Hell’s End by Ally Blue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hell’s End is a roller coaster and one that I can only imagine is the start of a series. The majority of loose ends, plot wise, are wrapped up but there feels like so much more story left to tell that I’d be surprised if it’s a one-off. In any case the writing is fresh, the science fiction brutal and gritty, and the characters intriguing. I liked reading this quite a bit, but at the same time I never forget the story’s limitations. I never fully bought into the main couple, they’re well matched but instead of being invested in their romance I was often distracted by supporting cast members. I liked the two main protagonists on their own and even together during action scenes but their true love felt more forced than natural to me.
Tuck has just been ousted from the only family he’s ever known. The Gutters are a band of roving children who will steal anything, kill anyone, and eat their own members when they grow too old. It’s a vicious and unrelenting lifestyle but the only home Tuck knows. Out on the streets less than a day, Tuck gets thrust into a gang’s prostitution ring. However, more hits keep coming for Tuck as the Government wants him for their own purposes and sends a group of soldiers, including Ivan, to rescue Tuck. Knowing something isn’t right, Ivan is determined to figure out what the Government wants with Tuck and furthermore, how to save him from that fate.
The plot is very complicated with a lot of twists and layers. It’s not difficult to follow while reading, which is a real credit to the writing, but when I stopped to think about the different aspects I realized they didn’t always make sense. The concept is pretty basic in that a war torn planet called Hell’s End exists with different layers – imagine a building with an elevator and fire escape ladder – that house different groups. On certain layers families, mob or gang style groups, are fighting amongst themselves for control. Then there are the children gang or Gutters, the Government and it’s machinations, and a mercenary group as well. Altogether it’s a lot of fighting over one planet.
Somewhere along the way the Government decided to genetically modify people and their offspring to build better spies and those that escaped have formed a rebellion. Tuck and Ivan get sucked into the rebellion to bring down the Government. Like I said it’s complex to say the least but it’s never confusing. Some of the details simply don’t make sense or fit together well – such as the tattoos or the government’s inability to find certain people such as the other genetically modified children, yet they can quickly find other people, the travel between the levels, the ending regarding Tuvro – yet I could suspend disbelief and just go along with the story for the sake of entertainment. There is a lot of quick action and fast moving jargon to help cover any lapses, not to mention near constant hacking, sneaking, and covert meetings that seem to be obvious to everyone but the underground.
Most of these issues didn’t really occur to me until I finished the book and started actually thinking about all the action and how improbable a lot of it is so this may not bother a lot of readers. What bothered me most while reading is more that the relationship between Tuck and Ivan seems forced. It happens so fast without a lot of lead up – Ivan rescues Tuck and then the two are inseparable. I kept thinking that Ivan wouldn’t be able to have such a relationship considering Tuck’s status and that it made no real sense for the two to be together. It’s important to the story but I didn’t feel a strong connection, even after their declarations of love. I like both characters quite a bit and they have equal parts dimension and intrigue but together it feels more expected than natural.
The other numerous supporting cast members shine. Most captured my attention early on from Ivan’s team members to Sandman to Reeve to Kiri, I honestly could read about any of them and be happy. They all feel unique, even despite how many there are, and I was quite happy to read the action scenes when so many participated. I’m really hopeful that future books in the series will focus more on the other people and less on Tuck and Ivan.
Overall though this is a well written, creative science fiction story. It has a lot of grit with death, blood, and violence no stranger. It’s nothing gratuitous and helps complete the world building, which is impressive and enough even with some rather large holes. However, that is to be expected with a plot and world equally complex and complicated. The plot can be dense sometime but as a lover of science fiction I found myself glued to the pages for the most part, they flew by quicker than I expected. I’d recommend this more for sci-fi fans and those that like a grittier, more visceral story with a dash of romance.