The Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Great North Road UK

Bane of Kings writes a review of Peter F. Hamilton’s latest novel, the sci-fi epic  The Great North Road, published by Del Ray Spectra in the US.

“Whilst The Great North Road is superbly written, it takes a while to get going.” ~The Founding Fields

Peter F. Hamilton is an author who I’ve never read anything by before. So when The Great North Road was available on NetGalley, I seized the chance to request it – and once I got my request approved, I instantly started reading, going in with high expectations. And were they met? To a certain extent yes, but it did disappoint me in some ways, chief among them the pacing. Normally, I don’t mind slow burners – but there’s slow burners, and then there’s The Great North Road. Don’t go into it expecting to finish it anytime soon, as it took me over a week to finish it as an ebook – and I’d say that I’m a fast reader. But in a way, I kind of expected it to be slow, after all – I’m yet to encounter a novel that’s as large as this that has been fast-paced all the way through. In fact, I think The Great North Road, standing in at 1100 pages on the hardback version published by Macmillan according to Goodreads, may just be the longest standalone novel that I’ve read. Ever.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra. Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo. But the expedition is cut off, deep within St Libra’s rainforests. Then the murders begin. Someone or something is picking off the team one by one. Angela insists it’s the alien, but her new colleagues aren’t so sure. Maybe she did see an alien, or maybe she has other reasons for being on St Libra … This is a stunning standalone adventure, by a writer at the height of his powers.

Yeah, the blurb’s big. This is unashamedly sci-fi from one of the most famous sci-fi writers out there today. Peter F. Hamilton’s novel, although it could have been slimmed down a bit – on reflection, I could have skipped most of the first half of the book before the things really kick off, and he didn’t really have to describe everything as in depth as he did. But those are essentially, the only real gripes that I had with The Great North Road.

Everything else, I loved. The characters, particularly Angela – are some of the stronger elements of the novel and they grow and change as the book goes on. The world building was fantastic, and you can tell that Peter F. Hamilton has not made this up as he went along, with a planned plot and some interesting setting allow for a complex mystery which can only escalate as the novel goes on. Angela’s story is much more crucial to the plot though than the Investigation in Newcastle, and though there were some enjoyable scenes in that half of the story and Sid is a likable character, it just doesn’t really have enough support to make it stand in comparison to Angela’s adventures, if you get what I mean.

Maybe this book was probably not the best place for me to start reading Peter F. Hamilton, but I’m open to give him another chance, especially as for the most part I really enjoyed it. Hamilton’s prose is great and his characters sound like real people, and some of them are really connectable. You want to root for both the main protagonists, Sid and Angela – and you want to get behind them. Although they may not be particularly memorable, they still manage to be strong characters. The rest of the large cast isn’t really delved into in as much depth and I can barely remember any of their names, but the most important characters are Sid and Angela.

If you’re a fan of detective stories and science fiction, then you should enjoy The Great North Road. Whilst it may not be a light read, you should enjoy the most part of it. The detective fans will warm to Sid’s whodunnit half of the story over Angela’s, but for the most part – they’re both interesting to read about if one of them is ultimately unnecessary to the overall plot.  Whilst this may not be the best sci-fi novel I’ve read in 2012, (beaten by Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear and James SA Corey’s Caliban’s War), it’s probably the third or fourth – and I’ve read a fair amount of sci-fi this year. Not as much I would have liked to, but still several amounts.

Verdict: 4/5

Note: I used the US version through NetGalley, but have decided to supply this particular review with the UK Cover because not only am I based in the UK, but I think I prefer it. If you want to have a look at the US one, it’s here.

 

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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