Book Review – Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

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Apparently Peter F. Hamilton is Britain’s number one science fiction writer. This is my first experience with one of his books and it’s quite a tome to get started with. It clocks in at over 1000 pages. The story of Great North Road begins with a murder and ends with an exploration of what it means to be human and the nature of God. It’s set in the future and first we meet Sid Hurst, a detective in the Great Tyne area who is tasked with apprehending the murdered. The other main character is Angela Tramelo, a woman who was accused of a similar murder twenty years previously and who is now freed, determined to find out who committed the crime she was accused of. There are many other characters and subplots but I’m not going to go into them here, those two characters are the ones who the two aspects of the plot revolve around.

I always enjoy sci-fi and this is set in a world that’s an extrapolation of our own. Hamilton does a good job at depicting life in the future, it’s fairly similar to now but there are certain technologies that have been engrained into the world. It all feels authentic and a pretty good approximation of how things could be. The big technological development that has impacted the world is cloning. The North family are all clones, derived from three brothers. One branch has names beginning with ‘A’, one with ‘B’, and one with ‘C’. While I initially thought this system of naming was clever I soon realized that I was finding it hard to keep track of the characters as they all had similar names.

Keeping track of characters is difficult, as they appear and disappear often. Some characters are given big passages and yet they don’t really impact the plot at all, indeed the rhythm of the story can be difficult to adjust to as the point of view shifts easily and if you don’t remain focused you can lose track. It doesn’t help that it shifts into flashbacks in the same way, so it’s often quite disorienting.

This is a problem because I never felt truly invested in anything that was going on. Some of the characters are introduced and then not mentioned for what seems like hundreds of pages, and it’s the same with the different sub plots. The investigation starts off at a good pace but it quickly gets bogged down, and the same is true for Angela’s story. A lot happens but none of it feels consequential and while it’s easy to read it’s not captivating. I feel that all the characters were given a fitting resolution and I liked how the plot eventually unfolded, but due to the drawn out nature of it the revelation didn’t have a big impact and it all boiled down to quite an underwhelming feeling.

I found myself glazing over many parts of the books. A lot of it felt unnecessary and some of the action sequences lacked dynamism. Due to there being a lot of characters few of them were explored to any degree. The only one I felt invested in was Angela who was the most interesting, but even she disappeared for a good chunk. There’s another nitpick I have as well. The author devotes each chapter to a day and this means that some chapters are huge (we’re talking fifty pages) while others are short. It’s just a personal thing but long chapters are one of my pet peeves in books, and since I found the narrative to be quite jumpy at times I can’t help but feel that the chapters would have been better divided either by location or characters.

So, I can’t really recommend it. I don’t think it’s a bad book and a lot of it is quite clever, but it feels indulgent. If it was just the Angela story or just the Sid story then it might have worked, but there’s too much going on and not enough of it is dramatic so it didn’t hold my attention. When I finished it I didn’t feel any great emotion, or like I had been joyfully lost in an intricate world. It was simply a feeling of , ‘Oh, okay, that’s it, huh’. Unfortunately, this book takes a big investment of time and I don’t think it’s worth it.

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