My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like to give an author who writes well but doesn’t quite hook me with their first book at least one more chance to make me a fan. I didn’t love Anna Hackett’s novella set in her Phoenix treasure hunting sfr series, but I am so glad I got another chance with Hell Squad because it hit the spot.
Dinosaur-like aliens have invaded future Earth and driven humanity into hiding. A squad of commandos goes out to rescue survivors and battle the invaders. The heroine is a former party girl turned language expert and communications officer. The hero is the leader of the squad, a scarred former Marine who’s tough as nails and ten times the sexy.
I really enjoyed the relationship between hero and heroine. This was my main complaint against the novella I read, so I’m glad to see that Anna Hackett can write this in a way that engages me after all.
Although both lust for each other, the heroine had to fight hard to get on the team and believes the hero still only sees the society girl (which she also fears she still is) while the hero doesn’t want his scarred, bloodied hands to sully her perfection. It’s sweet. And when they finally do get together, the sex is pretty hot.
I loved the Hell Squad. Their catch phrase – “Hell Squad, ready to go to hell?” “Hell yes – the devil needs an ass-kicking!” is completely awesome. I can totally see a ragtag, post-apocalyptic commando team saying this. Someday I want to write about futuristic space marines a la Aliens, and the Hell Squad was a great example, so I felt like I should take notes. 🙂
I also found the base to be quite interesting. I did wonder where their food and supplies came from, but it wasn’t a show stopper. The alien descriptions and post-apocalyptic details were also sad and fitting.
Interestingly enough, I thought the plot, pacing, and even the action needed work. I found myself wondering why the author showed certain scenes but not others.
(view spoiler)[For example, the main story event is that they have to blow up a communications hub, which will cripple the invasion. Awesome. So they start from torturing a prisoner to learn one alien word, which they hope will help them translate a map. Then they go to a library to find more examples of alien language. The hub is somewhere in the old domestic airport terminal but the map is magically encrypted and will only become legible once they get close enough to the hub. So they carry a bomb to the domestic terminal, put it in the right spot, and hooray, the main story is over.
I didn’t get a real sense of progression or accomplishment from these scenes. Why introduce the torture scene? I get that it’s to prey on Marcus’s belief Elle can’t handle the true blood/guts/violence of war (and shouldn’t have to) but I felt like it could have been more directly woven in.
The translation is never really explained and doesn’t seem all that interesting. It would have been more helpful if the author had done some sort of symbol count down or something. It would also have helped if the author would have put in a bad-stuff-will-happen time bomb, like when the Death Star was coming up on the rebel base in the first Star Wars. They could’ve blown up the hub any time, so why now? It would have been much more compelling if the raptors were hacking their secret location and they had to blow up the hub or else risk being found. There’s nothing like an alien armada standing by with phasers powering up to make the story more exciting!
So in contrast to the relationship storyline, the main action plot kind of felt meh, like it wasn’t really building up to anything or going anywhere.
The secondary plot is that Elle (heroine) will get herself killed in the field. This was quite interesting. She is nearly skewered the first time out by an alien dog and then by a t-rex, so I expected her to get kidnapped by the aliens or at least separated from Marcus and have to save herself. This is even introduced when someone mentions that the aliens were keeping librarians alive. It would have been perfect to have her kidnapped here or on the later mission, held hostage, and forced to give information about how to find the base.
Instead, she never is remotely threatened. Another random team member, Zeke, bites it off stage. That really surprised me. It’s like a huge plot point – the hero and heroine nearly break up because he has to go into his cold place and she kills herself working on the translation – and she never faces real danger from the aliens. So…I felt like there was a lot of potential in this plot thread too, but it also fizzled and got strange.
Is the dead character, Zeke, going to come back in a future book? I mean, is he really dead? Was his only point to being killed so that the hero and heroine can have their little tiff? It feels sort of empty of meaning, I guess.
In the fight scenes, the bad guys just sort of show up, so there’s no element of building tension. (hide spoiler)]
Despite my complaints, I enjoyed this story fairly well and would not be sorry to read the next one.