I received a free ARC copy of the book and I voluntarily decided to review it. I am also sharing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team.
Hell Holes is an intriguing book and one difficult to classify. Set in Alaska, the prologue already gives us a hint about what is to come, but once we start reading the account written by Professor Jack Oswald, we get taken in by the mystery of the holes, and by the hypotheses suggested, sending us in the direction of science-fiction. The explanations and the possible scenarios are plausibly rendered and the fact that Oswald’s wife, Angie, studies the effect of climate change, add to the interest, although that line of investigation doesn’t last long.
The plot turns soon when the holes prove to be dangerous in more ways than one, and paranormal and fantastic elements become more important as the plot moves on. There are also horror elements, like the monsters and the destruction and killings, and we do get more than a few hair-raising moments.
As often happens with some of these genres, there is a fair amount of exposition, regarding the set-up of the different pump stations and oil fields, and later about the supernatural elements (as one of the characters is revealed to be completely different to what we thought at first sight). As there is a description of the different Hell inhabitants later on after the end of the story, it might feel somewhat repetitive.
The book is also very short, even more than it looks like when we check the pages, as the end comes at around 80% of the book length, and the rest is taken by a summary/description, a cast of hell characters, a brief biography of the author and a longish sample of the next book, that follows (with a slight overlap) from the first one. From the sample, we see that the second book in the series is narrated by Professor Oswald’s wife.
The novel (novella) is plot-driven, and once the chase is on, the book moves quickly and never lets off, and we don’t have much chance to notice that we do not know the characters in detail, and there is plenty of room for development. The first person narration would seem to allow for a more in depth knowledge of the main character, but although there are some glimpses of guilty feelings and a strong sense of responsibility that make Oswald come across as a good man, this is after all supposed to be an account written by him for other eyes, to do with facts not feelings, and it does not dwell much on subjective matters. There might be time to get to know the characters more during the series but one suspects that the action will continue taking pride of place in the next novels.
There are series where it doesn’t matter where you start reading (or it matters less and it’s possible to read any novel and enjoy it in its own right without feeling you’re missing the context). This is not the case here, as although the story seems to be told from different points of view in the different books, it is all the same story. And in case you hate cliff-hangers, the book ends up in a worrying twist/hook. But, fear not, because if you read the sample of the next book at the end, at least that hook is solved.
The book is an easy and quick read and an action-filled one that you’ll imagine as a TV series or a movie with no difficulty. If you’re a stickler for specific genres and strong characters it might not suit you, and you might question some of the details, but if you’re looking for an entertaining read that moves easily between genres, and don’t mind investing in a series, give it a try.