REVIEW SUMMARY: Space Opera for fans of Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert’s Dune prequels, introducing a new universe with creatively inventive worlds, aliens, intergalactic travel, and an epic war to come.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A failed revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government places exiled leader, General Adolphus on a planet at the outer reaches of a new frontier, where geological instability has earned it the name, Hellhole. General Adolphus proves more resilient than the Constellation’s Diadem presupposed, and with the help of a new alien species, prepares to free the galaxy from its tyrannical government.
PROS: Symbiotic nature of alien life creates interesting relationship with humans; sympathetic characters invest readers in epic war to come.
CONS: Telegraphed plot lacks surprises needed to exhilarate reader, including cliffhanger ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Nostalgic readers of Dune prequels will enjoy similar story telling style in Hellhole, but will be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending predicted hundreds of pages before.
Hellhole begins with an emotional conclusion to the revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government, which serves to create strong empathy for the main character, General Adolphus, and a starting point for the moral dilemma of sacrificing innocents as a means to an end. What follows sets General Adolphus up as a leader on an outcast planet, Hellhole, and his discovery of ways to free a cast of sympathetic characters from various forms of oppression. The chaotic environment on Hellhole entertains while developing characters like his love interest, her daughter, and a heroic love interest for her.
The character setup in Hellhole is reminiscent of the Dune prequels. The bad guys draw your interest through their vile acts in layered plots to unseat bad guys who did the same and are not hesitant to up the ante to stay in control. The good guys are endearing in their against-the-odds pursuit of freedom, adventure, and love. While the experience of bad guys committing vile acts and good guys falling in love is enjoyable, the realization that only minor events will take place in this book slowed the read. This left the ending flat because you knew for hundreds of pages that Hellhole was just an introduction to the war. Given the build up, the sequel should be an awesome display of spaceships versus telemantic aliens, but readers may want to wait for the sequel for a one-two punch.
The discovery of alien life opens up a new dynamic that parallels the struggle friends and family have when someone close chooses a different religion. This doesn’t come off as preachy because the new lifestyle isn’t a recognizable Earth religion, it’s a symbiotic relationship with aliens. The further development of this parallel is one of the more appealing aspects to this series. Another appealing aspect to the aliens Hellhole introduces is their telemantic powers, and goal of spiritual ascension. Their powers present an excitingly viable defense for General Adolphus and his goal of separating from the Constellation government. The most entertaining parts of this novel were experiencing displays of their powers, and knowing that they were just the tip of the iceberg for the battle to come. Their unified goal of ascension, and what will happen to the humans who have joined them, creates one of the few mysteries about what direction this series will take.
While Hellhole introduces empathetic characters and sets up an epic war, the lack of surprises and telegraphed promises that nothing major would happen until the sequel, Hellhole: Awakening, made this easy to put down, and felt like an uncomfortably long introduction.