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Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana as the Blade of Tyshalle, Caine has killed his share of monarchs and commoners, villains and heroes. He is relentless, unstoppable, simply the best there is at what he does.

At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose adventures in Ankhana command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on a far-off world for the entertainment of his own planet--and bound to keep his rage in check.

But now Michaelson has crossed the line. His estranged wife, Pallas Rill, has mysteriously disappeared in the slums of Ankhana. To save her, he must confront the greatest challenge of his life: a lethal game of cat and mouse with the most treacherous rulers of two worlds...

535 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published August 1, 1998

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About the author

Matthew Woodring Stover

47 books864 followers
Matthew Woodring Stover is an American fantasy and science fiction author. He is perhaps best known for his Star Wars novels -- Traitor, Shatterpoint, Revenge of the Sith and Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. He has also published several pieces of original work, such as Heroes Die, which Stover described as 'a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment'. Stover's work often emphasises moral ambiguity, psychological verisimilitude and bursts of intense violence.

Stover is deeply interested in various forms of martial arts, having trained in the Degerberg Blend, a concept that utilises the thought behind Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do as its foundation.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 732 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews43k followers
March 2, 2021
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It’s unbelievable that this insanely terrific story is hidden behind this horrific cover art. Heroes Die was absolutely bloody and glorious.

“Does it matter? When you tell a story loud enough and long enough, a story that plays right into people’s worst fears of betrayal, it grows its own truth.”

To both Del Rey Books and Orbit, Heroes Die desperately needs a better cover art. Honestly, the cover art to both the US and UK edition was so ugly that I stayed away from reading this book for years. If it weren’t due to many reader’s praises for it, I doubt I would’ve picked this up. Now that I’ve read it, I can confirm that the cover arts failed—in every possible way—to capture the greatness of the book. Yes, readers don’t judge the content of a book based on its cover art, but the cover art does influence a reader’s decision—especially me—to check out a specific book further. Heroes Die is so criminally underrated; everything about it was so ahead of its time, and I’m still in shock that this was first published in 1998. That’s 23 years ago! I have faith that if Heroes Die is re-released these days—with a better and brand new cover art—it will attain the wide-praises it rightfully deserves.

”The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Thus all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Throughout the land of Ankhana, Caine is known as the Blade of Tyshalle—a relentless and unstoppable assassin who has earned his reputation by killing his share of monarchs, commoners, villains, and heroes. At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson—a famous superstar due to his adventure as Caine in Ankhana. Now, from this premise, it’s easy to jump up to the conclusion that Hari/Caine is a good-at-everything-he-does type of protagonist, but that’s really not the case. Caine is limited by rules and shackled by a rigid caste society; his role as an Actor—providing entertainment to people on Earth by killing people on Overworld as he takes the role of Caine—also means that he’s answering to someone in a higher position. The story in Heroes Die, the first book in Acts of Caine series by Matthew Woodring Stover, revolves around Hari/Caine’s mission to save his missing ex-wife—Pallas Ril—that disappeared in the land of Ankhana. The best way to describe Heroes Die is this:

“It’s a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment—as a concept in itself, and as a cultural obsession. It’s a love story: romantic love, paternal love, repressed homoerotic love, love of money, of power, of country, love betrayed and love employed as both carrot and stick. It’s a book about all different kinds of heroes, and all the different ways they die. It’s a pop-top can of Grade-A one-hundred percent pure whip-ass.”
—Matthew Woodring Stover

I don’t think I’m capable of describing this book in a spoiler-free way better than that. Heroes Die contains a lot of themes elaborated through several characters, and I like to think of Heroes Die as an examination regarding human’s obsession with violence in entertainment and stories. I mean, think about it, this novel is filled with violent/explosive action scenes, and the fact that I loved the action sequences in this book so much showed that Stover’s idea hit the spot for me. However, it is very important to make sure that actions/gore/violence was never done for shock value; Stover pulled that off by centering the narrative on his multiple well-written characters.

”Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Despite the slow start, Heroes Die was intriguing from the beginning, and most importantly, the overall quality of the novel only gets better and better with each passing chapter. Heroes Die is often known for its action sequences, but I think it would be amiss to not mention the magnificent characterizations; it is undoubtedly one of Stover’s biggest strengths as a writer. In the grimdark subgenre, it’s pivotal for an author to succeed at making sure his reader will care and feel invested in their morally grey characters; Stover nailed this. Hari/Caine is an anti-hero, and he’s so utterly well-written that I can’t help but root for him. As I’ve said earlier, I appreciate the fact that Caine isn’t a Gary Stu; he’s indeed cunning, badass, and extremely skillful at what he does, but he’s challenged with a lot of difficulties. Plus, there are several characters in the novel that are far stronger than Caine. Finding out whether Caine will succeed/failed in what he sets out to do was a page-turning reading experience.

“You’ve already beaten the worst enemy you’ll ever have—that voice in your head . . . It tells you the fight’s already over . . . whispers there’s nothing you can do . . . If you beat that voice, it’s a victory that can’t be taken from you. You might die, but you’ll die fighting.”

Stover has mentioned that every character in Heroes Die carries their own individual themes, and it was incredibly evident in the narrative. I don’t think Heroes Die would’ve been this good if it was centered exclusively on Hari/Caine. Stover utilized multiple POV perspective narrations to make sure the themes of greed, self-doubt, loyalty, selfishness, ideal, entertainment, love, and violence were displayed effectively. And get this, Caine isn’t the only well-written character of the novel. Ma’elKoth, for example, is one of the most intimidating villains I’ve come across, and at the same time, I was also in awe of his presence. Berne, on the other hand, was thoroughly sick and violent. Then there’s also Pallas Ril, and her relationship with Caine made the story even more engaging.

“Opposites attract, but similarities bind.”

Obviously, this review wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning Stover’s brutal action sequences. This is an adrenaline rush in book form. If you’re not fond of reading intricate action sequences, Heroes Die might not be for you. But if you—like me— always craves superbly-written battle scenes in SFF, read this book ASAP. Seriously, whether it’s close-quarter combat or large-scale battle sequences, Stover has the capability to execute them brilliantly. Matthew Stover himself is an avid martial artist, and he has mentioned that practically everything that Caine did in this novel is possible to enact in real life. Caine is not Ma’elKoth, and Caine isn’t a god; he’s an intelligent and extremely skillful assassin. I loved Stover’s action sequences; they’re vivid, energetic, furious, and easily visualized. This doesn’t apply exclusively to the close-quarter combat, and I don’t want to spoil you on this, so let’s just say that Heroes Die is staggeringly more epic than I expected. Stover gradually leads everything towards an epic-scale heart-pounding crescendo, and I was left completely amazed.

“My father would say: freedom that can be taken away was never real in the first place, and maybe he’s right. Maybe that freedom was always only a figment of my imagination—but it was an illusion I cherished. Shattering an illusion is the insult we never forgive.”

I was totally captivated by Stover’s writing style; there’s a spellbinding quality assurance in the way he commanded his words. Almost the entirety of the novel was told through a multiple third-person POV narration, but during Caine’s chapters, Stover switched to a first-person present-tense narration. This worked marvelously in favor of creating a powerful sense of immediacy and immersion; to me, just like the audience in the story, it seemed as if Stover wanted his readers to REALLY feel like they’re in Caine’s head and shoes, and it worked. It’s all so impeccably done; the closest prose I can think of during Caine’s perspective is Pierce Brown’s prose in Red Rising Saga series—my favorite sci-fi series of all time.

“God, I’m old. That’s all I can think for long seconds, all I can feel, every god damned day of my life piled onto my back. You have to be young to take shit like this. You have to still be young and adaptable, and full of optimism. You have to still believe in happy endings, to believe that suffering has a point, that death is not a meaningless extinguishing of consciousness. You have to be young enough to still hope that shit happens for a reason.”

Stover said that the whole concept of Acting in the book is to give the audience the feeling of having been to a place more raw and exciting than their everyday reality, and that’s exactly how I felt reading Heroes Die. Spectacular characters-development, intricate world-building, thought-provoking passages, and vicious action sequences; let me repeat this once again: do not judge this book based on its cover art. Heroes Die is grimdark science fantasy at its best. Reading this was not as simple as saying I was one of the audience witnessing Caine’s blood-crazed Adventure. I was the Actor inching towards daylight…

“I am invincible. I am the Blade of Tyshalle. I am Caine.”

