In the final moments of the third Hell Divers novel, Deliverance, Nicholas Sansbury Smith promised to change up the formula a bit and deliver a fourth novel covering some terrain we hadn't seen too much of in this sky- and radioactive wastelands-focused series. Smith immediately delivers on that promise in the opening chapter of Wolves, shifting the focus of his series from the deadly skies to the equally terrifying seas.
As a fan of aquatic horror and survival at sea stories, this is very much a welcome expansion to the Hell Divers canon, but it's not all smooth sailing for the book's characters. Xavier "X" Rodriguez and his partner Magnolia Katib has hit the high seas on a mission of revenge, aiming to track down the Cazadores, a cannibalistic cult of killers, and lead the small remnants of humanity of the Metal Islands, possibly the closest thing left to paradise on Earth.
Although X's adventures by boat are a large part of Wolves's focus, Smith hasn't forgotten about the airships and their crew. The addition of the airship Deliverance has helped make life more comfortable for those aboard the Hive, but they can't get too cozy just yet. After all, it wouldn't be a very exciting story if half the book's characters were able to just lounge about sipping tea. There's still plenty of action left for those characters in the skies, and the fresh squadron of Hell Divers manage to find themselves in way over their heads in short order.
Smith keeps this book running right from the opening pages, with the pace cranked all the way up to frenetic, juggling some big action set pieces between both the A- and B-plots. Wolves is a fast, energetic read, and it's easy to sink into the narrative. The climax is exciting as hell with its Mad Max-at-sea action - a welcome source of post-apocalyptic inspiration, and one I hope Smith elaborates on further in the next book.
However, with a fifth Hell Divers title on the way in the first half of 2019, a lot of Wolves feels like prelude, giving it a middle-child vibe a lot of series suffer from. Wolves cannot resolve all of its plot elements, and much of what's here is set-up for Captives, purportedly the series finale, to resolve. That said, Smith certainly packs Wolves full of new material, expanding on the historical record of his series and introducing some new and highly durable threats that I hope to see more of soon.
Between the change of scenery and a few new enemies for X and his fellow Hell Divers to confront, Smith has injected a welcome bit of freshness into the end-game of his series. Wolves sets the stage for the grand finale, but as the Hell Divers series as a whole has shown, for Smith, the sky isn't the limit - it's just a good place to start.
[Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this title from the author.]
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