->You, as Actors, have a precisely defined role, irrespective of whether you swing a blade or throw a lightning bolt, joust or heal the sick. It is purely and simply this: [[BloodSport Your function in society is to risk your life in interesting ways]].
->--'''Blade of Tyshalle'''

''The Acts of Caine'' is a series of [[ScienceFantasy fantasy-science fiction]] (trending toward fantasy) books by Creator/MattStover.

There are currently four books: ''Heroes Die'', ''Blade of Tyshalle'', ''Caine Black Knife'', and ''Caine's Law''. In addition, Stover has created the [[http://Overworld.tv Overworld.tv]] project, which will initially involve a graphic novel in the Acts of Caine continuity.

The series's setting is an interesting combination of a [[{{Dystopia}} futuristic earth run by corporate governments with a strict caste system and loads of repression]], and a [[DarkFantasy parallel high fantasy world called Overworld]] that earth humans have learned to travel to and exploit. This exploitation initially takes the form of The Studio, a company that produces a sort of reality entertainment by sending "actors" to Overworld. These actors are trained in either magic or combat, implanted with a kind of video recorder and sent to Overworld to "risk [their] lives in an interesting way". On the SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism, the series tends towards cynicism, although it's not without [[EarnYourHappyEnding bouts of idealism]]. [[http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/137613/acts-of-caine-the-best-damned-fantasy-youve-never-read A more detailed synopsis here]], with minor spoilers from the first three books.

The books are centered on the character of Caine and his actor Hari Michaelson. ''Heroes Die'' tells the story of Hari/Caine as he tries to rescue his love interest Shanna/Pallas Ril from [[BigBad Ma'elKoth]]. As with all the books in the series, ''Heroes Die'' comments on the morality of violent entertainment and explores of a myriad of other moral questions.

''Blade of Tyshalle'' takes place seven years later, reintroducing Hari and Shanna in their later married, unhappy and semi-retired lives (along with the no longer divine [=Tan'elKoth=]). This tedium is of course shattered by plots set into action by the corporate leaders of Earth which Hari's friend, Kris Hansen/Deliann Mithondionne tries to avert. This novel turns the moral philosophizing up to 11 or 12, adds questions of identity, resource usage, destiny (or lack thereof) and humanity's drive to exploit and use up everything. It also features the end of the world, in a way.

''Caine Black Knife'' follows Caine in both the present (roughly a year after the end of ''Blade of Tyshalle'') and twenty-five years ago as he interacts with the [[ProudWarriorRace Black Knife clan of Ogrillos]]. The present arc of the story includes a broader exploration of Orbek Black Knife, a side character introduced in ''Blade of Tyshalle''. The philosophizing is turned back down to about 8, but questions concerning the legitimacy of guerrilla warfare and online {{FPS}}s are still asked. Also has some rather overt references to either the Iraq War or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complete with a suicide bombing.

''Caine's Law'' follows immediately after (and in some cases, [[TimeyWimeyBall simultaneously with or even preceding]]) the events of the third book, as Caine faces the consequences of a deal he made with a god at the start of his Acting career--and the fallout from the last book, as timelines begin to get screwed around and gods start to intervene. The philosophical questions return with the advent of a mysterious mythical woman called "the horse-witch" and a recurring [[AnimalMotif theme]] about the treatment of horses and humans. Caine travel through different parts of his life, trying to put things in order for an explosive showdown with the dark Powers at work.

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!!These books provide examples of:

