The Naked God by Peter F. Hamilton
Disclaimer: This audiobook, and the series, is extremely popular and has high ratings at Goodreads and Audible. I will explain why I am not enthusiastic about it, but please take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt.
The Naked God (1999 print, 2016 audio) is the third and final book in Peter F. Hamilton’s NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy. It begins immediately after the events of the previous book, The Neutronium Alchemist which follows the first book, The Reality Dysfunction. At this point in the story, the possessed (souls that have come back from the Beyond to inhabit the bodies of alive humans) have nearly taken over the universe, thanks to the work of Al Capone (one of the souls who has returned), Marie Skibow (a hot chick possessed by a returned soul who is using Marie’s body to tempt unpossessed people into joining them) and Quinn Dexter (a depraved Satanist). Several good guys, including a few who are actually possessed, are trying in various ways to thwart the invasion of souls from the Beyond. These are the same people we know from the previous books (e.g., Joshua, Ione, Louise, Fletcher, Ralph, etc.). They each have subplots that are eventually resolved at the end of The Naked God.
The Naked God brings the NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy to a merciful end. To get right to the point, the problem with this trilogy (for me) is three-fold. First, I really had a tough time buying into the zombie/body-snatching/spirits-from-beyond plot in a tale that otherwise feels like an epic space opera. In principle I don’t at all object to the meshing of the fantasy and science fiction themes and this seems like something that would normally appeal to me, but in this case it just didn’t seem to blend well and I couldn’t get past that. This is likely a personal preference, though.
Second, I seriously disliked almost every character in the trilogy. There were a couple whose stories I felt slightly invested in, such as Louise and Marie, but this was more me trying desperately to find someone to root for rather than a real affinity for those characters. Many of the characters are simply odious, such as Quinn Dexter. He was so over-the-top evil that it was hard to take him seriously. I liked Alkad Mzu, the scientist who played a big role in the previous books, but she kind of dropped off the radar in book three. And the constant male-gaze perspective on every female character in the trilogy really annoyed me.
Third is the obvious problem: the trilogy just goes on for way too long. In audiobook format, the series lasts over 130 hours! It didn’t need to be that long — there wasn’t that much plot. Rather the story felt excessively padded with too much detail about each character’s thoughts and movements and way too much dialogue. I don’t always complain about books that are too long. For example, I love Robin Hobb’s slow rambling epics. The problem here is that I wasn’t personally invested in anything that was going on since I didn’t really believe the plot and I didn’t like the characters. I felt like I was stuck in a room for 130 hours with 40 people I despise who are all talking earnestly about something I don’t believe in. I would have liked Hamilton’s story better if it had been condensed to one 13 hour long book. I feel like I wasted 117 hours of my life (that’s nearly five full days!), which is something I really can’t afford. (Actually, I didn’t waste quite that much time because sometimes I tripled the audio speed and “skimmed” portions of this novel, something I almost never do, but I was so anxious for it to be over.)
I mentioned these problems in my reviews of the first books. Readers who don’t agree with me — those who love the long slow process, the excruciating detail, and the excessive dialog — will, of course, have a very different experience and will want to read The Naked God to see how the story ends. I actually enjoyed parts of the last couple of hours of the book (where we find out what the sleeping god is) and admired some of Hamilton’s denouement and his suggestions and speculations about the evolution of humanity. He touched on the idea that future humans may need to think differently about economics, especially as it pertains to how we are paid for work. However, the plot’s conflict resolution is classic (and pretty literal) deus ex machina, and I think many readers will feel betrayed or at least a little let down. I was hoping for a mind-blowing sci-fi reveal about the Beyond but got a standard fantasy “ghost” explanation instead. Honestly, it felt like Hamilton didn’t know how to wrap things up and rushed through the ending just to get it done. Very disappointing.
Tantor Audio’s production of the NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy is quite nice, with John Lee narrating. He gives a great performance and somehow manages to not give a great big audible sigh of relief at the end.