You've got to wonder, sometimes, just exactly who writes the science fiction and
fantasy reviews for the heavy hitters of the book industry - Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, et al. - when they so glibly dismiss a book like Blade of Tyshalle. Do these guys even like the genre, or are they part of some creepy underground conspiracy to bury the true spirit of sf/f under tons and tons of bloated just-like-Robert-Jordan squared trilogies? Forget those guys; turn your attention instead to the story itself. An effective, more thoughtful book than its
predecessor (Heroes Die), Blade of Tyshalle might just surpass its antecedent in bloodthirstiness. In a neat twist for our times, however, the violence here goes beyond mere prurience. It's a square look at the true (and truly ugly) face underneath humanity's collective mask.
Hari Michaelson, aka Caine, aka The Blade of Tyshalle, has gone soft. You can hardly say it's his fault, though. After all, his spine was severed seven years ago, in the climax of the Studio's all-time bestselling entertaiment: For Love of Pallas Ril. Hari has managed to leverage Caine's vast popularity into an upcaste to Adminstrator for himself. He's got a beautiful home, an adorable stepdaughter, even the woman he risked everything to save in Caine's final adventure: Pallas Ril, Overworld river goddess, known six months of the year as Shanna Michaelson, Studio Actor. Hari's in charge of the flagship San Francisco Studio, but it's floundering under his leadership. Some guys apparently were just never cut out for management.
But rank does have its privileges. When an Actor on Adventure on Overworld is used by an elven mage to broadcast a warning that a deadly variant of rabies has been loosed upon Overworld, Hari intercepts the message with something like relief. After seven years as a crippled desk jockey, he yearns for one more chance to be Caine -- a man who does, and does whatever he does well. But even as Hari begins to set a plan to save Overworld in motion, his world comes crashing down around him. Betrayed by his enemy/friend Tan'elkoth, the man-god Hari defeated to save his wife's life, Hari just manages to send Shanna to Overworld to join with the river she so loves before his dying father is arrested, his stepdaughter lawfully abducted by her biological Businessman grandmother, and the sum of his worldly possessions are stripped from him. But the Studio behind Hari's fall has greatly underestimated the legend they believed forever gone: Caine.
Blade of Tyshalle is intricate and relentless. The sociology of the nonhuman Overworld population is developed more fully than in Heroes Die, and so are individual characters. Especially fascinating is the book's opening glimpse into Caine's beginnings at the Studio academy, providing insight into what will become his most enduring friendship. Author Matthew (Woodring) Stover puts his own martial arts background to explicit use in describing the graceful and vicious choreography of Caine's fight scenes. Even more gripping are Stover's ruminations on the power of myth and the inexorable tendency of blind humanity to acquisition at any cost. Blade of Tyshalle binds together gut-wrenching action, exceptionally adept world-building and compelling philosophy to end as a whole far greater than the sum of its parts -- or of its leading man's scars.