Almost-epic, almost-saga space-opera needing outworldish science and political infrastructure for its success.
The book begins after the introduction of travel to Earth orbit by riding the Earth's magnetic field lines from near the poles, and a group of wealthy people have taken the opportunity to set up home there. The Americans decide eventually they want custody of the new nation themselves, and a non-war of stealthy attrition ensues, the Americans eventually being defeated by a silent, non-responsive enemy.
The focus, however, is on the genesis and ultimate martyrdom of the spiritual leader of the new Upland nation. This includes the fall to destitution of her mother, the rise of the woman (Gradisil) herself, the births of illegitimate sons and the deliberate, soulless loss of one legitimate one, betrayal by the legitimate father, and finally the capture and execution of the betraying father by the sons.
It is actually that shallow. The book exceeds, however, in the understanding Adam Roberts has of the human condition. Though circumstances are oftentimes exceptional, Roberts manages to write convincing emotional responses and illogical human reasoning which leads to the various actions taking place. The circumstances of the actions are oftentimes too contrived, and the physical implementation of the actions is oftentimes crude and unseeable.
Nevertheless, the book is much bigger than the sum of its parts, and the juxtaposition of some awkwardly nonsensical science and politics with a genuine insight into the human condition makes this a fun opera. In places the various devices the writer uses to make the writing more interesting than it might become tedious and irritating, and many times the exposition is drawn out just that bit too much, fills pages with simply as many words as possible for the sake of it. That in itself makes the book a more satisfactory read taken as a whole.