Hamilton is a master of enormous storylines, well-known for his space opera series. This standalone novel isn’t quite as grand in its scope, but its still very ambitious in the size, span and complexity of its plot. It’s not a small book either.
Although it’s populated by a vast array of characters, the book is divided into two interlinked threads. In one, a Newcastle detective is investigating the murder of a North — a clone from a vast family that owns a huge empire — while the second follows a released prisoner onto a distant world as part of an expedition to locate an alien species, one thought responsible for the murder.
That is to over-simplify the story as it’s formed of numerous strands with lots of people feeding both their current motivations and their past into every aspect of the book.
From a purely technical standpoint it’s quite an achievement simply tracking all the moving parts and knitting them together. There are times when I found it a little frustrating, when I was interested in one thread only to be thrown into another, but as they begin to pull together I was frantically hoping between them.
The whodunnit aspect kept me guessing and the constant reveals of each character’s past also provided new revelations, sometimes changing my views on them.
Although set in the future, the book has a nostalgic, wistful feel due in part to the number of flashbacks it contains, but also the ending. There’s a sentimentality to it despite the often cold, gruesome events taking place.
It does seem to try hard to please the audience though and provide that feel-good factor. It read more like a Hollywood movie in places, like it had an eye on the box office and couldn’t drag everyone down too far.
I’ve criticised some of Hamilton’s previous work for its unnecessarily detailed and poetic prose, often for things that have no bearing on the plot. There’s a few hints of that here, but the worst has been reined in.
Towards the end, as the various strands begin to coalesce and culminate, I couldn’t put it down. I found myself staying up later than I should have and carving out time to read it beyond my normal routine. Praise doesn’t come any higher.
This isn’t hard sci-fi as such, though there’s some technical stuff for those who want it, but rather a murder mystery intertwined with stories about family and duty. A read I very much enjoyed.