So pretty much everything I said about AN OFFICER’S DUTY (EBR review) I should just cut and paste into this review…because its sequel HELLFIRE is almost the exact same book. Save yourself some time, read that review, and come back and I’ll try to be succinct.
Ia is now the captain of the Space Force ship Hellfire, which contains their ultra secret new weapon against the alien Salik enemy. The only problem? It’s too powerful and only a precognitive can safely wield it, otherwise anyone caught downstream would die.
The ship and Ia’s crew are ready just in time: the second Salik war has begun and Hellfire becomes Earth’s secret weapon. Because she’s a precog Ia knows exactly where to go in order to do the most good. Sometimes it means convincing the Space Force leaders, but Ia time and again proves that she can predict what’s coming with chilling accuracy.
Jean Johnson attempts to step up the tension a notch with the war. Now that everyone knows Ia is a precog it does change the dynamic–she openly uses and talks about her abilities to convince her crew, and to sway Alliance alien governments as well as her own superiors in the Space Force. The majority of the book is spent on the Hellfire as it flits from fight to fight in quick succession, making the plot feel circular. While I enjoyed the technical aspects of the ship, ship’s life, and military life at war, it quickly grew stale because of infrequent change of scene.
The biggest problem with HELLFIRE is that Ia bugs me. I was able to get past her character ‘flaws’ in the previous books because there was still the question of whether she would be able to achieve her goals–not so, here. In HELLFIRE she becomes shrill and repeats over and over the same sanctimonious dialogue from the previous books. She always knows exactly what to do or what to say (which consists of contrived and clunky dialogue so there’s a suspension of belief there for me). She’s so powerful she’s not only a precog, but she’s a biokinetic (self healing), electrokinetic, pyrokinetic, postcognitive (can see the past), telekinetic, and even a little telepathic. She’s risen through the ranks so quickly she’s a ship’s captain in her early 20s. Her crew idolizes her and her man loves her unconditionally. She’s self-sacrificing to the point of unbelievability. The concept is cool, but the execution makes Ia unsympathetic.
Johnson also attempts a subtle underlying theme of chess with Ia as the grandmaster: pieces being placed, a little nudge here, a warning there, and then making sure she’s always in the right place at the right time. Again, the concept is interesting, but I don’t see where the plays are lining up in a recognizable strategy/plot, and at this point in the game it feels less like chess and more like bowling: with Ia as the bowling ball, knocking everyone flat who gets in her way.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Made up words only
Violence: Mostly the spaceship variety (lasers and missiles blowing up things), very little blood
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