Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Book Review: Aaru: Halls of Hel by David Meredith

Goodreads Summary:  Rose is a Veda.
In Elysian Industries’ virtual paradise of Aaru, that means she’s practically a goddess. She is immortal. She is powerful. A limitless paradise is hers and her friends’ to command. They are free from sickness and pain, old age and death. She should be ecstatic over her prestige and privilege, but the gilded utopia has lost its luster.

In a reality where anything can be hers with a thought, and Rose can master any skill instantly with nothing but her imagination, to what can she still aspire? She has all of eternity to fill, but what will her purpose be? Rose adores her sweet, Latin boyfriend, Franco. She loves wiling away endless immaculate days with her friends, but shouldn’t there be more to life than mere play? Also, Rose is dogged by a deep concern for her little sister, Koren, the Elysian Industries spokes-model and reality star back in the “Before” world.

Though Koren is wealthy, famous, and idolized by millions of adoring fans, her life is spinning out of control. Her parents’ marriage is on the rocks, and the boyfriend of her dreams, Jonas Perry, seems suddenly indifferent. Koren finds her celebrity increasingly isolating, her grueling work schedule exhausting, and the constant scrutiny of her personal life unwelcomed and intrusive. To top it all off, she has regular nightmares about the death of her friend, Kiku, and the still-at-large Magic Man who nearly stole away her everything.

Koren and Rose have more to fear from this quarter than they know. Magic Man’s obsession with the teen idol has not lessened, and he is far from defeated. With vital aid from an unexpected source, his nefarious schemes to make Koren his own and to hack the Aaru mainframe are on track and moving forward. Unless the sisters can thwart his sinister designs, everyone and everything the girls hold dear could be destroyed.

Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars with 22 ratings
Genre Listing: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Psychological Science Fiction
Get the Book: Amazon
Goodreads Reading Challenge: 32/30
2018 reading challenge: #38, a book that takes place in Australia ( Find 2018 here and 2019's just released challenge here.)


First off, I want to thank author Dr. David Meredith for asking me to do a review of his work and sending me a copy of Aaru: Halls of Hel in exchange. This is the third of his works that I've reviewed, second in the Aaru Cycle. You can find the other reviews here: AaruThe Reflections of Queen Snow White

So, I cheated just a bit on where I placed this on the 2018 reading challenge.  There's only a small portion of the story that actually takes place in Australia, but there are two secondary characters who are from Australia. Therefore, I'm counting it. I also have no idea if Psychological Science Fiction is an actual genre, but it fits this book so perfectly.

I honestly procrastinated on starting Halls of Hel quite a bit. There's a character called Magic Man in the first book that just gave me the creeps. I knew he was going to reappear in Halls of Hel and it made me hesitant to pick it up. I will say that I think knowing that going into it helped because he didn't bother me nearly as much. He's still utterly vile, but in Halls of Hel, there's actually a glimpse into why, which I thought was interesting. 

Halls of Hel turns the Aaru system upside down when Magic Man and a mysterious man named Atem infiltrate the Elysian's security defenses implanting their own Lady of Aaru, Hel. She's programmed to create complete mayhem for the Aaru residents. I found myself really drawn to Hel as a character. She is quite literally half hate and half love, which makes for a fascinating dynamic.

You know how some books have quotes about the book from other authors? If I gave Aaru Halls of Hel one, it'd be "Creative and disturbing." The sci-fi aspect of this book is so incredibly creative. You've got people's brain scans being uploaded so that they can be preserved in death combined with how this is achieved, as well as all of the things that can be done in Aaru. On the flip side of it, you have so many topics that just one in a book could mess with readers. I actually made a list of all of the psychological/social/taboo issues I could think of that were displayed in Halls of Hel. I'm sure I didn't even find half of them. I'm pretty sure there's a slight reference to Ed Gein as well, but I could be reading too much into that. The way that Dr. Meredith has created a genuinely terrifying and cringe-worthy character in Magic Man makes me a little concerned for his sanity.  Seriously, David, are you ok?

Here's a look at some of the issues I took notice of. I'll make comments about some of them, but not all.

  1.  Death and afterlife- obviously this is the main theme of the series. Rose dies in the first chapter or two in the first book in the cycle. She gets to create a new life in Aaru, and her family still gets to see and interact with her in a way.
  2.  Religion- In both books, there is a constant battle between the scientists of Elysian and Senator James Rook, a boisterous religious politician who feels that Aaru is playing God.
  3. Racism- Gypsie Johnson's reaction to Franco, Rose's boyfriend.
  4. Gun Violence
  5. Mental illness- this is addressed periodically as Aaru was intended to be a way to cure mental illness and many residents are quarantined due to this fact. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, it makes me kind of think about the invisible wall that's put up around it mental illness and talking about it. 
  6. Rape
  7.  Substance Abuse
  8. Child abuse and neglect
  9. Murder
  10. Pedophilia
  11. Emotional abuse/ manipulation of one's emotions and feelings
  12.  The concept of having a purpose in one's life. Rose and other Aaru residents struggle with this a lot. Life in Aaru is not the same as living in the "Before" world. Purposes change if there's even one in Aaru.
  13. Celebrity Obsession- Obviously Koren becomes famous and the object of Magic Man's desires because of it. But there's also her obsession with Jonas. Our culture's obsession with reality tv. 
  14. Narcissism
  15.  Suicide
  16. Being the victim and wanting revenge or using it as an excuse vs. turning it into something productive
These are just what I noticed and could remember at four am when I was jotting my notes down. I could even be reading too much into it, or not far enough into it. Either way, it's clever, and there is a whole lot to deal with in this book. I kind of just sat there after finishing it wondering what the hell I just read. That's not an insult at all, it just made me really think. I pieced together what the final cliffhanger was going to be, and it still surprised the hell out of me. How is that even possible?

If you want an interesting, yet highly intelligent read check out the Aaru cycle. It's enjoyable, disturbing, and will make you think. Of the two books so far, Halls of Hel is by far my favorite in the cycle. I can't wait to read the next installment. I feel like I need to go calm my brain down and read Cat in the Hat or something now. 

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