My first real cheat on the list as I review two novels together (and too incredibly long ones at that). My criteria for putting novels together on this list are they 1. Tell one complete story between them and 2. Are nearly identical in quality so as one does not deserve a spot far above or below the other. The Commonwealth duology certainly fits those criteria fit perfectly.
Pandora’s Star is an incredibly ambitious book. There are a ton of characters and there is a ton of story to tell. Hamilton creates a uniquely developed universe and does a great job of setting up what is ultimately a very interesting plot. The mystery surrounding the barrier is unique and fascinating. The alien races he develops are completely original and in the case of the Primes one of the cooler, well thought out alien races I have ever read.
My biggest complaint about this book are the large stretches of time he takes on set up and mundane things. We follow Paula Mao (who is an excellent character) through multiple investigations which help set up a bunch but ultimately too much time is spent where the plot goes forward very little. One chapter on the political maneuvering of several major families is a downright bore. That said there were large stretches of this book that were excellent. I just wish Hamilton would have been a bit more selective in what he included in the novel.
Judas Unchained is the conclusion to the Commonwealth Duology. Like Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained is a dense book with a ton of characters pulling in different directions and a bunch going on. I thought, however, that the focus in Judas Unchained was better than Pandora’s Star. The Primes remain one of the more intriguing alien races in science fiction, and the starflyer was tied into the story wonderfully. Ozzie, Orion, and Toshe’s journey was probably the slowest part of the novel for me, but the payoff was also quite good. The action sequences were incredibly well written, and I thought the characters were all well developed this time around. In totality, the Commonwealth Duology was a really fun journey and a very interesting read.