Simon R. Green, |
Two hundred years have passed since Owen Deathstalker and his companions overthrew a corrupt Empire and saved humanity from the seemingly insurmountable threat of the Recreated. Owen Deathstalker, Hazel D'Ark, Jack Random, Ruby Journey -- they are just legends now, the details of their exploits removed from the historical record because the new king and queen thought that the people would be more inspired by legend than a history that revealed their human weaknesses. Thanks to Owen, the Empire did indeed enter into a Golden Age, the enemies of Humanity either defeated or incorporated as newly established allies. Now that great era of peace and interspecies cooperation is falling apart, eaten away from within by a power-hungry former enforcer of justice and threatened from without by the prophesied arrival of the Terror. Owen Deathstalker warned of the coming danger in his final message, and now everyone in the Empire looks to him to return and save the day once again, for legend decrees that he alone can defeat the apocalyptic menace of the Terror.
Owen Deathstalker's story was told over the course of five incredibly exciting novels. Deathstalker Legacy took up the story 200 years later, introducing us to a new Deathstalker in Lewis, a noble Paragon who was named King Douglas's Champion and then branded a traitor when he ran off with the king's intended bride Jesamine Flowers. Outlawed just like his famous predecessor, Lewis eventually teamed up with a most unusual team of individuals and set off to find -- he hoped -- the blessed Owen Deathstalker. The new gang of heroes does not even begin to compare with the legendary heroes of the past. Lewis is yet to prove himself a true Deathstalker in my eyes; his great love Jesamine Flowers is a spoiled and shallow diva who goes on and on about the comforts she has given up for her love of Lewis; Brett Random, who claims to be descended from both Jack Random and Ruby Journey (although no one believes it but him) is an insult to the very name of Random, a sniveling con man and complainer who deals with every danger by running away from it; Rose Constantine is a bloodthirsty killer from the Arenas who keeps trying to be human -- usually failing miserably at it; and Saturday is a giant reptiloid alien who comes along just to kill as many people as possible.
Then there's the traitorous, power-hungry villain, Finn Durandal. Empress Lionstone was a worthy opponent, the kind of evil dictator you could at least respect for her calculating inhumanity. Durandal is just a closet sociopath who betrayed everything he used to be as a noble Paragon in order to scheme his way to power, triggered mainly by the jealousy he felt when Lewis Deathstalker was chosen over him as King Douglas's Champion. Durandal is a great schemer, a far-thinking man who manages to exploit both friends and enemies for his own purposes, but he's really just an extremely petty man whose path to power is just ridiculously easy given all of the infamous deeds he goes about doing.
Deathstalker Return is in some ways a return trip down memory lane. Lewis Deathstalker and his ill-sorted allies retrace much of the path followed by the legendary Owen himself, stopping off on Lachrymose Christi and Shandrakor before proceeding to Haden, the home of the Madness Maze that gave Owen Deathstalker and his companions the superhuman powers that helped them become the venerated saviors of humanity. The trip to Haden isn't always that enjoyable; the constant bickering back and forth between our new heroes falls far short of recapturing the sort of give and take that made earlier Deathstalker novels so entertaining. Everything that worked so well for Simon R. Green in the past really rings hollow now. Green seemingly needs Owen Deathstalker to return just as badly as the crumbling Empire does -- in Owen mode, Green's story immediately transforms itself into the captivating space opera that made me such a huge Deathstalker fan to begin with.
One thing Green never fails to deliver is a litany of shocking surprises. You have to wait a little longer than usual this time around, but Deathstalker Return has a host of monkey wrenches to throw into the inner workings of the ongoing Deathstalker saga, including a final revelation that will have fans waiting with baited breath for the next installment in this incredible series.
You don't necessarily need to read the first five volumes of the life and times of Owen Deathstalker (Deathstalker, Deathstalker Rebellion, Deathstalker War, Deathstalker Honor and Deathstalker Destiny) in order to enjoy this novel (although you will miss out on a lot without the background those novels provide), but you will certainly want to read Deathstalker Legacy before immersing yourself in the complex plot of Deathstalker Return. There is just too much going on here for you to jump in unprepared.