Caine is a mercenary, a warrior for hire, feared and respected throughout Ankhana. Now his lover Pallas Ril is in grave danger, and he's not going to let anyone stand in his way to save her. But Caine is actually a character, played by Actor Hari Michaelson, who transfers to the parallel world Ankhana from Earth, and whose violent exploits are followed by millions of fans. Back on Earth, Hari is in thrall to the powerful and oppressive Entertainment system, whose executives are more interested in stopping the new Emperor bringing peace to Ankhana, and thereby destroying their source of violent entertainment, than they are saving Hari's wife Shanna, the Actor who plays Pallas Ril. Caine needs to defeat the invincible Emperor to save Pallas Ril, and Hari needs to play the Entertainment executives to save his wife.
When Caine's Law was recently published, Scalzi posted about it on his Whatever blog. From what he said there, I gathered he likes the series, and the commentators were enthusiastic, too. For my part, I'd never heard of Stover, but I thought I'd give it a try. Halfway through the book, I went and ordered the other three, even paying a little over the odds for a second hand copy of the out of print Blade of Tyshalle. Then, when I'd finished the book, after reading an interview with the author, I also went and ordered two of his Barra the Pict books. (This sort of behaviour is no good at all for the state of my unread pile.)
So yeah, I liked it. It's very violent, in a martial arts/swordfighting way, and that's an important part of the plot. As the author says in the interview: "It's a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment". It's a richly thought-out fantasy world that's actually science fiction (Ankhana is a parallel Earth where a form of magic works, but is accessed via high tech.) There's a lot of intrigue, but it's not boring old politics, it's exciting spy thriller kind of stuff. Everybody is playing a double or triple game, and Hari/Caine needs to employ all his cunning, and overcome his conditioning, if he is to win the day.
They are wrong…
It is seven years after the events in Heroes Die, and no-one is living that happily ever after. Hari, no longer Caine, is crippled, confined to Earth, in a job he’s not suited for. His wife Shanna gets to be the river-goddess Pallas Ril for only half the year. And Ten’elKoth is god no more.
So when someone sends Hari a message that something truly dreadful is happening in Caine’s world, Hari leaps at the chance to do something. Leaps, and crashes and burns. Several times.
This is an excellent study in destroying someone, over and over again, until they are honed down to their essential core. However, this process does not make for comfortable reading. It has all the blood, gore, and overall nastiness of the previous book, with very little of the accomapnying swashbuckling action. Nevertheless, the parts from Caine’s PoV are gripping. The things that make me down-rate this form the previous book are two-fold. (1) There is too much from other points of view, and these PoV’s aren’t as gripping as Caine’s. (2) The fantasy elements have overwhelmed the original SFnal premiss, and leaked (flooded?) out into the Earth-set scenes.
Despite these caveats, this is still a good read, providing interesting background on how Earth got into the castes state, and leaving you wondering right up until the end what is going to happen next. I’ll be reading the next in the saga, too.