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Deathstalker Return

by Simon R Green

(Gollancz, £18.99, 390 pages, hardback, also available as trade paperback priced £10.99, published 20 May 2004, received 22 April 2004.)

Review by Simeon Shoul

At the start of the second volume in Simon R. Green's new Deathstalker series, things are looking decidedly sticky for the forces of cover scanGood. The Empire of Humanity is in a serious tailspin. Finn Durandal, ex-Paragon turned "Delusional Sociopath," is tightening his grip on power, aided by a massive conspiracy of Fascist 'Pure Humanity,' 'Neumen,' 'Uber-Espers,' and the 'Church Militant.'

The King, Douglas Campbell is suffering through a self-imposed retreat, prey to a broken heart; Parliament, lacking his guidance, is crumbling into a coterie of factions and sycophants; Espers and Aliens are being systematically scapegoated, the Media are licking the boots of the new powers.

A few hardy souls fight against the rising tide of Tyranny and fanaticism. Paragon Emma Steel and her ditzy side-kick, Demon Girl Reporter Nina Malapert (who believes in flamboyant hairstyles and very big guns), get in a few good licks; King Douglas, even when boxed into a corner, is not to be taken lightly, and the Esper collective, the Oversoul, has some interesting cards to play.

Nonetheless, at the end of the day real resistance lies where it always has, in the hands of a Deathstalker.

Lewis Deathstalker, latest in a long line of doughty warriors, is bustling around the Empire trying to find allies and answers in the quest to a) Get rid of Finn, b) Beat back the ever-encroaching Planet-munching Terror, and c) Bring back from the dead his ancestor, Owen Deathstalker, Hero of the Old Empire, last seen alive some 200 years ago.

With Lewis go his lover, Jessamine Flowers, Galaxy famous Diva; Brett Random, career coward and expert conman; Rose Constantine, professional gladiator and homicidal psychopath, and Saturday, a hermaphroditic mini-tyrannosaur.

As revolutionaries go they're not exactly in the Lenin league. Basically they hop from planet to planet, digging up relics and occasional people left-over from Owen's time. Oh yes, and they kill a lot of things to. In fact, they kill an enormous number of things! It seems they can hardly set foot on a planet without either: a) Finn sending a large army of storm-troopers and war-machines which they have to deal with or, b) The environment trying to eat them alive.

Seldom, if ever, has so much blood, gore, body organs and vegetable mulch been righteously scattered to the four winds by sword weilding heroes! Disrupter beams, mind-bombs, grenades (plus the occasional sneaky assassination on the sidelines) add to the mayhem, and it's a good thing nobody's taking a body count of the victims because if they were the numbers would be astonomical.

Little by little, inescapably (I'm giving nothing away here) Lewis and company circle closer and closer to the ultimate enigma, the planet of Haden, wherein lies the great mystery, the Madness Maze. Once, Owen walked into this surreal labyrinth, emerging a Superman; will Lewis go the same way? Or will the Maze turn him into a raving lunatic or gibbering monster, as it has ten thousand brave souls before?

Well, read the book and find out, is my recommendation. What you get is a guaranteed blood-and-thunder romp, shot-through with broad swathes of fashion parody, a sustained piss-take on 'lives of the Rich and Famous' and the occasional lance of satire. This last is refreshing stuff. It's mostly aimed at Dictatorship, Fascism, Established Religion, the Toadying Media and so forth--and it's nice to find an author who knows that laughter is the most destructive weapon to aim at a repressive establishment.

In short, very violent, very funny, very good.

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