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Hell Divers II: Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Source: Amazon
Format: Kindle
Rating:  5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

This book is hands down Nick’s best yet. A quick read, I was spellbound from the first sentence.

Once again we’re pulled in to life on – and off – the Hive, an airship that’s been aloft for well over two centuries. Familiar characters are present, but as the events occur ten years after Hell Divers I, there are new ones to love – and hate. Oh, and new monsters too. Nick’s always good with the monsters…

This is my favourite quote: ‘There was only one thing left for Michael to say. He bumped his comm pad to open a private channel to Captain Jordan and yelled, “We dive so humanity survives!”‘

This is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2017. Absolutely fantastic stuff.

I can’t wait for Hell Divers III.

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Outzone Raider by Mike Sheridan

Outzone RaiderSource: ARC from the author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating:  4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

2041. THE GREAT GLOBAL WAR IS OVER. WHAT’S LEFT OF AMERICA IS IN CHAOS.

Beautiful but cynical exo-robotic operator, Vikki Gurin is playing a dangerous game. To make extra money for her family, she supplies Outzone bandit, Dima Aslanov with the information he needs during his daring raids across New Haven’s border. But when Aslanov and his bratva crew steal vital supplies destined for the federal government, he takes a step too far. Despite being caught up in America’s deadly secessionist wars, the US military are forced to turn their attention on him.

War-weary, Hoke Thompson didn’t expect to return home to find himself fighting fellow Americans. But these aren’t ordinary times. When his special ops team, Tactical Unit 8 return from rebel-held Oklahoma City, they discover their next mission is to neutralize a certain Dima Aslanov. Soon, Vikki gets caught up in the drama as the military hatches a plan to take the bandit down. Can she protect her family yet remain loyal to the Outzone warlord–or does something have to give?

Set against the backdrop of a brutal, war-torn America at the height of the secessionist wars, Outzone Raider interweaves two personal stories to a thrilling conclusion, as well as exploring both the rise of the Outzone and the fledgling New Haven State. Like all stories set in the Outzone World, there’s plenty of action–the characters riveting and believable.

First there’s a world war, and then the American soldiers return home to a divided country, which leads to the secessionist wars. A new state is created in the mid-west, New Haven, and this story is set in the years before a wall is built between New Haven and the Outzone, the latter being a lawless territory where those who wish to try their luck at survival.

Vikki Gurin is feisty exo-robot operator in New Haven’s Industrial Zone. It’s a gritty, hard place to work, but she likes her colleagues and the hard work. She is also a pair of eyes for Dima Aslanov, an Outzone bandit who likes to raid warehouses in the IZ for supplies. One night she hears of supplies of shelters, an order for the federal government that’s located in the heart of the IZ, and she decides to tell Aslanov about it. However, she leaves out information about the destination of the supply.

Dima Aslanov has one rule: if he’s to steal anything from the Industrial Zone, it must not be destined for the federal government. His raid for the supplies is successful, but it turns the eyes of the government and the intelligence organisations on his activities. It isn’t long before things heat up – for both Dima and Vikki.

This is a well-crafted post-apocalyptic thriller. Sheridan easily drew me in to the gritty world of Vikki and Dima, bringing the characters and their lives to life. It was good to get back into this setting and get to know it better through the eyes of a new group of people.

Things definitely do not come easily in the war-torn Americas, and one must take chances to get ahead. But which chance will be a step to far? Excellent post-apocalyptic fare, with great action and nail-biting suspense.

Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hell DiversSource: ARC from the author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

More than two centuries after World War III poisoned the planet, the final bastion of humanity lives on massive airships circling the globe in search for a habitable area to call home. Aging and outdated, most of the ships plummeted back to earth long ago. Enter the Hell Divers—men and women who risk their lives by diving to the surface to scavenge for parts that keep their homes in the air. When one of the two surviving airships is damaged in an electrical storm, a Hell Diver team is deployed to a hostile zone called Hades. But there’s something down there that’s far worse than the mutated creatures discovered on dives in the past—something that threatens the fragile future of humanity.

Aaaah, what it is to pick up a book by Nicholas. Even knowing you’re going to go on a hell-ride (no pun intended…) with him, you pick it up and read it, because it’s going to be that good. And Hell Divers is no less. Oh no. Within a sentence or two Smith had sucked me right in to X’s world and life on board the Hive – one of the last two airships floating above a devastated Earth.

And what a fascinating scenario. Humanity survives solely in huge airships that fly around above a totally devastated, radioactive Earth. These airships are far from airworthy, and are pretty much staying up there by their bootstraps. To keep these massive colonies in the skies, Hell Divers must parachute to the surface of the devastated Earth for supplies, then ride back up to their airships on helium balloons. As the book opens, we meet X, by far the most experienced Hell Diver on his ship with a total of 95 jumps to his name. It’s clearly pointed out that the average most divers make is 15 jumps. This man surely knows his stuff. And the motto of the Hell Divers is one of the coolest I’ve come across: “We dive so humanity survives.” That’s their whole existence right there, in a nutshell.

It’s really difficult to make any sort of comment on this book without heading into the realm of spoilers, so I’m going to keep to the bare minimum. One of the things I really liked about this novel was how Smith introduced various threads, and how those threads developed as the story progressed. Another thing I really liked was this, and I quote:


That was the thing about extinction: every move became a life-or-death decision, with the fate of entire species on the line.


That particularly caught my eye, having recently seen a documentary on the extinction of the northern white rhinoceros, and how that was precisely the issue – every move made becomes a critical decision.

This book has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in a good long while. Very relevant to the story, and puts one quite in the scene for what happens in the book. Great fusion there.

Without a doubt, Smith is becoming a master storyteller. I guess that begins to happen when one has more than ten novels under one’s belt. Each successive book of his that I read is a step up from the previous one, and his ideas are no less inventive. I look forward to picking up the next Hell Divers novel. Please get writing!

Winter’s Edge by Mike Sheridan

Winter's EdgeSource: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

The year is 2047. Seven years after a global war has devastated mankind, the apparatus of the old security state has rebuilt itself into an even greater monster: the Strata State. But there’s a difference–The Outzone. A choice too dangerous for most to consider.

Not Frank Brogan. When three Outzone bandits cross into New Haven and murder his wife and daughter, Lieutenant Frank Brogan quits his specially-trained police unit to hunt them down. Leaving the safety of the Strata State, Brogan enters the Outzone–a quasi-sovereign tract of land ceded from federal jurisdiction–and travels to its de facto capital, Winter’s Edge, where he picks up the bandits’ trail. In a violent city controlled by rival gangs, he needs to use all his hard-won skills as a police officer and war veteran to survive.

It isn’t long before Brogan’s quest takes him out of the city and deeper into the lawless territory. Can he survive encounters with the nomadic tribes that roam the Outzone’s mountains and plains to finally confront the men who murdered his family?

Set in a convincing post-apocalyptic world, Winter’s Edge is a fast-paced thriller that explores the contrasts between New Haven’s authoritarian Strata State and the Outzone’s dangerous and fragmented society.

This story opens with a news clipping about the murders of a mother and daughter, Sarah and Jessica Brogan, at the hands of three Outzoners. They are survived by husband and father Frank Brogan, a lieutenant in the New Haven police force. Frank elects to abandon his job in the police and head into the Outzone in search of the murderers.

This story really comes alive once Frank hits the Outzone. His time spent in New Haven within Strata State carries scant details. We don’t really get a sense of the actual environment within which he moves. But we do gain an understanding that it is relatively hi-tech in some ways.

The Outzone, by contrast, is low-tech and gritty. A relatively lawless region in the American Mid-West (or thereabouts), it is largely run by tribes, clans, gangs and oficinas. For some people fighting and dicing with death is part and parcel of their way of life, while others find ways to live a more peaceful existence. I really liked that we met people on both sides during the course of the story.

I’ve discovered lately that I often have a pervading image that runs through my head while reading a book, and this one is of semi-arid desert, with small, low bushes and plenty of rocks and pebbles visible inbetween. Of course there were areas the characters go to that were vastly different from this – this is just what got stuck in my head.

An excellent debut in the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre, with clear depictions of events and a compelling main character in Frank who one roots for throughout. There is also a well-defined group of secondary characters, each of whom plays an important role in the story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Winter’s Edge, and look forward to more from Mike Sheridan.

*****

Minor spoiler: There was one moment of violence in the book where Sheridan caught me off guard. I’m used to reading violence (prefer reading to watching), but this was sheer genius. Took me a while to recover from it too. Kudos to Sheridan for that one!

*****

For fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopia.

The Biomass Revolution by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Source: ARC from author
Format: Kindle ebook
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewer: Laurel

The Biomass Revolution is a dystopic novel set, around fifty years from now, somewhere near Chicago. Following a nuclear war that destroyed the rest of the world, leaders formed Tisaia, a state under martial law – largely due to scarce resources.

The novel primarily follows Spurious Timur, a  government worker, as he discovers the truth about his past and the propaganda the citizens of  Tisaia are fed. The secondary strand running through the book follows Obi, the lead scout in Squad 19 of the TDU (Tisaian Democratic Union) – a rebel group. As he battles with internal TDU politics (and personalities) and challenges stemming from scarce resources, he leads his Squad in a series of attacks against the state and their military – the dreaded CRK. As Mr Smith writes with an omniscient view, we get further insights from members of the rebellion, state workers, CRK soldiers and the state itself.

I did find the omniscient view difficult to handle at times; it’s not one of my favourite ways of telling a story. In particular, I struggled with the introduction of points of view (POVs) that were one-time-only, as these new branches never grew to fill the tree, leaving me unfulfilled. Also difficult was when the narrative switched from one character to another without a pause between, causing me to play catch-up regarding who was telling the story now. However, all that said, The Biomass Revolution is a complete story. About the central story – with the exception of ‘what Biomass really is’ – it is a coherent whole and we are told no more or less than is necessary.

To say that I enjoyed this book would be to use the wrong word, as it isn’t an easy read in terms of subject matter, but it is an excellent novel that asks questions and finds a few answers along the way. I definitely recommend this to people looking for a good dystopic novel.