I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
This is an enormous door-stop of a book. I read it while curled up at home, recovering from a throat infection while a snow storm raged outside, with temperatures below -20 C. That made the snowy scenes in the book really come alive for me.
It's a interesting world, northern England in 2142. On the plus side, travel to other planets has become easy. Earth seems to have solved its energy and environmental problems. On the negative side, absolutely everything of any significance seems to be run the the North "family," a series of clones of one man. His three cloned "brother-sons" in turn have reproduced, creating a series of physically identical, but psychologically different "descendants." The towering ambition of the original seems to have been inherited, but with varying degrees of competence.
Now, I am a fan of a good murder mystery. And when North clones start dying in a very similar matter, it looks like there is a serial killer on the loose with a big grudge against the family. Very promising. But the murdering alien just fell flat for me--unconvincing and not nearly scary enough.
What partially saved the book for me was the addition of Angela, a very strong female character, who has done 20 years of jail time for the first set of murders. She is freed when another, related crime happens while she is obviously unable to have committed it, with the stipulation that she must help to catch the real murderer. Her back story is convoluted and interesting, with bits and pieces being learned all through the novel as certain circumstances prompt her memories.
There was certainly an interesting mixture of roles for female characters in this work. There was a plethora of women who were interested in pursuing casual sex, which I found to be more a male fantasy fulfillment than true representation (at least among the women that I know). There were also a certain number of sex workers. Thank goodness there were also lots of competent police women, professionals, farmers, etc. to counteract all the sex goddesses.
I think the book does pass the Bechdel Test (1. There is more than one female character, 2. The women talk to each other, and 3. They talk about something besides men.) But I still didn't feel entirely comfortable with the depiction of female sexuality--it was reminiscent of Heinlein in that I was sure the author thought he was being very affirming for women, but was really grafting a male sexuality onto women and thinking that was a compliment. Still, it was an interesting effort.