The story of what happens when the dead find a way to come back from limbo and live again by possessing the body of a living person set against the backdrop of a technologically advanced, bio engineered, faster than light future human race.
The great strength of this work is the detail. The reader can luxuriate in the vast canvas of the interstellar confederation coloured with intricate societies and excellent characters. Some have criticised the character depth but Calvert, Father Horst, Ione, Quinn Dexter, Tranquility and the planets Lalonde and Norfork all leap freely into my imagination. Some of the action sequences (like Joshua in the Ruin Ring and the final escape from Lalonde) are amongst the best pieces of SF thriller I have read.
However, the great strength is also the great weakness. The author is far too verbose. He quite often offers lengthy descriptions that do not add anything to the narrative and often just confuse. Serious editing is needed to avoid the constant feeling that Hamilton is dancing around the main plot and not just getting on with it. This work is longer than all 3 books in Lord of the Rings combined and the other two books in the Nights Dawn trilogy are both 1200+ pages. I'm certain I could cut 1/3 of the prose here and leave every aspect of the plot intact. The skill of saying less with more is absent. The quality and economy of the prose is nothing when compared to that of something like Dune.
There are so many remaining plot strands, characters and unanswered questions about where the dead have been stored and how they manage to wield such power that I'm almost tempted to read on in the series. I want to know what Dr Mzu was all about and whether Quinn Dexter gets his revenge and why only some dead people enter the limbo dimension and not every person who has passed away throughout history. But I feel cheated that I put so much time into book 1 and only about 20% of the plot strands were resolved. Maybe it's the fatigue of finishing such a big project. I might resume the trilogy later in the year (but by then I will have forgotten 50% of it).
If I don't continue the story I will remember this more as a horror story set on a jungle planet than a SF novel. The cold hard science felt absent. The technology and the toys are there but it is just for fun. There is nothing wrong with that but there is a strange cartoon sci-fi feel to it all (especially the sex-scenes which are very anime/manga-esque).
Flawed, dithery, gobby but very readable and exquisite in its detail. The best compliment I can give this work is that on several occasions I wanted to abandon it but I just couldn't do it.