Premise: General Tiber Adolphus has been exiled to the Deep Zone planet of Hallholme, named after the victorious Commodore Percival Hallholme, after his failed attempt at overthrowing the Diadem Michella Duchenet and the corrupt Constellation government. Hallholme is a planet in constant chaos and harsh conditions, the effects of an asteroid impact centuries ago. Its nickname is very fitting: Hellhole. During his ten years in exile, Adolphus has been planning for the day he can declare independence from the Constellation. With the discovery on the planet Candela of iperion, a molecule that can be processed to help guide faster-than-light traveling spaceships, he has been able to set up his own network of travel, with Hellhole as the initial hub. This will essentially allow free trade between the fifty-four Deep Zone planets and sever the reliance on the twenty Crown Jewel planets and its overwhelming demand for tributes.
Pools of oily water are discovered that store the collective memories of the alien race that lived on Hellhole before the asteroid destroyed the planet. The Xayan race dissolved their bodies in the slickwater so that their memories could go on and so that the next life forms that came along might take on the personalities saved in the pools. When the word of these pools gets out, outcasts and the afflicted come from all over to put off their old lives and take on the memories of the alien race. When four Xayans are found in their original bodies deep in a mountain, the memories are confirmed and more people are converted.
This all comes to a head when D-Day arrives and General Adolphus declares independence, having completed his stringline network. The message is sent throughout the Constellation and everyone’s world is upturned. A group of people containing Xayan personalities travel with one of the Original Xayans to Sonjeera to try reaching out to the Diadem, but they are quickly murdered. War is imminent.
Themes: The honor of each character is challenged in Hellhole. From the very beginning, General Adolphus shows us that he is a man of honor, even when it means losing his five year rebellion. Innocent people are held as human shields by Commodore Hallholme at the orders of the Diadem, and refusing to fire on them causes his own forces to be decimated, sending him into exile on Hellhole.
Hellhole is primarily a story of politics. Nobles and leaders battle with each other and make alliances for money and power. A corrupt government led by a selfish and horrible leader holds a galaxy under its thumb in order to keep control and a standard of living for the nobles. We also learn there are factions between the Xayans, just as there are factions within the human race, which led them to diverging paths in the face of extinction.
Pros: This world is full of new ideas and laid out in a clear and engaging way. Doing world-building with so many characters is no easy task, especially when trying to make each character unique with their own back story. In a complicated story with different viewpoints, this aspect is done quite well. I was hooked fairly early on in the book.
Cons: At over five hundred pages you would think that a lot of story could be told and at least something might happen to tie up a few loose ends. When I reached the end of the book I discovered that it really was only starting. We are left with too much story left to tell and absolutely nothing is resolved. When reading a series, and especially a trilogy, it is my opinion that the first book needs to at least be able to stand on its own as a novel. There was no epic battle and no real fighting at all between the Deep Zone and the Crown Jewel planets. You must fulfill the promises you make to a reader in each book you write, and those made were left unfulfilled.
There were also inconsistencies on the planet Hellhole as it pertains to the horrible weather patterns and people’s ability to survive there. For example, there is a massive static storm that overcomes their tent city near Slickwater Springs. The shadow-Xayans use their telemancy to push the “growler” over them with no harm to anyone. However, when the converts go off to live on their own apart from Slickwater Springs we are led to believe that people are still living in tents and cabins at the springs, but no word is said about their survival in these conditions. Others who have gone off to live on their own are quickly decimated by the planet’s weather, but here it sounds like they are having a good camping trip.
Recommendations: I will still probably read the next book to find out what happens next to some interesting characters and to see if General Adolphus’ plans pan out, but I was disappointed by having the book end before a real climax took place. While I very much enjoyed this new world from the coauthors of the Dune series, there was too much left hanging at the end for me to consider this book “complete”. I hope an omnibus or trilogy collection eventually comes out for the readers’ sake.