Book Review: The Acts of Caine by Matthew Stover

Acts of Caine by Matthew Stover

Just finished four books of this series and I loved it! It’s action packed from the get go apart from the second book which is a bit too metaphysical for my taste. The protagonist Caine is – for want of a better word – an assassin. He’s got some serious skills, but makes no bones about the fact that he’s hardly the best. What he has…is a total badass attitude, a crapload of experience, and a kind of “fate” that makes him the fulcrum around which many major world changing events revolve.

To top it off, he’s actually an actor. This series is a curious mix of fantasy and science fiction. Both worlds exist in separate dimensions. One, a modern dystopian future were corporations rule the world in a strictly caste based society, and the the other a traditional fantasy world with elves, ogres, gods, and goddesses. World number 1 (the modern world) has found a way to visit this “Overworld” and sends actors to blend in with the population and “risk their lives in interesting ways”. All for the benefit of the audience at home.

Caine is something of a superstar – and loves it. But over the course of the books he rebels against Earth as he realizes that his universe has every intention of plundering, enslaving, and bringing their hated machines to populate this magical fantasy place. The book is full of powerful characters and god like entities that nonetheless always get their asses handed to them by a man who’s more hard bitten than any of them. He’s also a bit of a lunatic.

If there’s one flaw in this series, it’s that it sometimes gets way too metaphysical. The last book was a convoluted mess of metaphors and time jumping that was nonetheless saved by the kickass action sequences. Whenever Caine is around, things are never boring. He steals the show and leaves no place for anyone else. If you’re looking for a book with an in-depth cast of characters, this one isn’t for you. It’s unabashedly all about Caine himself and everyone else is a side kick.

Matthew Stover does an excellent job of presenting certain themes like the impact and hunger of modern society in a way that makes us understand them without becoming boring and academic. He does this by just telling a story, though it sometimes gets a bit weird. His experience with a variety of martial arts is very obvious as each fight is detailed with facts, strangulation techniques, ways to block kicks to the knee, and various other combat techniques. This is now my new benchmark for close combat sequences. No one does it better than Stover.

I’ll be introducing my wife to Caine soon. She loves strong characters in her books and this is just about as strong as they come!

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