(2008) Peter F. Hamilton, Macmillan, £18.99, hrdbk, 746pp, ISBN 978-1-4050-8883-1
The self-contained universe at the centre of our galaxy, the misleadingly named Void, has expanded and added further impetus to plans set in motion in the first book, and panic reigns in the world of the Intersolar Commonwealth. The Skylord, the being believed to allow humans entry into the Void, has reacted to Living Dream's emissary's rejection of the Void by subsuming more of our universe within its boundaries. The zealous members of Living Dream must now face the prospect of a prophet who has fouled up their religious pilgrimage. Representatives of highly advanced Earth factions have a potential threat to their mysterious plans. And the good guys (as always) now have plenty more threats to deal with, whilst unravelling an interstellar mystery in the process. In this episode, Hamilton tries to explore the world inside the Void, and reveal why it holds so much appeal to the Living Dream movement intent on getting there. As in The Dreaming Void, the novel is separated between the narrative in the Commonwealth and that within the Void, at some point in the past. When we left the Void last, idealistic police constable Edeard took the first step in stamping out crime from the city of Makkathran by using his substantial psychic powers to bring a notorious criminal to justice once and for all. But he soon learns that corruption extends all the way to the top levels of Makkathran's heirarchy, and his efforts will take him far beyond the streets of the city.
The story of Edeard 'the Waterwalker' takes up far more of the novel's 746 pages than the non-Void characters do, which is a shame because the story inside the Void just is not that compelling. His adventures are fairly repetitive; his attempts to rid the city of crime continually succeed, only to find another stumbling block in his way. Most of his problems are solved by his superhuman powers, which pretty much kills any suspense. On the one occasion that his fate is in question, he is saved by a tired SF cliché that has only undermined the story for me from hereon. That being said, I was absolutely gripped by the stories of the characters outside the Void. With the Second Dreamer revealed to be the innocent Araminta, she is suddenly thrust into the role of fugitive from some very capable authorities. Commonwealth agents fight to throw Living Dream off her trail, while trying to keep their own presence low-key, leading to some very entertaining high-tech action. All the while, factions within ANA use every underhand method available to them to set their plans in motion, engaging in a clandestine war in sheer determination to expose each other. It is a battle of wills as long time political opponents lock horns to outmanoeuvre one another. Their agents chase each other across planets, unearth disturbing clues to the nature of the bad guys' plans, throw one another off the right track, and indulge in some verbal sparring with some thinly-veiled threats. It is all quite engaging, but I was left feeling quite empty-handed at the end of the novel.
It could be that as the bridging novel of the trilogy, it is easy to pick fault with the lack of resolution, and all the mysteries will be wrapped up in the final volume. I just felt that I could have found more enjoyment in it if there was more action outside the Void. Edeard's narrative just did not engage me. It will be interesting to see what it is building up to, but I can only feel that there was a lot of superfluous world-building here.
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