[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I loved the world built here. It took a bit of work and time to get into it and piece things together, but not so much time, all things considered, and I found the conundrums of the additional human species really fascinating. The Homo Eridanus, engineered to survive in several hundred atmospheres of pressure in hostile oceans, but unable to ever get to the surface unless they want to be crushed to death. The Puppets, twisted slave-race created by the Numen, who thought themselves superior to the others, and made themselves into gods… without really thinking about what this would make their “worshippers” do (a.k.a the Puppets are as fascinating as a train wreck). And the Homo quantus, made to delve into the mysteries of time and space, seeking a state of fugue which is the only one where they can fully observe the universe, but to the cost of their individuality and their health. (Speaking of which, the fugue demands the lack of an observing conscience in order to avoid collapsing the wavefunction; if the Copenhagen interpretation irks you to no ends, you may not like that part.)
And, behind this, a geopolitical system strewn through space thanks to wormholes, with patron and client nations, and a delicate balance between all of those. Many possibilities, only a few of which are explored here.
The story also has the proper elements of a good con/heist: an ambitious goal that most people would call crazy and impossible; a team of misfits and odd people gathered from various places to each play they parts (including, among others, an ex-soldier who loves her explosives, an exiled Puppet, a dying man, a geneticist, and an AI who believes itself the reincarnation of Saint Matthew); and, of course, things that don’t go exactly according to plan, because where would be the fun otherwise?
The characters, in general, are also compelling and well-developed. Belisarius and Cassandra draw an interesting dynamics: she loves the fugue but has trouble staying in it, he was engineered too well and can’t get out of the fugue before it kills his physical brain due to overheating. Gates-15 is a Puppet exiled because he cannot react to Numen pheromones, and so cannot experience the divinity of his captive gods, and who wants nothing more than to go back to his homeworld… with a twist, that is. William has to weigh what he stands to lose against all he could give his daughter instead if the con works. Marie was less developed, but her antics combined with those of Stills, the swearing Eridanian whose people’s credo is to give the finger to the universe who screwed them, were pretty fun to read (yeah, I loved Stills).
There was a downside here for me, though, in that while I loved the hard science incorporated in the foundations of this world, the way it was sometimes explained slowed down the whole caper/heist part. Also, I wouldn’t recommend this book to a reader who’s not keen on hard science fiction in general.
Conclusion: A solid 4 stars, I enjoyed the characters and the world, and I’m interested in any sequel that comes out.