Hamilton does a lot of world-building in this book, and it takes a while for the story to get underway. It's a grand epic space opera in the tradition of Jack L. Chalker's Quintara Marathon
or Dan Simmons's Hyperion
. Set in the 24th century, an interstellar human society encounters mysterious aliens, and armageddon ensues.
It's not until relatively late in this volume that some of the subplots Hamilton spent so much time on earlier in the book come to fruition. There are a lot
of subplots, and a lot of characters. Some are more interesting than others. The Commonwealth has been shaped by two important technologies: a wormhole network, which allows interstellar travel without spaceships, and rejuvenation treatments which make humans almost immortal, along with memory storage which allows anyone who's been killed to be "relifed" from their most recent memory backup. The Commonwealth is mostly peaceful, except for a terrorist organization called the "Guardians of Self" who believe an alien called the "Starflyer" is trying to bring humanity into contact with a hostile alien force.
I found everything up to the encounter with the aliens to be slow going. Once the Commonwealth's starship reaches one of the stars surrounded by a Dyson sphere, it turns out to be a Pandora's box indeed, and things heat up. The alien Primes are very alien and very hostile, and making contact with them turns out to be the worst mistake in the history of mankind.
Unfortunately, for almost the next half of the book the pace drags again. MorningLightMountain, the alien Prime, is the most interesting character. Things finally get exciting again towards the end, when the invasion of the Commonwealth begins in earnest, and the secret of the Starflyer drags several other characters into the main plot. And then, the books ends because this is really volume one of a great big two-volume set continuing with Judas Unchained
I liked it, but it could have been just as good without so much filler. It's nice to read a relatively new space opera (science fiction does age, and space operas set in the 24th century written in 1980 are different than space operas set in the 24th century written in 2005), but it shows the modern trend towards massive bloat in genre fiction. It used to be it was only Stephen King we had to put up with this from.