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Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
June 18, 2011

Okay, let me get the following BOLD STATEMENT out of the way. If I absolutely HAD to choose my single favorite BADASS “action” protagonist of all time HARI MICHELSON (AKA CAINE) would get the nod.
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Now I have read many books with main characters who “went to 11” on the 10 level kick-ass meter
so picking a favorite or comparing one to the other is very hard to do. However, overall, taking all aspects of nut stomping, bone-breaking, dialogue-delivering (very important), head-splitting, “you done fucked with wrong person today” awesomeness, CAINE would get the win. He is the quintessential KICKASSER!!! Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

I need to pause for a moment in my homage to Caine to make the following point clear. While Hari Michelson/Caine WOULD certainly be high up on my list of all time favorite literary characters, his spot at the top if this list is based only on the vastness of “badass” that he possesses. Thus favorite characters of mine like Locke Lamora (aka The Gentlemen Bastard), Tyrion Lannister and Glotka (from Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy), as awesome as they are wouldn’t get out of the first round in the T.A.C. (Tournament of Badass Champions.)
********END BRIEF INTERLUDE********

Anyway, just for comparison's sake (and so you know I have thought this through) here are a few of my favorite characters that Caine was reluctantly required to bitch-slap on his way to the title of HIS ROYAL BADNESS AND MOST MAIN MAN:

1. Roland Deschain……and I cry your pardon, Gunslinger.
2. John Clark aka Mr. Clark (Tom Clancy novels)
3. Lancelot (Fionavar Tapestry by Kay)……maybe the heroest hero of them all.
4. Helikoan (aka Aeneas from Gemmell’s Troy series)
5. Parker (Richard Stark novels)
6. Takeshi Kovacs (Richard Morgan novels)
7. Emile Khadaji (“The Man Who Never Missed”)
8. Kane
9. Druss the Legend
10. Conan

...WAIT...HOLD UP...Holy literary faux pas Batman...I almost forgot...
11. Logan "Ninefingers" (from Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy)....sorry Bloody Nine

***All of you guys are awesome, but unfortunately somebody had to win***

So let me tell you a little about Hari Michelson and the world of Heroes Die. The book itself is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE novels. This is always the FIRST book I recommend when someone is looking for a “fun, kickass action orientated” science fiction or fantasy book. For what it is, I think it is almost a PERFECT novel, namely a high-octane, fast paced, brutally violent story with an original science fiction/fantasy back-story and….. well, you already know how I feel about the main character.
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Earth of the future is controlled by mega corporations that have developed into a rigid occupation-based caste system. Society is now separated into 7 corporate-based castes that include: Leisurefolk (top of the food chain, think “idle rich”),
Investors, Businessmen,Administrators, Professionals(e.g., white collar workers with degrees like doctors, lawyers and accountants); Artisans; Laborers(e.g., unskilled labor pool). In addition, there is a quasi- 8th group known as “Workers” who are prisoners, dissidents and other unfortunates who have been “lobotomized” and turned into something similar to a cybernetic zombie.

The social and political aspects of the society in the novel are very interesting but barely explored. I would love to read an entire book focusing only on this aspect of the society. In Heroes Die, we only get enticing bits and pieces but they are fascinating.

In this world of “scare resources” with the “haves” having to keep control of the “have nots” the ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY is king and queen. You see, on Earth, people no longer “watch” TV or movies. Instead technology allows audiences to literally share the experiences of “actors” as they participate in “Adventures” on a planet called Overworld…..


Overworld is Earth in a parallel universe (the “how” is explained in the book so just accept it for now). Overworld is your standard sword and sorcery fantasy realm in which magic works, humans live side by side (though not peaceably) with all manner of fantasy creatures and the technology is a cross between quasi-medieval and quasi industrial.

Actors = Fantasy special forces commandos. Actors are not the Hollywood stars of today. They are men and women who have first spent years of training learning how to be either a magic adept or a fighter and then years more in Overworld learning how to speak the language and practice their skills before being accepted as Actors ready to go on “Adventures.” Basically, this is you basic fantasy fan boys dream come true. I would also mention here that the training is very expensive and so “would be” Actors need “patrons” from the higher castes to pay for it in the hopes of making money on their later Adventures.


So when their years of training is complete, Actors will be transported to Overworld (known by the locals as Ankhana) and assigned real life “roles” to play in the events of Ankhana. The more dangerous and more life threatening, the more entertaining and the more profitable. Thus these actors get involved in political disputes, gang wars, military campaigns and often die as a result. But hey…..THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT.

You see, by plugging into a special chair and donning a special helmet, an audience member can literally become the Actor and shares the Adventure as if they were there themselves (though without the whole fear of death thing). You hear what they hear, smell what they smell and even taste what the taste. The chairs also provide life support and nutrition for the audience member so they can stay plugged in for days at a time. This sort of “first hand” Adventure is very expensive and usually only the Leisurefolk and Investor Class can afford it. For everyone else, there are “replays” and are more real than virtual reality but not quite the same as the more expensive version.

So with ALL of that background...it’s time to meet Hari Michelson (aka Caine).

Hari Michelson is the most famous Actor on Earth. I won’t give you all of his background because it is fun to learn about it for yourself, but he was born into the Labor class and was “discovered” by a Businessman who became his patron. He was trained and became a member an Actor (a member of the Professional caste). His alter-ego, is the assassin Caine (aka the Blade of Tyshalle) and his legendary Adventures on Overworld are the most popular in history.

Despite being less than 6’ tall and weighing considerably less than 200 pounds, he is WITHOUT QUESTION, the most feared individual on Overworld. His skill in hand-to-hand and weapons is unmatched and his ruthless, berserk style is the stuff of legends…literally. During his “career” he has killed hundreds of people, single handedly toppled governments and been the focal point for several of the most pivotal events in Overworld history. He is the one guy in the room with whom you DO NOT MESS.....sorry but I warned you about the gushing character man-love at the beginning of the review.

Well Hari on Earth is much like Caine on Overworld in so far as his attitude goes. He rubs the higher ups the wrong way with his insubordination and lack of bootlicking and would have long ago been busted for "caste violation" except his MASSIVE POPULARITY and (hence) MASSIVE PROFITABILITY.


So how about the actual plot itself you ask? Well it is involved but oh so tasty. You see Caine’s estranged wife (and fellow Actor) has disappeared while on Overworld. Caine, being the no-nonsense fuck anybody who hurts my loved one kinda guy wants to go start killing people until someone tells him where she is. BUT the powers have other plans.

Caine’s wife’s “ratings” aren’t what they once were and so they will only allow Caine to go to Overworld and attempt a rescue IF he agrees to first assassinate the newly installed “Emperor” of Overworld who has recently assumed power. Earth is very worried about the new Emperor because he appears to have the power to bring peace to Overworld. This would be very bad for business. Bloodshed, war and strife make for entertaining and profitable adventures….a stable, peaceful Ankhana would be a disaster.

So Caine finds himself embroiled in political machinations both on Earth and Overworld with enemies all around him including a sadistic, brutal villain named Berne who has been granted vast powers by the new “god like” Emperor. Yes, the odds are very much stacked against Caine. JUST THE WAY HE LIKES IT.

As Caine works his way through the many obstacles in his path he must decide what he is truly fighting for and what he is truly prepared to do to protect those he holds dear. The answer is of course is….CAINE WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOU STAND IN HIS WAY…NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE!!!


Hopefully, I have given you at least a sense of how much fun this novel is. I know I can not completely do it justice but I would certainly strongly recommend you give it a try. ONE FINAL WORD OF WARNING: the book is quite graphic and brutal (maybe a bit less so by today’s standards but still worthy of comment). The language is very coarse, the violence almost never lets up there is some significant gore. It is gritty, violent and morally-vague. However, it is also, IMHO as good as this kind of story gets. CAINE is the supreme warrior, fighting with no rules to protect the woman he loves and bring blood-splattering vengeance to those who put her in harms way.

I thought I would end with a few quotes from the book (quoted in another online review) so you can at least get a sense of the writing style employed by Stover:

When one of the characters is contrasting Berne to Caine, she describes them as follows:
Berne had a feral quality, a wildness of lust and dangerous unpredictability that went with the loose and relaxed jointless way he walked and held himself; he was potently, almost fiercely, alive at all times. Caine, too, had a quality of relaxation, but there was nothing loose about it; instead it was stillness, a meditative readiness that seemed to flow out from him and fill the room with capacity for action, as though all around him ghosts of imaginary Caines performed every movement that was possible within the space: every attack, every defense, every leap or flip or roll.

A short while later when Caine learns that Berne is in the area:
Kierendal's growing insouciance vanished like smoke before a gale; the black and lethal fury that flooded Caine's face when he spoke that name terrified her more than had his earlier threats. It was as though all of those ghost-Caines that had filled the imaginary air suddenly turned and whipped faster than thought back within his body, to make him so ferociously present that he seemed to burn with a scarlet flame.

And a final example of the kind of violent action that takes place in the story:
I jam the knife into his eye. Bone crackles and blood sprays. I use the knife to twist his face away from me: a bloodstain on this livery could be fatal, on my way out. He flops like a salmon that's found unexpected land beneath an upstream leap. This is only his body's last unconscious attempt to live; it goes hand-in-hand with the release of his bowels and bladder. He shits and pisses all over himself and his satin-weave sheets -- another one of those primordial reflexes, a futile dodge to make his meat unappetizing to the predator.

Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
June 19, 2012
WHOAH. Blast of testosterone to the face in the midst of my romance novel obsession. THIS WAS FANTASTIC!

So this book is really hard to describe, it takes place in a futuristic dystopian society that uses crazy technology to send "actors" to an alternate reality called Overworld, a traditional Fantasy-ish world. They are watched back home via virtual reality tech as the actors live in the Fantasy world, the fantasy people have no idea they're from an alternate dimension. The hero, Hari, is basically the Sylvester Stallone (at his peak) of actors, and his wife, another actor, gets trapped in the Otherworld and he has to go save her. That's the basics. It's very Hunger Games-esque in a way. But way darker. WAY darker.

I mean, talk about a dark anti-hero. Talk about a cool alt-SF/Fantasy world. Talk about some violent assholes who populate BOTH universes. I mean Hari is one of the biggest badasses I've read in a LONG time. Seriously flawed, very nihilistic world/WORLDS really he's involved in. And yet, his journey is so full of emotion, you root for him every step of the way. This is an Alpha male you can get behind. Damn. Hot damn. Don't read if you don't like profanity, unlikeable characters and awesome fight scenes. :D

If you like really really gritty, dark fantasy like George RR Martin, Richard Morgan (Takashi Kovaks books) or ESPECIALLY Joe Abercrombie, you should get this book.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,496 reviews962 followers
February 10, 2022
In the author's own words, from the interview at the end of the book:

Q: How would you describe Heroes Die?
A: It’s a piece of violent entertainment that is a meditation on violent entertainment — as a concept in itself, and as a cultural obsession. It’s a love story: romantic love, paternal love, repressed homoerotic love, love of money, of power, of country, love betrayed and love employed as both carrot and stick. It’s a book about all different kinds of heroes, and all the different ways they die. It’s a pop-top can of Grade-A one-hundred percent pure whip-ass.

Hari Michaelson is an actor, on the top ten most popular stars on the whole Earth. Reality shows have evolved in the future to the point where implants in the brain of the actor allow the audience to experience directly all the sensory input and the stream of conscience thoughts of the protagonist. The game is played on the Overworld, an alternate Earth accessed through some sort of harmonic resonance device that opens a portal between parallel universes. Overworld is a fantasy realm, home to mythical creatures (dragons, elves, goblins and much more) where medieval style kingdoms and empires fight it out with enchanted swords and magic spells. The catch is this: actors transfer to the Overworld bodily, their resonance tuning is only good for a limited period of time and death as a result of their risky behaviour is very much on the cards.

Your function in society is to risk your life in interesting ways.

Hari's expertise is dealing with problems in the most violent way possible and if there are no problems, he''s instructed to create a ruckus. The public is not interested in gardening or saloon conversations. They want blood. In his Caine persona, Hari is the most celebrated and the most feared assassin for hire in the Overworld. Back home he would like to take a break from the show and try to mend his broken marriage, but his producers, his agents and most of all his audience would have none of it. When his ex-wife goes missing on her latest Overworld adventure, Caine is forced to get back into the game.
Here's what his agent has to say about this:

"But this is absofreakinglutely spectacular — I can’t lose, y’know?”
Hari understood exactly what he meant: he’d heroically save Shanna, heroically avenge her death, or heroically die in either attempt. No matter what the outcome, it would reflect admirably on his Patron.

The concept may not be new - it started with the gladiator games and the 'panem et circenses' dictum and more recently with The Running Man or The Hunger Games - but Matt Stover really pulled off a difficult balancing act: writing an edge of the seat action-adventure without becoming obsessed by carnage and glorifying the killers. One of the tricks used to achieve this result is to make Caine into an underdog, vulnerable and constantly betrayed by his entourage, something the readers can connect with and cheer for. His mission of assassination is morphed into a quest to save his marooned ex-wife and liberate the people of Ankhana from a tyrant. Also, he fights mostly using his fists and feet against magic swords and powerful spells, putting his life on line and getting hurt every time he goes out. Despite his megastar status on the entertainment channels, Hari is still an outsider in the rigid Caste system that governs the planet, and an outcast on Overworld:

“Caine and I, we’re not the same person, all right? I grew up in a San Francisco Labor slum; Caine’s an Overworld foundling. He was raised by a Pathquan freedman, a farrier and blacksmith. By the time I was twelve I was a sneakthief because I wasn’t big enough to be a mugger; when Caine was twelve, he was sold to a Lipkan slaver because the whole family was starving to death in the Blood Famine.”

All powerful reasons to identify with his struggle, but Caine knows how to subvert his own myth and to accentuate the consequences of his past 'successful' adventures. The murder of the Prince Regent in Ankhana (where most of the action takes place) has resulted in a bloody succession war that made way for the ascension to the imperial throne of Ma'elKoth - a tyrant who feeds his magic with the blood and the souls of his subjects. Even here, Stover finds a way to subvert the evil overlord cliche. In his own eyes, Ma'elKoth is the strong but caring hand that his country needs in order to recover from infighting and from terrorists (somehow he has learned about the offworlders and their actions) :

- "Tell me — try to guess why they come here, why they kill My people and try to murder Me, why they rape our women and slaughter our children. Try.”
Caine discovered that he had no voice. His stomach knotted.
- “It’s entertainment, Caine. They’re worse than demons — even the Outside Powers that prey upon men do so to feed, to sustain themselves upon our terror and despair; the Aktiri do so to divert their idle hours. Just for fun.”

The shades of grey, morally ambiguous characters are one of the characteristics of the novel. Switching the point of view from the first person angle with Caine to the third person narration of psychopathic killer Berne, of kingpins and patrons of bawdy houses in the slums of Ankhana, of the palace spymaster or of Kollberg - the show producer back on Earth, of the 'people's champion' Simon Jester or of her Caine worshipping bodyguard, Stover explores the internal reasoning for each character's actions and how they translate into bad decisions that leave hundreds of innocent bystanders dead.

I have identified few weaknesses in the story development, almost not worth putting down (making Ma'elKoth too powerful forced a spectacular finale that went just a tiny bit too far in stretching suspension of disbelief, the worldbuilding of Earth and Overworld are again a tad underdeveloped). The points in favour are easier to make:
- very strong characterization not only for the main heroes, but for every part time, even walk-in roles
- great action scenes where the author puts his own personal experience in hand combat to good use.
- complex plot that links together fantasy and SF and tackles socio-political issues of pressing actuality : the misuse of power, the control of the media by the elite class, liberty of expression ( ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ ), assuming responsibility for past mistakes, our fixation on violent games ( And the whole world waits, and squirms, and drools like a glutton smelling a feast. for a new Caine adventure)
- beautiful prose that can capture not only the moment of pitched battle but the emotional turmoil of finding and losing friends, companions, lovers:

The weight of days presses me down like I’m slowly being flattened under God’s own millstone. I slide down the wall to sit on the floor; I search within the sick emptiness in my guts, looking for my anger.

I left a whole week pass after I finished the novel, thinking to let some of my enthusiasm settle down and allow for a more balanced review, but I still feel I have found one of my top five fantasy novels for the last decade, despite the fact that I have been lately turned off by explicit gore and language. Although they are not exactly similar, I would link Heroes Die with the epics of Robin Hobb and James Clavell for the way they can grab my attention to the exclusion of sleep and food and socializing, and not let go until I turn the last page, exhausted but satisfied in the fantastic journey I just undertook. I can't wait to get into the next Caine book, maybe write in more detail about the Caste system on Earth and the magic system in Overworld. Since I started with a quote from the author I will finish with another one that expresses briefly why I come back to fantasy novels so often:

Much of my life has been an obsessive inquiry into philosophy, mythology, magic, religion, and the concept of the Hero (in the Joseph Campbell sense). SF — fantasy — is the only branch of literature that lets you look at all of those at once.

[edit for spelling 2022]
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,820 followers
February 22, 2015
This is an excellent book.

Please allow me to open with a caveat or two. First, I'm a Christian...I mean an actual practicing one. If you're a Christian (and possibly this will apply to those of you in other belief systems as well) you need to go into this knowing that it is not what I'd call "Christian friendly". On the other hand if you can read a book realizing "it's fiction" and can take what it has to say that's worthwhile and not be offended that it doesn't agree with you...I think you'll survive. I'm pretty sure I have, and I'm not...you know an apostate or anything, no major switch in belief or world-view.

Also be aware that there is "some language". Still it's not thrown around as it is in some books as if the writer can't come up with other forms of descriptors, adjectives or oaths. It's used as it might be by a warrior... and every second person doesn't turn the air blue, just appropriate persons. You who've been in the service probably know what I mean.

Now, back to the book. Hari/Caine is an actor, on Earth. The novel takes place partly in/on our Earth, or at least one very like it (we get mentions of books, writers etc. that you'll recognize). The world has at some point before the book opens become a worldwide despotism. In science fiction we usually find one of a few types of dystopia. This is one of those where the "giant corporations" have taken control and run the planetary government. This has always seemed like the least likely of future slave states to me, but okay...here we are.

