Fiction Reviews

Death's Head

(2007) David Gunn, Bantam Press, ??.??, 368pp, hrdbk, ISBN 978-0-593-05832-9


Sven Tveskoeg is an ex-Sergeant in the Foreign Legion who is inducted into a special ops force known as the Death's Head. So fearsome are they, we are told, that usually the mere mention of their name causes their enemies to surrender, though there is no evidence of this in the book. Sven is recruited to sort out an impending military disaster, but soon discovers he is but a pawn in the proverbial deadly game. Which, needless to say, doesn't sit too well with him and he soon gets other ideas. The back cover blurb promises, "The violence is EXTREME, the death toll MONUMENTAL, the sex DIRTY, the action NON-STOP... and the entertainment OUTRAGEOUS!" The cover features a skull and the title in a Gothic Script. All of which I tell you for a simple reason: at no point on the front or back covers is it made clear that this is an SF book! Now maybe I am just splitting hairs, since you pretty quickly realise it is SF once you start reading (insofar as it features space opera-esque travel, spaceships and alien races), but it would seem that Bantam is not aiming this at an SF audience but, rather, fans of such as Andy McNabb and his ilk. And such fans will probably enjoy this book. It is the usual lightweight nonsense featuring a human killing machine (literally in this case as Sven has 'enhancements'), short on plot, high on bodies. You know the kind of thing. But, if I had stuck this book on the charity books pile (or the recycling pile) where it belongs, then I would be unable to recall anything about it at all. Luckily it is right here with me, so let me just take a flick through and see if I can tease out any more details, just in case I can discover something to make it more tantalising to an SF audience...

Er... not much. Apparently this is 'Book One of the Aux' (if I recall correctly the Aux are the bunch of misfits that Sven ends up leading who, of course, turn out to be better than the highly trained, fearsome Death's Head special ops crew we've heard so much about); there is an alien race called the Ferox (who may be lightly telepathic, which in turn leads to the rather convenient revelation that Sven is too -- one of many convenient 'facts' that turn up whenever the plot starts to paint itself into a corner); um... There is some kind of back story about a hive-mind that the Emperor (yes, there is an Emperor) has deliberately cut himself off from; ah... it's the far future and Earth is but a myth (isn't it always). Some mission or other gets screwed up and Sven and the Aux save the day (but of course) and so achieve 'official' status as a fighting group and... Well, that's about it really. In other words, at best a beach-reader. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. It's probably just fine for those whose tastes run that way.

Tony Chester

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