We start Day of the Damned with a little prologue with General Jaxx while he is waiting to meet OctoV, but he doesn’t show. This little scene sets up the story quite nicely, with OctoV apparently missing and General Jaxx the obvious figure at which to direct unrest on the Octovian Empire. We then catch up with Sven, taking leave on Farlight, the capital of the Empire, although the leave he is on comes to an abrupt end when civil unrest threatens the throne that OctoV has held for millenia. Although visiting friends away from the city, a chain of events is put in motion when the life of Vijayy Jaxx is put in danger and Sven must get back to Farlight and join up with the Aux to tackle the ever-growing problems there. Not only this, but the political maneuverings of the U/Free – a galaxy wide civilisation – are starting to bring down the empire that Sven knows and serves.
What I liked about Day of the Damned is that it still keeps the first person view and the focus on the gritty and violent that I enjoyed so much in the first two. Not only that, but the political aspect is coming more into its own this time around and has a bigger role in the story. The only trouble with this is that Sven is our eyes and ears as we progress through the story – he freely admits that the political side of things is of no interest to him. David Gunn uses and excellent analogy for this, that when someone tries to teach Sven to play chess he quite simply puts it that he “doesn’t play the long game”. While this viewpoint has worked well up to now, I felt that it didn’t really help that side of the story this time around, especially with the plot revolving around these aspects, although this is one aspect of Sven that he is consciously aware of and tries to work around this.
One of the other things that caught me out was the lack of the Aux – they don’t appear in the first half of the story and the character and team building that was done in Maximum Offense didn’t feel like it was paying off as much as I was hoping. That isn’t to say it doesn’t – when the Aux turn up they fall in very nicely with the story and I felt at home with them almost immediately. Despite this, I felt that Day of the Damned was much more focused on Sven after the detour of the second book that focused on the team more. This is good as Sven is one of those characters that you can’t help to like and I wouldn’t be reading a third book in a series if the main character didn’t work.
One of the other things that Gunn has done so well is convey the bleakness of a civil war. With Farlight plunged into civil unrest we get a street view of events and I can fully believe that this would happen. It feels both depressing and frightening to know that, although this is fiction, this is the sort of thing that would happen given the chance, that people would behave like this. What makes this hit home even harder is the casual way Sven shrugs it off – he’s seen worse and has lived through it. This just makes me realise that despite the enjoyment I’ve had from reading the Death’s Head books, both Sven and the stories are dark entities, but Gunn has used them to give us good, entertaining stories.
To be completely honest, this wasn’t as good as the previous two, but that’s not to say it isn’t good – it is. I enjoyed the new political aspects here but felt that, overall, they detracted from the enjoyment of reading from Sven’s view. The ending has been left in such a way that it could go many places from here – all of which could deliver more of everything that makes the Death’s Head novels so good.