In some ways I feel a bit mean only giving this novel 4 stars. The opening is quite magical, and the cast of characters both convincing and compelling. Clarke is also an author with an astonishing vocabulary, and -thank god- unafraid to use it. My quibble is with the mystery at the centre of the plot. It felt as though none of his characters were really convinced by it, and the author not at all. While the idea that the there is a rationalist explanation underlying everything is perfectly acceptable, for example Stephen Fry's excellent The Hippopotamus, it has to seem believable at least to those involved in it. That said, the novel really ought to be on everyone's read-it-this-year list. A huge pity so few of his books are on kindle.