Heroes Die

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Overview

Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana, 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. He is free. At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose Adventures command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that men die on a far off world for the entertainment of his own planet - bound to keep his rage in check. But now Michaelson has ...
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Overview

Renowned throughout the land of Ankhana, 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. He is free. At home on Earth, Caine is Hari Michaelson, a superstar whose Adventures command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that men die on a far off world for the entertainment of his own planet - bound to keep his rage in check. But now Michaelson has crossed the line. His estranged wife, Pallas Ril, 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Carolyn Cushman
Despite being packaged as fantasy, this adventure has a plot more familiar from virtual-reality gaming novels usually packaged as SF. Caine, a legendary hero/entertainer, has to re-enter the fantasy world that made him famous in order to rescue his estranged wife, whose own adventure entertainment has gone awry. The real enemy (no surprise) is the studio that's willing to endanger Actors' lives for ratings. But here the "fantasy" world is actually another dimension where magic works, and the human Actors are considered demons that cause chaos and death purely for entertainment's sake. The ambiguity of the Actors' roles as "good" guys gives the adventure a depth beyond the now-routine VR-ish plot; it also gives Stover a chance to look at different sides of the sort of swords-&-sorcery plot he handled more straightforwardly in his first two novels. Some nice twists result in this otherwise hard-hitting adventure with its inventively sadistic villains, some Heinlein-inspired libertarian touches, and even a touching conclusion.
---Carolyn Cushman, LOCUS, July 1998
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After two fantasy novels Iron Dawn; Jericho Moon, Stover combines fantasy and SF in this vigorous adventure story. Our world has developed a hyper-rigid, occupation-based caste system in which the reading of freedom-based philosophy, from John Locke to Robert A. Heinlein, is punished. For entertainment, people participate vicariously in recorded Adventures from the Overworld, an other-dimensional realm of sword and sorcery with its own repressive government. On Earth, Hari Michaelson is the most popular Actor in Adventures; in Ankhana, with its rich palaces and criminal slums, he is known as Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle, famous assassin and warrior. Tired of killing, Hari agrees to return to the Overworld, driven to save his estranged wife, Pallas Ril--Actor and sorceress, unable to return to Earth due to a powerful spell--and ordered by the Studio to kill the tyrant Ma'elKoth. Stover's writing throughout is unoriginal but vivid, and his story is well plotted though relentlessly violent, with numerous noteworthy secondary characters, from Hari's father to Kierendal, the non-human manager of a vice-den in the Overworld's Alien Town. Hari begins as a stereotyped cold-blooded killer but develops credibly, gaining a sense of moral responsibility and realizing that his true enemies are not on the Overworld but within the Studio that directs his life for its profits. Stover's fans and those who like their fantasy/SF tinged red should enjoy this energetic tale. Author tour. Aug.
Kirkus Reviews
Dubious sf/fantasy hybrid from the author of the paperback Iron Dawn. Stover's future Earth is run by and for the entertainment networks, with society locked into a rigid and unforgiving caste system. Coexisting with Earth but in another dimension is planet Overworld, with its stereotypical medieval sword-and-sorcery fantasy scenario. Entertainers from Earth can be projected into Overworld, their adventures then relayed back for vicarious VR enjoyment. So on Earth, Actor Hari Michaelson does what his boss, Arturo Kollberg, chairman of San Francisco Studio, tells him; on Overworld, Hari becomes Caine, a dreaded and highly successful assassin. But now also on Overworld, the Emperor Ma'elKoth, together with his henchman, the supernally skillful swordsman Count Berne, has achieved supreme power by mounting a successful pogrom against "Aktirs," thus threatening Earthly profits and the engineering of new dramas. Kollberg therefore orders Hari back to Overworld, where his mission will be to kill Ma'elKoth and rescue his ex-wife, the Actor Shanna Leighton, trapped on Overworld in one of her two identities, as the revolutionary Pallas Ril or the resistance fighter Simon Jester. Unfortunately for Hari, Ma'elKoth is already aware of Caine and Pallas/Simon and has devised his own plans accordingly. So, can Caine kill his enemies, survive a voyage of painful self-discovery, and win back his lovely wife? Shallow and unsurprising, a furious, gory hack-'em-up withþeven for this subgenreþa high expletive count. Stover does, however, work hard to develop his characters. (Author tour)
From the Publisher
"DAY OF THE JACKAL MEETS LORD OF THE RINGS . . . A marvelous conspiracy thriller of worlds within worlds, where no one is necessarily who or what they seem."
—SIMON R. GREEN
   Author of the Deathstalker series

"Vivid . . . Well-plotted . . . [A] vigorous adventure story."
—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345421043
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/21/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 563
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.05 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Woodring Stover is the acclaimed author of two previous fantasy novels, Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon. He is a student of the Degerberg Blend. This jeet kune do concept is a mixture of approximately twenty-five different fighting arts from around the world and forms the basis for Caine's combat style in the novels. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with artist and writer Robyn Fielder.

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Read an Excerpt

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.

