Story: This is the first volume of a new fantasy series, "The Hidden Earth," by Peter David. It's an ambitious job, as he balances a storyline that spans over eons and includes -- even in just the main setting -- a cast of several dozen scattered among multiple races and around the world.
The First Wave of the Banished (from another dimension) showed up during the reign of the dinosaurs -- and engineered those reptiles' demise before turning on each other to similar extinction. The Second Wave occurred in the Bronze Age, and established a rich mythology for humans before they were eventually wiped out. The Third Wave was much, much larger, and the different Banished races -- cyclopean Oculars, vampiric Piri, reptilian Firedraques and Mandraques, subterranean Trulls, aquatic Merks and Markenes, and sundry other species -- were more than numerous and powerful enough to nearly wipe out humanity. Now, some centuries later, the Banished -- lorded over by the Overseer and his Traveller prison guards -- have reached a point of uneasy stability ... which means that plots and counterplots among all the Banished races are about to upset everyone's balance.
David takes a huge risk by spreading the focus to the four corners of the Earth (or the "Damned World," as the Banished call it, for an amusing reason). At times, especially early on, things seem blurry, as we jump from chapter to chapter and from location to location. By the end of the book, things have radically changed, and several of the major protagonists from the first half the novel are done in by the end of the second half. It's at a point where things are just starting to gel and snap into focus ... when the book ends. If the first third of the book feels weak, the last third more than makes up for it.
Which, I suppose, is a great way to encourage folks to pick up the next book.
David does a fine job of interweaving different mythologies, a post-apocalyptic world, a huge cast, and various personal tales into what seems initially diffuse but ultimately cracklingly solid storytelling. There's just enough hint of where things are headed, and what's actually going on (albeit with a bit of perhaps too-explicit exposition late in the game) to keep my interest in Book 2 high.
Characters: As mentioned, there's a ton of characters. The herd is trimmed substantially by the end, as various plots blow up (more or less literally) in people's faces.
The huge cast means that most folks are only lightly sketched out -- on the surface at least. Looking back at it, David manages to make nearly everyone engaging on some level. Even where the roles are shallow, the shallows are at least interesting.
That said, I still really wanted to read more about practically -- well, practically everyone. Which means they are good characters, but not ideally handled.
Re-Readability: I think I could read this one again fairly soon -- the later revelations will provide some level of interest in the foreshadowing. I also suspect that, wherever David is going in Book 2 (etc.), it will make rereading Book 1 both a pleasure and, perhaps, an obligation.
Overall: David is known for a number of things. A lot of imagination. A quick grasp of character. A wry sense of humor. All three of these are on display here, and David is really at the top of his game in each.
That said, I didn't like the book as well as I wanted to. While admiring David's ability to juggle a cast of many, it still suffered (perhaps inevitably, as a setup for where he plans to take us) from too many voices and perspectives. There's 3-4 interesting novels in this one, and cramming them together takes its toll, though David still manages to pull it off, overall.
I'd recommend the book to both Peter David and F/SF fans. 'Nuff said.