When I first saw this book was written by the authors of the Dune expansion novels, I prepared myself for a long, dry, extensive, hard to follow saga. The extended Appendices in the back supported this initial hesitation: 2 lists of around 70 planets, a 5 page description of a “Stringline Network”, and a 9 page glossary of important characters and terms. But what I actually got was a fantastically written, long, extensive saga about morality, courage, strength, deceit, murder, and all that other fun stuff that goes into epic novels.
The story opens with the last battle of the rebellion of General Tiber Maximilian Adolphus against the corrupt government of the Constellation- a group of worlds you learn later in the book are run by horrifically shallow and ineffective nobles, though the authors don’t tell you about the other inhabitants of these worlds….you just kind of know they exist.
Here’s where they set you up to hate the Constellation and adore the Hero as he faces a very difficult decision: win the war by taking out all of the Constellation’s ships- which are fewer in number than his- or lose the war by refusing to fire and kill the thousands of family members and innocents on board those ships. I think you can guess which option our noble hero took.
Instead of executing the General, the head of the Constellation, Diadem Michella Duchenet (who reminded me of Cruella De Vil), exiles him and his most loyal followers to a distant planet which she believes will be their certain death.
Naming it after the general who “defeated” him (Hallholme) and nicknamed Hellhole after the huge and deadly static storms (otherwise known in the book as Growlers), bare terrain, and damage from a past asteroid impact, it becomes “the place to go when you have nowhere else to go”- a place for exiles and people who need and want to forget the past. Although this planet has a past of its own it won’t so easily forget.
Told from the vantage point of twenty different characters, the story becomes an interesting blend of sub plots and scenarios that combine to make one giant “Us Vs. Them”/”Good Vs. Evil” tale. But it’s done well- and I didn’t find myself having to go back to reread things that I may have missed or reference the glossary (Seriously! The Glossary! It’s intimidating!) Though I would suggest reading Appendix C before starting to get more used to the Stringline Network- the means of connecting each world to the other, which plays a crucial role in this story.
As with all good books, there were quite a few characters I became very attached to, loved, and loathed.
I found The General himself to be too lofty to get attached to, though.
They wrote it as realistically as you can a science-fiction novel, with no big “No way would that ever ever happen!” moments.
It’s a love story.
It’s a political thriller.
It’s a sci-fi alien encounter.
It’s a practice in military logistics.
It’s enough of an original story with interesting characters to merit putting it up there with the original DUNE- but not quite trailblazing and unique. It does offer a fantastic, fun, and thought-provoking read.