Anyway it has been discovered that Earth, our Earth is only one of maybe an infinite number of "Earths" that exist in the same "place" but in some kind of separate "phase". OverWorld is another one of those Earths. It's a place where magic works, mythical creatures exist, sword and sorcery are not only possible buy day to day life...for some reason they also have cigars and coffee, go figure. With special technology "actors" from "here" can go there. They interact in adventures (you know slaughtering people, starting wars, generally causing mayhem for the locals) as people "here" are either hooked in and seeing things through the actor's eyes (This is how the "rich bigwigs" who can afford to be tied in directly "firsthand" watch)...or recordings can be purchased and enjoyed as we would DVDs..you know like blueray (this is the "second hand" market, the only way the lower "classes" [the hoi polloi as it were]can afford to enjoy these "wonderful family friendly blood baths". And Everyone, that's absolutely EVERYONE watches at least the biggest titles and stars) It's BIG BUSINESS, worth billions, especially when the adventure is about the biggest "stars".

And Hari Michaelson/ Caine is THE BIGGEST. With a gift for violence and free flowing soliloquies he brings in big profits. He's been around longer than most actors (see actors are more likely to die during an adventure than live to retirement...and the "episodes" where an actor dies, especially a well know actor dies make huge profits.) Hari...err, I mean Caine is the greatest killer, errr, I mean actor and adventurer out there and has legions of fans. Fans even among the highest classes love Caine. Everyone loves Caine, except possibly his wife. The only problem with that is that Caine is still head over heels, sickeningly, maudlinly...obsessively in love with her, Shanna. Shanna in OverWorld is the wizard Pallis Ril...and brother is she convinced of her own righteousness. She separated from Hari because he's so..nasty and violent you know, yucky.

Then it looks as if she's been taken by one of the biggest, worst, most deadly creeps on OverWorld. The one guy that may be able to kill Caine. Can Caine save his love? Can he win and become a good guy? Can love triumph over rottenness? Can Caine win Shanna back? Can you afford to be a "firsthander"?

Okay My sense of humor overwhelmed me there. In spite of my poking a little fun I find this to be one of the best novels I've read in a while.

From the above point we jump into the story. It's set in this quite original world and is almost completely enthralling. Many of you know that I'm not big on romantic stories. There is a strong strain of romance in this one for those of you who like that yet the writer maintains a good sense of balance not allowing the romance to overwhelm the plot nor the action to choke out the romance.

Stover may be better known to some of you through his tie ins with Star Wars and novelizations of that franchise, still here he does a grand job. He manages to include a strong strain of political or semi-political thought in the novel without ever becoming preachy or annoying. It's probably quite possible to read through the novel without noticing it at all if you want to.

I find this an incredible book despite a few drawbacks (I found Shanna/Pallas Ril, the love interest incredibly annoying and self-involved, but then I think I/we are supposed to). I rate it 5 stars, recommend it (with the above caveats) and plan to get into the first sequel as quickly as I can.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews830 followers
August 11, 2022
TLDR: Do not get discouraged by this cover. I REPEAT: do not get discouraged by this cover.*

“Anything that is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil.”

In the world where Hari Michaelson lives, people entertain themselves by watching adventures. He is an Actor who makes it possible for them. He is one of those who, through a transfer, to a parallel reality, the world of Ankhana, take part in various events. The more dangerous and bloody these are, the better because more people will want to watch. In the Overworld, Hari becomes Caine, a ruthless and experienced killer. He's been doing this for years and is one of the most famous and highest-paid Actors. We meet him when his estranged wife unwittingly finds herself in danger. To save her, Hari must once again return to Ankhana under the pretext of a new adventure that will be watched live by millions: he needs to do the impossible or die trying.

And it's already clear what we can expect: brutality, a grim and heavy ambience, and by implication, not the holiest of heroes.

Excellent. In fact, the only problem here is that the Author forces us to catch up with the train that is already moving and then tells us to jump into it on the wild run. From the very beginning we are thrown into the whirlwind of the two created worlds, unceremoniously expected to memorise complicated names, and understand the nuanced connections of different plot lines Initially, it is difficult to grasp what is what, who it is connected to whom, how things work, what they are used for and what to make of it all. It means that there are tons of questions in your head, and the first hundred pages or so are an attempt to piece together what Mr Stover throws at us. The Author doesn't bother to give any explanations, he just keeps bombarding us with more and more novelties. At a certain point, it becomes so confusing that it is difficult even to comprehend what is happening, not to mention any comprehension of what you are reading. However, once you get to grips with what is given here, you are in for a real treat.

“Power unused is not power.”

Two literary genres - fantasy and science fiction - have been mixed together. On the one hand, we have the Earth we all know so well, and on the other, the alien Overworld; one is technical, in the other one magic reigns. Two interpenetrating worlds (or, strictly speaking, the same one in two universes) are nothing new (read Zelazny), but Mr Stover manages to enthral. The foundation can be easily classified as hardcore SF (for me the benchmark is whether the Author respects the laws of physics) and on it, using the concept of parallel worlds, the Fantasy setting is built. Unlike cRPG literature, in which the fantasy continuum is just a virtual world simulated on computers, here the fantasy scene is real, wounds are real and when one dies, they die for real too.

“Sometimes the toughest part of a revolution is deciding to start one.”

Let us focus on our home planet. Humanity has lived into the 22nd century, but despite all the development, people are no better off than they are today were before Covid. We have a totalitarian rule of large corporations, which constitute the only power since the state as we know it is dead. Society is stratified and divided into castes so rigid that upcasting happens only very rarely and even touching someone from a higher caste is a criminal offence. Most books are banned and are available only on the back market, social police are always on a hunt for troublemakers, dissenters are turned into cyborgs and have their humanity taken away (it’s called unmanning, don’t tell me you don’t have shivers).

Technology makes it possible to contact those parallel worlds and to send people there. However, it is so expensive that the only ones who are sent are the Actors, always either connected online by neuronal links or registering their stay in memory modules. Why? Every dystopian society thrives on bread and circuses, and here it is no different. Actors, by risking their lives in interesting ways, provide the very much needed distraction so that the masses don’t even have the time to think about rebelling.

Here comes Ankhana: one of the parallel worlds. The feudal system, technological development on the level of our medieval times, no firearms. On the upside, there are laws of physics allowing for something that we would call magic. A perfect world for the production of spectacular fantasy shows.

“Go with it: audacity, always audacity.”

The action of the book is two-pronged: the dominant part is Caine’s actions during the commissioned adventure, but at the same time, the events on Earth are very important. Be warned that the book is narrated differently, depending on who we are travelling with at any given time. Both first and third person are employed, and this can be a little disorientating at first.

“I believe in justice, as long as I’m holding a knife at the throat of the judge.”

Protagonists are believable within each world, each with a well-defined depth. The Author has done a great job of creating the character of both Hari and his Ankhana counterpart, Caine. They are the same man but simultaneously, they are different and the subtleties of frictions and entanglements of both personalities are deftly used. We have a man faced with many problems: He has to overcome himself, conquer his weaknesses, and test his limits. However, Caine's legend is not about his physical prowess, because he is a truly unusual character. He is a sentimentalist, he loves his wife to the bone and is ready to do literally anything for her, he never lies (he can be suicidally honest, also with himself), he fights ruthlessly and is ruthlessly effective. Yet, he is also a man of honour. Still, a man of honour prone to be carried away in a murderous rage, and without blinking he devises and executes schemes, which cost the lives of hundreds of people. At the same time, he is intelligent, cynical and devoid of any illusions about the world (actually, about both worlds).

The mixture of these qualities gives you Geralt of Rivia on steroids. Even though it’s hard to compare these characters, they evoke similar positive feelings, despite their murderous, sometimes even inhuman drives. Why are we willing to forgive such a protagonist so much and even call him a hero? Is it because somewhere in the depths of the male archetype (perhaps the most deeply rooted of male role models) there is a ruthless protector who, despite his homicidal tendencies, is deadly faithful to some subjective ethical code?

“Freedom that can be taken away was never real in the first place.”

Another motif I enjoyed is the problem of the duality of human nature. Take anger and meekness. Hari’s meekness in the technological world and his insatiable anger in the Ankhana. Take conformity and ambition: Kollberg, who proudly sees himself as a guardian of the system also plans to best it in a very underhanded way. Each protagonist is a peculiar universe of needs, ambitions, emotions and stupidity. It’s important because as we know a story is only as good as the villain is interesting. Mr Stover made it interesting. Caine is inventive, brutal, effective and yet not invincible. His opponents are not idiots; sometimes they are ambitious fools, driven by lust, but the main nemesis, Ma’elKoth, is almost a mirror image of him.

You can immediately see that the book is not as shallow as it might seem; it touches on power, politics, violence, life, and does so in a graceful yet forceful way. As for the action, it speeds up gradually, with each page, and accelerates incredibly at the very end.

