Review: Return to Dark Earth by Anna Hackett

return to dark earth by anna hackettFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction romance
Series: Phoenix Adventures #7
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Anna Hackett
Date Released: September 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, GoodreadsAmazon

His career plan never included becoming one of the galaxy’s most infamous treasure hunters. And it certainly never included his one weakness: Nera Darc.

Astro-archeologist Niklas Phoenix loved his job studying and safeguarding artifacts at the Institute of Historical Preservation…until he learned that it was all a lie. Forced out of the Institute, he joins his treasure hunter brothers, but now the Institute is trying to lure him back for the ultimate treasure hunt–a return to the planet that seeded life throughout the galaxy. But only one thing convinces him to go–his deadly, seductive rival has joined the expedition.

Dangerous and enigmatic, Nera Darc has made a life for herself where she calls the shots and bows to no one. Niklas Phoenix has become her dark obsession and on the lethal mission to Earth, they are compelled to join forces to survive. But Niklas threatens to tear down Nera’s internal walls and melt the ice around her heart…but she knows caring for someone is just a weakness others can exploit.

As Nik and Nera strip away each other’s secrets, a brilliant passion is unleashed, but the dangers of Earth strike from every side, and a darker enemy is closing in.

My Review:

This one definitely had its scary moments. It was totally awesome, but there were points where I was completely creeped out. All in the service of an excellent story. One that reminds me a bit of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. It felt like I met the Morlocks, and they are us.

The Phoenix Adventures are all about the Phoenix Brothers, and occasionally their cousins, who are intergalactic treasure hunters (think Han Solo’s time period combined with Indiana Jones’ profession, and if you envision a young Harrison Ford it doesn’t hurt – at all!)

in the devils nebula by anna hackettSo far, two of the Phoenix Brothers, Dathan and Zayn, have found their true loves, In At Star’s End (review) and In the Devil’s Nebula (review) but their youngest brother Niklas has been left out in the cold. He left his career as an astro-archaeologist behind when he discovered that the famous Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation is run by a bunch of cut-throat, corrupt smugglers. He decided to join his brothers and do honest treasure hunting instead. All ironies intended. The prestigious Institute is a gang of thieves, and he and his brothers, mercenary treasure hunters, are pretty much above board.

He’s also too wrapped up in the mysterious treasure-hunter Nera Darc to find someone else he could love the way that his brothers do their wives. The way that Darc keeps showing up in their hunts and either stealing the prize right out from under them, or helping to save their lives (sometimes both), keeps Nik hoping for more.

Then the Institute, his former employers, recruit him for a treasure hunt of their own. When Darc joins the expedition, Nik can’t resist. Not that he was resisting much in the first place. The expedition is going to be the first to go back to old Earth, our Earth, to see what artifacts might be left after centuries of nuclear winter.

The last expedition to even observe the cradle of humanity from space found only black seas, grey land and lethally high radiation. Earth has gone dark.

But as Nik’s expedition discovers, not as dead as everyone thought. Just deadly enough that their expedition is going to leave more than a few bodies on its surface. The only question is whether one of those bodies will be Nik’s, with Nera Darc right beside him.

Or has the corrupt Institute finally over-extended its filthy reach?

at stars end by anna hackettEscape Rating A-: For those of us who have been with this series from the beginning At Star’s End, it’s been a long and wild ride to get to this glorious finish.

And it was so worth it.

There have always been questions about what exactly happened with Nik and the Institute. He gave up the career he loved, but he didn’t fight to right the wrongs he uncovered. That’s not Nik. That’s not any of the Phoenix Brothers. It was terrific to finally get the answers to exactly what went wrong. It was even better to have those wrongs finally come right.

There has also always been a question (or two or three dozen) about Nera Darc and why she finds it necessary to keep taunting the Phoenix Brothers and especially why she keeps teasing Nik. She obviously has some feelings beyond simple rivalry, but she never sticks around long enough for Nik to explore them. She’s the one that keeps getting away, and he needs to figure out why or find a way to move past her. This expedition is Nik’s chance to get to know Nera and discover if all that teasing can possibly lead to something more.

The revelations of Nera’s background are heart-breaking. That she uses her past pain to help someone else in need is a wonderful part of the story, and shows how much she has healed. The fits and starts in her developing relationship with Nik show just how far she still needs to go.

But in the middle of the building romance, there is the expedition. While it is pretty clear from the beginning who is gunning for Nik (and who else is gunning for Nera), some of the ulterior motives were a surprise. Not that expedition leader Avril didn’t come off as way too good to be true, but the depths of what she was covering up were deeper and more disgusting than I imagined.

The story of the expedition itself, both what they find and how they find it, chilled me to the bone. The portrait of the post-apocalyptic dark Earth is appropriately awful. The explanations of how things got to their final pass make all too much sense.

But what they see is frightening. The results of screwing it all up so very badly. At first, they believe that our world is dead. Then they discover that it is much, much worse. And also slightly better, but in a very twisted way.

The landscape is against them, and so is the extremely mutated wildlife. The oceans are black, and the land consists of black sand blast radii and deadly and mutated plant life, with even more mutated and deadly animal life. It’s a world that has turned on itself and turns on anyone who tries to discover its secrets.

Their final attempt at wrenching out some of the planet’s secrets says way more about them than it does about what they discover. The Institute attempts a rape of cultural misappropriation on an epic scale, and it finally bites them in the ass. Just because people seem primitive doesn’t mean that they aren’t way better at exploiting their environment than you are. It also doesn’t mean that they aren’t better people than you are. Technological superiority does not mean actual superiority.

The scenes of the surviving human population did remind me of the Morlocks in H.G. Wells Time Machine, and seemed all too plausible, where Wells did not.

And in this case, it wasn’t just that the so-called natives had way more moral superiority than the Institute, it was that in this case they managed to prevail. Technological superiority turned out not to mean more civilized. Or even more human.

Reviewer’s note: I am reviewing this a bit early, because I just couldn’t stand to wait. The complete blurb and the buy links will be added next week when they become available. If you love this series, or science fiction romance, you’ll understand why I couldn’t hold back. 

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