Wide-screen baroque space opera, as Brian Aldiss would have put it. The story takes a while to get going, especially as Reynolds keeps prefacing chapters with a location and and a date, some of which seem to be set out to confuse, given that spaceflight in this universe is relativistic; it also does not help when he says that a chapter is set in location A and then the action moves to location B half-way through. Perhaps if I’d read the first quarter of the book in longer sittings, I wouldn’t have struggled so much with it to start with.
But once things get into their stride, the story moves on pretty well. The main protagonist, Dan Sylveste, is an archaeologist but also dabbles in politics – think Indiana Jones meets Vladimir Putin. And his focus shifts from archaeology to politics very soon into the novel. He isn’t exactly a sympathetic character; but then again, most of the characters in this book aren’t; perhaps the exception to this is Pascale, Sylveste’s wife – though she seems to be in the novel for other characters to bounce info-dumps off of.
But the novel works very well on a nuts-and-bolts level, with the tech being very believable (I particularly liked the way that most of the tech was extrapolated from identifiable present-day knowledge, and some of the tech was recognisably present-day – after all, we use some things which are recognisably the same after 100, 150 or even 200 years; Reynolds recognises that and not everything in his universe gets a snazzy renaming to brand the book as “sci-fi”). At the end of the book – which I devoured in a late-night sitting that went on longer than I intended – the plot touches on matters relating to the Singularity (though Reynolds does not describe it as such) and the Fermi Paradox, suggesting that Reynolds tends towards the view that if the cosmic telephone rings, we’d be better off not answering it.
So to sum up, a gripping read once you get into the mind-set of the writer and don’t mind stumbling over occasional info-dumps, shoe-horning lots and lots and LOTS of ideas into the story, and heavyweight prose where Reynolds was perhaps trying too hard in his first novel.