Deathstalker: Too much like NIGHTSIDE

Deathstalker by Simon R. Green science fiction book reviewsDeathstalker by Simon R. Green

Deathstalker by Simon R. Green science fiction book reviewsThe galactic empire is ruled by a brutal empress, a woman who terrorizes both the peasants and nobles who bow down to her. She’s the kind of ruler who decorates her palace with the tortured bodies of her dead enemies. Or she brainwashes them, augments their bodies and, as she sits on her Iron Throne, requires them to sit naked at her feet and protect her. Or, if she’s feeling merciful, she summons them to her throne room and, when they board her personal subway car to make the journey, has them gassed. They call her The Iron Bitch. She’s really mean.

One of her most recent targets is Owen Deathstalker, a quiet and studious young man who is the last “Deathstalker,” a lineage with a genetic gift that allows them to turn on a power “boost” when fighting an enemy. Owen wants to be a historian, not a rebel like his father, but the empress doesn’t like what he’s studying. When she strips him of his title, he is forced to become the rebel she fears.

Reluctantly, Owen joins others who want to depose the evil empress. These comrades include:

  • Jack Random — A former hero of the empire who is now old and probably washed up… but maybe not.
  • Hazel d’Ark — She lives on Mistworld, a decadent planet equivalent to the Nightside of Simon R. Green’s NIGHTSIDE Hazel murdered a man who tried to rape her and now she’s on the run. She’s the baddest badass you ever met.
  • Ruby Journey — A bounty hunter who lives on Mistworld… I changed my mind. Ruby is the baddest badass you ever met.

Some other potential rebels (not yet known to Owen and the gang) are:

  • Deathstalker by Simon R. GreenValentine Wolfe — A young nobleman with black hair, pale skin, and tons of mascara whose main goal in life is to expand his mind using every sort of drug he can get his hands on. He carries around a single red rose and chews the thorns, which makes blood run down his pale face. His brother and sister are trying to undermine his position as the family heir.
  • Finlay Campbell — Another young nobleman who dresses like a fop so he can cover his secret identity as the never-defeated Masked Gladiator. I changed my mind again. FINLEY is the baddest badass in the book.
  • Evangeline Shreck — Mistress of Finley, and a clone. Clones are illegal but Evangeline’s father cloned her after he murdered the original Evangeline when she refused to be his lover. To stay alive, Evangeline has decided to be more compliant. As a clone, she is part of the clone rebellion against the empress.

The empress has some scary folks on her side, too. These include:

  • Captain Silence — The commander of an Imperial ship who is trying to redeem himself after his previous mission went south.
  • Inspector Frost — A heartless killer who does the empress’s bidding. Ack, I changed my mind again. SHE is the baddest badass.
  • Lord Dram — The empress’s security guy and lover. Strike what I said about Inspector Frost, because HE is the baddest badass.
  • Kid Death — a young man who killed his own parents and is now one of the empress’s champions. Ugh, sorry, sorry…. This guy’s the baddest badass. I think. Now I’m totally confused.
  • Halfman — Half man, half something else… uh, yeah, he could be more badass than Kid Death, actually. It’s hard to say. Everyone is so badass.

There are some other important characters, too, such as:

  • Wolfman — The last of a race that was genetically engineered by humans but then killed off when they got scared of what they had made. He guards a maze that was created by aliens which gives special powers to those that enter it.
  • Jenny Psycho — She has some crazy psychic powers that let her do just about anything… wait… now that I think of it, JENNY PSYCHO is probably the baddest badass… Good lord.

Owen and his rebel band are on a quest that, they hope, will help them defeat the empress. This involves some Star Wars-type plotting, fighting a lot of extremely extremely extremely dangerous enemies (humans and monsters), searching for secret bases on secret planets, and waking up a long-sleeping ancient ancestor who’s a — you guessed it — total badass.

On the other side, Captain Silence and Inspector Frost have been sent to get help for the empire. Meanwhile, many of the nobles are plotting and fighting amongst themselves (as nobles do) and a diverse group of rebels is plotting against the Iron Throne in an underground bunker.

Simon R. Green’s world and characters are unique (but very shallowly portrayed) and there’s a lot of action, political intrigue, and treachery in this first installment of his DEATHSTALKER series. It’s highly imaginative, though always completely over the top. The empress is the most evil person ever. Every dangerous character is the most dangerous person ever. The bad things that happen to people are vomit-inducingly gruesome. This gets tiresome. It’s like listening to President Trump.

The biggest problem, though, is that Deathstalker is so much like every book in Green’s NIGHTSIDE series. I realize that Deathstalker was published first, but I read NIGHTSIDE (a more popular series) first and if I hadn’t known that Green was the author of Deathstalker, I would have been 100% certain of it within a couple of chapters. The narrative voice is exactly the same, the humor is exactly the same, the way the characters talk (and sound exactly like each other and the narrator) is exactly the same. Character names follow the same pattern (NIGHTSIDE: Suzie Shooter, Razor Eddie, Jessica Sorrow, Count Video, Kid Psychoses, Tommy Oblivion, Resurrection Man. DEATHSTALKER: see bullet points above. There are way more than this, I’m just naming a few.).

The way Green talks about Mistworld is indistinguishable from the way he talked about Nightside. There are so many statements like “If you had any weaknesses you could be sure Mistworld would find them” as if Mistworld/Nightside is its own character that’s even more frightening than all the others.

I know enough about Simon R. Green’s work to predict that this sameness is going to continue in the next installments of DEATHSTALKER. I’m going to try them, though, because Tantor Audio, who just published them, sent me the first four books to review (I requested them) and, out of a sense of duty, I will endeavor to do so. I’m worried though. Eventually, I started recycling my reviews of NIGHTSIDE novels before finally giving up. I’m expecting the same outcome here, unfortunately. I will keep an open mind, though, and give DEATHSTALKER a fair shake.

I should mention that the new audiobook editions, narrated by Gildart Jackson, are excellent productions. Jackson does a great job with Green’s characters and story. The audiobook of Deathstalker is 23 hours long.

Published in 1994. Audiobook published in October 2017. Owen Deathstalker, last of the infamous warrior Clan, always considered himself more of a writer than a fighter, preferring his history books to making any actual history with a sword. But books won’t protect him from Her Imperial Majesty Lionstone XIV, who just outlawed and condemned Owen to death, without any explanation, reason, or warning. No wonder she’s called the Iron Bitch. Now, on the run from Imperial starcruisers, shady mercenaries, and just about everyone else in the Empire, Owen’s options are limited. Though the name Deathstalker still commands respect in certain quarters, out on the Rim, Owen is lucky he can cobble together a makeshift team of castoffs, including an ex-pirate, a cyborg, and a bounty hunter. But allies won’t be enough to save him. If he’s to live, Owen can either run forever… or take down the corrupt Empire. To do that, he’ll need the fabled Darkvoid Device — an artifact dating back to the first Deathstalker and perhaps the only weapon powerful enough to help this ragtag rebellion win. The time has come for Owen to finally embrace his Deathstalker heritage… and all the blood and death that go along with it.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. I remember reading one of these; I only remember Kid Mascara (that isn’t his name) and the Zorro-like Finlay. I enjoyed the Nightside series, but the Drood series and this one both felt a little too much like retreads. I think the difference with Deathstalker is that it’s set in a world with more science fictional trappings than magical ones, but I may be recalling it wrong.

  2. Jonathan /

    Simon R. Green’s series are the junk food of SF/F. They’re not at all good for you, but sometimes you just crave a greasy hamburger.

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