content by

Drew McCaffrey

Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die is a Grimdark Cult Classic

Matthew Stover is perhaps best known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe—and for good reason. His novelization of Revenge of the Sith brings a depth and emotion to Anakin’s relationships with Obi-Wan and Padmé that the movie could only wish to achieve. His installment in the New Jedi Order sequence, Traitor, is possibly the best-written, finest single novel in the entire Expanded Universe.

But it is Stover’s Acts of Caine quartet that has achieved cult classic status and represents his best work. He brings the same level of characterization, the same depth to his portrayal of relationships, the same emotion that he did in his Star Wars novels—but he wraps it up in an even richer world built upon deep and layered themes, fantastic action sequences, and one of the strongest voices in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

All of this is possible because of Caine. Caine is the seminal hero—or, perhaps, anti-hero, as Stover’s quartet really hits all the marks of the grimdark subgenre.

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The 10 Best Completed SF and Fantasy Series (According to Me)

Before diving into the list itself, I’d like to establish a few things: first, these are completely subjective rankings based on my own favorite series. The list takes into consideration things like prose, dialogue, characters, worldbuilding, and plot. In some cases, weight will be given more to phenomenal prose; in others, the focus will be on setting or characters or whatever the books’ major strengths happen to be.

It also ignores incomplete series, so you won’t see any love for The Kingkiller Chronicle or The Stormlight Archive, among others. Similarly, it ignores standalone books, so no Uprooted or The Windup Girl or Roadside Picnic.

Additionally, this list in many ways represents science fiction and fantasy of the past (mostly the late 20th century). It’s likely that a few of these will still be on my list in a decade, but SFF of the past few years has taken a much-needed turn toward more diverse viewpoints and voices. This means that I simply haven’t read some of the best new authors yet—and others, whom I have, don’t have their series finished. So while the largely male and white voices of the 1980-2010 era have provided some excellent groundwork, the future of science fiction and fantasy will undoubtedly feature more diverse voices at the top of the board.

For instance, I haven’t yet read the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (which is by all accounts a stunning literary work). Authors like Jemisin are sure to figure into future lists of this sort…and the opportunity to find and read new stories from new voices is one of the most exciting things about reading SFF.

That said, let’s dive on in!

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