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Deathstalker
Simon R. Green
Gollancz, 571 pages

Deathstalker
Simon R. Green
Simon R. Green was born in 1955 in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England. He obtained an M.A. in Modern English and American Literature from Leicester University and he also studied history and has a combined Humanities degree. After several years of publishers' rejection letters, he sold seven novels in 1988, just two days after he started working at Bilbo's bookshop in Bath. This was followed by a commission to write the novelization of the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He is a British Fantasy Society (BFS) member and still finds time to do some Shakespearean acting.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Coda
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Return
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Return
SF Site Review: Drinking Midnight Wine
SF Site Review: Beyond The Blue Moon
SF Site Interview: Simon R. Green
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Destiny
SF Site Review: Swords of Haven
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Honor
SF Site Review: Twilight of the Empire
SF Site Review: Deathstalker Rebellion

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Berlyne

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Simon R. Green has been a highly visible presence in the genre since he was first published back in the early 90s. His various Deathstalker, Forest Kingdom and Nightside series, along with other titles together number over two dozen full length novels. With Green so diligent and professional in delivering one novel after another, his publishers have been able to put some weight behind them, to the point where he now has the words "New York Times Best-Selling Author" emblazoned on his covers. Not bad, eh? In addition to this there is Green's uncanny knack of being one of those writers who has a fiercely loyal fan base. This is not a writer chasing awards -- which is probably a good thing as evidenced by the fact that he has only ever been nominated a single time for any kind of industry award -- and he didn't win! I can imagine though that there will be writers around who with one eye cast a proud glance at their silverware and with the other a jealous glare at Green's sales.

Green's 1995 novel Deathstalker has recently been reissued in mass market paperback by Gollancz here in the UK. This is the first in Green's series featuring protagonist Owen Deathstalker and the story of his rebellion against the evil Empire and presumably the events covered in this initial instalment have some bearing on the eight novels that follow. We meet Owen at a turning point in his life -- a historian by profession, he lives the languid life of the lazy aristocracy. However, in a flash all this is stripped from him, for he has been outlawed, which basically means everyone is suddenly looking either to capture or to kill him. The reasons for this sudden change in his status are unclear, but it can only have been on the whim of the Empress Lionstone herself -- also known by elegant nickname of "The Iron Bitch." The book starts then with our man on the run and it's a chase that continues through to the last page. His inherited wealth and pedigree soon become liabilities though as the various parties on his tail come close to catching him. As he flees, Owen runs into a number of characters, all of whom somehow end up as part of his renegade gang -- this gives the story a rather simplistic "hey, why not join our gang?" feel, but it works nonetheless, and the petty squabbles and banter amongst these rebels during their quieter moments, coupled with their ability to save one another's lives when necessary all contribute to the entertainment herein.

Elsewhere in Deathstalker, we spend time with various clan members. Green deftly sets up the ruling political structure of his evil empire -- The Iron Bitch is surrounded at court by any number of sycophants and yea-sayers, a hierarchy of ass-kissers at the top of which are the families of the Clans. A few are introduced to us as POV characters, and their main preoccupation seems to be enjoying secret lives whilst maintaining their public facades. One such gets his kicks in the arena as a champion masked gladiator, whilst another fills his system with the best and most exotic narcotics he can find, but far from being a space cadet, he is in fact a shrewd fighter and politician.

One very noticeable trait in Deathstalker is how it can now be seen very much as a product of its time. It's not hard to see the various influences at work on Green as he writes. His sets and costumes are loud, gaudy and camp -- very much SF in the early part of the 90s, kind of Jean-Paul Gaultier in his prime. It's exciting and colourful no doubt, but it's pretty passé now and I wonder how the more recent Deathstalker novels have developed this particular out-dated mode of SF chic.

Though it's not without appeal, as a narrative, Deathstalker is not such a good novel -- it reads too much like a loosely connected sequence of adventuresome happenings, rather than as a single story arc. At face value one can't fault Green for "edge of one's seat" thrills, but he's pretty slapdash in they way things relate to one another. I get the impression that plotting was not his first priority when sitting down to write. Instead, he concentrates far more on instant gratification than he does on long-term satisfaction -- and that's okay, I suppose. It may be a best seller, but Deathstalker is no genre classic. Instead it is a kind of fast food science fiction, ready meal writing -- indeed the Deathstalker series has over the years become a recognizable brand, a market leader with plenty of imitators, and it sells by the bucketful -- but like fast food it's fairly stodgy, not made from the best ingredients and though enjoyable on rare occasions, you'd be well advised to try other things in your diet.

Copyright © 2006 John Berlyne

John Berlyne is a book junkie with a serious habit. He is the long time UK editor of Sfrevu.com and is widely acknowledged to be the leading expert on the works of Tim Powers. John's extensive Powers Bibliography "Secret Histories" will be published in April 2009 by PS Publishing. When not consuming genre fiction, John owns and runs North Star Delicatessen, a gourmet food outlet in Chorlton, Manchester.


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