Let me preface this review by saying that you should not believe anybody who tries to tell you that The Abyss Beyond Dreams is a standalone novel. While yes, I suppose that you could read it without any prior knowledge of the Commonwealth or Void, I can’t imagine that you would enjoy it very much. Once I received the notification that I’d won a free advance copy of the novel (thanks, Netgalley!), I went back and borrowed the Void trilogy from my boyfriend for a little background information. (Just a little, at nearly 2000 pages.) As I said in my reviews of those three books, I probably should have gone further back and read the Commonwealth books for an even stronger foundation. Hamilton really does weave together a lot of elements from his previous works.
In The Abyss Beyond Dreams, Nigel Sheldon, the infamous founder of the Commonwealth, is asked by the Raiel to enter the Void and search for lost ships. Upon his entry, he finds himself on Bienvenido, which is both similar to and different from Querencia, the part of the Void that we came to know in Hamilton’s previous books. In Bienvenido, telekenesis is still possible. Animals can be modified to assist with everyday tasks. But while Querencia’s citizens lead relatively safe lives, concerned mainly with political rivals, Bienvenido’s residents must deal with Fallers crashing down from the sky.
Fallers are enormous eggs that can absorb and morph into both humans and large animals. The Fallers then lure in unsuspecting humans, creating well-hidden nests within cities. Oh, and they’re also cannibals. So far, Bienvenido has been fairly lucky in resisting the Fallers, but there have been a few nests discovered, and a few close calls. Lieutenant Slvasta is one of the new humans lucky enough to escape a Fall – a team of Marines found him in time, and he only lost an arm, though he did have to watch his best friend be consumed by an egg. Now Slvasta is consumed by a desire to end Fallers, and his dedication helps him quickly move up the ranks… until his supervisors no longer approve of his actions and he’s put into an administrative position in the capital.
Meanwhile, Nigel takes a young woman named Kysandra under his wing as he researches the Void. Nigel and his ANAdroids rebuild Kysandra’s family farm (and her life) as he attempts to find a way to make Commonwealth machinery work inside the Void, which notoriously messes with any and all technology. In the process of studying the Void, Nigel is mistaken for a Faller by Slvasta, and their paths intertwine on many occasions.
I did really enjoy this book, and I think I devoured it faster than any of Hamilton’s other novels. Nigel’s sections were my favorite, as I found Slvasta’s to sometimes drag and be repetitive. (This is my only qualm with the book.) I liked that the Void was so similar to what Hamilton had written in his previous books, but also so different, in both the language and the society. What residents of Querencia call a “third hand,” Bienvenido refers to as “teekay.” Those sculptable eggs are known in Querencia as “default genistars,” but in Bienvenido, they’re “neuts.” “Longtalk” becomes “‘path.” Even that dark red nebula that everyone’s so afraid of ending up in has a different name – Querencia’s “Honious” is Bienvenido’s “Uracus.” And while Querencia lives in a fairly simple society (albeit with complex politics), Bienvenido seems much more advanced. Even with all the changes, the Void is still recognizable.
The Abyss Beyond Dreams includes many twists and turns, including one pretty big one at the end. I was satisfied with the ending of the novel, but I’ll be happy once the second installment comes out!
Final rating: ★★★★☆