot. Perhaps a lot of that plot will pay off in the (weird as far as everyone seems to think) fourth book, but I keep on thinking that Stover's a writer who bites of more than he can chew.

The flashbacks in this novel basically serve as an illustration of his main strength as a writer. He writes great action set pieces and his characterization, particularly of Caine is engrossing. He does quickly lose me when he tries to go for more intricate plotting and, in general, I think his prose tends towards the purple. Some of the jumps or reasoning this book takes, mostly in its present-day plot, are kind of difficult to follow.

Curious to see how it ends, although I will probably read something else in between. 

He’s also written what in my opinion are arguably two of the best prequel era Star Wars novels - Shatterpoint featuring Mace Windu and Revenge of the Sith novelisation , you should check it out after Caine ! I usually don’t recommend tie in novels but these two are exceptions. 
 

CBK is a more back to basics approach after Tyshalle which is also probably why you liked it more. I personally didn’t care much for the latter two Caine novels but waiting to see your reaction to the mindfuck that is Caines Law which can give R Scott Baker a run for his money ! 

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17 hours ago, Ser Rodrigo Belmonte II said:

He’s also written what in my opinion are arguably two of the best prequel era Star Wars novels - Shatterpoint featuring Mace Windu and Revenge of the Sith novelisation , you should check it out after Caine ! I usually don’t recommend tie in novels but these two are exceptions. 
 

CBK is a more back to basics approach after Tyshalle which is also probably why you liked it more. I personally didn’t care much for the latter two Caine novels but waiting to see your reaction to the mindfuck that is Caines Law which can give R Scott Baker a run for his money ! 

The Revenge of the Sith novelization is a true work of art. Just wish it was longer so that the second half of the movie wasn't crammed into the last third of the book.

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On 1/22/2024 at 12:36 PM, Ser Rodrigo Belmonte II said:

CBK is a more back to basics approach after Tyshalle which is also probably why you liked it more. I personally didn’t care much for the latter two Caine novels but waiting to see your reaction to the mindfuck that is Caines Law which can give R Scott Baker a run for his money ! 

Well, you are in luck then, because I just finished Caine's Law a couple of hours ago. I'm still processing  it, but I got to say I liked it a lot. I preferred this to Caine Black Knife and certainly Blade of Tyshalle (which is my least favourite of the tetralogy). The difficult question is whether or not I rate it higher than Heroes Die.

I absolutely commend the ambition behind this fourth novel. It definitely feels like the book Stover perhaps always wanted to write, and he's definitely in fine form throughout. The knotty nature of the plot, the way he goes all in on his characters, and manages to add to his lore without having the book crumble under the weight of all the high concepts he's introducing is genuinely impressive.

Some of it does feel like he's retconning earlier events, particularly in Blade of Tyshalle.

Spoiler

particularly the way the Blind God behaved in the second book v. the reveal in the fourth seems like it doesn't click together very well. I much prefer the take on it from the fourth novel of course.

Perhaps it's my own bias speaking here, but I did not enjoy the turn the second book took (I felt like the high concepts introduced there broke the camel's back). It feels to me as if this fourth novel (and the third before it) are corrections in a way.

Like, there is a lot of high concept stuff in this novel, but I find it much more bearable since it's grounded in the genuinely touching relationships Caine has forged with 

Spoiler

the horse witch in particular, but also Angvasse, Orbek and others.

That was in my opinion not the case for Blade of Tyshalle, which also featured a way too whiny Caine. In Caine's Law he's definitely more mature and the writing brings that of convincingly.

There are of course still points of improvement. I felt like the ending was quite rushed, and I feel like some characters would have benefitted from more exposure earlier on (perhaps ideally in the previous novel Caine Black Knife)

Spoiler

Angvasse was a bit of a cipher for me. I also would have liked her to have a more direct connection to Marade, perhaps as her and Caine's biological daughter.

