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Hell Divers II: Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

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Hell Divers II: Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith takes places ten years after events in the first book in the series, Hell Divers. Commander Xavier Rodriguez is gone, his leadership role amongst the hell diver ranks replaced by others. Yet he remains a vibrant memory in many people’s minds. Similarly, the Hive has a new captain at the helm in the form of Captain Leon Jordan, who we saw as a lieutenant and second in command in the first book. Younger characters have grown up and older ones have either gotten older or perished in the daily struggle to survive in the novel’s post-apocalyptic world where humanity survives by remaining far above the radiation contaminated surface.

In many ways this book is a continuation of life onboard the Hive. When you’re the last of humanity and are confined to an airship that can’t land due to radiation and hostile creatures, there’s only so much one might expect to change from one book to another. Yet the threads of an overarching story begun in Hell Divers not only continues but is heightened to new levels as a prophecy is revealed that tells of “a man who will come and lead them to their true home on the planet’s surface.” To some, this prophecy provides hope. To others, it’s a threat, especially to Captain Jordan, who sees it as a distraction from their true and only purpose: survival in the skies. It is his belief that nothing remains for them on the surface but death, and that they should concentrate their efforts on continuing their lives in the air simply because that is the only way to guarantee their survival. This difference in beliefs as far as the prophecy goes creates considerable conflict between the captain and his crew and is something that is not resolved in this book.

Back are some familiar faces from the first novel, including Michael “Tin” Everhart, who was a child in the first book but who has now become a commander of the hell divers. Also, there’s Magnolia Katib, with her purple hair and sarcastic attitude still in intact. She also has joined the hell divers. Then there’s Rodger “Dodger” Mintel, Layla Brower, and the older, grizzled Rick Weaver, who in many ways takes the place of Commander Xavier from the first book.

As one might expect, the story revolves around the hell divers, but also the growing conflict between those who believe there is something for them on the surface versus those who don’t. This manifests itself in considerable deceit and manipulation as certain characters take drastic steps to ensure their way of life remains undisturbed.

Let me say this about the writing: it’s not great. Much like Hell Divers, Hell Divers II: Ghosts has plenty of clichés, stereotypes, and predictable story elements. But the author once again manages to bring all of these together, blending an almost Resident Evil-like apocalyptic world with modern military sci-fi. The characters are alternatively heroic and humorous, and the writing style makes up for its lack of sophistication with its fast pace. I’m giving Hell Divers II: Ghosts four rockets because, despite its flaws, it’s just so much fun that it makes for a very fast, enjoyable read.

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