(Review from Mar 08, 2011, which had somehow ended up as a comment, rather than a review.)
An epic "hard" sci-fi space opera (so my son tells me), with links to some of Reynolds' other novels, but which works well as a standalone book too.
It opens with three separate storylines, which gradually come together: Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist, researching the extinct Amarantin of the planet Resurgam; a spaceship crewed by ultras, with a sick captain in reefersleep and the triumvirate jostling for power; an assassin recruited in Chasm City on Yellowstone. It does mean the early chapters jump around rather frequently, but generally it works.
Reynolds is a good story teller. The plots are engaging, and he has a good balance between enough exposition to avoid confusing the reader, but withholding some to tantalise the reader so they are compelled to read on.
However, there is one major prong of the plot (the ultra's mission) that involved a huge amount of effort for an apparently pointless reason. I found it increasingly frustrating, and when an explanation was eventually given, it wasn't very satisfying and felt more like a plot device (to bring the storylines together) than actual plot.
The story has elements of thriller (the assassin and the spaceship), mystery (how the Amarantin died out, the Sylveste Institute and what happened to Cal's alpha sim) and psychological drama (what the Shrouders are, and what revelation space is).
The weakness is in the characterisation, and I found it more noticeable in this than in Chasm City or The Prefect. There are plenty of strong female characters, but you wouldn't know they were female if he didn't tell you, and I was taken surprise by a relationship that developed and was never convinced by it, even when one partner mentioned their love for the other. I wouldn't want a slushy romance, but this lacked credibility.
There are also places where it seems a little too derivative, mainly of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, and like them, it would make a fantastic film: it is very cinematic.
Yet despite these weaknesses, it's still more than 3* because I enjoyed it so much and wanted to know what happened and why.
There were some wonderful ideas, e.g. "a fastidious neatness... like a poltergeist in reverse"; "always feel that Volyova had spent hours rehearsing, hoping she would sound off-the-cuff"; "most of woke up in the recovery suite"; "It looked like a biology lesson for the gods, or a snapshot of the kind of pornography which might be enjoyed by sentient planets", and "hanging sculptures which subscribed to no recognisable aesthetic tendency".
Best of all was something to make an iPad seem dull: a virtual reality biography, "accessed in may ways, from different viewpoints, and with varying degrees of interactivity", so the subject gets disoriented by his own life story, because it was "constructed with no regard for the niceties of linear time" and included a "shattered mosaic of interchangeable events". I want one. But till such a thing exists, I'll move on to another Reynolds.