When I first bought this book years ago I read it from cover to cover. I recently dusted it off for a re-read and it's as brilliant as I remember. Most sci-fi novels are filled with cliche, but this is one of the most original I have ever read, and addresses many of the niggling questions that I have at the back of my mind when reading other books in the genre.
The aliens are truly alien, in appearance, culture, and language. The portrayal of an imagined future human civilisation is optimistic, and yet very believable. The characters feel real and it is impossible not to identify and empathise deeply with each of them. Problems with language translation are described and addressed in a much more realistic way than usual (you wont find any English-speaking aliens here), indeed most of the technology feels plausible and not "magical". A thrilling, engaging storyline is the icing on the cake.
Anyone looking for a great read would do well to buy this. If you feel put off by the fact it's not the first in the series or worried you might miss out on the background story, don't be; this is a story in its own right, and doesn't assume knowledge of the prequels. I am a great fan of Clarke and Asimov and I truly feel Jeapes can compete with them.
My final word; I decided to write this review while buying the other books in the series. That should say something :)