(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Abyss of the Void by Gamma Ray (Spotify, YouTube).
Pandora's Star is one of my favorite novels ever. Thus, when I had the opportunity of reading The Abyss Beyond Dreams, Peter F. Hamilton's new work, I didn't doubt it for a minute, although I hadn't read The Void Trilogy yet (more on this later).
The Abyss Beyond Dreams turned out to be a very good novel, if a bit uneven. The first part of the book is simply amazing: a fast-paced story, full of sense of wonder, mind-blowing ideas and spectacular artifacts. It could be read as a stand-alone and, had it been published independently, it would be, hands down, my favorite novella of the year. It is that good.
Then, the book has a quite abrupt change of pace, to the point that it almost seems to be written by a completely different person. The focus, that was previously set on a universal menace, moves to more parochial topics. This part is still very fun to read and, by the end, it merges quite nicely with the ideas of that first chapter, but I can't help feeling that the book could have worked equally well (or even better) if the Slvasta chapters had been reduced to a fraction of their size.
The fans of Hamilton will find many of his usual obsessions in The Abyss Beyond Dreams: secret invasions, psi-powers, conspiracies for power, brain and body-augmentation technologies, larger-than-life characters, a touch of horror and supernatural elements... If you have read Hamilton's work before you know what I'm talking about. Even small details such as the use of trains and fluvial barges as main means of transportation may remind you of his previous books. In fact, the novel is a crucible where the authors mixes many of his recurrent themes and topics to get an excellent result.
The book may seem, in a superficial reading, to be just a fun ride. And it certainly is extremely fun to read (it is, by no means short, yet I finished it in less than a week, possibly a personal record). But it also has a very interesting subtext concerning the use of power and whether the end justifies the means. In The Abyss Beyond Dreams this is evident in at least two different conflicts. On the one hand, we have the social injustice of Bienvenido, the planet where most of the action is set. On the other, Nigel Sheldon (yes, that Nigel Sheldon) is a character with so much power that is almost godlike. And, what is more interesting, he doesn't seem to have to answer to anybody but himself.
At least one reviewer has pointed out the similarities between Hamilton's Commonwealth and Iain M. Banks's Culture. In The Abyss Beyond Dreams this is especially evident in the (not very subtle) ways in which Nigel Sheldon influences the history of Bienvenido. It is almost impossible to read certain chapters of the book and not imagine him as a Special Circumstances agent (with drones and everything). That is, in my opinion, a very interesting aspect of the novel that should be not overlooked in what it implies on the moral and ethical fronts.
I mentioned above that I have not yet read The Void Trilogy, with which The Abyss Beyond Dreams shares the setting and some characters. I must say that the novel can be read and understood on its own. However, and I knew I was risking that, some revelations in The Abyss Beyond Dreams may have spoilt for me certain mysteries of the trilogy. I don't know if that is important enough as to recommend refraining from reading this novel until having finished The Void Trilogy (and the Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained duology), but at least I want to warn you.
All in all, I highly recommend The Abyss Beyond Dreams. It is a fun, fast-paced and full of sense of wonder novel, with a superb first chapter and some parts that could have benefitted from serious editing. If you've liked Hamilton's previous novels, you'll love it. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting for the conclusion of the story in Night Without Stars. Is it 2016 yet?