Blade of Tyshalle is an intricate fantasy and a dark glimpse into mankind's future. Review by Violet Kane

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Matthew Stover pens a multilayered tale of friendship and ugliness, hope and devolution. It is an intriguing intersection of alternative reality genres and themes.

Blade of Tyshalle is set in future Earth, where traditional governments have eroded under the anarchy that follows a plague breakout of a bioengineered disease. Humanity may have been saved by an eventual vaccine, but the hierarchy that rose in its place is a many leveled caste system originally designed to keep the Labor classes from infecting the Business and Leisure classes during the plague years. The caste system, however, remains in place even after mass vaccinations have cured the populace, and the Social Police in anonymous gunmetal masks continue to enforce laws prohibiting unauthorized inter-class contact. Sound like science fiction? That's only half of this story. In this brutal future, the masses crave a more thrilling and realistic form of entertainment. Powerful Studio executives no longer orchestrate fictional films. They train Actors in combat and Battle Magick, sending them ultimately into Overworld—a partner universe to Earth on a medieval technology level, populated with humans, elves, dwarves, fey, ogres... a host of fantasy species. Unbeknownst to the indigenous inhabitants of Overworld, Actors from Earth interact with them, live and die with them, kill them and rule them, filming Studio-influenced Adventures through brain implants. Actors are everywhere, and they often have as much at stake as the inhabitants of Overworld. Some Actors receive "elving" surgeries, others are made gods through manipulation of Overworld physics.

As an Actor, Hari Michaelson was the god Caine for many years on Overworld, churning out some of the most lucrative Adventures the Studio had ever seen. But when he got a sword through the spine in his final Adventure—the most commercially successful, despite his defying the directives of Studio execs—his career ended. Earth technologies allow him general use of his legs, but he cannot return to Overworld. Instead, he directs Studio Adventures from his home office, a pale imitation of the god he once was. One day, a shadow from Hari's past appears on the view screen of one of his Actors, reporting a breakout of the plague virus among Overworld elves. In order to save Overworld from the virus—which he suspects is a Studio plot—Hari must defy his superiors once again to cure Overworld swiftly and without intrusion. He had no idea, however, the chain of events his defiance sets in motion as he watches everything he holds dear crumble at his fingertips.

Blade of Tyshalle is an ambitious and successful genre crossover. It is heavy on speculative concepts, but ultimately character driven. The character of Hari/Caine is compelling and accessible, at once a hero and an anti-hero. This story, on the one hand, explores the dirtiest and most sordid aspects of humanity. As a warning to more traditional fantasy fans, this book is what I would call "beyond R-rated"—a feat of creatively disturbing violence in a book with no sex scenes, save one gruesome rape (where the "below-the-belt" action is the most pedestrian part of the attack). Fans of gritty realistic fantasy will find this book a step up from what they are used to, a thorough exploration of morbid curiosities. On another side, though, this book also explores "meaning of life" philosophy through the existential crises of its main characters. The philosophy and speculative conceptual explanations are complex, but they are not inaccessible. Most alternative reality fans will likely consume them with fascination. The tone of this book is overarchingly cynical, but despite the despair and disaster the characters experience in this book, they are ultimately given a thorough and considered treatment. Each character follows a carefully-conceived arch and no viewpoint character is randomly disposable—either for the sake of the main plot or for shock value, as is the trend in some "gritty realistic" fantasy today.

Fantasy fans eager for a book that "pushes the envelope" and challenges both their intellect and sensibilities, will find Blade of Tyshalle a fascinating exploration of character and concept. In many ways, this book quite literally "has it all," combining favorite themes from most alternative reality genres.


Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of ARWZ.com. She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.