Matthew Stover’s Blade of Tyshalle is one of the best pieces of speculative fiction that can be found in a novel and perhaps the most underrated of all time.
In fact my introduction into Stover was Blade of Tyshalle and I consider it one of the finest works of fantasy/science fiction of the century. Going back and reading Heroes Die (the first book) just added more context and flavor to his masterpiece.
Blade of Tyshalle is simply one of the finest examples of story telling in speculative fiction, equally intellectually and graphically intense and devastating. If you read my interview with Matthew Stover you can see where it comes from instantly.
I think it’s THE most underrated book in fantasy/science fiction, and a part of a fine series that’s worth anyone’s time because perhaps other than Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen I don’t think there is a sequence of books that combine my love of a visceral, intimate, internal personal choices with incredible action. Erikson has Stover, and all of speculative fiction, in overall scope and world building but Stover has characters that fit right into any Deck of Dragons.
The staging ground Stover creates for Blade of Tyshalle takes place in two distinctly different settings, which act as what can be described as parallel realms. One is Overworld, in essence a setting fans of traditional fantasy will be familiar with inhabited by human factions, elves, Gods, and magic, that serves as a source of entertainment for the “real world”, a dystopic earth where actors are sent and recorded live for audiences in the real world. How was Overworld and opportunity it presented viewed? One character, Kris Hansen’s views:
“It is a billion dreams come true. I burn for it. I lust for Overworld the way a martyr dreams of the arms of God.”
Most fans I think will feel more at home and although the idea is fascinating Stover’s vision and execution of the depiction of the real world is even more enticing, under a strict caste system and protected by the faceless yet ever present Social Police.
As in Heroes Die Hari Michaelson aka Caine (or perhaps the other way around) is back and through Stover gritty narrative becomes in this novel one of the most memorable characters and character studies in fantasy.
The beginning portions of the novel (a very dense 800 pages) go back to events before Heroes Die and chronicle events that occur in an institution that prepares them for Overworld split into two schools, Battle Magik and Combat.
We see the events that will occur and a friendship forged that will propel a flunking Hari into an Icon. Hari is a CEO at the Studio now (the Studio runs Overworld), after his wound suffered in the prior novel ended his career of as most popular character in Overworld’s history: Caine.
Hari lives a life with his daughter and wife (a god when on Overworld) and has a most interesting amicable relationship with who was his greatest enemy Ma’elkoth (a sovereign and god in Overworld’s past, whose memory is still worshiped there) when he stumbles upon a plan that threatens to destroy Overworld and sends his wife to stop the spread of plague wiping out the population.
In doing so she becomes bait in a plan of vengeance against Caine. The story in its most basic form is about Caine attempting to save his family and Overworld
I want to stress that such a simplification in explanation fails to give credence to the Stover’s writing which studies and scrutinizes from many different perspectives such topics as, family, power and practicing in power, morality, relationships, ethics, individual philosophy, among others but most importantly an untainted knowledge of self.
Did Hari just act like Caine? Or was Caine in fact the real man as we see him in his youngest form at school? Ma’elkoth’s opinion:
“I fear Michaelson not at all. Michaelson is a fiction you fools. The truth of him is Caine. You do not comprehend the distinction; and so he will destroy you”
Stover is able to deftly touch on subjects but with a narrative that although clever but in a way such that seems oxymoronic but very apt as it’s deftly blunt, and in your face like someone shooting a blind man with an arrow in the eye from point blank.
It’s a novel about human weakness and strength and how many elements of each are synonymous with and shared by both, the difference only a thin line and circumstance. As aforementioned it’s about power; several types, and in Blade of Tyshalle Stover will illustrate many types, from the fantastic power of mages who kick power from their ‘”flow”, and the power of the concepts noted above but one passage perhaps denotes the most relevant. Again Ma’elkoth’s speaking of the crippled Caine:
“He does have power. One power: the power to devote himself absolutely to a single goal, to be ruthless with himself and all else in its pursuit. It is the only power he needs — because unlike the great mass of men, he is aware of his power, he is willing, even happy to use it”
Within Blade of Tyshalle Stover illustrates in several sequences why he is in my mind, the current preeminent writer of action sequences in speculative fiction. As with any novel of such relevance his characters are not polarized to some senseless and truly fictional ideas of Good or Evil. They make realistic decisions and are governed by their own believable ideals that are established by Stover.
From beginning to end Blade of Tyshalle reaffirms its rightful status as one of the most creative, and imaginative efforts in speculative fiction. It’s a novel that deserves many more accolades than it has received; though it has a loyal and admittedly rambunctious fan base.
Blade of Tyshalle is highly recommended and should be an immediate purchase for fantasy or science fiction fans alike. Go and buy it now, do not rely on luck and happening on it at your local unstocked store, as Stover points out “Luck is the word the ignorant use to define their ignorance.”