4 out of 4 stars
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Hell Holes 2 is the action horror sequel to Hell Holes, written by Donald Firesmith. It is the continuation of an event first described in Hell Holes, namely that holes have opened in Northern Alaska and demons are coming out of them. In the first book, the perspective is of Dr. Jack Oswald. But in Hell Holes 2, we now follow the words and reactions of his wife and fellow scientist, Dr. Angela Menendez. The format with which these narratives are presented is via the “I Remember Project,” which details the first-hand experiences of those involved with the demon invasion through their own words long after the events have concluded.
If you are interested in going back to the first Hell Holes and starting from the beginning, please skip ahead past the next two paragraphs because they will give a general summary of the plot of the second in the series and include spoilers of the first. Still here? Good. Dr. Menendez begins by giving an account of how she, her husband, a photojournalist named Aileen O’Shannon, and four others made a trek to a mysterious hole that opened on the North Slope. She continues to say that demons came out of the hole and killed four of her party, leaving just her, her husband, and O’Shannon.
After many close calls, the story now picks up with the three of them driving south to keep ahead of the demon invasion. O’Shannon, far from being a photojournalist, is actually a “guardian,” part of a secretive group called the Tutores Contra Infernum who have tasked themselves with fighting demons throughout history whenever they appear. These demons are classed into two groups, lower and higher. The lower demons are venomous animals and include hellhounds (much bigger than a wolf) and gargoyles. The higher demons are more anthropomorphic and intelligent and include imps (small and moderately intelligent) and devils (adult human sized and devilishly clever.) The two academics and the guardian, who can use what many would call magic, encounter problems and roadblocks because of these demons along their way south on the Dalton Highway.
I did not read the first book, Hell Holes, before reading its sequel. Although I had no problems figuring out who the characters were and what had happened before, I would still recommend that any reader interested should begin at the beginning. If I had known how much fun I was going to have reading Hell Holes 2, I would have started with the first one. Unfortunately, since I know what happened in the second, and I doubt it would be as thrilling as it should be.
The only detail of the book that simply didn’t work for me was the structure of the “I Remember Project.” It is very reminiscent of the book World War Z, where it did work. Here, however, since the whole of the novel is the perspective of one woman, it seems superfluous. I do not feel there is a need to explain why the perspective from the first book changed, let alone attaching that shift to a larger “Project.” In short, it is unnecessary and unmemorable. I had forgotten its existence entirely until reviewing my notes for this review.
I was genuinely surprised how engaged I was with this story. I expected it to be a bit of fun and maybe an easy way to kill and afternoon. It was both, but also had a professionalism and maturity that, for me, took it to the next level.
A small detail in Hell Holes 2 endeared me to it. Two of the main characters are married academic doctors (as in, Ph.D.) There is no point in this novel where the male character is referred to as “Dr.” and the female character is called anything other than “Dr.” It is pet peeve of mine in books and television (and life) that women who have earned a title are usually called by their first name when their title is relevant. This detail should not, on its own, be reason for applause. But by avoiding an example of common and subtle gender related discrimination, Hell Holes 2 gives full professional respect to the women in the story, and that is awesome.
Hell Holes 2 has a lot of silly elements; magic and demons mostly. But that fact doesn’t stop Firesmith from both having a great name and writing this story very well. The characters are relatable, the pace is driving, and the editing is almost perfect. Crazy events happen non-stop throughout Hell Holes 2, but I never felt confused or unclear about exactly where everyone was or what they were doing. For this feat, I congratulate the author and rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Hell Holes 2
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