Normally I start reviews with a mini-plot summary but I won't do that here, because trying to condense Caine's Law down to a paragraph without indulging in major spoilers or causing my brain to leak out of my nose is simply impossible.
What Caine's Law is, however, is the fourth and to date final book in the Acts of Caine series. Future sequels are possible but this book provides enough closure that the series can end here if necessary. It's also the second half of the previous novel, Caine Black Knife, which ended on a series of cliffhangers which Caine's Law does - eventually - resolve. It does take its sweet time doing so, however because Stover's primary focus in the rest of the book is tapping on his readers brains until they turn into confused mush.
Caine's Law takes place before, during and after Caine Black Knife. It riffs on elements from Blade of Tyshalle, and events that took place between that book and the first novel, Heroes Die. It explains exactly how some rather implausible events in earlier books really unfolded. It has time travel and alternate timelines, and uses the term 'unhappen' a lot. Events in the deep back-history of Overworld are explained. Major characters reappear, despite some of them being very dead indeed.
This is the sort of book where a very clear, action-adventure chapter (and few authors do action-adventure as well as Stover) can be followed by an interrogation sequence where both captors and captive spend most of their time debating the literary merit of To Kill a Mockingbird. Chapters featuring heavy magic use and explosive set pieces sit alongside explorations of a key thematic element involving horses and how they see the world. Caine being a smart-arse and swearing a lot is mixed up with discussions on the nature of reality, friendship and acceptance. Caine confronts the demons of his past and deals with them, sometimes maturely, sometimes by kicking them in the balls, and sometimes by making sure they never happened at all. If the Acts of Caine series wrong-foots the audience with each book being a shift in gear and almost genre, Caine's Law delights in wrong-footing them chapter by chapter.
This is a novel that is severely confusing and ultimately you have to stop trying to understand it and instead read each section (the book is broken up into episodes) on its own merits. Eventually the book's mind-shredding narrative structure coalesces into something that does make sense. In the wrong hands this would be disastrous, but Stover ensures that even when you can't see how a particular episode fits into the overall structure of the novel and the series, it's still enjoyable on its own terms. As usual his actions scenes as visceral and vivid, his characterisation is nuanced and complex and his worldbuilding is sublime. The novel is also as 'grimdark' as anything in the genre but also has a very powerful commentary on issues such as gender relations and power imbalances without every getting preachy.
Caine's Law (*****) feels like a collaboration between Richard Morgan and Christopher Priest, but with an attitude and energy that is 100% Stover. Intelligent, thought-provoking, action-packed and featuring a recursive narrative structure that borders on genius, Caine's Law is a totally different kind of fantasy novel, and confirms this series as the most criminally underread series in the genre. The novel is available now in the USA and as an ebook-only release in the UK.