Mel Odom,
Hellgate: London: Exodus
(Pocket Star, 2007)

Setting: Earth, in the year 2038. A rift in reality has opened in the skies over London, England, and in comes a horde of horrifying creatures that methodically and rapidly devastate the city, killing anyone they catch and transforming areas of London into a nightmarish swamp of bubbling acid pools. They seem unstoppable.

But is it true that no was prepared for this to happen? It turns out that at least two groups were indeed prepared. During the time of the Crusades, there were stories of demons appearing and joining the battle between the Christians and the Moslems, capitalizing on the existing mayhem and killing participants on both sides. In response, the Knights Templar, entrusted with finding and guarding the Holy Grail, also began preparing for a possible return of these demons. Even though the Templars were officially disbanded centuries ago, they did not just cease to exist. Instead, they went underground, continued to train in battle skills, studied what little was known of the demons and worked on enhancing their skills and their weapons with religiously-based magic.

The Knights Templar were not alone, though, in their interest in the demons. Another group, the Cabalists, were fascinated with them. The Cabalists did not view the demons as evil opponents of humanity, but as powerful beings from another realm that were highly dangerous but could also be the source of powerful information that might elevate humanity to a new stage of development. The Cabalists also studied the demons, practiced dark magics and awaited their coming.

When the demons began pouring through the rift, nicknamed the Hellgate, the Knights Templar emerged from hiding and tried to defeat them along with the conventional military forces. Neither was successful, but neither was eliminated. The Cabalists also stepped out of the shadows to some extent and began avidly studying the demons, as much as they could without getting mangled, dismembered and eaten.

Hellgate: London: Exodus is the first book in a trilogy, telling the tale of the arrival of the demons and humanity's varying responses to their presence. The story focuses mainly on two main characters: Simon, a young Templar Knight who had forsaken his vows and training, but returns when the arrival of the demons proves his years of training were not pointless, as he had thought; and Warren, a basically good young man with a troubled past and significant emotional baggage, who initially spends time with the Cabalists but is eventually wooed by a powerful demon who wants to use Warren in exchange for tremendous power and status.

The Templars do not trust the Cabalists, as they see them as sympathetic toward the demons and naively over-confident about trying to learn from and maybe even control them. The Cabalists distrust the Templars, whom they see as too willing to throw away a potential boon to mankind. The Templars do not fully trust Simon, as he once turned from them, and Simon sees the Templar hierarchy as too rigid and not focused enough on saving the innocent. Warren initially sides with the Cabalists; he does not want to be totally seduced by the evil of the demon that seeks to use him, but can he ignore what the demon can give him in return?

Even amongst the demons, there is not a uniform force. There are hints of internal power-plays, sectarian conflicts and the underlying questions of where they are from and whether they came here or were sent, and why.

I have read several of Mel Odom's books, including The Quest for the Trilogy and several Rogue Angel books (written under the name Alex Archer), and all of them feature interesting, non-standard characters who have definite quirks. All of the books feature complex plots involving different factions that are not clearly good or evil. Hellgate: London: Exodus fits these descriptions well, but with no feel of being formulaic or worked from a template.

Odom provides a complicated plot, rich with detail and populated by three-dimensional characters, yet the pace remains quite fast, with no slow spots. Some of the action scenes are almost overwhelming, especially near the end of the book. Another aspect I like is the characters have moments of reflection during which they work to reconcile what they are doing with what they believe.

[ visit the author's website ]

review by
Chris McCallister

2 August 2008

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