* AbsurdlySharpBlade: Kosall combines this with {{Vibroweapon}}.
* ActionGirl: Talaan in ''Heroes Die'', Marade in ''Caine Black Knife'', Angvasse in ''Caine's Law''.
* AGodAmI: Shanna/Pallas Ril and Hannto the Scythe/Ma'elKoth. To be fair, they actually became gods.
* AlwaysABiggerFish: In the end, [[spoiler:Kollberg]] is taken by the Social Police.
* AlwaysSaveTheGirl: "I'd burn the world to save her".
* AnyoneCanDie
* AntiHero: Caine.
* AntiVillain: Toa-Sytell.
* ArmorPiercingQuestion: "What do you want?"
* AscendedExtra: Raithe.
* AuthorTract: A few times, though it never goes on for more than a few pages at a time.
* {{Badass}}
** BadassBeard: Caine and Ma'elKoth.
** BadassBoast: More than a few.
** BadassInDistress: Seems to still happen [[DistressedDamsel more often to the females]].
** BadassNormal: Caine, at first. Also, the Monastics and the Khryllian armsmen.
* BloodKnight: Caine and Berne.
* BloodSport: The whole point of Actors like Caine and their Studio-sponsored adventures on Overworld.
* BookEnds: in ''Blade of Tyshalle''.
* BreadAndCircuses: The function of the Adventures on Overworld is to turn ''an entire planet'' into the arena of a BloodSport for the entertainment of the masses on Earth.
* BriarPatching: In ''Heroes Die'', [[spoiler: Caine uses this as part of tricking Ma'elKoth into following his BatmanGambit. He directly refers to the trope name while doing so]].
* BrokenBird: Angvasse in ''Caine's Law''.
* CatchPhrase: Berne: "Fuck me like a virgin goat."
* CharlesAtlasSuperpower: Hari/Caine. In ''Heroes Die'' he tries to vent his anger against a gel punching bag that hardens against force up to the strength of human bone before resetting. Well before he's gotten the rage out of his system, he's easily, repeatedly working it over.
* ChekhovsGun: Toa-Sytell's poisoned dagger.
* ChurchMilitant: The Knights of Khryl.
* ClapYourHandsIfYouBelieve: "A powerful enough metaphor grows its own truth."
* ClaspYourHandsIfYouDeceive: Subverted in ''Heroes Die'', where Kollberg does this to try and keep calm while talking to the Board of Governors rather than trying to be cunning.
* CombatPragmatist: Caine/Hari embodies this trope.
* CorruptCorporateExecutive: Marc Vilo.
* CuttingTheKnot: Caine's usual way of solving problems.
* {{Deconstruction}}: Of a wealth of {{Fantasy}} tropes, being a LowFantasy take on archetypal DungeonsAndDragons settings like the ForgottenRealms.
* DepravedBisexual: Berne.
* DirtyCoward: [[spoiler: Lamorak]].
* {{Doorstopper}}
* DueToTheDead: The Last March, a funerary procession of drummers and the bodies of fallen soldiers.
* {{Dystopia}}
* EarnYourHappyEnding: Insomuch as there are happy endings.
* EldritchAbomination: Inverted in the Blind God, played straight with the "god" of the Black Knives.
* EliteMooks: The Social Police, the Black Knives, Esoteric Friars, and the Grey Cats.
* EurekaMoment: Toa-Sytell has one when he [[spoiler: reads the Monastic records on Caine and realizes that he's an Aktir.]]
* EvilSoundsDeep: [=Ma'elKoth=]'s voice is usually described as rumbling.
* EyeScream: The first book opens with one. And then there's the Black Knife Kiss.
* FacelessGoons: The Social Police.
* FantasticRacism and FantasticSlurs: Played with in that the Earth fantasy names for the species are considered slurs: elves prefer to be called primals, dwarves to be called stonebenders, orcs to be called ogrilloi, and pixies to be called treetoppers. The ogrilloi have an interesting nickname in their language for humans too.
* {{Foil}}: Berne to Caine. To summarize a lengthy spiel, while both are vicious and skilled fighters, Berne is TheHedonist, while Caine has a cold discipline.
* ForTheEvulz: Inverted. The bad guys always act out of self-interest, ideology, or pure hedonistic lust. The protagonist is the one who, for fun, escalates conflicts almost compulsively. So far, this includes "escalating" a verbal argument into a lethal fight, a skirmish with an ogrillo tribe into ethnic cleansing, and a minor political conflict into a civil war. And the bad guys are still worse.
* FromNobodyToNightmare: [=Ma'elKoth=] used to be the wimpy necromancer Hannto the Scythe.
