Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Hell Ship

Title: Hell Ship
Author: Philip Palmer
Pages: 451
ISBN: 9781841499444
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2011
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

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The Hell Ship hurtles through space. Inside the ship are thousands of slaves, each the last of their race. The Hell Ship and its infernal crew destroyed their homes, slaughtered their families and imprisoned them forever.

One champion refuses to succumb. Sharrock, reduced from hero to captive in one blow, has sworn vengeance. Although Sai-as, head of the alien slave horde, will ruthlessly enforce the status quo.

But help is close. Jak has followed the Ship for years and their battles have left Jak broken, a mind in a starship's body, focused only on destroying the Ship. Together, can hunter and slave end this interstellar nightmare?

Hell Ship is one of those novels where you know you are in for an exciting ride after just the very first chapter. Things literally kick off with a huge bang – an alien invasion, some great space battles, bloody hand-to-hand combat and the total destruction of an entire planet. What more could anyone want?

The story is told from the perspective of three different characters Sharrock, Sai-ias and Jak. Sharrock’s planet is attacked by the Hell Ship and is completely destroyed, leaving him the sole survivor of his race. After putting up a valiant fight he finds himself a captive, one slave amongst many with the same tragic story to tell. He swears vengeance against the Ka’un, the mysterious race in charge of the Hell ship.

Sai-ais is the de-facto leader of the slaves and tries to help integrate Sharrock into his new life. She tries to persuade him that fighting against the Ka’un would be a futile endeavor and that it would be far better for him to accept his circumstances and to try to find moments of joy in the bleak life that lies ahead of him.

Jak is an interstellar trader who tirelessly pursues the Hell Ship after his own world is also destroyed. He vows to avenge his home world by destroying the ship once and for all. He follows in the wake of destruction the Hell Ship leaves behind recording the haunting last messages of other civilizations annihilated by the Ka’un.

While there is lots of breathtaking action the story revolves primarily around the characters and their very different viewpoints. The characters are well-developed and thoroughly engaging. Sharrock and Sai-ais are complete opposites. Sharrock wants to right all wrongs even when he doesn’t have any idea about what is really going on. Sai-ais is a pacifist and believes in making the best of a terrible situation by defying the Ka’un in her own way. The turmoil in their relationship makes for captivating reading and it is interesting to see how they challenge each other to adjust their own worldviews and to reevaluate their beliefs.

I loved the ‘menagerie of strangeness’ with which Palmer populated the Hell Ship. There is an astonishing array of alien creatures living in the ship; each creature has a unique morphology and outlook on life. The interaction between the characters and their world brought home how diverse they really are, often resulting in some funny situations.

The Ka’un are vile creatures who enjoy nothing more than inflicting cruelty and sowing destruction wherever they go. They revel in giving the slaves false hope and then taking it away in the cruelest way possible. Just as you think they have met their match something happens to give them the upper hand which gives you a small taste of the cycle of hope and despair they put their slaves through. I would have liked the story to explore how the Ka’un ended up being so despicable, but I guess being evil for evil’s sake will have to suffice as motivation.

The Verdict:
Hell Ship is an intricately conceived story with a gigantic scope. It takes you on a rip-roaring adventure where it’s best to enjoy the incredible ride and forget about the why and how. The story is filled with emotion, masterful manipulation and unexpected twists which left me guessing until the very end. If you are looking for a change of pace from normal space operas then this is definitely worth a try.

A word of warning: Hell Ship uses a lot of foul language in some very innovative (and hilarious) combinations. If that is something that will offend you it’s best to look for something else.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Candice and Adeline from Penguin Books South Africa for providing the review copy.

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