I finally finished this book. I actually finished a couple weeks ago but sometimes my posting schedule gets in the way.
I’m going to sound negative about this book in the beginning, but overall I enjoyed it. That said the first few hundred pages were a real slog for me. From what I understand, this may just be inherent to the “hard” sci-fi genre. There was very little in the way of comprehensive exposition on the Commonwealth’s technology and the smattering of alien races. Hamilton throws that stuff out in dribs and drabs, so nearer to the end of the book I finally felt like I had a grasp on how the Commonwealth worked. But this approach almost turned me off from reading the book altogether.
The slow drip of expository information was bad enough, but the poor characterization of many of the protagonists was really difficult for me. There are so many characters in this book and their chapters are spread very far away from each other. Hamilton did not do a good enough job of giving them individual personalities, so I had a hard time remembering anything unique about a lot of these characters. They seemed to all have the same personality, and they bled together in my head. Most of these characters are highly logical people working towards some purpose. Wilson Kime is building a ship, Paula is chasing Johansen, Kazamir is looking for Justine. They’re all doing something different, but they felt like the same person. At times, I lost focus while I was reading because I was so lost or bored. There’s not much humor or personality in this book at all, and I had a very hard time keeping characters and plot lines straight in my head. That, combined with the slow drip feed of exposition made the first third or so of the book really hard to get through.
However, it did get better. The book really picked up for me when the Second Chance left Commonwealth space to head to the Dyson stars. The arcs that each of the protagonists go through slowly became more and more interesting, and by the end of the book I was fascinated with each one. The poor characterization was still there, although Paula and Ozzie stand out as well realized individuals by the end. Ozzie’s journey through the Silfen paths is probably my favorite plotline in the book. I think it took advantage of the sci-fi setting and did something unique, whereas the other plotline’s followed a more standard sci-fi journey. Not that they weren’t interesting by the end, but Ozzie’s journey was the most unique and the one I felt myself most drawn to.
This book was exhausting when I started it. It was really hard to push through the beginning, but now that I’m done I’m glad I did. I’m really looking forward to Judas Unchained after I finish The Great Ordeal. I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone without a love of sci-fi. It’s a hard book to read, and if you can’t get past the first few hundred pages you’re going to waste your time. But if you enjoy sci-fi and you can slog through the first third or so, this book gets super interesting and sets up the sequel brilliantly.
I wrote a review of Misspent Youth a few months ago. I remember seeing many people on Goodreads complaining about the book because it wasn’t like the Commonwealth Saga. I read that book first before moving on to the main series, and thank God I did. I would have been hugely disappointed if I read Misspent Youth after anything in the Commonwealth series. I did not love the book the first time and I had no expectations. If I had been a fan of the Commonwealth and I read Misspent Youth, I would have been very dissatisfied.