Orbek too would have benefitted from some more exposure at certain points. His relation with Caine was handled well, with the exception of his turn towards the Smoke Hunt. I feel like that should have featured more on the page, as he in the end feels so committed that he even attacks Caine.

I also think that if I were to make an adaptation of this, I would slightly simplify things

Spoiler

I liked the fact that Jethro and Jereth were revealed to be Gods who had given up immortality to fight on the side of Man. The fact that Caine was the sword of Jethro was a bit out there for my taste. I think it would be simpler if he was an aspect or echo of Jereth. 

Perhaps again my bias speaking, since I have always figured that there was a connection between Caine and Jereth ever since the Black Flow was introduced.

All in all, definitely a great series, and I am glad to have read it.

On 1/22/2024 at 12:36 PM, Ser Rodrigo Belmonte II said:

He’s also written what in my opinion are arguably two of the best prequel era Star Wars novels - Shatterpoint featuring Mace Windu and Revenge of the Sith novelisation , you should check it out after Caine ! I usually don’t recommend tie in novels but these two are exceptions. 
 

I got to admit, that's a hard pitch. Not really into that kind of thing, but perhaps I'll consider it over time ;) After all, it took me like 10 years to finally order the Caine books XD

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Shatterpoint is basically Apocalypse Now with Jedi. It's fucking great.  Also not all that long (no Blade-of-Tyshalle level drag) so not as big a commitment. 

Traitor is his best Star Wars book, but you can't read it without reading at least some of the New Jedi Order books before it. 
 

Still, though, a lot of Stover in a row is, well, a lot. 


On the middle spoiler: 

 

Spoiler

I think it's open to interpretation how much Orbek's attacking of Caine was down to just being so into the Smoke Hunt. Like, he was mad at him because he felt misled about, you knpw, Caine genociding his people, so wanting to kill him would be pretty fair anyway tbh - but he didn't go there intending to fight him, and Caine spends the entire time after he reveals himself antagonising Orbek to the max, so he was just reacting really. Plus, we also know from the next scene that Caine-on-Earth is orchestrating things in his head at some point there- I'm inclined to think it started after then (and it's not 100% clear how far apart those two things are in time), but it's plausible that either (1) he had already or (2) Orbek already knows that Caine-in-the-arena is a fetch, since he's on Earth himself and might have info that Caine's imprisoned by the Soapies. So he may well have known that 'killing' him wasn't going to kill him any more than the reverse was true. 

 

There are quite a few things in the book that we just have to guess or leave open, though.

47 minutes ago, Veltigar said:

Some of it does feel like he's retconning earlier events, particularly in Blade of Tyshalle

 

Spoiler

To be fair that's the literal plot of the book lol.

I do get what you're saying though. The one that stuck out to me was that in between books it felt like at some stage not just Caine but Stover himself started disliking Shanna/Pallas and made her into a somewhat different character than she'd previously been presented as, with pretty flimsy justification. To the point of making her a minor antagonist. 

 

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14 hours ago, polishgenius said:
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To be fair that's the literal plot of the book lol.

I do get what you're saying though. The one that stuck out to me was that in between books it felt like at some stage not just Caine but Stover himself started disliking Shanna/Pallas and made her into a somewhat different character than she'd previously been presented as, with pretty flimsy justification. To the point of making her a minor antagonist. 

 

Exceedingly fair point for the bolded, I should have expressed myself better :cheers: 

Spoiler

Even more than the literal retconning of the plot of Blade of Tyshalle in Caine's Law, I felt like the tone and the emotional resonance, particularly around certain characters and their importance to Caine changed fundamentally in Caine's Law from the original conception expressed in Blade of Tyshalle.

I think that is best illustrated by the fact that most of the major characters of Blade of Tyshalle seem to be afterthoughts and take a backseat to original creations from Caine Black Knife and Caine's Law. It's a very bold creative choice, which I support since I prefer the new characters, but it still presents some difficulties for the series as a while. 