On the negative side, I would include the geographical limitation of the worlds. We basically have one city on each side and a perfunctory outline of the rest. The political situation in the world aroused my sincere curiosity but the world building was sketchy. Other issues deserved a bit more attention. Particularly interesting were those short scenes when Hari visited his father, who, despite his illness, seemed to be a remarkably intelligent man and far more interesting than several other characters to whom the author devoted much more space. Strong language might or might not be an issue, depending on personal preferences. It is also hard not to mention the brutality, expressed in a direct way. There's no wrapping around it.

I recommend the book to both fantasy fans and those who like more political and societal issues in their reads. I can confidently recommend this book to every fan of a solid butchery spiced with a pinch of intrigue and anyone who feels like reading something more intense. I am sure that I will soon continue my adventure with Caine.

* And the first 50 pages or so.

Also in the series:

2. Blade of Tyshalle ★☆☆☆☆
3. Caine Black Knife ★★☆☆☆
4. Caine's Law
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,976 followers
February 8, 2017
This was recommended to me because of my devotion to The Fortunate Fall, and not without good reason. It's a fantastic tale that requires patience at the beginning, but with each domino piece it sets up, it delivers one of the most exacting and brilliant payoffs I've read in any SF or F work.

That's saying something.

The novel is long and the crappy cover is off-putting, but the length does the tale very excellent justice, so I recommend that ya'll just ignore the eyesore and pick up this classic. Because it is a classic. It shamelessly picks up the best features of both a great worldbuilding SF 1984 land and a rather awesomely detailed and rich fantasy world full of people I like.

What is it? Think quantum teleportation to an alternate world where magic works. Give that technology to a nearly omnipresent and restrictive government that's controlled by an all-powerful Hollywood that doesn't care what it does to this alternate reality as long as it gets ratings. Send actors over, or as they're called in the alternate world, "Aktirs", and we've got a political hotbed of revolution brewing on both sides of the veil. Our SF world is quite the hell, and the world of magic is pretty damn nice if it wasn't for all these Aktirs murdering and fomenting tons of conflict for, get this: "Their amusement." I think they're right to distrust and hate the aliens.

Of course, Hari, also known as Caine in his Aktir persona, is one of the most beloved top-performers, and oh so deadly. He also happens to be rather bright when he isn't falling into his well-cultivated bloodthirsty persona.

When he finally begins to take off the shackles of his mind, then that's the point where this novel seriously takes off and spins in my mind. Before that point it was pretty much a standard action fantasy with a pretty damn cool assassin with a pretty cool SF twist. Afterwards, well, I was flabbergasted to discover that he could think as well as he fought, and with his estranged wife, they caused so much damn havoc on both sides of the veil.

The best part of this novel was watching all the pieces line up and then watch them all fall.

It was glorious. Absolutely glorious.

The length shouldn't daunt anyone. It really lends itself to us getting to know everyone in depth. The characterization is fully of the show, don't tell, variety, with an absolutely wonderful grip on internal monologue. I really enjoyed exploring all the moral ambiguities in everyone, and I'm pretty damn certain I'm going to love re-reading this.

But first, I've got to find the time to read the 3 sequels, eh? :) It's going to be a very fine pleasure.

Profile Image for Sade.
312 reviews220 followers
May 29, 2017

First off, cheers to Thomas Stacey for the recommendation.. This book is definitely going in as one of my absolute faves for 2017.

"I have lived every day of my life only to bring myself here to this moment and it has been worth every moment"

This author has written an epic love story that you're not even totally aware of until you're sucked in. This isn't hearts and roses strewn on the floor. This is like blood, guts, broken bones, severed limbs, bring down the gaddamn world kind of love story. Like your favourite epic love story ain't got nothing on this.

Like i said this isn't some quintessential love book. There's so much more than that happening. You're introduced to an eclectic range of characters from: Berne - this dude was bloody insane, like if you ever meet someone like this, just run!; To that snivelling, whinny piece of shit, poet boy. To Talan- God that woman could kick bloody ass. To Shanna/ Pallis- who really was a shit though. i mean, really, she was a shit. To gaddamn Hari / Caine - sigh* that man was beyond everything. he was damn amazing.

Read this book. You won't be disappointed!
Profile Image for Laura Tenfingers.
562 reviews88 followers
January 10, 2022
One of my favourite books of all time! First book of the year and it could easily be the best of the year. All the stars!!

Here we have a dystopian future Earth with a rigid caste system. Hari is an Actor who travels to a parallel Earth in a parallel Universe to go on death-defying adventures that upper-caste rich people pay big bucks to watch via virtual-reality style tech. The more violent the better and the closer he comes to death the more money the Studio makes. The system is rigged to exploit actors and benefit the wealthy with good entertainment and big profits.

So basically the upper-caste rich are all assholes. But here the reader is, reading through the eyes of our MC Actor, getting high on all the violence and death defying adventures. And loving every second of it. Of course we're in make-believe and in the story it's real people...but Stover uses the book beautifully to make "a piece of violent entertainment that's a meditation on violent entertainment."(Stover)

I loved Hari, complete badass asshole who isn't really an asshole. He has a couple of supporting female characters that are seriously badass too, pretty well done for a fantasy book from the 90s. The bad guys are an interesting mix of good and bad (the bad being oh so very Grimdark Bad). And the social commentary is stellar.

Really well written, I felt every punch and social inequity and loved every second of it.
Profile Image for David Sven.
288 reviews445 followers
February 27, 2014
If there’s one word to describe Heroes Die – it’s Testosterone. This book has some of the most graphically violent action scenes you’ll find in anything written by Abercrombie or George RR Martin or any of the host of grimdark authors that have been populating the fantasy genre recently. And just in case you didn’t get enough Testosterone from the actual writing, the audio narration will have the short and curlies growing out of control from crotch to neck. Stefan Rudnicki is the man and his deep throaty audio narration really suited the tone of the book.

Somehow, Heroes Die, published 16 years ago, has managed to slip under the radar. Going from the cover of the book, I’d say poor marketing may have been a factor – or perhaps Stover just wrote this too early to catch the more recent surge in dark fantasy/grimdark popularity.

Some might argue that this book is actually Science Fiction because some of the action happens in a dystopian future Earth dominated by a corporate caste system and obsessed with bloodsport entertainment – except a lot of the story happens in a parallel universe version of Earth called Overworld – which is a typical medieval style fantasy setting where magic is real. Or as one Earth Entertainer explains it

”Earth and Overworld are the same planet in different universes. Each universe, the whole thing, sort of vibrates in its own way—what they call the Universal Constant of Resonance. Now, it doesn’t really vibrate, that’s just the easiest way to think about it. We go from one to the other by changing our Constant of Resonance to match the other universe. Is everybody confused yet?”

Actors are sent to Overworld to have bloodthirsty adventures that are broadcast back to Earth via implanted “Thoughtmitters” for a paying public who can view the action live via a virtual reality setup where they experience Firsthand what it is like to be a murdering bastard/ess let loose among an unsuspecting Overworld populace. And there is no actor that anyone would rather be than Caine, our protagonist. Caine is cool. Caine is a cold hard killer. Caine is very good at killing. Caine is badass. In Caine’s words...

This is what I live for. This is why I am what I am. There is purity in violence, in the desperate struggle to pull life from death, that surpasses any philosopher’s sere quest for truth.


The violence itself consumes me, even in anticipation. When I step out from my cover, stake my life and the lives of my friends on my gift of slaughter, the caustic tide of mayhem will wash me with grace: a saint touched by his god.

Anyway, I’m calling this dark fantasy but I would stop short of calling it grimdark. Even though the violence is up there, it doesn’t have the cynicism. In the worlds of Abercrombie or Martin, people tend to be mostly bad though they may do the occasional good thing. Conscience and ideals exists to be seared and eroded and the good guy almost never wins and if they do it’s at the cost of their soul. Caine on the other hand acquires a conscience and an ideal as the book goes on. There’s no real explanation for why Caine is suddenly a different Caine to the beginning of the book. It’s one thing that annoyed me about the writing. I tend to like characters to maintain internal consistency throughout the story. Perhaps it was an attempt to add a layer to a single dimensional protagonist. All it did was make a cool character a little less cool.

Overall an enjoyable listen

4 stars

PS: This book uses explicit language...a lot of it centred on suggestions for how one might use a goat

PSS: As far as I’m aware, no goats were harmed or molested in any way, either backwards or sideways, in the making of this book

It may be necessary for the reader to pause to wax their chest at some stage before the book ends.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,203 reviews2,583 followers
January 10, 2022
*** 4.55 ***

“A lie is like a pet- you have to take care of it, or it'll turn on you and bite you in the ass.���

“Does it matter? When you tell a story loud enough and long enough, a story that plays right into people’s worst fears of betrayal, it grows its own truth.”

