Like war itself, David Gunn’s novels are raw and violent, horrifying yet mysteriously moving. These qualities also characterize Gunn’s hero and narrator, Lt. Sven Tveskoeg, a killing machine whose DNA marks him as less—or perhaps more—than human. Whatever he is, he is always as enthralling as he is lethal.
Sven has survived everything a hostile universe can throw at him. But he’d be the first to admit that it isn’t smarts that have kept him alive for so long. And it’s not luck, either. Because luck wouldn’t have seen him plucked out of obscurity to serve in the army of Emperor OctoV, a machine-human hybrid who appears to be a teenage boy but is actually immeasurably older. Maybe Sven has survived out of sheer orneriness—although his artificially intelligent, unmistakably sarcastic, and more or less sociopathic sidearm might argue otherwise—but Sven isn’t one to ponder such questions.
In Day of the Damned, Sven and his band of misfit auxiliaries have arrived at Farlight, capital of the Octavian Empire, for a little well-earned rest and relaxation. Sven visits his old friends Debro and Anton, whom he liberated from the prison planet of Paradise, and their teenage daughter Aptitude, whose husband he assassinated and who now has a major crush on him.
But what begins as a respite quickly turns into a bloodbath as civil war erupts. And behind the double crosses and Byzantine betrayals threatening to topple OctoV from the throne he has held for thousands of years are the United Free, a galaxy-spanning empire with the technology of gods and the morals of schoolchildren.
As usual, big trouble seems to be following Sven. Which is all right with him. He isn’t that fond of vacations, anyway.
Sven Tveskoeg–antisocial, antihero, anti-you-name-it–is a one-man killing spree whose best friend is an intelligent handgun with a bad attitude and whose worst enemy is, well, just about everybody else. These qualities have earned Sven a lieutenant’s commission in the Death’s Head, the elite corps of assassins and enforcers whose purpose in life is to serve OctoV, a tyrant who is part machine, part boy, part god, and all evil. Sven’s new assignment? Lead his ragtag band of Death’s Head rejects to the artificial world of Hekati to find a missing citizen of the United Free, a vast empire that turns out to be a vicious den of backstabbing and betrayal where nothing and no one can be trusted. Looks like Sven is on a suicide mission. So what else is new?
Set in a chillingly realistic far-future world, and featuring a gritty antihero even more frightening than the evil empire he serves as soldier and assassin, Death’s Head is sure to be one of the most talked-about novels of the year. David Gunn is loaded—and he shoots to kill.
At the top of the galactic pecking order is the United Free, a civilization of awe-inspiring technological prowess so far in advance of other space-faring powers as to seem untouchable gods. Most of the known universe has fallen under their inscrutable sway. The rest is squabbled over by two empires: one ruled with an iron fist by OctoV, a tyrant who appears to his followers as a teenage boy but is in reality something very different, the other administered by the Uplifted, bizarre machinelike intelligences, and their no-longer-quite-human servants, cyborgs known as the Enlightened.
Sven Tveskoeg, an ex-sergeant demoted for insubordination and sentenced to death, is a vicious killer with a stubborn streak of loyalty. Sven possesses a fierce if untutored intelligence and a genetic makeup that is 98.2 percent human and 1.8 percent . . . something else. Perhaps that “something else” explains how quickly he heals from even the worst injuries or how he can communicate telepathically with the ferox, fearsome alien savages whose natural fighting abilities regularly outperform the advanced technology of their human enemies. Perhaps it is these unique abilities that bring Sven to the attention of OctoV.
Drafted into the Death’s Head, the elite enforcers of OctoV’s imperial will, Sven is given a new lease on life. Armed with a SIG diabolo–an intelligent gun–and an illegal symbiont called a kyp, Sven is sent to a faraway planet, the latest battleground between the Uplifted and OctoV. There he finds himself in the midst of a military disaster, one that will take all his courage—and all his firepower—to survive.
But an even deadlier struggle is taking place, a struggle that will draw the attention of the United Free. Sven knows he is a pawn, and pawns have a bad habit of being sacrificed.
But Sven is nobody’s sacrifice. And even a pawn can checkmate a king.
Praise for Death’s Head
“The finest military science-fiction debut in years.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Hardboiled, laser-blasting science fiction as it’s meant to be.”—Charlie Huston, author of Caught Stealing and Already Dead