Hamilton's exhilarating new opus proves that "intelligent space opera" isn't an oxymoron. By the 24th century, the vast human Commonwealth has spread from Earth via artificial wormholes. Various benign or seemingly indifferent alien races have been encountered during exploration of new planets, but an astronomer sparks curiosity by announcing that a pair of stars is enclosed by a mysterious energy barrier. Unfortunately, a space expedition discovers that the shield was created to imprison an insatiably greedy mass mind that sees any other race as a mortal threat. When the barrier somehow is lowered, the alien immediately attacks the largely unprepared Commonwealth, while humans begin wondering if yet another inhuman power has manipulated events that unleashed this threat. The author deftly juggles many characters in multiple plot lines, sometimes slowing down the action briefly, at other times racing forward. Revelations late in the book will have readers scurrying back to earlier pages to reinterpret what they initially thought. Not many SF writers are capable of tackling such a big project so confidently. In this respect, Hamilton (Fallen Dragon) resembles a less cheery but very tech-savvy—and extremely paranoid—Charles Dickens. Given the abrupt cliffhanger of an ending, some may prefer to save this massive installment until the story's conclusion, Judas Unleashed, appears next year. Anyone who begins this one, however, probably won't be able to put it down.
Hamilton creates a dense, thoroughly defined twenty-fourth-century world, in which humanity has colonized the stars, thanks to the discovery of wormhole travel, and established a successful commonwealth. The species has even encountered aliens and space-faring artifacts. One remaining mystery is the barrier around stars known as the Dyson Pair. Human curiosity still being what it is, a spaceship capable of faster-than-light travel (thanks to those wormholes again) goes to investigate. When what's behind the barrier is discovered, the thrill-ride really starts. Aliens formerly trapped inside it, fighting over limited resources, are freed to invade human space. Unfortunately, that is more or less where this book leaves us, but a sequel is in the works. Hamilton's attention to character development makes the slow buildup to a dizzyingly destructive denouement rewarding, and all the little subplots and threads one hopes will be tied back to the main thread keep it complex and engaging. Hamilton is never simple, and even his aliens are well written, complex creations with their own motivations.