Action & Adventure, thy name is Caine! If you like your SF with action, adventure, and mondo gratuitous bloodletting (and you donít mind reading some very colorful swear words), then I highly recommend that Matthew Stoverís Caine Black Knife. Though itís Stoverís third novel featuring Caine (the first two being Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle) and I also recommend reading the first two, Caine Black Knife stands on its own as an excellent book. Jonathan Fist, Dominic Shade, the Prince of Chaos, Caine - whatever you want to call him, in any incarnation the hero of Stoverís series is bad to the bone.
One blurb on the bookís back cover written by Christopher Rowley, the author the Bazil Broketail series, compares Stover to Philip K. Dick. For fans of Philip K. Dickís writing, like myself, this is high praise. Having read both, I think Stoverís novels are superior - much more action-packed than Dickís, very quotable, and likely wonít become dated as many of Dickís have since they donít refer to specific Earth dates and events. It does have strong language in it, but it fits Caineís character. He revels in violence and being bad, but only against people who cross or hurt him or his friends or relatives, like Orbek, an ogrillo (an intelligent gorilla/razorback being) who has adopted him into his Black Knife clan. Caineís attempts to save Orbekís life and free him from the Khyrillian Knightsí Pits is one of the driving forces of one of the novelís two plotlines.
One plot thread explores Caineís origins in sections titled ďThen.Ē We learn of his origins, his desire to become an Actor in a reality show recorded on cubes, wanting to be the star of his life-and-death adventure instead of a bit player. He takes over the story, convincing the others with him to fight the ogrillos instead of trying to flee, and they become surrounded and trapped in the ruins of a vertical city by the Black Knives. Fighting to the death seems preferable to being hunted down, captured, and tortured, so thatís what Caine suggests to Marade, Tizarre, Rababal, Stalton, and Pretornio - especially after Caine lets them know what the Black Knives do to people they suspect of being magic users. Caine tells Marade and the others,
ďThey call it the Black Knife Kiss: they lock lips onto your eye sockets and suck
your eyeballs out. One at a time. Bite through your optic nerve. They figure if you
canít see, you canít do magic.Ē
The other plot line is titled ďNowĒ and takes up the action thirty years later, as Caine returns to Boedecken, the scene of his first (and almost last) adventure in which he was crucified by the Black Knives and forced to watch the other aforementioned Actors/fellow adventurers be tortured to death. In the time thatís passed since Caine was there last, an entire religion, the Cainists, has grown up based on his legendary sayings and exploits. A river has even been named after him. The Grills (as the ogrillos are called) are second-class citizens. Ones called eligibles are allowed to work, but only if they have their razor-sharp fighting claws on their forearms filed blunt and get castrated. Others who donít want to accept this fate have organized Smoke Hunts and try to take down as many Knights as possible. Thatís why Orbek has been imprisoned in one of the Pits - heís been accused of being behind the Smoke Hunts.
Orbek has to either fight the Champion of the Khyrillians to the death - a fight he has no possibility of winning on his own - or publically apologize to her in the arena and back down, which is to him worse than death. His wife, or ďbitchĒ as the female ogrillos are called in the novel, wants him to fight and wonít have anything to do with him if he refuses. Saving Orbek is a major challenge for Caine, involving him violently in the politics and religion of Boedecken and the Knights.
Caine Black Knife is one of the best SF novels Iíve read in a long time. Stover has written whatís probably the best book of the series so far. The next (and concluding) novel will be called Act of Atonement: Book Two. If itís at all as good as this one, it promises to be an exciting read. I know I am definitely looking forward to reading it.