Screw it. I'm not hungry anyway.

He quiets after a year or so. I brace my free hand against his forehead and work the knife back and forth. It comes free with a wet scrape, and I set about the grisly part of this job.

The serrated edge slices easily through the flesh of his neck, but grates against his third cervical vertebra. A slightly altered angle of attack puts the edge between the third and fourth, and a couple seconds' sawing loosens his head. The copper scent of his blood is so thick I can smell it through the stench of his shit; my stomach twists until I can barely breathe.

I uncover the golden tray that I'd carried up from the kitch-ens, gently set the plates of steaming food to one side, and put Toa-Phelathon's head in their place, picking it up carefully by the hair so that none of the gore that drains from it will stain my clothes. I replace the golden dome and strip off my bloodstained gloves, tossing them carelessly onto the body beside the discarded knife. My hands are clean.

I lift the tray to my shoulder and take a deep breath. The easy part's over. Now I have to get out of here alive.

Thetrickiest part of this escape is the first hurdle: getting away from the body. If I pass the pair of guards at the service door cleanly, I'll be out of the palace before anyone knows the old man is dead. My adrenals sing to me a potent tune that makes my hands tingle and raises goose bumps up my back. My heartbeat thunders in my ears.

In the upper left corner of my vision, the red Exit Square blinks. I ignore it, even as it moves with my eyes like an afterimage of the sun.

I'm only halfway across the room when the service door swings open. Jemson Thal, the master steward, starts talking before he even clears the doorway. "Your pardon, Majesty," he begins in a hasty breathless gabble, "but there is a rumor of an impostor among the serv ..."

Jemson Thal takes in the headless corpse on the bed, he takes in me, and his gabble trails into gasping. His eyes go round and the color drains from his face; his mouth works like he's strangling. I close the distance between us with a long, smooth croise and kick him in the throat. It drops him like a bag of rocks, and now he's strangling for real as he tries to breathe around the splinters of his larynx, clawing at his throat and writhing on the service-passage floor.

I didn't even tip the tray.

One of the guards is, will be, easy. With a wordless exclamation he drops to one knee beside Thal and tries stupidly to help him. What's he think he's gonna do, thump the poor bastard's back until he coughs up his windpipe? The other isn't in sight; smarter than his partner, he's pressed against the wall of the service passage, waiting for me.

Both of these guards wear long sturdy hauberks under their mantles of maroon and gold, with padded chainmail coifs reinforced by studded steel skullcaps. Toa-Phelathon spared no expense in outfitting his Household Knights; my knives are useless against them, but hey, that's all right--I'm deep in it, now.

The waiting is over. I'm happy again.

The smarter guard has a brainstorm and begins to shout for help.

I uncover the tray and gravely regard Toa-Phelathon. The lower third of his flowing hair is soaked in blood, but his face isn't too contorted; even with the ruin of his eye he's still clearly recognizable. I thrust the tray through the doorway about chest high; the sight of its cargo cuts off the shouted alarm as efficiently as an arrow down the throat.

While the portion of the guard's brain that handles signal processing still struggles to assimilate the concept of the disembodied head of his king, I skip out into the service passage; I have two seconds, maybe more, before Smartguard there can use his mind for anything beyond saying, "Huh?"

The guard on one knee claws at his sword as he surges to his feet. I drop the tray with a clang, and the head bounces away as I get a hand on the dumb guard's wrist and keep that blade where it belongs. I follow with a sharp headbutt that rings in my ears with a slapstick bonk; Dumbguard's nose spreads like deviled ham, and his eyes drift together. I wrap both forearms around his coif and pivot away from him, twisting him sideways into a hangman's throw that sends him tumbling forward to crash into Smartguard. The padding behind his chainmail coif didn't give his neck enough support to save him: his neck bones parted with a sharp pop as I levered him over my back. He twitches out the last of his life as I leap lightly across Jemson Thal's convulsing body to go over and kill Smartguard.

That's when Toa-Phelathon gets his piece of me, a bit of petty revenge that must have him snickering in the afterlife.

I'm coming down--it's just a little jump--but I've got my eyes on Smartguard, who's disentangling himself from Dumbguard, and my foot lands on Toa-Phelathon's head.

It rolls out from under me, and I upend like Elmer Fudd.

I barely manage to take the fall on my shoulder instead of the back of my neck, and only the narrowness of the service corridor saves my life: when Smartguard swings his broadsword at my head, its tip hangs up in the woodwork. I try to roll away, but I come up against Jemson Thal, who's still choking, and this time Smartguard gets it right. Instead of swinging his sword, he lunges with a stiff arm and drives a foot of steel through my liver.

A sword in the belly is a disconcerting thing: it doesn't really hurt, much, but it's really fucking cold, it radiates freezing cold that surges through your whole body and drains the strength out of your legs, like the brain freeze you get from chewing up an ice cube only you feel it all over, and you can feel the blade sliding around in there, slicing things up, and frankly, the whole process sucks, if you ask me.

