After five Extinction Cycle novels (and a sixth on the way!), Hell Divers, the first installment in a brand-new series from Nicholas Sansbury Smith, is a refreshing change of pace. While it has all the hallmarks of Smith's usual brand of brimstone and bullets, its premise goes a long way in making this a distinct entry in this author's oeuvre.
In both the Orbs and Extinction Cycle books, Smith approaches his doomsday scenarios as fresh threats to humanity on the brink of destruction with The End Of The World As We Know It just right around the corner or rapidly in progress. In Hell Divers, the apocalypse has already happened and, two hundred years after Trump's presidency later, mankind has been reduced to roughly a thousand souls spread out across two airships, the Ares and the Hive. The Earth below them is a radioactive wasteland, the skies treacherous with the constant threat of electrical storms. After Ares is damaged, the Hell Divers (think futuristic paratroopers with wildly short lifespans) aboard the Hive are sent on a rescue mission. Soon enough, they find out the ground is not as lifeless as they thought, as marauding bands of vicious creatures they dub Sirens are out to get them.
One thing Smith does exceptionally well are action scenes, and there's plenty of those to go around here as Xavier Rodriguez (otherwise known as X) and his team do battle across frozen wastelands, and the shipboard Militia stave off homegrown threats, as well as more elemental troubles. When the Divers do their diving, there's some legitimate excitement to the sequences and Smith does a terrific job describing this horrific adrenaline rush. Ground combat is equally fierce, although the Sirens could use a little more oomph. As a fan of the Extinction Cycle series, I didn't find these mutant killers quite as intriguing as the Variants. However, with two more books on the way, Smith certainly has plenty of space left to flesh out the concepts introduced here.
On the character front, X is the strong dashing male hero, and Captain Ash is the strong-willed woman in charge of the Hive - both are great characters, and get their own moments to shine. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about these characters, as well as their lives aboard ship, and the ten-year-old Tin has all the makings of a heroic prodigy if he survives all the threats life in the skies brings.
There's a lot about Hell Divers that feels comfortably familiar, but Smith freshens it up with a new coat of paint and shakes up the formula of his previous series enough to avoid feeling derivative of his other apocalyptic military thrillers. I think he's on to the start of something that could be pretty bold here, and I'm excited to see what he has in store for the Hive, and readers, with future installments. Onward and upward!
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]