IN SHORT: A member of a prestigious family of clones has been murdered, stabbed through the heart with a very unusual murder weapon. Twenty years ago, a similar murder occurred, ending in the conviction of Angela Tramelo. Only, she’s still in jail and continues to claim an alien did it.
WHAT IT IS: Massive in scope and rich in detail, Peter F. Hamilton crafts an intricate and believable universe with interesting characters to populate it. The world of St. Libra is one of the best realized space colonies I’ve ever read, and is where a huge portion of this 900+ page epic takes place.
WHAT IT IS NOT: This novel is neither short nor fast. Hamilton takes the story at his own pace, building the world and preparing the reader for the inevitable payoff. Things plod a bit. There are also a lot of flashbacks, which tend to disrupt the momentum even further.
WHAT I THOUGHT: If you’ve read Peter F. Hamilton before, you know the drill. The first half of the novel is going to be on the slow side. There’s the expected avalanche of people, places, backstory, and technology. More plot threads appear than I have fingers to track them with, and I struggle to see how it’ll all fit together in the end.
And then in the second half, it does, followed by delicious payoff, payoff, payoff.
Only, that’s not quite what we get this time.
Yes, The Great North Road has a lot of world building, and that world building is done very well. The difference is in the world itself. This is a much more grounded setting in contrast to many of Hamilton’s previous novels. In fact, a huge portion of the first 400 or so pages are mostly dry police procedural work.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s well written police work. The story has the Hamilton depth that readers of his previous books (myself included) love. Except this time it just felt a bit flat to me. The only times I really got excited about the backstory were with sections involving the Zanth (an implacable alien swarm that devours planets), and the Zanth have something of a bit part in this novel.
Not only that, but large sections of the book go by where very little new is learned about the main plot (i.e. the murder mystery and the possible alien connection). There are literally hundreds of pages where the police are like “Find anything new?” “Nope.” “Find anything new yet?” “Nope.”
But those complaints aside, I still enjoyed the book. Yes, it was slow for my tastes, but it’s well written with great characters and an interesting central plot. That plot can plod a bit, but it’s still a cool mystery. I just wish there were more scenes like the one with the Thunderthorn space fighters against the Zanthswarm. I could read a whole novel of those.