Audiobook Review: Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stover

12 03 2013

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (Acts of Caine, Book 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Audible Frontiers

Length: 22 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nominee for Fantasy

One of the terms that I read often in reviews and have used myself is "likable" when it comes to describing characters. One of the major criticisms I can give a book is I didn’t find the main character likeable. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that probably isn’t the best term for it. Some of my favorite all time characters are far from likable people. In fact, some of them are downright scumbags who I wouldn’t let clean my toilets, let alone kick back on my couch to watch my DVDs. Yet, despite my respect for great people, those wonderful morally upright citizens who selflessly give of them selves and are always quick with a kind word and a helping hand, I rarely like these types as book characters.  One of my favorite all time characters, Thomas Covenant, is an scumbag, whiney rapist who only survived because of the willingness of his friends to sacrifice themselves for him and The Land he doesn‘t truly believe in. Yet, when Covenant isn’t on the page I miss him. He has a presence and the tale never feels complete unless he’s there. This is what I want out of characters, a sense of presence, and an investment in what they are doing. I want to wonder what’s going on with them when they are off screen, wonder how they will react when the story switches to another perspective. Mostly, I want them to be interesting, flawed and human. Well, unless they are robots, or aliens or something, but at least somewhat relatable. So, screw being likable characters. You don’t need to wipe your feet before entering my head, just try not to get too much blood on the floor.

Heroes Die is the first novel of The Acts of Caine series. This series is a blending of science fiction and fantasy which tells of a future where actors are transported to an alternate plane of existence called Ankhana, where they get into adventures, perform magic and mayhem, all for the pleasure of the audience who experiences it through a virtual reality like set up. Caine is perhaps the biggest star of his time. His kill first then ask questions later mentality make him a must for real time viewers of his adventure. Yet, on earth the only real thing in his life, his marriage with a fellow actor has fallen apart. When his estranged wife disappears during an adventure, the studio calls in Caine, and says that they will send him to Ankhana to rescue her, only if he’s willing to assassinate the very powerful emperor. It took me a long time to get into Heroes Dies. A really long time. I found both worlds, the fantasy setting of Ankhana and the real Earth dystopian caste system to be fascinating, yet, I really didn’t like the main character. OK, actually I hated him. I just couldn’t find myself invested in his struggles or interested in his methods. I found that the main baddie, an egomaniacal Emperor with a dark new power, was much more of an interesting character, and I actually agreed with his disdain for the interference of the Actors. Even the characters within the tale couldn’t seem to find a viable reason to do away with the Emperor. It wasn’t until the story shifted perspectives to his estranged wife in her alternate guise as Pallas Rill, did the story start gaining track for me. After that, Caine began to change becoming less of the charge into battle with your sword raised type character to a more cerebral plotter. Also, Stover began to change to focus more to the evils of the Earth system, and began revealing the true bad guy of the story. This is where Heroes Die really begins to take off. The Final third of this book made up for many of my problems with the first third. I never really bought into Caine, but slowly I began to understand and became more invested in his quest. The interesting thing is, my development as the reader took the same path as Caine, realizing what the book was really about didn’t happen to late, when Caine began to really get a grasp on the true issues of his world. So, despite some trouble connecting, in the end I felt I had a net positive experience with Heroes Die. The ending has some real clever twists that were more about revealing the true nature of people and the world then any sort of "Aha!" moment. Overall, I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Whenever I start a new audiobook, I like to announce it on Twitter to all the fanfare and pomposity of my small group of followers. When I started to tweet about Heroes Die, I wanted to announce that it was read by Uncle Stefan, because, I can’t but feel, whenever I start one of Stefan Rudnick’s narrations, like I’m sitting down ready for my big burly uncle with his booming voice about to tell me some deep and dark visceral tale of battles and monsters and warrior maidens. Heroes Die is the perfect vehicle for Stefan Rudnicki. He voices Caine with a booming over the top masculinity, yet also manages to tap into Caine’s alter ego’s insecurities. Heroes Die is filled with just the right kind of murder and mayhem that is Rudnicki’s bread and butter. You haven’t truly experienced someone being slowly eviscerated by a magic sword until you have heard it described by Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki simply brought Ankhana alive for me. While struggling through the early parts of this book, Rudnicki was the perfect guide, making these world’s interesting for me, and keeping me in the game for the huge payoff at the end. He managed to make the action scenes feel even more intense, the political maneuverings more cunning and the characters more real. Mostly, he did what he does best, he told the story.