This is in fact just as good as everybody says it is. It's the story of a woman in a central Asian village on the eve of the singularity, and it's sensitively and incisively written, and very readable. The tension in this novel comes not from explosions, but from social and emotional and cultural threats, and it's very effective.
I did feel that one section of the middle went a bit woo woo, and felt slightly unconnected--the realism is part of the book's charm, and there's an escape sequence that I kept expecting to find out was virtual reality or something else weird (actually, I'm not in any wise convinced that the entire latter half of the book is not a virtual reality hallucination, because things Get Weird at that point, and a kind of dream logic kicks in at several points.)
I admired the way the book refuses to bow to the three-act structure and the pulp narrative conventions, and yet stays interesting and powerful throughout. The characterizations both of people and cultures are marvellous and detailed and humane, and the world this book evokes is both mundane (in a wonderful sort of "this is the world I live in" manner) and vastly alien.
This is a narrative in the sense of being a pivotal section of a life. It's a story of the transformation of that life, and of the world.
Book #52: Naomi Novik, Throne of Jade
Also a good book, though not the award-winner calbre of Geoff's novel. Naomi (disclaimer: she's a friend of mine) manages to create a good deal of tension in the first five pages, and her narrative style is breezy and readable, though occasionally the text bogs down in its own manneredness. Also, the voice and personality of the dragon Temeraire is a great strength of these novels. They are light, engaging, and fun.
Unfortunately, I did feel that the plot was very misbalanced. There are about two hundred and fifty pages in the middle of Throne of Jade that could have been dispensed with in closer to just fifty, which pacing issue meant that when we did rejoin the "A" plot, there were only about a hundred pages left in the book, and a good deal of intrigue and complexity and backstabbing were dismissed with what seemed to this reader undue haste.
I diagnose auctorial cowardice, because this particular plotline (intrigue in a Chinese court) strikes me as dauntingly difficult to write and worldbuild. As it is, most of this action takes place offstage, and I cannot help but feel the book would have been stronger if the viewpoint character were introduced to and immersed in the plots and intrigues that he is meant to be used as a pawn in.
On the other hand, complaints aside, I did enjoy this book and I mean to continue to read the series; according to Ms. Novik, she intends to write at least two more, and I suspect it may continue.