Wednesday, 4 April 2012
‘Caine’s Law’ – Matthew Stover (Del Rey)
Every now and then I get the urge to jump on board in the middle of a series, just to see how well a particular book stands on its own. This approach actually works more often than you would think although there are exceptions (of course there are going to be exceptions if you start reading a series at book three…) On other occasions you come across a series like the ‘Caine’ books…
I’d heard a lot of good things about the ‘Caine’ books so when a copy of ‘Caine Black Knife’ landed on my doorstep (reviewed Here) there was no doubt that I’d be reading it; I just wasn’t sure that starting on the third book of a series really made sense here. It turns out that I eventually had no choice in the matter with ‘Heroes Die’ proving difficult to get hold of and ‘Blades of Tyshalle’ selling (second hand) for far more money than my poor wallet could ever hope to hold. To cut a long, and really not that interesting, story short I managed to track down copies of both books in the end but didn’t manage to read either of them by the time my copy of ‘Caine’s Law’ arrived. But that was ok though, wasn’t it? I’d read ‘Caine Black Knife’ so surely it wouldn’t be too hard to read ‘Caine’s Law’ and follow on from there. Wouldn’t it? Well, that’s what I thought at the time. Shows how wrong I was…
Caine has made violence an art form in his life as an Actor in the alternate reality of Overworld but is paying the price for this back on Earth (having made enemies of a number of very powerful people). He has one final chance to make but will it be enough for him though? This is Caine we’re talking about here and even a Caine that is crippled and locked away in the most secure facility on Earth is a man who it’s not wise to take your eyes off, not even for a second.
Caine has plans of his own and these plans will not only take him back to Overworld but also to it’s past and an increasingly uncertain future. Caine has personal demons to exorcise and true love to find but what state will the universe be in by the time he has finished with it? Not even Caine knows but sometimes you just have to press on and get the job done.
I’m going to get to the bottom line straight away and say that, despite just how good ‘Caine’s Law’ is (and it is), it’s really one for hardcore, long established fans of the series. I’m talking about the people who have already read the first three books and are all geared up for this one. I’ve only read ‘Caine Black Knife’ and I had real trouble keeping up with a book that appears to reference events from ‘Heroes Die’ and ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (as well as ‘Caine Black Knife’). If my experience was anything to go by you really need to have read all the books before picking up this one (not having a go here, just laying things out as they are). Long time fans won’t have a problem here but newcomers might have a little trouble tracking down certain books in the series in their preferred format (I really need to let this one go, sorry…)
For the relatively uninitiated then (like me), ‘Caine’s Law’ can be a confusing novel that jumps backwards and forwards, along more than one timeline I think, telling more than one story. A little patience here is rewarded as things do become a lot clearer as the book nears its end. The final chapters, in particular, are nothing short of awesome as Stover lets you see the whole picture for the first time. What a picture it is, especially when you realise just how many people Caine has managed to fool over the course of an entire book. Caine’s reputation is built on violence but here, Stover displays a razor sharp intelligence and a fierce drive to get the job done no matter what the cost. There is a lot at stake here for Caine and he is up against it right from the start.
It’s this treatment of Caine, a man already crippled by past encounters, that ultimately kept me reading ‘Caine’s Law’ instead of doing the sensible thing and starting off with ‘Heroes Die’. Stover puts Caine through absolute hell (almost literally) and the guy still keeps standing. You can’t help but admire a man like that, even though he is a real bastard. Caine is beginning to regret how some of his actions have harmed complete innocents (even though some of these events took place in realities that have subsequently ‘unhappened’) and his worst enemy, in situations like this, is very much himself. There’s a real search for redemption here that is even more compelling than some of the conflicts that Caine ends up in.
Talking of which, what’s interesting here is that Stover really lets Caine’s repuation for uber-violence do all of the leg work over the course of the book. Certain confrontations are glossed over entirely but this works incredibly well as Caine’s reputation backs up the outcome. You don’t need to know exactly how the fight went as Caine was always going to win. This makes the fights that are described even more awesome as not only do you know that Caine is really up against it this time but he will still win through.
Stover balances these moments out with a romantic side plot that helps Caine come to terms with his past and sets him up to be able to deal with what is to come. Caine is damaged and needs to heal but doesn’t have the time until he meets the Horse Witch. Every grim anti-hero could do with meeting the Horse Witch if Caine is anything to go by. It makes for some really touching moments watching Caine learn to love again; we all know he can but he isn’t so sure (knowing who he really is deep down). When you feed these moments into an ongoing narrative full of explosive moments and monumental confrontations… It’s worth sticking around even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on.
‘Caine’s Law’ is a book then where you really need to have spent time with the series beforehand if you’re going to get the most out of it. Having said that though, ‘Caine’s Law’ is also a book that will get you on board with its raw energy and characterisation that is second to none. Not a bad book then to pick up for the first time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a copy of ‘Heroes Die’ that I really need to read…
Nine out of Ten