Peter F Hamilton is the reason I read science fiction and the first novel in the Commonwealth Saga, Pandora’s Star, got me hooked on sci-fi back in 2004. Judas Unchained is the sequel and conclusion to the Commonwealth Saga, and weighs in at a hefty 960 hardback pages. I’ve read this one probably four or five times now since release and each time I enjoy it just as much, but I also have some of the same issues with it that I did the first time I read it back in 2005.
I must admit that when I started Judas Unchained I felt that the pacing was slightly out of kilter – not wrong, just slow compared to the high octane ending of the threads in Pandora’s Star. It becomes clear fairly quickly that we’re not going to get constant space battles and Prime fighting in this book, but more of an investigative story while guerrilla warfare tackles the Primes on the planets they invaded. The main focus of Judas Unchained is of revelations, the Starflyer being primary among these. Once it became clear at the end of Pandora’s Star that the Starflyer was indeed real and that Paula Myo was a believer of this, events started taking a turn towards finding just how much influence it has on Commonwealth society.
The threads that follow the more traditional space opera route are very compelling. As we join the mercenaries drafted to take the fight to the Primes on the Lost23 planets we get some great down and dirty fighting and tactics. This also leads onto some very interesting moments and the discovery that they make is a nice way to see a different point of view and get some more understanding of the invasion and the Primes. The space battles are equally amazing and a particular scene is one of my favourite – unfortunately it’s way to spoilerific for this review! Suffice to say that the elusive Hell’s Gateway is discovered and that the Primes have continued their industrial output with thousands of ships at their disposal. Not only that, but with both humanity and Primes relying on their deadly superweapons (nova bomb and flare bomb respectively) the stakes are raised considerably from humanity’s point of view.
The characters once again get a chance to shine in Judas Unchained. We’ve already followed them throughout Pandora’s Star, and although there are a couple more characters this time around it’s a joy to read them. I won’t list them all (I’d end up writing an essay!), but the main characters – Paula, Ozzie, Nigel, Adam, and Bradley – all step up their game and each is totally believable in their given situations. There is a big difference between each of these characters and this makes them all unique and allows us to see things from different viewpoints throughout. No change really from Peter’s other books in this respect, and once again he delivers them with style.
When I first read Judas Unchained I had a couple of issues with it, although after a few re-reads they are not as large anymore. The main problem I had was the extraordinarily long Starflyer chase. I look at this thread of the novel and I can understand why it happened as it did, I can appreciate the duplicity involved by those in service to the Starflyer and I can see the reasoning of why the setup to Far Away is like it is, but it doesn’t stop the story getting slightly bogged down with it. This one issue has a knock on effect and changes the whole pacing of Judas Unchained. Pandora’s Star was a novel that had a good build up followed by excellent payoff. Rather than the refined, action packed and quick paced sequel I was expecting I found one that was slightly bloated and inconsistent in its pacing. It’s a real shame this is the case as these could have been two novels that give a shining example of the genre, instead Judas Unchained lowers the overall impact and leaves you feeling a little underwhelmed despite the strong finish.
So, what worked in Judas Unchained was the action, the investigation, and the intrigue that we’re put through while reading it. The characters are as good as ever and Peter has done a very good job with the justifications of the way the plot evolves and is tied up. It’s a pity that the slightly overlong length and pacing issues lowered my satisfaction, but combined with Pandora’s Star this is an example of great worldbuilding and an intricate plot – definitely a recommended duology.