Wow! Well, this was something! Don't judge me for this rating - I know the writing dates itself right smack into the 1990's, I know it has language which might be considered politically incorrect today, I know the cover is cheesey (I love cheesey covers!), I know there is a ton of swearing and rough language, maybe a bit more gore than strictly necessary, I am aware of all the weaknesses in the novel and still, I loved everything about it!

This is a Pulp Science Fiction Dystopia with some magic and magical races type of mixed-up genre. I didn't think it would work, but this author makes it quite compelling. It Had me pretty much right at the start, even when you are not sure what exactly is going on. The main protagonist is called Hari when here in our Earth, and is Caine when working as an actor/agitator/assassin in the parallel universe Earth Hollywood has somehow found a way to send actors from here to. He is jaded, his lady has left him, and he is not in a good mental place. But he is one of the most popular actors and the studio is riding him hard to give them what they want. Being an actor has never been so dangerous for the health! And this time around he has more to lose than ever!

I was glued to the book in every free moment I had and I would recommend it to all who feel they can handle some violence, some allusions to unrequited sexual acts, and some political intriguing... I don't think young folks with gentler constitution should read it though.

I am very interested to see where the author will go with the next volume 👍🙂
Profile Image for Veronica .
748 reviews177 followers
January 9, 2022
I read this eight years ago and just finished a re-read. Yep, rating still stands. This book is like a shot of adrenaline that manages to still deliver a cool, yet thought provoking, concept.

I read this book simply to fulfill a reading challenge requirement for one of the Goodreads groups to which I belong. Needless to say, I had zero expectations going in and found myself pretty quickly engrossed in the plot. I'm not even sure quite how to classify this book as it is, in my estimation, equal parts fantasy and science fiction. It's set on Earth albeit many, many, many years in the future when society has evolved (or devolved, depending on the POV) into a caste system and the ideas of Abraham Lincoln, John Locke, John Kennedy and others of their ilk are considered grounds for sedition. But it's also set on Overworld, a kingdom closer to a medieval level society that's polpulated by humans and "subs", the substandard species like elves, dwarves, ogres, etc. It's a high octane, action-adventure tale full of violence and greed that nevertheless speaks to the deeper issues of self-identity, what it means to be truly free, and what sorts of evils can arise when society is only willing to consider its own desires. It's a mash-up of The Running Man, The Warriors, Escape From New York, The Truman Show, reality TV, and any sword and sorcery movie you can name. And if all of that sounds crazy that's because it is...and yet, it works. It's an example of old school writing where information and meaning has to be gleaned from the context as there is no spoon feeding done here. But if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded with a fascinating concept and larger than life characters who nevertheless play to motivations that anyone can relate to and recognize. My only quibble? I'm not sure the book needed the epilogue.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,864 reviews371 followers
November 27, 2020
I started reading this book in a cranky mood. I'm an introvert and this Covid-19 pandemic is the apocalypse that I've been training for, but even I am beginning to feel the strain of lack of in-person human contact. So I read the first half of the book while grumpy, then went for a massage (while still able to do so) and returned to the task with a happier outlook. Maybe the second half of the book was better, maybe I was just in a better frame of mind to enjoy it.

Hari Michaelson is an actor. But not in our sense of that word. He gets transferred into another world that shares interdimensional space with his (which I assume is a future Earth), where he becomes Caine, an extraordinary fighter, who changes the course of history in Overworld. Kind of the ultimate in reality TV. Meanwhile, in his home world, grey, faceless multinationals run everything while maintaining a crippling caste system. There, Hari must bow and scrape to his Administrator, something he hates but can't change if he wants to work. It's the wealthy Leisure class who plug in to the Actors' feeds, like wealthy Romans at the gladiatorial games, vicariously savouring the violence and blood.

It is when he is Caine that Hari feels alive. He “thinks with his fists" and can channel all of the aggression that builds up inside him. Not realizing this, his fellow actor Shanna marries him, only to find out that he does more acting in “real" life than when at work. This isn't what she signed up for and they separate. Nevertheless, when one of Shanna's roles goes pear shaped, Hari is determined to go rescue her.

So, this is gladiatorial combat with a fantasy overlay. The whole story seems to exist simply for Caine to pound on his adversaries. His wife is set up as the altruistic one of the two, but blind to how her projects are also manipulating the course of events in Overworld. Hari just wants to prevent her death and get her home, a kind of extreme possessiveness. It seems like a grittier, more X rated version of R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt series, which is also all about the fights, but has a more good guy main character. Caine has his own code, kind of a murky one. His morality is much less absolute, more situational, than most fantasy main characters. Perhaps he's good to have on your side, but don't get too comfortable because he is always on his own side first and foremost. In the second half of the book, events get a lot more convoluted and back-stabby, which was more interesting.

The novel got me thinking about morality—intervening in another world's politics and history seems so intrusive, and yet how often has that happened with Western countries messing about in Latin America or the Middle East? And to do so for the sake of entertaining the rich on another world seemed gratuitously insulting. Plus, the gross unfairness of the caste system in Hari's timeline, which could be a possible outgrowth of the extreme wealth gap, seemed to have a tone of warning for current society.

Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut had it right in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, when he had Eliot Rosewater praise science fiction writers for dealing with the big, contentious problems of society.

Book number 384 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Cross posted at my blog:

Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
May 18, 2012
5 Stars

After nearly 15 years of being in my reading queue, Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover more than lived up to my high expectations. This brutally dark and twisted, and often funny science fiction fantasy blend is just so much damn fun!!!! I admit that I am sure that there are flaws in this book, in the plot, and even in our wonderful heroes, but to me it is as if Matthew Woodring Stover wrote this book just for me and my sick and twisted sense of humor. Hot damn Stover even combines my favorite two genres making this book one that will satisfy my deepest carnal and intellectual needs. The pacing is fast and frenetic with just enough pauses for commercial breaks to make this a tough book to put down. There is a sufficient amount of world building and backstory that create this rich and dynamic world, and launch this series as all great epic fantasies do.

Like others have said the book takes place in the near future here on Earth, but in that time we have discovered and alternate universe version of our planet called Overworld by us and Ankhana by them.

““But I can explain it to you—and your viewers—the same way it was explained to me. You see, Earth and Overworld are the same planet in different universes. Each universe, the whole thing, sort of vibrates in its own way—what they call the Universal Constant of Resonance. Now, it doesn’t really vibrate, that’s just the easiest way to think about it. We go from one to the other by changing our Constant of Resonance to match the other universe. Is everybody confused yet?””

The real kicker is that in this time period, reality television has taken on an even darker, greed filled life of its own. “Hollywood” of that time period takes things to the extreme, you see, Hari Michelson, our main protagonist is an actor playing a part in Overworld as Caine. For over 20 years Michelson has played roles and adventures in Overworld for people in his time to watch as entertainment. He is by far the biggest and most popular actor in the world, and therefore also the most profitable. This novel unfolds with many pauses in the action on Overworld to commercial like updates on Hari’s Earth. Corporate greed of that time is nearly as scary as armies of soldiers and hitmen.

The plot is fairly linear but Stover does a nice job at throwing in a few really cool unforeseen twists. The side characters add great flavors to this book, but it is Caine that makes it stand out.

It is also important to point out that Matthew Woodring Stover is not afraid to write profanity, nor does he shy away from penning out gruesome and graphic violence. If this bothers you please do not read the rest of this review, and be warned, that if you decide to read this book, it is filled with colorful language. Not since Joe Abercrombie and his First Law series have I felt so in touch with the author and connected to his choice of words:

“I jam the knife into his eye. I use the knife to twist his face away from me: a bloodstain on this livery could be fatal, on my way out. He flops like a salmon that’s found unexpected land beneath an upstream leap. This is only his body’s last unconscious attempt to live; it goes hand-in-hand with the release of his bowels and bladder. He shits and pisses all over himself and his satin-weave sheets—another one of those primordial reflexes, a futile dodge to make his meat unappetizing to the predator.”

“You say. Nobody puts magick on me, Caine. Nobody. Don’t they know I’ll kill them? Do these fumbledicks have any clue who they’re fucking, here? I’ve got Abbal Paslava the freakingSpellbinder —he’ll do these bastards till their dicks stick up their own assholes and they fuck themselves with every step!”

