11 September, 2009

Death's Head: Day of the Damned, by David Gunn

" I don't get it. Why didn't he just destroy the planet?"
- Anonymous

Death's Head: Day of the Damned (2009), by David Gunn, much like the previous two installments to the series, is comparable to mainlining adrenaline while driving a car blindfolded. Mr. Gunn, who could not have chosen a better pen name, writes what he knows, and action is the order of the day. While Day of the Damned steers the series in a new direction, the evidence suggests that the wheel might have been yanked a bit too hard.

The Setup

Meet Sven, a one armed super-human with a troubled past whose one and only skill is killing people. After growing up in a garbage heap and being conscripted by the man who killed his adoptive mother/sister, he has a short fuze and thinks violence is the solution to every problem. Lucky for him, it is. What he lacks in brains he makes up for with personality, loyalty, and a super-intelligent symbiont living in his throat. Oh, and let us not forget Sven's sentient sidearm, who only seems happy once the body count starts rising.

Much like the previous installments, the story is a keen mix of political intrigue and intergalactic backstabbing centered around a young woman Sven has taken under his wing. Well, maybe it isn't exactly centered around her, so I'll settle for saying it is tangentially related. The fact is that action takes center stage and needs little encouragement to remain in the spotlight, characters be damned. The only real surprise in this addition to the Deaths' Head series is that no planets were destroyed during attempts to achieve the impossible.

My Take in Brief

I have been a fan of David's from the get-go and am sad to report that Day of the Damned just didn't live up to my expectations. While Sven retains his abrupt, appealing, and enigmatic staccato personality, the rest of the characters just do not have the same depth. To compound matters, the pacing felt off-kilter, again, compared to the previous Death's Head books. The story arc was confused and fairly random - as if David had a hard time deciding in which direction the novel should go. I understand that Sven follows his instincts and that advanced planning isn't his forte - as he himself explains many times throughout the novel - but that doesn't mean the storyline should follow his example.

I read the series not for its revelatory philosophy - which amounts to kill or be killed - but for competent futuristic action and senseless violence. On that count, David delivers admirably and doesn't fail to get your blood pumping. However, the more complex backdrop, Octo V's capital planet, underscores David's less than stellar world building abilities and fails to capture the imagination. That said, the drawbacks of the Day of the Damned won't dissuade faithful readers of the Death's Head series from following Sven's adventures, and I still count myself in that category. If anything, the ending has me wishing the next book was already out - serves me right for starting an unfinished series! Grr(m).

Resources

Is David Gunn a mercenary?! His bio blurb on Del Rey suggests he is:

"Smartly dressed, resourceful, and discreet, David Gunn has undertaken assignments in Central America, the Middle East, and Russia (among numerous other places). Coming from a service family, he is happiest when on the move and tends not to stay in one town or city for very long."

The world wide web reveals little of the enigma that is David Gunn, besides one interview at Fantasy Book Critic. My favorite questions, when asked how the Death's Head series came into being, David replies:

"I was down with a fever and hallucinating in a skuzzy hotel in Central America. There’s a scene in "Death’s Head" where Sven is scraping sh*t off a mattress with a knife and crawling across a floor on his knees to vomit in a lavatory. That was for real. I was out of my head for about five days and somehow Sven came out of the experience."

Even though the interview reveals little about David Gunn, it is blunt, honest, and well worth the read. The only other source of information I found is David's MySpace page, which boasts all of three status updates, chief among which appears to be a nasty brandy induced hangover. Regardless, if you enjoyed the first two installments to the Sven saga, you won't be disappointed by Death's Head: Day of the Damned [US][UK].

4 comments:

ediFanoB said...

Liked to read your good review but I think that is not the kind of book I want to read. But I'm sure there are a lot of people who will like it.

ibdragon said...

Good review, amazing research.
Nice job.

Alec said...

Thanks guys. I could have told you this one wasn't for you Michael - I think you might prefer a romance novel to this :P

ediFanoB said...

Alec,
please recommend me a romance novel :-).
I prefer romance novels like Best served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney or The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan.