Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #1
Published by Anna Hackett on April 19th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a band of survivors fights on…
In a world gone to hell, Elle Milton—once the darling of the Sydney social scene—has carved a role for herself as the communications officer for the toughest commando team fighting for humanity’s survival—Hell Squad. It’s her chance to make a difference and make up for horrible past mistakes…despite the fact that its battle-hardened commander never wanted her on his team.
When Hell Squad is tasked with destroying a strategic alien facility, Elle knows they need her skills in the field. But first she must go head to head with Marcus Steele and convince him she won’t be a liability.
Marcus Steele is a warrior through and through. He fights to protect the innocent and give the human race a chance to survive. And that includes the beautiful, gutsy Elle who twists him up inside with a single look. The last thing he wants is to take her into a warzone, but soon they are thrown together battling both the alien invaders and their overwhelming attraction. And Marcus will learn just how much he’ll sacrifice to keep her safe.
The setup for this book, and for the Hell Squad series, reminds me of a combination of the movie Independence Day and the TV series Battlestar Galactica (the remake, not the original). Just like in Independence Day, the aliens have not only landed, but they have targeted all of our major cities and are the in process of wiping out the human race.
It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, but my memory says that the aliens looked like the raptors. In the book, the aliens look an awful lot like honking big dinosaurs, only clearly with way more intelligence as well as advanced space flight.
The story also has the dystopian feel of BSG. It’s not that the humans have space flight, but the gritty feeling of the last human outposts fighting back against an overwhelming invasion as they barely keep their technology together feels similar.
The Hell Squad series is certainly dystopian, or at any rate post-apocalyptic. The humans know exactly what the apocalypse was in this case – the aliens landed and are well on their way to wiping out humanity. Victories for the human survivors are damn few and very far between.
The humans in the Blue Mountain outpost in Australia are all too aware that even if they somehow manage to take Earth back from the alien Raptors, nothing will ever be the same.
In this first installment of the Hell Squad series, we focus on one of the combat squads that operates out of Blue Mountain Base. Squad Six, otherwise known as Hell Squad, is one of several squads that regularly conducts raids in enemy territory, scrounging for supplies, assisting isolated groups of humans reach the relatively safe base, and attempting to capture enemy intel.
The story in this book is in the context of one such intel operation. Through torturing a captured Raptor prisoner, they have determined that there is an enemy communications hub somewhere in their patrol area. They even have enemy data crystals that pinpoint the exact location. What they need is a translator.
What they have is Elle Milton, their comms officer. Elle has learned more of the Raptor language than anyone else. She knows enough to know that the data crystal they have recovered will lead them to the hub, but not enough to translate the exact directions. Elle needs a Rosetta Stone.
Marcus, the leader of Hell Squad, just wants to keep Elle safe. It’s pretty obvious to everyone in his squad that he is in love with the beautiful refugee who has worked so hard to become a comms officer. Her life pre-invasion was that of a spoiled little society girl, and she has worked damn hard to become someone useful. Someone strong. And she is endlessly disappointed that Marcus does not want her around – not on his missions, and not in his life.
Of course, Elle couldn’t be more wrong. It takes the high-adrenaline danger of needing to take Elle on a mission to make Marcus admit that he’s been keeping her at arm’s length in order to protect her. Elle’s way of proving to Marcus that he’s wrong is to not just get the mission done, but to save his life along the way.
Escape Rating A-: As the series introduction, Marcus is short and tremendously fun. We get glimpses of the way that the world has gone to hell, just enough to explain things without being overwhelming. We see the humans as survivors, and not just as victims. It reminds me of Station Eleven (see review) in that respect. We don’t need to live through the entire alien invasion to get the picture. It’s enough to show the humans as plucky survivors who have a hell of a fight on their hands, even if it is a fight they are mostly losing at the beginning.
The love story is a classic. Marcus the military leader feels like the only thing he’s good for is killing. And he is good at killing raptors, but he is also a terrific leader for his squad. He feels like he is atoning for some of the dirty missions he conducted while he was in U.S. Special Forces, before the invasion. He feels as if his hands will never be clean, and he doesn’t think he deserves happiness in general or Elle in particular.
Elle has her own demons to fight. As a spoiled party girl, Elle had no skills with which to fight off the raptors when they invaded her parents’ estate and killed them. Elle feels like she hid uselessly in a closet as she listened to her parents die, and has become a comms officer in order to battle past her own feelings of uselessness and worthlessness.
So when Marcus shoves her away, she interprets it as her worthlessness and not his need to protect. They make a very stubborn, but equally matched, pair.
The mission is one that showcases what humanity has lost, and at the same time bonds Elle with Marcus and with his whole unit.
The raptors have taken over a public library, because they are using the library’s data banks to translate human electronic documents into their language. They don’t just control the whole planet, they want to make sure that they wrest every scrap of technology out of it as well. These aliens are like interstellar locusts, they find a planet, kill its inhabitants and steal its technology, then fly away leaving their conquest a dead hulk in space.
But Elle is able to use the aliens attempt to reverse engineer English the other way. She gets enough of a start to reverse engineer the aliens’ language, and find their communications hub. The mission to take out the hub is an action-packed page turner that will keep any reader glued to their seat.
It’s impossible not to root for these stubborn humans to find a way to throw the aliens off of our world. And the fight has just begun.