Book Review: Return to Dark Earth by Anna Hackett

Cover by Croco Designs

The time and place

Earth in our far future, as intimated by the title- it’s got all kinds of irradiated beasties and killer plants! The opening takes place on a jungle planet, Mazona V. There’s also some time aboard spaceships.

The suspension of disbelief

Nuclear war rendered Earth pretty much uninhabitable. The survivors escaped into space to found new colonies. Artifacts from Earth are considered valuable archaeological treasures.

The quick summary

Niklas Phoenix left the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation on acrimonious terms and took up treasure hunting with his brothers. The Institute has found him, though, and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: an expedition to Earth, with Nera Darc also going. Nik has a fascination with Darc he can’t get rid of, and he distrusts the Institute enough to join up to see what they are up to. Nera has always found Nik rare and intriguing, but their rivalry and the remnants of her own issues have kept them apart. Finally working together on the expedition, they have the luxury to decide what they mean to each other. But first, they have to survive zombies, giant mutant cats, acid-spitting plants, and internal sabotage.

My squees

Our protagonists, separately and together. Niklas is, as Nera says, a good man. The two have been tangling since the beginning of the series, and I do recommend reading the first three Phoenix Adventures books before this one for a little more background on them. Niklas makes a great Indiana Jones, scholar and adventurer, and his respect for Nera is evident even while dirty things are happening. I was a little worried Nera’s character would get watered down from what I read in earlier books, but those worries were put to rest (by zombies!). Nera Darc continues to be the baddest treasure hunter in the galaxy, with human issues that she’s somewhat dealt with, like most of us. She’s not completely trapped by her past but it does give her hangups. The way she falls for Nik and opens up to him feels natural, and her protectiveness (while trusting his competence and letting him stand on his own) made me feel all warm and cozy. They make an excellent team, and I cheered them on through the whole story.

The action is filmic. Chase scenes, booby traps, sword and gun fights, gladiator rings, it can make your head spin. With all that, I still somehow have a good idea as to the sequence of events. It’s more coherent than the majority of action movies I’m familiar with. Everything is consistent and ties together nicely. Heck, why isn't this a movie?

It’s also fun to see the radioactive world Hackett has built, abounding with monsters, mutants, treasures, and environmental hazards. The horrors are vivid and scary. The ruins of my beloved New York City got me thinking, “Could we really do this to ourselves someday?” We also make stops in savage Mexico and Peru, and I was always curious to see what the team would discover next!

My grumbles

The villains are shallow. Their motives are believable but not complex, and I believe there are actual villainous cackles. It’s a sharp contrast to the well-developed protagonists.

I am very burned out on zombies. These are well-done and not garden-variety, but they’re still zombies. Your mileage will vary a great deal.

Read if you

  • Enjoyed Uma Thurman’s action sequences in Kill Bill
  • Like a hero who isn’t intimidated by a lover who could slice him to ribbons
  • Spend time thinking about the ramifications of nuclear war
  • Like everyone to get what they deserve

Skip if you

  • Are allergic to zombies
  • Want to see all the different grays of morality
  • Need things slow and easy

Disclosure and final thoughts

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Also, I have a pronounced weakness for loyal scholarly types who like badass women on top. More books like this for me, please, I will buy all of them. You can read this book as a standalone story, but previous books do build up to it.

Author site: annahackettbooks.com

Resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Smashwords / ARE