a review by Nalini Haynes
General Adolphus led a rebellion against a corrupt Empire and lost. Instead of martyring the General, Diadem Michella, the empress, exiled him to a planet called Hallholme, named after the general whose dirty tactics defeated Adolphus. Colloquially named Hellhole, the planet is recovering from an asteroid impact 5 centuries earlier that wiped out most of the life on the planet. Ten years after exile the settlement is growing, populated by the General’s loyal soldiers, other exiles, convicts and misfits.
Vincent Jenet was exiled to Hellhole after being convicted of a theft of which he was guilty to raise money for medical treatment for his dying father. Fernando Neron is a confidence trickster who took ship to Hellhole to escape investors after numerous ‘businesses’ failed on other planets. Fernando seemed like a human tornado, sucking the less assertive Vincent along in his wake. Fernando leads Vincent to discover the slickwater springs that house the personalities of the former inhabitants of the planets. Fernando takes on the personality of a Xayan, a native Hellhole alien, in addition to his own personality. This leads to further discoveries about this alien race and its abilities, revealing the potential for the resurrection of the species. The goal of the Xayan race is ascension, a goal the human hosts of Xayans do not understand. (And it worked so well for Daniel Jackson in Stargate!)
The General is secretly working to create a republic independent of the empire, working to foil investigations of his activities by spies sent by the Diadem. One of the Diadem’s spies and wetworkers, Ishop Heer, is obsessive-compulsive with aspirations to rise above his station in life. These aspirations are used by his assistant whose agenda and background is not revealed in this book.
There are two primary locations of action in Hellhole, one is Hellhole itself and the other is Sonjeera, the capital world of the empire. Other planetary locations are described in detail along with the political situation motivating the inhabitants. Colonies are being plundered for short term gain by the Diadem with no consideration for the affected ecologies and populations. Characters are developed by giving the reader snapshots of their current situation, flash backs that describe their past, giving them history and motivation for the current action. Two humans and the alien race are given a more superficial introduction. I strongly suspect that these characters will be the source of the plot twists in book three of this trilogy.
Hellhole closes with a cliff-hanger; there is no pretence at wrapping up even a portion of the story in this volume.
Wikipedia cites two conflicting reviews of Hellhole. I disagree with Publishers Weekly’s statement that the characters are one dimensional. In contrast with PW, I thought at times that there was too much emphasis on the internal world of some characters, to the point where I don’t think those characters have the capacity to surprise me. I noted the characters to which this does not apply, and I’m expecting the plot twist Kevin has been spruiking to come from those sources.
Hellhole seems to strike a middle ground in the current fantasy market. Complexity is fuelled by political machinations and interpersonal relationships. However, Hellhole does not have the huge cast or numerous primary locations of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones about which so many people have complained. Some readers of A Game of Thrones have only read the chapters of their favourite characters; these readers will be able to follow Hellhole without feeling overwhelmed. Hellhole is recommended for fans of the fantasy genre. It is possible to read Hellhole on the train at the end of a hard day’s work.
Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011, blog post predated to reflect the original publication date.