I just love this book. I really really do.
I seem to remember that when I first read it, I found it a bit confusing - albeit in a good way - because there were lots of POV changes. I wonder now whether that's one of the other books, because while there are flicks between POVs they converged more rapidly than I had expected and the connections seemed more obvious... but perhaps that is actually a function of me remembering, if barely, where at least some of the connections lay. One of the great things about having a relatively poor memory is that having read this some 5 or 6 years ago, there were stacks of things that there were once again a total surprise for me.
There's a nice variety of characters here. Male and female, baseline-human and definitely not, and a mix of motives and attitudes. I have two favourites, and they're the two most obvious: Sylveste and Volyova. Sylveste because he's just a bit like Indiana Jones; he is, after all, inherently an archaeologist, who gets caught up in adventures. He's also one of the most sublimely arrogant characters out there, in that fascinatingly entertaining way that only someone who is right so often that the arrogance seems appropriate can get away with. Like House or Holmes, I guess. Not quite diametrically opposed, but still radically different, is Volyova. She's not quite a sociopath but she's way more at home with weapons than other people. She gets some wonderful lines in the book, and I always enjoyed the sections told from her perspective; Reynolds gave her a marvellously dry wit and a drive for achievement as strong as Sylveste's, with marginally less arrogance. I quite liked the POV switches, actually, even - perhaps, bizarrely, especially when - they were done seemingly mid-action sequence. The switch always added something to the scene, an understanding or a perception that could not have come from the initial character. I also liked that there wasn't an omniscient narrator; it meant that events and revelations came slowly, ambiguously, enthrallingly.
The plot? Oh, the usual; humanity spread across the galaxy, encountering alien artefacts but where is everybody else, along with tantalising hints at what has happened to humanity as they spread - the alterations to baseline humanity are some of the intriguing of those; I love the Ultras and their chimeric alterations, heading towards being truly cybernetic beings. There are small-scale dramas and intrigues - love, abandonment, family drama - mixed in with the galaxy-impacting revelations, making this a seriously awesome representative of space opera. In fact it might have been the first book I ever read that made me genuinely consider space opera a sub-genre, and realise that I totally adore it. It might not be the absolutely most original plot in the world, but the revelations at the end were certainly new ideas for me, and the writing itself is so complex-but-clear that it doesn't matter that it's a play on the Fermi paradox; as an SF idea I think it has plenty of scope left anyway.
There are some slightly clunky bits in the narrative and the flow of the writing - a few bits where there is a bit too much info-dump via dialogue for example - but for a first novel, it's a seriously awesome one. I am just itching to go read the rest of the Revelation Space books... they're sitting there waiting for me...