Panoply keeps the peace between the ten thousand independent habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone. Its prefects can only enforce rules governing relationships between habitats and ensure that all citizens are allowed to vote on cross-habitat issues. Sometimes prefects see things they would prefer not to see, but they cannot interfere.
Field Prefect Tom Dreyfus comes across as a 20th century private detective. He is smart, weary, cynical, and doesn't make diplomacy his first priority. He and his two deputies enforce Panoply's mandates. Thalia Ng is inexperienced, grateful to work with Dreyfus, and eager to prove herself. The other deputy is a hyperpig. (This is science fiction, remember.) Sparver is tough, loyal, and grimly tolerant of verbal abuse from people who don't like pigs. Dreyfus and his team investigate the explosive destruction of the Ruskin-Sartorious habitat and loss of nearly a thousand lives. As the investigation proceeds they encounter betrayal, more mass murder, and a fascinating menagerie of characters with competing agendas.
The book follows a familiar crime-story plot line, enhanced by science fiction settings, people and technology. The "Glitter Band" civilization and the various habitat subcultures are inventive and spring some interesting surprises. Characters include artificial intelligences ranging from low-fidelity "beta-level" copies of humans to powerful, incomprehensible entities like the Clockmaker. Humans have technological enhancements as well as cultural and individual quirks. The most interesting tech tidbit is the prefect's "whiphound" weapon. Picture a lightsabre which exudes, instead of a truncated laser beam, a long metallic tendril. The tendril can be used as a whip, stiffened into a sword, or given instructions and allowed to slither away on an independent mission. Readers learn a lot about whiphounds.
The book delivers a good story and an enjoyable tour of a well-conceived science fiction setting. Although the story stands alone, it is well-integrated with the rest of Alistair Reynolds' Revelation Space
fiction. It answers a few questions from the series and raises a few more. Highly recommended as a good read.