Not all of Stover’s writing is so gratuitous. He is equally adept at writing well written and descriptive scenes that create a painting type of view.
“Caine stepped casually within, his half smile blurred by the raging Flow that whirled around him. He closed the door behind himself and leaned against it. Those shadow forms were back again, those ghostly Caine doubles that his every motion seemed to spawn. He was so utterly prepared for any possible action that the ghost doubles took on a solidity in the Flow around him. She could see them now, vague shifting patternings of force, where before she had only imagined them.”
Most importantly I need to tell everyone that Hari Michelson, aka Caine, aka the Blade of Tyshalle, is simply one of the coolest, kick ass, in your face, mother f#er, ever to be written. I thought that Logen “Ninefingers” was my favorite, but after just this one book, Caine may have taken the front seat. This book is all about Caine the assassin, Caine the actor and Hari the man who fails to see just how much more he really is. Unlike comic book super heroes, Caine and Hari do not play out as a hero and an alter ego. They are very much the same person set in completely different worlds. Hari would get along great with Tony Stark. In an action packed novel that had me hooting and hollering on more than one occasion, it was a scene with Hari and his father Duncan that I loved the most. They had several great conversations that ended up being the pivot point and the heart of how this book comes to a head. In this scene Duncan gives his son some advice”

“First, quit whining. Then quit kidding yourself. Let the Chairman, let the Emperor, let everybody think that Caine is who you are—just don’t let yourself think that. That’s your edge. People have been watching you almost twenty years, and nobody knows yet how smart you really are. Take those baby steps, Hari—inch toward daylight. Trust that if you just don’t quit, eventually you’ll find yourself on the pivot, you’ll be in a spot where one bold stroke will lock everything down. You know your enemy, but he doesn’t know you. Kollberg thinks that as long as you can’t get your hands on him, he’s safe.”

The actions of Caine in this book and the violence both portrayed and insinuated at make him one scary son of a bitch. He is an anti hero not to be missed. I loved every bit of this book and because of my “man-crush” on Caine, I will overlook any flaws that their might have been. This book will be loved by all fans of the First Law series and the Gentleman Bastards.

Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,255 reviews178 followers
October 21, 2021
I swear that I read this and Blade of Tyshalle about a dozen times in junior high and high school. I can't say for sure how many times because after the second or third read I'd just pick them and start on whatever page the book opened to.

For the most part, it reads like an above average thriller with genuine depth of character, set in a far richer world than your average high fantasy/fake-medieval realm, but then there's this bit near the end where the narrator-protagonist, Caine, and it blew my mind.

It's a mix of Tolkien, dystopian literature, and Philip K. Dick, the whole gamut of American SF/F. At the time it felt very important. Hell, it still does. A piece of violent entertainment that had a lot to say about why we enjoy violent entertainment.
Profile Image for Rob.
848 reviews535 followers
February 3, 2015
Executive Summary: Dark Fantasy/Sci-Fi that is more gruesome in places than anything I've read from Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin.

Full Review
It's hard to believe this book was published in the late 90's. It would be right at home with all the Dark Fantasy that seems to be abundant these days. This book is way more gruesome in places than most of the so-called "grimdark" fantasy I've read recently. This seems to be a book that has gone under the radar of most fantasy fans.

This is definitely one of those man's man kind of books. Caine is a total badass who kills first and doesn't even bother asking questions later. I can imagine a lot of grunting and snarling as I read along.

The female characters are rather thin. They are badass too, but they also bombshells. You won't find a Brienne of Tarth, or Arya Stark here.

If you don't read the description before starting the book, you'll likely be a little taken aback when an assassin in a fantasy novel starts making references to CRTs and Elmer Fudd. It's not bad writing/editing though.

This is really the story of two worlds. A futuristic dystopian Earth, and a fantastical world full of magic called Overworld. Somehow humanity has found a way to send people to Overwold all while allowing the super rich to virtually "ride along".

It is the most popular form of entertainment for the privileged class. Watching lower class "Actors" fight, kill and often times die for their entertainment. This is no simulation. These are real people who are dying. The ultimate in bloodsport experience.

This is what makes really made the book for me. The parallels between the two worlds, and how the politics and caste system of Earth's impact on the politics of Overworld.

This is no simple revenge story, but one with political undertones. Similarly Caine is no simple thug, but the smart and calculating Hari Michaelson.

Overall I really enjoyed it. The story feels pretty self contained, so while there are other books, I don't feel a need to rush out and read the next one.

It got a little slow in places though. Mr. Stover doesn't seem to write the politics as well as he does gruesome violence and action sequences. That cost it the extra star, but I will definitely be continuing on the series at some point. I'd highly recommend it to any Dark Fantasy fans who like me had never heard of this series/author.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,304 reviews298 followers
February 22, 2022
Не очаквах да ми се случи, но все пак е възможно да съм се попреситил от качествено фентъзи в последните няколко месеца. Може би заради това, тази книга не можа да ме грабне напълно. Все пак динамичното действие, добрата интрига и запомнящите се герои ме карат да очаквам втората част с нетърпение.

Минуси са слабото описание на света на Архана, както и няколкото натрапчиво неумело преведени термина. Пример - ДОНЖОН!!! Какво по дяволите е донжон на български? Толкова ли не можеше да стане подземие, подземен затвор, подземна тъмница или да се използва друг, по-удачен вариант за превод.

Като и да е, "Героите умират" заслужава твърди 4*, още повече, че това май е първия литературен опит на автора му.
Profile Image for Malum.
2,226 reviews127 followers
June 24, 2018
This book would have been a five star read if it had just been trimmed by about 100-150 pages.
The main plot doesn't even kick in until 100 pages in, for example. When the book does get to the point, though, it is great. The worlds that the book takes place in are dark and captivating, the action is brutal, and the characters are all pretty interesting. It also has a lot to say about the ways in which people are entertained (even at the expense of others).

I am glad I read it, but I don't know if I would read any of the other books in the series.
Profile Image for Paul O’Neill.
Author 4 books175 followers
September 17, 2015
Don't let the crappy cover fool you, this is a great book! I'm surprised this hasn't made its way to the big, or small, screen. It has everything, kick ass main character (who develops throughout the story), fast paced action, magic and fantasy elements, gods, war, a really touching love story and reality tv. Wow......just.....wow.
Profile Image for J..
171 reviews3 followers
May 26, 2008
I forget, for long periods of time, how tremendously awesome epic fantasy books can be. When they are well-written, with high stakes, well-drawn and fascinating characters, scenes and set-pieces which fit together perfectly, constantly ratcheting up the tension and suspense... reading experiences don't come much better for me.

To be clear, this isn't pure epic fantasy: it's a combination of fantasy and science fiction, where Actors from a future Earth go adventuring in Overworld (which is a "gritty" non-medieval fantasy-adventure world a la Mieville's Bas-Lag without the truly inventive/excessive weirdness) for the entertainment of the masses in the rather dystopian caste-based society back home.

Hari Michaelson is the most famous Actor of this world, and his Overworld "character" Caine is one of the most famous men there: "relentless, unstoppable, simply the best there is at what he does." (though he's not, in fact, the best fighter in the world, or even in the book, and he's very far from invincible.)

This is probably not for everyone, and Stover's writing style can be over the top - his personal writing motto is "I Swear by the Power of All Dark Gods that I Will Write Every Fucking Word Balls-Out for Glory." But it's not *bad* writing - as far as writing every fucking word etc etc goes, I think it's about as good as it gets.

Stover himself described the book this way: "It's a piece of violent entertainment that's a meditation on violent entertainment- as a concept in itself, as a cultural obsession. It's a love story: romantic love, paternal love, repressed homoerotic love, love of money, of power, of country, love betrayed and employed as both carrot and stick. It's about all different kinds of heroes and all the different ways they die. It's a pop-top can of Grade-A one-hundred-percent pure whip-ass."

So, that last line is a bit hokey, but otherwise that self-analysis is accurate. And despite all the macho bullshit (recognized as such by characters in the book, eventually including Caine/Hari himself), there is, in fact, character personality and development and intelligent thought and political concern and the realization that physical confrontation can't solve any of the really big problems.

I should note, though, that the physical confrontations are nigh-astounding - Stover is a martial artist, and the fight scenes in this book are some of the most vivid I've ever read. "Excessive" violence, certainly, but it's there for a reason.

Politically, the book focuses primarily, perhaps, on individual freedom and the individual's (Hari's) struggle against a repressive government, but I think there is honest political engagement on a larger level throughout, both on Earth and Overworld.

Furthermore, it's actually surprising - nothing turns out quite like I thought it would.

4.5 stars. Not quite Mieville or Martin for me, probably because of the omnipresent stylization of the writing and the fact that the book seems so intensely personal - but it wouldn't have been the same book if Stover's authorial voice had somehow been more "detached". Absolutely worth reading, if this review and others pique your interest more than they annoy you.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
September 27, 2013
An interesting meld of sf/cyberpunk and fantasy. Exciting and well-plotted.

In a near-future Earth, government control has produced a strict caste society. Hari Michaelson has struggled up from a Labor position, with the help of a rich patron, to become one of the most famous men on Earth - but he is still only an Actor, subservient to those above him. But when he is performing as Caine, sent through a breakthrough in physics to the Otherworld of Ankhana, where elves, ogres, wizards and thieves abound, he can almost be free. And he can take out his aggressions in bloody hand-to-hand combat, murdering for the entertainment of his audience, linked-in to sense his every feeling...
But now his estranged wife, also an Actor, is lost in Ankhana, and the time clock is running out before she dies a horrible death. Can Caine succeeed over the political and magickal intrigues of Ankhana, and the even more diabolical plots of his Studio back home, who keep trying to create a more entertaining story, and save the woman he loves?"