For example, I think you are right about Stover's change of heart on Shanna/Pallas. She's indeed seen as a minor antagonist, instead of the heroic character she was in the beginning. I think her role was usurped in a way by Marade from Caine Black Knife, as a straight virtuous character Caine failed to safe and still haunts him.  

Other characters whose relevance changed and that stood out to me are the following:

  • Avery Shanks and Faith don't feature apart from a mention or two, this is weird given the major emphasis on his daughter in Tyshalle
  • Ma'El Koth is also strangely neutered. This despite the fact that his true assumption is the catalyst for the ending of the deomarchy, and yet he's not an active player. 
  • The biggest change for me is the changed nature of the Blind God. In Caine's Law the Blind God becomes an expression to denote the amoral "power" of humanity, but in Blade of Tyshalle the Blind God seemed to me as a real, malevolent entity which chose Kollberg as its avatar. I didn't like that choice, so I prefer the new direction, but it's hard to square the two very different readings of the character in my opinion.

 

15 hours ago, polishgenius said:

Shatterpoint is basically Apocalypse Now with Jedi. It's fucking great.  Also not all that long (no Blade-of-Tyshalle level drag) so not as big a commitment. 

Traitor is his best Star Wars book, but you can't read it without reading at least some of the New Jedi Order books before it. 
 

Still, though, a lot of Stover in a row is, well, a lot. 

Yeah, I needed a long break after Blade of Tyshalle, and I did read two other books between Caine Black Knife and Caine's Law. It's definitely beneficial to my enjoyment to do it this way.

15 hours ago, polishgenius said:

Shatterpoint is basically Apocalypse Now with Jedi. It's fucking great.  Also not all that long (no Blade-of-Tyshalle level d

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I think it's open to interpretation how much Orbek's attacking of Caine was down to just being so into the Smoke Hunt. Like, he was mad at him because he felt misled about, you knpw, Caine genociding his people, so wanting to kill him would be pretty fair anyway tbh - but he didn't go there intending to fight him, and Caine spends the entire time after he reveals himself antagonising Orbek to the max, so he was just reacting really. Plus, we also know from the next scene that Caine-on-Earth is orchestrating things in his head at some point there- I'm inclined to think it started after then (and it's not 100% clear how far apart those two things are in time), but it's plausible that either (1) he had already or (2) Orbek already knows that Caine-in-the-arena is a fetch, since he's on Earth himself and might have info that Caine's imprisoned by the Soapies. So he may well have known that 'killing' him wasn't going to kill him any more than the reverse was true. 

 

Spoiler

Hmm, interesting, I didn't read that as Caine being a fetch. We never actually see a Caine "meat suit" right?

 

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To the last spoiler:

 

Spoiler

He's not a fetch in the Smoke Hunt sense, but there are multiple Caines kicking about because Pirichanthe/potentially is fucking with the timeliness and kicking him out of dil T'lans whenever they need a Caine on the scene (basically what he has Duncan agree to do later), and because she's a god unbound by Time she can, well, send him whenever. Bear in mind, during pretty much all of the 'current' scenes on Home, Caine is on Earth, in captivity- that's why the Earth security at one point are surprised to see him, because they'd heard he'd just been taken in the night before. That's one of the reasons the timeline is so hard to piece together - there's not one continuous personal timeline where Caine experiences things all in a row. 

 


Of course it's all a bit muddied by the fact that the book openly tells you that some of the scenes and sequences in the book unhappened. Like it's unclear if when Caine 'kills' Tanner in the scene where he takes control of the Black Knives, does he actually kill him and Tanner's later appearance is the result of timeline unhappening that also put them in better control of the Dil T'lan than they did in the scene as we read it? I'm not saying that's what happened, and that particular one I'm not sure would be useful or necessary to the story, but it's possible. Tanner seems to remember that moment in the final scene, so probably not and it was just a trick- but he also says that how they come to be there and ready to take over makes no sense. 

 

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