* GaiasVengeance: Chambaraya [[spoiler: through Pallas.]]
* GloryDays: Ma/Tan'elKoth, Hari, and Shanna in ''Blade of Tyshalle'', some of the surviving Black Knife Nation in ''Caine Black Knife''.
* GodEmperor: The Most Beloved [=Ma'elKoth=].
* GodsNeedPrayerBadly
* GoodIsDumb: Shanna/Pallas's blindness and moral obliviousness ironically only get worse when she [[spoiler: becomes nearly omniscient]].
* HandicappedBadass: Caine/Hari [[spoiler:before he he figures out how to magic the bypass. Even with that he's got a noticeable balance problem, and that magic can be shut down.]]
* HealingFactor[=/=]HealingHands: The Knights and Priests of Khryl have both -- but, seeing as Khryl is a god of war, their powers only work on wounds sustained in battle.
* HeartbrokenBadass: Initially Caine.
* HeroicBSOD: Caine after [[spoiler:Shanna's death]].
* HeroicSacrifice: [[spoiler: Talaan]] in ''Heroes Die'', [[spoiler:Deliann]] in ''Blade of Tyshalle''. Subverted in ''Caine Black Knife'', where Caine acts to make the Adventure look like this but is really [[spoiler: just planning to mess up the Black Knives for the hell of it]].
* HonorBeforeReason: The Khryllians, which Caine thinks is stupid for two reasons. First, because despite being merely [[PowerLevel a grade six fighter]], he's managed to kill more than a few [[OneManArmy Knights]] [[CombatPragmatist by not adhering to any codes]]. Second, because at one point when Caine insults a Knight's honor by calling him a coward, it ends in a duel to the death.
-->'''Caine:''' In the end, what was he going to kill me for? Because I called him names. I have my vanity, I just don't kill for it. I'm not pretending I'm a better man than him, I just hate that people say he's a better man than me.
* IncrediblyLamePun: Caine occasionally has these.
* IndyPloy: Caine's speciality.
* InLoveWithYourCarnage: [=Ma'elKoth=] has almost said this word-for-word to Caine multiple times.
* InSeriesNickname: The Social Police are sometimes referred to as [[FluffyTheTerrible "soapies"]].
* IHaveManyNames: There's virtually no god, main character, or figure of power in the novels without at least two names, identities, and/or titles. Orbek and Kollberg are notable by exception.
** By ''Caine Black Knife'', [[spoiler:Caine himself]] is known variously as the Lord of Chaos, ''kwatcharr'' of the Black Knives, Agent of Khryl, and the Hand of [=Ma'elKoth=].
* InsufferableGenius: T'Passe.
* InvoluntarySuicideMechanism: Actors are conditioned not to say that they're Actors, speak Earth languages, etc. This protocol is eventually reversed when Aktir hunters get wise to the simple test of demanding a suspect say "I am an Aktir." in English.
* ItsPersonal: Subverted. One of the things that makes Caine/Hari dangerous is his willingness to take ''all'' fights this way.
* LetsYouAndHimFight: Lampshaded in ''Caine's Law''.
* KnifeNut: Caine.
* KnightInShiningArmor: The Knights of Khryl in ''Caine Black Knife''. They are good guys...but...
* KnightTemplar: The Knights of Khryl.
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters
* MasterOfOneMagic: Lamorak in regards to his Dominate skill.
* MasterOfYourDomain: Monastic Control Discliplines.
* TheMole: [[spoiler: Lamorak.]]
* {{Motif}}: Fire, Water, and human excrement.
* MoralDissonance: Caine's not a nice person.
* NameOfCain: Obviously.
* NeverBringAKnifeToAFistfight: All Caine has are his fists and maybe a knife, but he tends to come out on top in a fight.
* NewPowersAsThePlotDemands: Or rather, new species traits we weren't told about in the last novel, as ''Caine Black Knife'' introduces the ogrilloi's horse-outrunning quadripedal lope.
* NiceJobBreakingItHero: Oh man, poor Deliann...
* NoDeadBodyPoops: Repeatedly averted.
* OnlyMostlyDead: [[spoiler: Caine]] in the end of "Heroes Die".
* OurOrcsAreDifferent: Ogrilloi
* PapaWolf: Messing with Caine's family is a good way to get yourself marked for death.
* PhysicalGod: Ma'elKoth and Pallas Ril, before the events at the climax of ''Blade of Tyshalle''.
