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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Death's Head 3 - Day of the Damned" by David Gunn (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

David Gunn at Random House
Order "Death's Head 3 - Day of the Damned" HERE(US) and HERE(UK/Overseas)
Read FBC Reviews of DH1 HERE and DH2 HERE

INTRODUCTION: Robert Thompson reviewed the first two installments for FBC in the links above, and both of us are big time fans of the series so the third book was a highly awaited one and it delivered with some unexpected twists and turns that took the series into a different direction. To end this introduction I want to mention that the first time I looked at "Death's Head 1" I thought it one of the worst novels I have ever opened with its clipped, short sentences prose but then
Neal Asher's superb review HERE made me give it a second look and once I got used with Sven's peculiar narrative style I loved it and I became a big fan of the series as mentioned above.

OVERVIEW: In a violent corner of the Galaxy, the Octovian Empire ruled for centuries by the Immortal Emperor who manifests himself as a teenager and whose word is the law of the land and the Uplifted, cybernetic mixtures of man and machine, are locked in a deadly embrace, fighting over planets and other habitats, while the seemingly all powerful United Free watch and occasionally try to broker peace.

Outside of the cult of Octov there are quasi-religious factions which squabble over the "reality" of the original planet of humanity Earth.

Sven is a tough guy with mysterious origins, ostensibly from a backwater desert planet with nasty aliens called ferox; as a kid, he was saved and raised as a military brat by the officer in charge of a punitive expedition against "rebels" who executed all his family but ran out of bullets when trying to shoot Sven. At least this is the official story until now, but there are hints of much more, especially when the U/Free ambassador Paper Osamu keeps appearing in his childhood dreams...

Involved directly with Octov and
the Death's Head commander General Jaxx in the first two books, Sven built the Aux, a crack team of fighters and killers out of backwoods soldiers; they proved their mettle in the story so far though in this book they take a more marginal role.

Sven has also been personally involved with rich, powerful but currently in disgrace Senator Debro, her former bodyguard, then husband and now companion Anton and their spunky teenage daughter Aptitude or Apt as she is known who became sort of a surrogate daughter for him. Of course Sven taking his surrogate parent duties seriously in his own inimitable way, finds the the best place to hide her as an accountant/cook in a brothel secretly owned by the Aux and run by two of Sven's many girlfriends (!).

"Day of the Damned" stands at about 350 pages and is narrated by Sven. Taking the series to the next level, it ends on a small cliffhanger.

Structure-wise this novel represents a departure from the previous installments in several ways.

The first two novels were essentially standalones that built one upon the other, but had a clear thread with a clear ending. "Day of the Damned" changes that by ending on a small cliffhanger with a big To Be Continued sign as well as modifying drastically the setup of the series with revelations and dramatic events.

In consequence while Sven still narrates, he and the Aux are not the focus of the novel and several other characters get powerful scenes for a change. For me this narrative shift from essentially small scale adventures in a larger context to big picture altering events worked extremely well and took the series to a higher level. Not that I find anything wrong with adventures of a bunch of characters in a violent universe as the first two novels were, but after a while they tend to get repetitive and already in volume two I was starting to feel that. "Day of the Damned" changed that and made the next installment even more highly awaited.

Sven is still bedding or killing everything in sight but in powerful General Luc of the Emperor's personal guard and sworn enemy of Jaxx he may finally meet his match, while his friendship with Apt and her family contrary to the wishes of his powerful nominal boss, Jaxx may also be his undoing. So
with only Octov's fickle protection standing between one or the other General nasty henchmen's guns or knives, Sven has to navigate a very perilous road pretty much on his own, with less than perfectly reliable Anton at his side, while even his talking gun remains with Apt for her protection when very, very nasty creatures appear on Debro's estate.

And then there is Sven's one time commanding officer, young Vijay Jaxx who was expected to
die heroically on Hekati with Sven and the Aux as company and instead succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in the Empire; to be more accurate Sven succeeded for him but the CO always gets the credit anyway. And then Vijay met and fell in love with Apt. Not that was wrong or innapropriate since both are high class nobles, but it brought in the open some "small" matters, like Sven not killing Apt on Vijay's father orders and Octov finding out that Jaxx ordered the murder of Apt and of her powerful husband on her wedding day, with the husband duly killed by Sven, "small" matters that turn out to have quite unexpected consequences. So even in a hard core mil-sf novel as this one, love moves mountains and of course when cataclysmic events ensue nobody is safe...

Highly, highly recommended and possibly the best installment in the series at least for me while definitely the deepest and most interesting from a big picture point of view, I am very curious where the series goes next since the author managed to surprise me big time in this novel.


KP said...

This just arrived in the mail today - next on the list after I finish the Age of Misrule trilogy. Sven is one of my all-time favorite military SF characters.

bloggeratf said...

I was not impressed with this installment..

shaneo52 said...

hey Liviu, Do you know when the 4th book is coming out?

shaneo52 said...

Hey Liviu, When's the 4th book coming out, you know?

shaneo52 said...

Oh I seen in an interview, it might be 6 more books to finish this?

Liviu said...

seen nothing about it so far


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