Blade of Tyshalle, by Matthew Woodring Stover

blade-of-tyshalle-by-matthew-woodring-stover coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating:
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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I was about halfway through Blade of Tyshalle when SFReader.com posted a review of Heroes Die, the prequel. I read Heroefour starss Die when it was released; it had generated some good press and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Blade of Tyshalle is a good read, not quite as good as the first (IMO), but still several cuts above the processed tapioca pap smeared all over the pages of many of the fantasy novels one finds on the shelves these days.

Both books are compelling in a way that’s hard to describe. It’s as though you’re on a hill with a good view of a train track, along which runs a loaded passenger train. You know it’s out there and you know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. And you also know it’s going to wreck. It’s going to jump the rails and crack like an egg thrown against a brick wall, spraying bodies and blood and screaming wounded all over. So there you wait, trapped in a state of horrific anticipation of what’s to come and helpless to do anything about it.

Welcome to a Stover book.

Stover is not kind to his characters. Bad, unpleasant thing happens, emotional and physical. People are ugly to one another, and this is perhaps the harshest message that I found at the root of his work: we are the ones who willfully and with malice heap the most horrific atrocities upon each other.

There’s no clear-cut black and white here, no good vs. evil. What you will find are well-realized characters with a consistency of motivation. They all have personal reasons for what they do, be it a grab at power, revenge, or defense. This, too, is refreshing from the farm boy/servant girl heroes endowed with genetic magic who set out to save the world, not because they want to but because it’s been prophesied and they have no choice.

Stover’s characters aren’t dragged along by ancient legends and grandiose, altruistic aspirations to Defeat Evil. They are no more or less than each of us, and they live with fear and rage and moments of great joy.

That’s the key to the success of both of these books, at least for me: the humanity of the characters, the personal way Stover presents them and the way they cling to their goals even in the face of certain defeat.

I found the plot in Blade of Tyshalle to be much more convoluted than in Heroes Die. There are still two worlds, ours and Overworld, a world where magic can and does exist, along with most of the trappings one finds in traditional fantasy. Our world has found a way to transfer people into Overworld. These people are called Actors and their adventures in Overworld are captured and transmitted to the masses as entertainment. Hari Michaelson, known as Caine in Overworld, is perhaps the most famous of Actors. Alas, his last adventure some seven years before (in Heroes Die) left him somewhat worse for wear. Despite his popularity and his advanced position within the company he was an Actor in, Hari finds himself facing an ever-increasing array of enemies that threaten him, his family, and ultimately the fate of Overworld.

As Renn mentions in his review, Heroes Die can almost be considered science fiction, but Blade of Tyshalle is pure fantasy, regardless of the inclusion of an alternate future Earth ruled by science, because (as we learn) it’s not really ruled by science at all.

Hari Michaleson as Caine (the main character in both Blade and Heroes) is here in all his glory, beaten but never defeated, the most unlikely of heroes, a physical cripple with a serious attitude problem. He’s crude, crass, and cruel, driven by purely personal concerns, but concerns that, in the end, lift him above himself.

Although Blade of Tyshalle stands well on it’s own, I recommend you read Heroes Die first. It will help you understand some of the extensive personal history Caine has with the various players arraying beside and against him.

Be warned! This isn’t a feel-good fable, a Tolkenesque story of noble, high cheek-boned heroes journeying through a land of magic and beauty in a war of Good vs. Evil. There’s a lot of death and violence here, graphically and gorily described, and more profanity than you’d find in the locker room of a losing football team at halftime. It’s written for adults, which can’t be said about the majority of stuff out there today. If you like your fantasy gritty, bloody, and down in the dirt (or worse), you’ll find a home here.

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