"Hellhole" fits the label epic to a T--with a cast of thousands, multiple storylines, etc. At its heart, it's the story of a General outcast after losing a battle for freedom against a ruthless dictator. Settled with his supporters on a barren planet considered almost uninhabitable, he's managed to make a life there and even some allies. Now he's on the verge of unleashing his great plan: "Destination Day," a new declaration of freedom. As the General, Tiber Adolphus, and his underlings make final preparations, a new set of outcasts arrive to call Halholme, aka Hellhole, their home. When two of them make a startling discovery, events unfold which could change everything.
My biggest criticisms with this book are: 1) it unfolds slowly. It took a while to hook me because of the sheer number of characters and storylines which the authors must introduce. The plot really didn't start rolling until midway because of it. 2) Keeping track of the characters was a real headache early on. I wish they'd unfolded them a little less rapidly to allow me time to own them. It would have avoided requiring me to flip back and forth to remind myself who they are at times.
However, once the concepts and characters have been introduced, the story gets rolling and it hooks you. There are well drawn characters you will care about with a mission you root for. There's some real inventiveness at work here, with ideas about the aliens and how they preserve their society and about interplanetary travel which I hadn't seen before. Some of the ideas are quite complex but are explained well and simply and easy to grasp. The last half moved at a much quicker pace, and I found I couldn't put it down as I raced to the end. Ironically, I still have to wait as this is only book 1 in a series and the great battle the book sets up won't really start until the next book.
I think Herbert and Anderson have left themselves a lot of options. The battle itself could stretch out multiple books and beyond that, they've created a universe with plenty of story possibilities. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more books coming out in this setting.
An enjoyable read with some interesting ideas and good worldbuilding and characterization. If you like space opera, especially big epic stories, this will no doubt satisfy.