Peter F. Hamilton's stunning 'Night's Dawn' trilogy was space opera at it's finest, and unquestionably a hard act to follow. As a result, it's somewhat inevitable that 'Fallen Dragon' is going to be a bit of a let down. Although it's an enjoyable book in it's own right it only contains traces of what made 'Night's Dawn' such an epic work.
In the 25th century, corporations have taken the future of humanity into their own hands. However, sponsoring colony planets is horribly expensive and the returns are negligible. The mammoth Zantiu-Braun corporation has found a way around this - asset realization. They buy out their debt-ridden competitor's planets, and then raid them for dividends. You'd think they'd work out something a little more economically stable, not to mention politcally acceptable, but no.
Launching fleets to developing colony worlds, they deploy Skins - soldiers sheathed in almost invulnerable biotech armour. One of these is Lawrence Newton. Growing up on the colony world of Amethi, he was determined to escape his insular planet and explore the stars. After serving Zantia-Braun for over twenty years, he's more than a little disillusioned and plans some personal asset realization. He's returned to Thallspring, a colony world he's visited before. Convinced the colonists are hiding something of incalculable wealth, he waits for the perfect opportunity to make his move.
This time around on Thallspring however, things are unfolding far from perfectly. Denise Ebourn (whom the book jacket compares to Che Guevara and George Washington...) is a school teacher who remembers the last asset realization, and vows to make this one exponentially more difficult while at the same time protecting the powerful secret of the colony.
Hamilton manages to weave these two plot threads together pretty well, and includes a third one about Simon Roderick. Mr. Roderick serves to explain Zantiu-Brauns motivations throughout the book, and really works as nothing more than an exposition device. Hamilton attempts to flesh out Lawrence's character by including a series of flashbacks narrating his teenage life on Amethi.
This flashback's are enjoyable on their own, but don't really fit well into a technical science fiction book such as this. They read more like a like a teenage romance than anything else. Although they do work to explain Lawrence's character and tie into the ending, they simply occupy too much of the narrative and don't fit with the book as a whole. The other two supporting characters, Denise and Simon, aren't as well explored. Although there's plenty of background about Denise, it never seems to fully come together to make her a cohesive character. Simon is especially flat, although that makes a good amount of sense in the context of the novel.
True to form, Hamilton has included some interesting technologies. His description of the Skin suits, as well as passing mention of FTL travel are intriguing, as are any number of other technical bits. Sometimes however, he takes the easy way out. Especially in the case of 'Prime', a software program so powerful it does pretty well anything. While this is an easy way to explain plot elements, its' infallible superiority is irritating.
'Fallen Dragon' also has some solid action scenes. Although not as riveting as the last stand of the mercenaries in 'The Reality Dysfunction', there's plenty of satisfying battle sequences scattered throughout the book. Hamilton is truly skilled at mixing combat technology seamlessly into well scripted action scenes.
The ending of the book is a bit of a let down. Similar to the of 'The Naked God', we're given a bit of Deus ex Machina which quickly ties up all the plot threads, and adds a rather spurious plot twist. Again, Hamilton seems to let events escalate out of hand, and has to resort to an omnipotent object to bring everything to a close for him. Even aside from this, the climax of the book plays flat, and doesn't manage to add any elements of suspense or surprise to everything that came before it. It's not that the books falls apart in the end, it just doesn't manage to add anything to the narrative as a whole.
To sum up, 'Fallen Dragon' is above average for books of this genre, but not by all that much. It's bereft of the epic scope of his earlier work, and it's missing little things - such as the excellent humor and multitudes of characters in 'Night's Dawn'. At it's heart, 'Fallen Dragon' is the story of one man's life. It's more of a drama on a science fiction background than anything else. Although it's engaging, ultimately it's not as entertaining as one would have hoped. A good book, but not a great book.