Hellhole Awakening (The Hell Hole Trilogy)
by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Jon Guenther
Tor Books Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322708
Date: 26 March 2013
It's obvious from the outset that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are attempting to build a rich, complex and original Universe in which to set their Hellhole Trilogy. It's also a practical imperative on the part of readers familiar with previous collaborations from this pair that they've spent many years mastering the science fiction form. But did this latest offering lift me enough above the Dune Series legacy of Frank Herbert (raised as masterworks of world-building in science fiction), and create a world so different that it held my interest for some 600-plus pages? This question, coupled with whether or not Hellhole: Awakening could stand on its own merits as the second book in this trilogy, actually formed my final approach in this review.
I don't recommend you read this book without having read Hellhole first. With that caveat, reviewing a book like this wasn't easy since I considered it the middle act of the three-act story structure, and so the story isn't finished. Oftentimes, however, that middle act is the best and most engaging if executed correctly. So if asked whether I felt Hellhole: Awakening paid off in that context, I would have to answer in the affirmative.
The thing that most impressed me about this novel was pace--certainly more accessible and readable than its predecessor. When we join the story, foreshadowing comprises the opening storyline as the rebel Deep Zone worlds (under the leadership of General Maximilian Adolphus) prepare to do battle with the forces of the Constellation under the control of Diadem Michella Duchenet. As you might expect, there's plenty going on as about the first quarter of the book bounces from world to world, and the characters ruminate or discuss their respective plans and preparations for war. Additionally, there are all the things you'd expect from military space opera of this magnitude: high-tech weaponry and ships propelling massive foot armies across a vast galaxy, intrigue with spies and the now almost cliché political ramifications of an interstellar war. The plot happily held together for the second book in just the way I would've expected.
While I think Herbert and Anderson have consciously attempted to avoid resemblances to material in the Dune books, I felt there were some things simply too derivative to ignore.
The general politics and government structure involves Royal Houses, although they are less autonomous and operate in an almost congressional fashion. Rather than ethereal Navigators who map hyperspace using spice, FTL travel is accomplished by a technical implementation of the elementary particles from string theory through means called a stringline connected by hubs. (Interestingly, FTL star-drives are considered obsolete in this universe.) This stringline must pass through all the Crown Jewel Worlds, with the core hub at the Constellation seat of Sonjeera, to enforce royal control of commerce (can you say, "he who controls the spice, controls the universe?").
Finally there are the Xaylan who, while possessing unique telepathic abilities, seem dangerously like the Fremen in their relationship to the planet Hallholme (a.k.a. Hellhole).
In the end, I found Hellhole: Awakening an entertaining and well-written novel in its own right. However, I really couldn't help but get bogged down by the nagging, repeated sense I'd already covered much of this ground. I think most fans of the Herbert/Anderson duo, and particularly fans of this series, will like the book but whether this book is enough to maintain or even continue to build a following cannot yet be foretold.