* PoweredByAForsakenChild: In ''Heroes Die'', [=Ma'elKoth=] spends the life of his devotees when using combat magic. Unlike most, he is aware of the cost; when he gives Berne a smidgen of that power to use, he reminds the man of the human cost, and he uses this fact against [[spoiler: Pallas Ril]].
** Attempted in ''Blade of Tyshalle'' with [[spoiler: the Blind God and Ma'elKoth trying to gain control of Overworld by [[MindRape mind-raping]] Faith]].
* PowersThatBe: All other gods besides Ma'elKoth and [[spoiler: Pallas Ril]].
* PrivatelyOwnedSociety: Earth
* ProudWarriorRaceGuy: Orbek
* RebelliousSpirit: Caine and the Cainists in general.
* RedShirt: subverted. Guys who seemed like mooks in ''Heroes Die'' have plot impacts in ''Blade of Tyshalle'', and the unfortunate death of one guard in ''Caine Black Knife'' becomes a point of argument between Caine and his Knight of Khryl escort.
* SatisfiedStreetRat: Caine to a ridiculous degree, Orbek Black Knife and Majesty/Toa M'Jest to a lesser extent.
* SchizoTech: By ''Caine Black Knife'' Overworld has shotguns and automatic weapons but is still mainly a medieval-to-Renaissance aesthetic.
* ScrewTheRulesIHaveMoney: Earth's caste system means that most of the Businessmen (management) caste think this way, and the Leisuremen (executives and shareholders) above them are even worse.
* ShutUpHannibal: Caine gives one to [=Ma'elKoth=].
* SickSadWorld: Earth.
* SirSwearsALot: Caine's very foul-mouthed, to say the least.
* SociopathicHero: Caine.
* StateSec: The Social Police.
* StopWorshippingMe: Caine really hates the Cainists.
* SuperDetailedFightNarration: "The gassy thing about the figure-four headlock..." *cue paragraph of description in loving detail*
* SurvivalMantra: "Keep your head down and inch towards daylight."
* SwordOfPlotAdvancement: Kosall, though a JustifiedTrope here in that Kosall just happens to do a lot of important stuff. Except it turns out it might also be the sword of a god that was also in possession of an order of knights for the past five hundred years ([[TimeyWimeyBall the timeline gets complicated when gods are involved]]).
* TalkToTheFist: Happens no less than five times in ''Blade of Tyshalle'' alone.
* {{Telepathy}}: Kris's "flashes".
* TheSlowWalk: Played straight in ''Blade of Tyshalle'', mildly deconstructed in ''Caine Black Knife''.
* TheUnfettered
* ThisIsGonnaSuck: TropeNamer.
* ToThePain: Arkadeil in ''Heroes Die'' has a cold, dispassionate delivery of this as he teaches apprentice torturers.
* TooGoodForThisSinfulEarth: Deconstructed with [[spoiler:Shanna and Deliann]], both of whom made significant mistakes that aided the bad guys and put innocents in danger.
* TortureTechnician: Arkadeil in ''Heroes Die''.
* TryingToCatchMeFightingDirty
* UnspokenPlanGuarantee: Mentioned in ''Heroes Die''.
* UnwinnableTrainingSimulation: The Lakefront simulation in chapter 0 of ''Blade of Tyshalle''.
* VancianMagic: Thaumaturgists pattern spells into physical items, giving them a limited stock, likely as an intentional nod to the series's TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons inspiration.
* VasquezAlwaysDies: [[spoiler:Talaan]] gets hit by this in ''Heroes Die''.
* WalkingDisasterArea: Caine.
* WarriorMonk: The Monastics. Played with in that they're not a religious order per se, but a brotherhood devoted to protecting the Future of Man and the Covenant of Pirichanthe that keeps the gods in check.
* WeakButSkilled: Deconstructed in ''Heroes Die''. Talaan may have more skill than Berne but it isn't enough to compensate for the latter's superior power, [[spoiler:which gets her killed.]]
* WhatTheHellHero: Eventually, anyone who cares about Overworld asks the Actors this.
* XMeetsY: DarkFantasy meets {{Dystopia}}.
* ZombieApocalypse: HVRP is rather similar to one. Infectees are fully concious the whole time, and grow more and more paranoid and violent as their physical condition degrades. It was estimated that every victim with the virus killed 2.8 people. It led to the breakdown of standard government and the rise of the Caste system of corporate overlords. [[spoiler:Exactly as the Blind God wanted.]]
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