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The war may be won but this series just keeps getting better
on 15 January 2005
You might think that, after some 2100 pages, Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series would have begun losing steam. As Deathstalker Honor opens, the rebellion against the Empire is the stuff of history and the war to overthrow Empress Lionstone XIV has been won. Our heroes have done the impossible: slaughtered an amazing array of enemies all over the galaxy, seen the brutal murder of what must be billions of people on planets stretching from the homeworld of Golgotha to the planets on the outer rim, been changed into something more than human by a mysterious alien Maze, and become legendary heroes whose exploits are already shown in holovideos to a fascinated public. Remarkably, however, this series seems to just keep getting better. It turns out that winning the war was the easy part; winning the peace is something else entirely. It's not just a matter of organizing a new government among a group of contentious power players interested only in acquiring power and money for themselves; there's also a little matter concerning several alien races moving in to attack the Empire while it is all but prostrate and vulnerable.
The gang's still here, though: Owen Deathstalker, the reluctant warrior who oversaw the defeat of imperial power; Hazel D'Ark, the former clonelegger and extremely successful lady at Owen's side, always ready to spill the blood of the guilty; Jack Random, the legendary rebel leader of old who saw his forgotten dreams of revolutionary success come true after teaming up with the Deathstalker; and Ruby Journey, bounty hunter extraordinaire and Random's right-hand woman of mass death and justice. Even Tobias Moon, the Hadenman who sacrificed everything to free his entombed brethren from their tombs on the Wolfling World, returns for this thrilling ride. These are the heroes who go where they are needed to do the things no one else could possibly do. On Virimonde, the planet which once called Deathstalker lord but has since been all but destroyed by Imperial forces, the notorious Valentine Wolfe, the most-wanted man in the new empire, is up to no good. On Brahmin II, the Hadenmen have imprisoned the human population and begun turning them into augmented men like themselves. On the inhospitable mining planet Loki, old rebels have rebelled anew against a corrupt new government and have made a desperate and wholly unforgivable move to elicit the aid of the rogue AI of Shub, mankind's most dangerous known enemy. And on Lachrymae Christi, a leper planet no one likes to talk about, the Hadenmen have attacked in large numbers for no discernible reason. At home on Golgotha, little has really changed, as the aristocratic families, rebel interests, and generally greedy, power-hungry men jockey for position in a generally ineffective, temporary Parliament. I can tell you that a few scores are settled right here and now.
There is a ton of great action in this novel, and there is no shortage of shocking surprises either - some wonderful characters don't survive the events detailed herein. Great and troubling mysteries and questions shout out for answers but are eventually subsumed - for now - by the individual missions involving our heroes. Even with their Maze-given special powers, the likes of Owen Deathstalker continually find themselves facing incredibly horrible odds of survival as they work to clean up some of the mess of an empire in tatters. Shub, the Hadenmen, and supercharged alien insects - any one of these enemies poses a daunting threat to the weakened Empire, and now not just one but all three of them are on their way. An even more frightening and potentially superior enemy exists out beyond the rim, in the Darkvoid where it was thought no form of life could possibly survive.
Deathstalker Honor kept my eyes glued to the pages, more anxious than ever to follow the exploits of Deathstalker and his select group of revolutionary allies. Each character is given additional room to grow here, and we begin to see some of what is behind the tough exterior masks they wear. Even as they continue to fear that their Maze-given powers are robbing them of more and more of their humanity, we the reader begin to penetrate their emotional defenses in powerful new ways. We also get a good look at the AI of Shub for the first time and learn just enough to heighten our interest and anxiety over the unknown enemies lying within the eternal darkness of the Darkvoid.
A heavy dose of fun, space-opera fighting still provides the humming engine of the storyline, but a new emphasis on the human element makes this the most captivating read of the first four Deathstalker novels. There is also a new and effective twist at the end; unlike its predecessors, this novel ends on a major cliff-hanger that is sure to drive Deathstalker fans in droves to Deathstalker Destiny, the fifth and final book in the life and times of Owen Deathstalker.