I don't read much scifi these days, but I'm a huge Daniel Abraham fan so this was a must-buy for me. Writing in collaboration with Ty Franck, this is a traditional Firefly-esque space opera with overtones of police procedural (sort of). Right from the start, the story grabs you and just never lets go, building pace and tension all the way to the unexpected twist ending (well, I didn't see it coming, anyway, but like Abraham's fantasy books, the outcome is one of those oh-of-course moments, rather than wait-what?).
I very much liked the use of only two alternating point of view characters to tell the story (with a prologue and epilogue featuring different people). The way the plot develops the two different storylines, and then merges them so that it seamlessly weaves from one viewpoint to the other is masterful. Both characters have depth and terrific personalities too. Holden is the righteous, almost naive, spaceship officer determined to do the correct thing. Miller is a borderline psychotic cop on an asteroid trading station, following his own train of deviant logic to pragmatic keeping-things-moving solutions. The collision between the two is inevitably fraught, but also deeply thought-provoking.
The world-building is breath-taking. The background is a solar system colonised by man and beginning to fragment, and every component part - the (asteroid) Belt, the various space ships and settlements - is beautifully realised and totally believable. The technology is not so complex or radical that it needs long explanations or a post-graduate level education to understand it. The minor characters and relationships are well-drawn and realistic, and I liked the way we are regularly reminded of the physical differences between planet-born and native Belters. Although this book reads as a stand-alone, there is enormous scope for developments in other parts of the solar system (Earth, the moon, Mars, the outer planets).
Like Abraham's fantasy novels, this is a wonderful pacy read, with well-rounded characters, and an absorbing plot, with more depth to it than I expected from the initial reviews. It isn't quite up to the stellar levels of 'The Long Price' (what is?), but it's still a good 4 stars, and I look forward to more in the series. Four stars. [First written August 2011]