Profile Image for Jamie.
1,160 reviews105 followers
July 10, 2020
An exciting modern day Conan the Barbarian sword & sorcery fantasy, with a dash of V for Vendetta, and an amazingly clever story-within-a-story setup. Stover's construct for wrapping his fantasy world within a dystopian world of science fiction is brilliant, and makes this story memorable as a true hybrid that spans both genres in a holistic way. Beyond that, there's a lot to like here - tons of amusing, vulgarity ridden dialogue and bloody action, and some truly detestable villains that you love to hate. Yet, the story is just too long. Many events are told and then re-told from multiple perspectives. There's too much tangential backstory, and too many twists and turns in the endless plotting and intrigue that obscure the primary plot thread, which is essentially the rescue of a damsel in distress. 30-40% shorter and this could have been perfect.
Profile Image for Sarah.
286 reviews10 followers
August 6, 2013
I couldn't finish this one. I renewed it 3 times because I wanted to be able to finish it, but I'm giving up.

This is a fascinating story. The world is interesting, complex and full of potential, as are the male characters. It's well-written and mostly believable. But I'm stuck on two major, major issues.

1) What is with all the shit? And I mean that literally. I'm no wilting lily who can't stand to read about graphic violence, grit and gore. There just seems to be a never-ending river of it in this book. Again, I mean that literally. At one point the massively injured hero and crew actually swim across a river composed of shit and decomposing bodies. Apparently without increasing the likelihood of their injuries becoming infected. And the mass blood-and-entrails-soaked, naked head-first slide through the hoo-ha of the giant golden hermaphrodite statue of the god/king into the pool of blood (I'm honestly not making this up) was just a little bit over the top. But only a little bit...

2) I know that there are male authors out there who can write convincing, realistic female characters. Mr. Stover isn't one of them. Unless there's some radical character development in the last 1/3 of the book, all of the women are stereotypical, 2-dimensional characters. They're also kind of porny, by which I mean their defining characteristic is their sexual objectification. It pisses me off.

I want to know how the story ends, but I don't want to jump back into a world that pisses me off and makes me feel like I need to shower. Repeatedly. So, one star for not being able to finish the book, bumped up to two stars because there's so much potential if you can get past the unrealistic portrayal of women...and the shit.
Profile Image for Thomas Stacey.
189 reviews32 followers
May 13, 2018
5 testosterone filled blood soaked stars.

This is an incredible book. A seamless blend of sci-fi and fantasy with a genius premise. Set on an overpopulated Earth shackled by a rigid caste society, and set in the land of Ankhana, a distant medieval world where ‘actors’ from Earth are sent to assassinate monarchs, start wars and cause chaos all for the entertainment of billions back home on Earth.

Enter Caine, AKA Hari Michaelson, a superstar actor who’s wife has gone missing in Ankhana. To save her, he must confront the most treacherous rulers of two worlds. Caine is a fascinating character: full of rage and bitterness, he is absolutely relentless and unstoppable - a true anti-hero.

This book is an absolute Tour De Force: full of violence, blood and gore. The pace never lets up and you’ll find it extremely difficult to put down, even for essentials such as sleeping or eating. It’s so much more than that though, with a host of intriguing characters to watch develop throughout the story (not always in a good way). Speaking of the story, there’s a lot more going on here than initially appears. To say anything else would be venturing into spoiler territory, but be prepared to be surprised often and without warning.

With its slick prose (which reminds me a lot of Scott Lynch), engaging characters and twisting plot, Heroes Die is the book you’ve always needed to read, but never knew it... until now. Read it.
Profile Image for Jon.
833 reviews253 followers
September 26, 2009
3.5 stars

The pros: Great combat scenes, lots of fast-paced action, dystopian future Earth reminiscent of ancient history repeating itself, and plots within plots ... all for your entertainment.

The cons: Prolific profanity (although I suppose it could be argued that it's all relevant and 'in character'), graphic violence (again relevant and 'in character'), lust/love seen through testosterone-tinged viewpoint and only one decent character afloat in the grey morass of moral ambiguity.

Heroes Die drug me through Ankhana at Caine's frenetic pace on his quest to rescue his ex-wife Pallas Rill. On the way, much mayhem, mystery, magic and murder mixed together to clot in a blood-soaked climax spanning two dimensions and leaving the seeds of revolution behind to sprout in both.

The beauty and grace of some of the individual combat sequences took my breath away. I re-read some of them just to re-visualize the blow-by-blow more precisely.

Oddly, I found myself comparing this story to The Hunger Games from a broader, visionary perspective. Both stories have dystopian totalitarian governments ruling Earth and 'bread and circuses' style entertainment to keep the masses (the workers/castes) in their place.
30 reviews2 followers
October 30, 2014
The protagonist, CAINE, is one BADASS MOTHERFUCKER. He doesn't take MESS from ANYBODY, not STUDIO HEADS, not GOD-EMPERORS, not his BITCH-DEITY-WIIIIIIFE. Watch him take out OVERWHEMLING numbers of cannon fodder with GRUESOME violence.


You want distopian future SCIFI? Here ya go! You want more FANTASY than you can handle? FUCK YOU YOU GOT IT


Profile Image for Anete.
428 reviews63 followers
October 2, 2020
4.5/5 Hari Michaelson ir aktieris, kas dodas uz Ankhana pasauli piedzīvojumos - galināt karaļus, cīnīties ar mītiskiem radījumiem, piedzīvot kaujas, un par godīgu samaksu, Jūs varat piedzīvot to visu paši vai nu tiešraidē, vai noskatīties vēlāk savas mājas ērtībās, ne ar ko neriskējot. Bet Hari Michaelson, kuru Ankhana pasaule pazīst kā Kainu, riskē jūsu vietā, jo ievainojumi, maģija un nāve šeit ir vistnotaļ īstas. Jaunākais Piedzīvojums Kainam ir īpaši svarīgs, jo tā ietvaros viņš drīkst glābt reālās dzīves sievu, Pallas Rill, kura ir pazudusi  Ankhana pasaulē.

Ļoti interesants epic fantasy un antiutopijas mikslis, kur kopā sajauktas leģendas par karalistēm, burvjiem, troļļiem un zinātniskā fantastika. Šeit ir gan sabiedrības kastu cīņas, filozofiskas pārdomas par cilvēcību un pasaules iekārtu, asiņainas cīņas ainas, humors un fascinējoši varoņi. Grimdark tradīcijās robeža starp ļauno un labo ir visai izplūdusi.

Vienīgais mīnus - mani ļoti kaitināja Pallas Rill, viņas iekšējie monologi man lika acis bolīt un skaļi nopūsties, par viņas neveiksmēm kaut kā par daudz priecājos....
Profile Image for Twerking To Beethoven.
370 reviews64 followers
February 10, 2016
So there's this very popular actor, - Hari Michaelson - alright? He plays Caine, a fully-fledged badass who kicks all sorts of arse in a fantasy world. Only Ankhana isn't actually a fictitious world, it really exists in a parallel dimension. So, whenever people watch one of Caine's movies, they're watching stuff that's happening for real.

Now Caine... picture a cross between Harry Callahan, Dutch off Predator, John McClane and Conan. That's the sort of badass Caine is. Actually, everybody's a mean sumbitch in Ankhana: Berne (ah, Berne! Best villain evah!), Ma’elKoth, Majesty... even Pallas Rill, Caine's wife, who needs to be saved.

One more thing, I have a major pet peeve: present tense. Whenever I stumble upon a book that's written in present tense, I'll put it down and move on to something else. Well, a considerable chunk of "Heroes Die" is written in present tense. But I'll tell you what? It didn't bother me one bit. Put it this way, it's as if Caine had a gopro strapped on his temple to show us what's going on.

Testosterone, people. Plenty of it.

Five stars.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,030 followers
October 23, 2014
My first novel by this author & it was quite a pleasant surprise. He handled two distinct worlds very well. One is a high tech, rather dystopian world, the other one full of swords & sorcery. Not a new idea, but it was a rather new way of putting it together with plenty of excitement throughout.

The characters were well drawn with logical, sometimes complex motivations. There were multiple heroic figures, plenty of bad guys, & they didn't always stay where they started out. They grew, diminished or died in a complex web.

I can definitely see where a second book has a lot of threads that could be spun out, but this one stands well enough on its own. I'm not sure another would be good to read, at least not right away.
Profile Image for Quintin Zimmermann.
229 reviews33 followers
May 1, 2018
I did not have high expectations going into this one. A novel written two decades ago by an author that I never heard of.

Oh my word, was I blown away! Simply put, Heroes Die is Joe Abercombie and Richard K. Morgan coming together and ripping Ready Player One a new one.

Caine, take up a chair and join the hardcore company of Logan Ninefingers and Takeshi Kovacs.

In the Matthew Woodring Stover's own words: "It's a pop-top can of Grade-A one-hundred percent pure whip-ass."
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