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Friday, April 25, 2008

"Death's Head: Maximum Offense" by David Gunn

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REVIEW of “Death’s Head
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I find myself inspired by the straightforward approach of Lieutenant Sven Tveskoeg, so let me blunt here. David Gunn’s Death’s Head novels—military science fiction cut from the same cloth as Neal Asher, Richard K. Morgan, and Andy Remic—are not about sympathetic characters, in-depth worldbuilding, or thought-provoking ideals. There’s also hardly any info-dumping involved, the plot is pretty simple, and the author doesn’t like to use big words :) So what does that leave us with? How about a character so badass he makes the Terminator look like C-3PO, a ton of in-your-face action that is unforgiving in its brutality, and humor so sardonic you could cut steel with it. In short, the Death’s Head novels are just awesome, testosterone-fueled fun :D Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I read “Maximum Offense”—the second volume in the Death’s Head sequence—that I came to fully appreciate just how much fun I could actually have with the books…

If we flashback to my review of David’s debut
HERE, you’ll notice that while I really enjoyed reading “Death’s Head”, I admittedly had some issues with the book including the lack of info-dumping and shallow supporting characters. Surprisingly I didn’t have the same problems with “Maximum Offense” even though the book is almost exactly the same stylistically. For instance, background information is once again hard to come by. In fact, if you haven’t read “Death’s Head” you might find yourself a little lost since the plot deals with concepts that the author already assumes you’re familiar with including Enlightened, the Uplift virus, Silver Fists, the United Free, the Octovian Empire, ferox, Sven’s kyp, and so on.

Regarding the characters, Sven remains the center of attention as the novel’s first-person narrator, but just as important this time around are his Death’s Head auxiliaries who were introduced at the end of the first book. Dubbed ‘the Aux’, Sergeant Neen, Corporal Franc, Sniper Rachel, Shil and Haze may not get the same kind of treatment as Sven, but David does a much better job with the supporting players in “Maximum Offense”, which also extends to Colonel Vijay and General Indigo Jaxx. This includes defining distinctive character traits and establishing relationships. Best of all though is the interaction between Sven and the Aux which results in some really entertaining moments :)

Speaking of Sven, few protagonists are more compelling. It’s not just the fact that he’s a complete badass—I’m talking seven feet tall, insanely strong, deceptively quick, lethally proficient with both weapons and hand-to-hand combat, with an incredible threshold for pain and unnatural healing abilities. Not to mention being armed with a fully intelligent gun whose vocabulary can be deadlier than its ammunition, a knife that Sven sheathes inside his body, a prosthetic arm, and a symbiont with telepathic properties. I’m also talking about the succinct way Sven narrates the novel—imagine concise sentences, short chapters, and simplistic descriptions—how he doesn’t take shit from anyone even if it means killing one of his troops because they can’t follow an order, his lovely personality, and how he doesn’t like to think too hard ;) Plus, we finally get to learn a bit more about where Sven originated from which just adds to his growing infamy…

As far as the story, Sven and his Aux have been personally handpicked by U/Free ambassador Paper Osamu for a secret mission that takes the group, led by the untested Colonel Vijay, to Hekati, a ringworld that once inhabited millions but is now home to just a few prospectors, some Silver Fists, mercenaries, and a missing U/Free who is the object of their mission. Or so they’re told… Like “Death’s Head”, “Maximum Offense” likes to surprise the reader and almost everyone has a secret including Colonel Vijay, Paper Osamu, General Jaxx, OctoV, the Enlightened, U/Free, even the ringworld Hekati. Additionally, David likes to put Sven in impossible situations and let all hell break loose such as the Ilseville battle at the end of “Death’s Head” where only two and half thousand soldiers, out of a hundred thousand, survived. If you thought that was rough though, it’s nothing compared to what Sven and the Aux have to go through at Hekati. Just expect things to get violent, crazy and so damn exciting you’ll need oxygen afterwards :)

In the end, “Maximum Offense” is basically more of the same in-your-face military SF that was on display in the author’s debut, but where I enjoyed “Death’s Head” I absolutely loved the new book. What’s even better is that there will be at least one more Death’s Head novel and if the first two are any indication, then the book is going to kick some ass

NOTE: The UK edition of “Death’s Head: Maximum Offense” is set for publication June 16, 2008 (
Transworld) and like David’s debut, I prefer the UK cover (see inset) to the stateside version, although they are both impressive :)


Mark Chitty said...

Glad you enjoyed it more, I'm reading positive things about the sequel - I can hardly wait!

daydream said...

Oh, this is getting better and better. I read a review on the same book at Graeme's and it sounded cool, now I read it here and sounds cooler. Nice review. I could sense you liked the testosterone adventure.

Robert said...

I really think it's a much better book than the first one, so if readers enjoyed "Death's Head", then Maximum Offense should blow them away...

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the books, I've nearly finished the first one and I can't wait to start Maximum Offence, it's gonna be awesome! *I think I'm obsessed . . .*

Anonymous said...

Read the first one. Liked it, and had been waiting for the 2nd one for the longest time.

Found it in the bookstore over the weekend and bought it. Halfway through it right now. Still waiting for the good bits to come.

The main beef I have is someone (the publishers?) deliberately make the book look thick. This is easily done by choosing a font so big that I thought it is for the sight-disadvantaged. I choose to buy paper-back because I wanted the book to occupy less space, and this book is not helping.

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