The first two-thirds of this novel plods along. I didn’t mind because the series started out great and moved along so well.
Then, suddenly, pow! A couple of betrayals, and things start really moving fast. Literary whiplash it was, and it didn’t let up until the last page when readers are left wondering about what future adventure is in the cards for the main characters.
The prose can get a bit dense at times. The presentation of the different accents can get tiring. I read the predecessor a year-and-a-half ago, and I might have followed things a little more tightly had I reread it last week. There’s a flavor of history and language that I love. Maybe the author gave away too many baubles in the middle of the book. A hundred centuries or so have altered old star names, and I caught all those names except Bhaitry for Beta Hydri.
Some characters make it to Earth in this book, and they and the reader find it in the grip of an Ice Age, an interesting and counter-intuitive (and likely, I think) result of climate change. And some further mysteries are hinted at or even uncovered.
I saw a couple of amateur reviews who panned the book, admitting they didn’t read the preceding novels.
Unless an author puts a disclaimer “This book stands alone so you don’t need to read the others,” assume you have to read the others. Assume it, then read them. Author and publisher want you to blow your cash on it–take that to the bank.
This whole “spiral arm series,” January Dancer, Jim River, Lion’s Mouth, all have the feel of being a single work, a long, drawn-out four-act narrative. You see a lot of this in science fiction these days: a humongous read that publishers and the occasional author realize can be broken down into component parts and sold off for more enrichment.
Economic cynicism aside, I highly recommend these books. I borrow most books from the public or university library these days. So if Michael Flynn splits up his adventures into four books or more, I’m good with that.
In my review of book three (linked above) I wondered about the place of religion in the future narratives of science fiction. Mr Flynn’s “robes” make an appearance as mendicant philosophers. I hope that Christianity will be something more than theology-on-the-road for the very small future Church. Christianity will always be a big player, as long as human beings live.