So, this is book one of a series--a good place to start, right?
Except that this series is a successor to a previous series, The Saga of the Seven Suns. Of the many characters in this long book, most seem to have an extensive history from the prior series. This is probably a fine thing for those who read the previous series. For those of us who didn't, we don't get the benefit of that character development.
And there are a great many characters, nor do we spend much time with any of them. We're constantly jumping between characters and plotlines that don't necessarily have much apparent connection. Characterization is limited and rather cardboard, and common sense doesn't seem to play a large role in anyone's decision-making process. For instance, a character goes to great lengths to collect "royal jelly" from the decades-dead corpses of an insect species, for medical research. There's no apparent concern, or even apparent awareness, about the effects of biological decay on the usefulness of the jelly for research.
Between the constant jumping around, and the flimsy characterization, it's difficult to develop any empathy for any of the characters. I nearly succeeded with the father and son fleeing a planet that the father, with excellent grounds, believes is about to experience a major disaster. But, alas, we zip away from them, to multiple other characters and plotlines, and don't come back for quite a while. When we do, we zip away again fairly quickly.
The prose is pedestrian, and just to be absolutely clear: "Pedestrian" prose is not "transparent" prose. Transparent prose requires real skill and craft. The prose here is no more than adequate. It's certainly no compensation for diffuse and distracting plotting and barely-present character development.
I read this only because it's one of the Hugo Best Novel nominees for 2015. "Not nearly as bad as puppy nominees in other categories" is not adequate reason for being on the Hugo ballot.
I bought this book.