This review may contain spoilers for the first DEATHSTALKER book, Deathstalker.
Owen Deathstalker, Hazel d’Ark, Ruby Journey, Jack Random, and assorted others are still plotting rebellion against The Iron Bitch who rules the galactic empire. Everyone in this motley group has a different idea about how a galactic government should work, but they all agree that their empress must go, so they begin by hacking into the empire’s bank account and using the funds to instigate rebellions on a few different planets.
Nobody likes the empress, but she still has loyal supporters who protect her. These people are either too scared to cross her, or they are benefiting financially from their relationship with her. Also, there’s been a recent and credible threat of an alien invasion and many people figure that it’s better for the empire to stand united rather than divided, so they’re willing to accept a strong but tyrannical and murderous empress while they wait for that threat to pass.
Meanwhile the nobles have their own personal dramas going on. Valentine Wolfe, the druggie, has left the rebellion now that he’s head of his family but his scheming siblings (who are having an affair with each other while their spouses are also having an affair) are trying to usurp Valentine’s power over the family business. (Valentine is, surprisingly, one of the more likeable characters.) Evangeline Shreck is trying to escape her abusive father. Finley joins the rebellion and is just trying to stay alive. David, Owen’s nephew, is trying to find his way as the new head of the Deathstalker family. Unfortunately he has unwisely chosen Kid Death as his best friend.
Deathstalker: Rebellion, the second book in Simon R. Green’s DEATHSTALKER series, is a lot like the first except that, with the introduction of all the major players and locations in the first book, this one feels less imaginative and somewhat like a repeat. The narrator and many of the characters have the same snarky personality and sound the same. The last book’s jokes get repeated in this book. For the first 45 minutes or so (I listened to the audio version), the characters give each other little speeches which serve to remind us about what happened in the last book. Sometimes everything stops in the middle of a life-threatening action scene to let a character give a speech or history lesson. In fact, the characters are always giving us rapid-fire breathless paragraphs of their own backstory, info-dumps about the world, and little lectures, spiels, and motivational speeches that sound like they’ve been memorized. Every one of them sounds exactly the same. This happened in the NIGHTSIDE series, too. Also, in both series, the same phrases are used multiple times, such as “on general principles” and “it was the easiest thing in the world for…” (same phrases in both series).
As with the previous book, everyone is over the top and the bad things that happen are unthinkably gruesome. (Green loves to shock us with the disgusting things he thinks up.) The plot doesn’t always hang together — there are some inconsistencies, sloppy bits, and things that just don’t make sense. For example, why are these characters fighting with swords? This is a far-future galactic empire with far-future technology. We’re told that their energy weapons need to recharge after being blasted, so swords must be used, but geez, don’t they remember guns?
Everything I said in my review of Deathstalker holds true for Deathstalker: Rebellion. What’s most disappointing is how similar everything — characters, narrative voice, writing style, plot — is to Green’s NIGHTSIDE series. I went through this in my Deathstalker review, so I won’t go into the same details again here. Readers who enjoy Green’s snarky and over-the-top characters as well as his for-shock horror scenes will like Deathstalker: Rebellion more than I did.
There are a few elements that I did like, though. I like what Green did with the empress’s champion. His story line is interesting, though I think Green could have done more with it (and perhaps he will later). I also thought it was amusing to have a journalist and cameraman filming the war, though this storyline has its share of inconsistencies and stale jokes.
Tantor Audio sent me the audiobook editions of the first four DEATHSTALKER books. This series isn’t working for me, but I’ll give the third book a try and hope it improves (though I doubt it will). The audiobooks are narrated by Gildart Jackson and are excellent productions. Jackson does a great job with Green’s characters and story.