Outside of the realm of Star Wars, Matthew Stover has written several books about a character called Caine: Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, and Caine Black Knife, with another one on the way - Father's Fist. The writing style of these books are radically different than his Star Wars novels, and are certainly ramped up when it comes to content. Yet they are still imaginative and thought provoking. So, let me introduce you to the world of Caine...
First off, the Cain books are very violent and vulgar stories, not for the feint of heart. Caine himself is an anti-hero, and sometimes a borderline sympathetic villain. His adventures generally bring death and suffering to all around him, and Stover does not pass up the opportunity to detail those deaths and those moments of suffering in all their gritty, bestial detail. On one end you've got people being run through with swords while their killers taunt them with threats of rape, and on the other end you've got godlike beings who actually do it on some spiritual-metaphysical level to a child. Grim stuff.
Adult content aside, the setting for these novels are extremely creative. The stories take place on two worlds: Earth and Overworld. Earth is set in the future, the entire planet ruled by a socialist caste system. Entertainment is gained from actors who travel to Overworld, a planet in a parallel universe. Overworld is a world populated with the characters of fantasy: elves, ogres, dwarves, dragons, pixies, etc. The actors from Earth travel their and go on adventures while their experiences are transmitted back to Earth for people to enjoy. However, these 'actors' are very different from real world actors. These guys kill people, they have to fight and survive, and most in importantly to the viewers, they have to do so in an entertaining way.
The first book in the series is Heroes Die, and it is in my opinion the best in the series and a very good stand alone novel. Caine and his world are introduced and there is a very tight, gripping, and entertaining story that carries all the way to the end of the book. It has one of the best villains in the entire series, Berne, and the battles that take place between him and Caine are great. Berne is a really twisted guy, and in a scary way, it makes for good reading.
Next up is Blade of Tyshalle. The events of Heroes Die puts Caine into a difficult situation which in turn hurt the action in this book a bit. Instead of getting another "Caine in action" story, we are given a long, painful rebirth of Caine. This is a very dark and grim story that can get a bit depressing. It started out strong with an excellent flashback into Caine's early life, but the long road to getting him back in the game was anything but upbeat and happy. Yet the ending had a good pay off for all that torment and waiting.
Caine Black Knife is a bit different from the previous two. It's still Caine being Caine, which means violence and pain in abundance, but this time it's all Caine, and like he says in the book, it's "The Caine Show." Before Stover would write from different points of view of other characters and sometimes switch to third person. In Caine Black Knife, it's pretty much all first person perspective of Caine and he is the sole star of the book. Basically half of it is a flashback of his famous adventure against the legendary ogre clan the Black Knives. The other half is him tracking down his adopted brother and investigating the Khryll kingdom. Unlike Blade of Tyshalle, Caine is in full action throughout the whole book. Like Blade of Tyshalle, the flashbacks are pretty good and memorable. Personally I liked this book better than Blade of Tyshalle and it was a very nice way to continue on the series. The one bad thing about it is the "to be continued" ending.
So overall the Caine books are a interesting read. If you've read Stephen King and didn't mind his more obscene stuff, then I'd highly suggest reading at least Heroes Die; it's worth it. The one truly bad thing about this series is trying to find these books as they're out of print. Plus Blade of Tyshalle is really scarce even on Amazon and Ebay. Nevertheless, they make for good reading and Stover certainly throws around a lot of ideas.
If anyone's interested in a more detailed summary of what actually happens in the books, let me know and I can dish out some spoilers
"I believe toys resonate with us as humans, we can hold them them, it's tactile, real! They are totems for our extended beliefs and imaginations. A fetish for ideas that hold as much interest and passion as old religious relics for some. We display them in our homes. They show who we are. They are signals for similar thinking people. A way we connect with each other...and I guess thats why I do toys. That connection." -Ashley Wood