This is an interesting book. I did like it but it did have some flaws as well.
First off, it’s pretty hard to file this book either SF or fantasy because it has elements of both. Of course, if you think that any working magic makes the book fantasy, then this is fantasy. But magic is used only on one of the worlds.
There are two worlds in the book: one of them is an alternate, SF version of our own world with a rigid caste system and the other is Overworld where magic is real and where actors are sent to entertain the masses of (bored?) people on their own world. The people on Earth can experience whatever the actors do via virtual reality-like devices. Essentially, the actors kill people and have sex on another world to entertain their audience. The actors are also very tightly controlled by their masters in the entertainment industry.
On Overworld the actor Hari Michaelson is a famous assassin Caine who brings in big ratings for his boss. Hari is married to another Actor, Shanna Leighton who is a mage and a people’s heroine Pallas Ril on Overworld. Hari is much, much more popular than Shanna. Recently, their marriage has started to fall apart mainly because Caine is a murderer without any thought for others and Pallas cares about other people more than her own life. (Why did they get together in the first place? It’s a mystery to me.) They’ve already moved to separate houses.
Hari is very much still pining after Shanna and then he hears that she’s mysteriously vanished from the studio’s equipment which means that they can’t bring her back and also there’s a “signal decay” which is going to kill her in a week. So, Hari wants to save her. His studio wants to make it a huge event that’s going to bring them lots of money. For some reason, Hari seems to be surprised and enraged by this. However, they negotiate a deal and Hari goes to save her soon-to-be-ex wife in front of millions of viewers.
The world is quite interesting and the book has interesting media criticism. Unfortunately, ultimately the plot works only when all other characters except for Hari, of course, act stupidly. Also, the characters have all been written as grey. Unfortunately this also means that there’s no reason to root for the main character rather than almost any other character since most of them are sociopaths, anyway. Hari goes also through rather remarkable changes and at least I couldn’t find any reason for them.
Another thing is that the secondary characters don’t have any life outside Caine. They are always thinking about Caine or talking about him or reacting to his actions. Three of them are actually obesessed with him to a degree that the other characters comment on it. And yet, when these enemies who are obsessed with killing Caine get their hands on him they don’t kill him. Why? Because it’s not the end of the book yet…
Still, it was an interesting read if not enjoyable at all times and criticizes our world which is pretty rare in fantasy.
It’s pretty hard for me to rate this book. While it has flaws, it’s definitely a departure from the fantasy cliches.