A couple of pounds of steel in the belly also plays fuckass with the forcepattern of the spell that makes me look like a teenage eunuch. The magick flickers like a dying CRT, and the discharge lifts hair on my neck and makes my beard tingle.

Smartguard pulls the blade instead of twisting it around in there--a mistake of inexperience that I'm going to kill him for. It scrapes a rib on the way out, a sensation that's analogous to fingernails across a blackboard combined with having your teeth drilled without anesthetic; screaming clouds of blackness bloom inside my eyes. I moan and shudder with pain, and Smartguard mistakes these for death rattle and convulsion--more inexperience.

"There, you bastard, an easy death is better than you deserve!" he says.

Tears well in his eyes for his fallen lord, and I don't have the heart to tell him that I agree with him. He bends toward me a little as the enchanted disguise finally fades, and his eyes go wide. There's awe in his voice when he says, "Hey, you could be ... you look like, like Caine! You are, aren't you? I mean, who else would ... Great K'hool, I've killed Caine! I'm gonna be famous!"

I don't think so.

I hook my right toe around his ankle to hold his leg while I stamp his knee with my left. It snaps, loudly, and he collapses into a wailing heap. That's the trouble with chainmail: it's no defense against joints bending in ways they're not designed to bend. He doesn't drop his sword, though; the kid has heart.

I come to my feet with an acrobat's kip, tearing something inside my wounded belly. He jabs at me with the sword--but from the ground he's slow, and it's easy to slap my palms together around the flat of the blade, kick his wrist, and take it away from him. I flip the sword end-for-end and neatly catch the hilt.

"Too bad, kid," I tell him. "You'd've been pretty good, if you'd lived."

I shortarm the swing, and it takes him across the top of the ear, half an inch below the studded rim of his skullcap. The edge doesn't penetrate the chain coif, but it doesn't have to; I'm good with swords, and the impact alone is enough to fracture his skull and kill him.

I pause a bare moment to get my breath and take stock of my situation. I'm bleeding, front and back where he ran me through, and no doubt internally as well. I figure I've got ten minutes of useful action before I hit shock. Could be longer, could be a lot less; depends on how much damage that broadsword actually did and how badly I'm hemorrhaging.

In that time I must descend eight heavily guarded floors of the Colhari Palace and lose myself in the crowds of Ankhana's Old Town--all while carrying the head of the Prince-Regent. The alarm's been raised, and I'm probably bleeding to death, but that's no reason to leave him behind; without the head, I don't get paid, and besides, carrying a severed head won't make me any more conspicuous than I already am. With blood running down my legs, I can't bluff, I can't hide, and I'll leave a trail behind wherever I go. Now I can hear the pounding of booted feet approaching at a run.

The red Exit Square is back at the upper left corner of my field of vision, flashing on and off.

Yeah, all right. Time to go.

I get the rhythm of it and start triggering my blink reflex in synch with the flashing. The service passage and the dying men around me fade into nonexistence.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    A very well written book with a nice use of a parallel universe.

    A very well written book with a nice use of a parallel universe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2013

    An excellent novel

    This novel is perhaps one of the few i have ever read that successfully combines both fantasy and science fiction. Dont let the cover fool you this is worth the read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This entire series is criminally under rated. If you like sci-f

    This entire series is criminally under rated. If you like sci-fi at all, you owe it to yourself to read these books. This is my favorite series of books. Period.

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  • Posted June 11, 2011

    Good+read

    Very+engaging+book+with+interesting+social+dynamics+as+well+as+the+contrast+of+the+%22barbarian%22+world+compared+to+the+civilized.+Work+the+cost

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    Amazing Book

    Heros die is an absolutely fantastic book. I love the characters and the non-stop action. I couldnt put the book down until over. Matthew Woodring Stover is an amazing authour.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2002

    Excellent Book

    This is an exceptional first book from Stover. It is a refreshing blend of Sci-Fi with Fantasy and although that formula usually doesn't work out, it is perfect here. Stover's fine detail to the fight scenes in the book is top notch. I recommend this book highly! Although the book has a sequel, I liked how it ended without leaving the reader hanging. I am currently reading the sequel "Blade of Tyshalle" and so far it is right up there with the first one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2000

    Suprisingly Excellent

    I had never read anything by Stover and picked him up on an off-chance at a used book store...what a find! Action, intrigue, a little romance - all at a great pace! If you're looking for a fun adventure, this is it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2000

    So real, you can almost taste the dirt!

    This is one of those 'must-have' fantasy novels! This book is hard-edged and action-packed with a great story that won't let go. Believe the reviews--this is one writer not to be missed. The main character, Caine is a man with a purpose who is sometimes duped by his own good intentions. But I'd still want him to back me up in a dark alley. The magic system is unique and surprising, but I was so glad it wasn't the same-old-same-old magic found in so many fantasies today. HEROES DIE is like a breath of fresh air in the fog of cookie-cutter fantasies. For anyone who likes a finely honed blade of steel in their stories, this is the one for you!

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