Man, I really wanted to like this book, but it's just so-so. The first one was a lot of fun, if you skipped the "dream" chapters. The dream chapters, as many have noted, are garbage. They're boring, long, and frankly cheesy. At best they are cliche fantasy drivel. Why anyone who lived in the modern hyper advanced sci-fi world that Hamilton describes would want leave that and move to the bass-akwards world of the Void, I will never know. I'm a sci-fi reader, why would I ever find some backwoods world fascinating? I suppose you can chalk it up to religious zealots being their usual crazy selves, but even that is a stretch.
The book jacket describes the Void as an idyllic paradise, but it's not even close. If it were, the premise of the book would work beautifully. Everyone would want to go there to escape the pressure of the modern world. But as Hamilton paints it, it's a world that has ancient technology, where petty thugs rule, and violence and social inequality are the norm. It's feudal. Why would anyone want that life you ask? Beats me. I was willing to go with it in the first book. In fact, since the dream sequences were so short, I just started skimming them in a few minutes, reading the first page and the last few pages and eventually not even reading them at all. You know what? The book really moved after that! Because the world outside the world was so fascinating, I was willing to accept the absurd premise that a whole faction of humans wanted to move to the Void, which would trigger a war with a powerful alien race and the Void's expansion, which would slowly ear the galaxy.
Unfortunately, the second book is full of dream sequences that eat up half of the book. Guess what? The suck even worse, but now they're longer and skipping them meant I skipped half the book. I also started to notice something about half way through: I was no longer willing to suspend my disbelief that anyone would want to go to that backwards world and it started to ruin everything. I kept hoping this paradise would show itself, that the Void world would transform from a world of petty rivalries and thugs to something wonderful. It never did. Because I could no longer suspend my disbelief, I started reading it with a much more critical eye and its flaws became more and more apparent. Two problems become immensely clear when you start looking closely.
The first is that there is really not a single new character in the book, if you read the far superior Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, you know most of them. Since I loved those books, I automagically transferred my love of those characters to the new books, but as this second book started to fall apart for me, I realized that the new books really don't really add anything to those characters, or at least not much to them. So basically they are just comfortable and familiar, but they bring nothing new to the table. The second dreamer character and her boyfriend are fascinating, but they're not on stage enough and eventually she jettisons her boyfriend to run from living dream and with that, jettisons most of what made her interesting, which is her near conversion to Multiplism, a surgery that makes a single personality into a group of people. What a fascinating concept! But sadly, it is abandoned in this book and she never makes the conversion to join her multiple boyfriend.
The second problem is that nothing happens in this book. The plot doesn't move forward much. The Living dream movement hunts the second dreamer and the aliens "prepare" to attack for hundreds of pages. Oh and the surprise allies of the hostile aliens are obvious from the jump, so there is no mystery or surprise when they are revealed. Nobody really attacks, which makes me wonder why I shouldn't have just skipped this book and gotten to the action in last one, which will hopefully move the plot along. Oh yeah and Paula "discovers" that the Cat is loose again. So what? We already knew that, since Hamilton shows us a scene with the Cat in the last book. That means Paula spends about 100 pages uncovering a "mystery" that we already know the answer to. Horrible.
At his best Hamilton is a fantastic world builder. He gives us fascinating concepts and big galaxy spanning space opera. Unfortunately, at his worst, his plots just don't work. The Night's Dawn trilogy almost ruined Hamilton for me. It started off fantastic and then the horrible plot of the dead coming back to life comes out. I threw it down in disgust. Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained redeemed him for me. Those books, while slow at times, made me keep coming back and finished with a satisfying crescendo. The Void trilogy, so far, is somewhere in the middle. The first books was great, if you skip the stupid dream sequences, the second one is middling at best, but you'll probably finish it anyway, like I did. Hopefully the last one lifts it back up where it belongs. And here's hoping they just obliterate the stupid Void and all of it's petty little inhabitants with some super secret galaxy buster bomb! Go Raiel! Stop that lame Void! While they're at it they can throw Jar Jar Binks in there first and then blow it all up, single handedly wiping out two series killing abominations in one foul swoop. A man can dream can't he?!? :)