Saturday, January 17, 2009

Death’s Head by David Gunn

After “The Name of The Wind”, I read is yet another book by a debut writer. However, “Death’s Head” cannot be any more different. Death's Head is the debut novel of author David Gunn, and my god isn’t it an appropriate title.

Set in a realistic far-future world, Death’s Head main character is a gritty soldier named Sven Tveskoeg. I called him the main character because he is such a nasty piece of work, you can’t even call him an antihero.

The book starts with Sven on a wild planet being whipped for actions against the army. Considering that he is a soldier serving an evil empire ruled by a mad tyrant, it saying something that his actions are condemned by his own army. After a series of misadventures, he is rescued by the Ferox, the catman-like natives of the planet, and then rescued again by Death’s Head, the elite force of the said mad tyrant.

That is like jumping from the kettle to the frying pan and then into the fire. Some guys got all the luck!

Sven unfortunately got the attention of Death’s Head as he had managed to live for months among the Ferox, something no one had done before. He is then drafted into Death’s Head, joining them as a soldier and assassin. After a successful mission on a prison planet, Sven is then dropped onto a military disaster as a grunt on a losing battlefield in a galaxy-wide war.

The plot of the book revolves around Sven, who is as brutal of a character as anyone you will ever read in a book. However, you will find yourself rooting for the guy as the book progresses. Sven may be a vicious killer and a no-good bastard but he is has a streak of loyalty in him that make him keep his word no matter what, and defend his men come hell or high water. As disaster strikes the army he is in, Sven took charge of a disparate group of cannon fodders, and turned them into killers that would survive the war. In some case this is the best part of the book as you see how Sven tutored the green recruits and turn into a fighting unit…for better or for worse.

I like the fact that David Gunn makes no apologies for being violent and graphic. It’s a war and the soldiers do whatever they have to in order to see the next day. Sven even killed one of his own men who was dying in order to put him out of his misery.

Despite the good points of the book, there are some very disappointing flaws in it as well. The war between OctoV (the mad tyrant) and the Uplifted (bizarre machines housed in pyramids) is not very defined. There’s even more confusion when the United Free, another civilization with space-faring powers, came into the picture. I still don’t quite understand why OctoV and the Uplifted are fighting. The answers seem to be in the sequel which is another thing I disliked about the book. There’s clearly a sequel in the works and Death’s Head make no bones about that. I dislike it when writers leave gaping plot holes in the book because they need to hook readers for the sequel. Some of the advanced technologies in the book also make no sense. Sven has an intelligent gun and a symbiont in him called a kyp, both of which are illegal. When you have cyborgs walking around all over the place, humans who can speak to machines and an empire ruled by the machine-like Uplifted, I have a hard time understanding why these technologies are illegal when others are not.

However despite these problems, Death’s Head is an enjoyable read. Fun and wild, it’s a thrill ride. Read it if you think you can handle the violence.

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