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Hellhole    by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson order for
by Brian Herbert
Order:  USA  Can
Macmillan, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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*   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are probably best known as co-authors of the continuation of the Dune series (originally written by Brian's father Frank Herbert). Now they bring us an original new space opera trilogy starting with Hellhole. I listened to the unabridged audiobook version, which comes in fifteen CDs narrated by the talented Scott Brick.

Hellhole lays a lot of ground, is slow to get to the exciting parts, and is very prone to repetition of what has gone before - I tend to skim over that when reading but find it harder to take when listening. Also the initial setup stuck in my craw and continued to irritate me as the story progressed (and it was repeated again and again). Our hero, the excessively honorable General Tiber Adolphus, is about to win his justified rebellion against Diadem Michella Duchenet and the noble families that rule the corrupt Constellation when he's confronted at the capital world Sonjeera by brutalized hostages (family members of Adolphus and his officers) held on the smaller opposing fleet - he gives up! Not much of a military leader!

Of course, Diadem Michella isn't too smart either as she's persuaded not to execute Adolphus, but rather to exile him to a Deep Zone planet that has been devastated by asteroids. He and his followers are not expected to survive Hallholme, quickly dubbed Hellhole by its new colonists, but supporters get supplies to them and they not only survive but thrive. While Michella deals with the nobility's plotting around her - and with her spoiled daughter's unwise affair - Adolphus plots with other Deep Zone leaders. As years pass and his long-laid plan comes close to fruition, a wrench is thrown in the works with the discovery of the legacy of the planet's original inhabitants.

Despite its cardboard characters, I would have enjoyed Hellhole much more if it had been shorter. The series setup is just too verbose. Once it gets going, the mode of human-alien interaction is different and intriguing, arousing the reader's curiosity about where the authors will take it next. This first episode ends with a hint of another party about to join the fray and with a military confrontation looming between Diadem Michella and General Adolphus; let's hope he leads his forces more wisely this time.

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