"The Fractal Prince" picks up where its predecessor, The Quantum Thief
, left off (so stop reading this now if you haven't read "Thief" and you don't want spoilers). Master criminal Jean le Flambeur (a sort of post-human Raffles
) has been rescued from prison by mercenary Mieli, acting for the mysterious Pellegrini. Pursued by Hunters, he is about undertake an audacious job for his patroness.
That makes it sound as though the story is just more of the same: a murder mystery and a caper, folded with mind-bending, almost incomprehensible hard-SF technology (none of it explained even in passing) and a tangle of motivations, both human and post human. And one can enjoy it at that level, watching the strangeness unfold and admiring Rajaniemi's command of the science, the breadth of his conception, his sheer breakneck imagination. The nature of the characters, in particular, encourages this. Almost all are instances (sometimes, multiple instances) of original individuals, incarnated into more or less techologically advanced artificial "bodies" for various purposes. (Rajaniemi's far future seems to follow the same logic as, for example, Charles Stross's Saturn's Children
- intelligences cannot be artificial as such, but must be developed/ grown as human though they may then be duplicated, rehosted and augmented on non-biological hardware. A fair bit of the plot is concerned with accessing such stored "souls" - "gogols" - which are then traded as a commodity). Personality blurs - both for the "humans" and the godlike Sobernost - as does reality, which fractures into a succession of virtual worlds within worlds. In the end, it's not possible to say for sure who did what. I'm not even sure the question makes sense. So it's tempting just to hang on for the ride, as it were, without trying to understand too much.
However, I think that if you focus back from the detail - look at the wood rather than the trees, perhaps - a narrative is emerging, weaving together the early history of Jean himself, the pellegrini and the fate of Earth, all bound up with the intrigues of the godlike Sobernost. The latter - the vasilievs, the chens, the pellegrinis - are one of the best done parts of the book with the rivalries and jealousies of these supposedly higher intelligences resembling nothing as much as ancient myth, where gods with awesome powers but no commensurate sense of morality, responsibility, or proportion play power games with feeble humans. ("As flies to wanton boys so we are to the gods/ They kill us for their sport").
I suspect the book will divide readers. For me, it was exhilarating. If you want something where you can grasp each bit of detail before moving to the next, you may find it frustrating.