I was scared that this book would be a bit weaker than its predecessors, but Tobias Buckell has kept up a surprising level of quality in his non-series (it IS a series, but each stands on its own). My biggest worry, all told, was about the fact that this book focuses on Pepper, the ultra bad-ass who's been in each one of the books (and in some short stories). For one, Pepper is so powerful that one wonders how he can be the center of a story where there's any real threat, and secondly he's such a dick that for us to like spending that much time with him he would have to be niced up a little bit.
Well, on the first point, he loses two limbs within the first few chapters. On the second, there are still enough other characters that Pepper never becomes too much--and it doesn't hurt that he is a damn awesome character. I think any more Pepper would have been too much though, and I hope that the next book uses him very sparingly (but uses him, definitely).
Beyond the lead himself: well, the book is about zombies and cloud cities, so what's not to like? It's some fast-paced, exciting stuff--never quite all-out horror, but science fiction with horror concepts bleeding into it. What's more, while the world that Buckell creates for this book isn't quite as new and different as New Anegada, it's still a lot of fun, and new ideas keep coming in a way that, at one point (strandbeests), reminded me of that old school sci-fi that would have so many crazy ideas it would almost be ridiculous.
On top of that, it's with this book that his real universe building takes a step up. The first book hinted at more out there, and the second showed us the nearby planets and gave even vaguer hints at what might be out farther. Sly Mongoose starts to really build up the idea of a larger, scarier threat, and being set a long time after Ragamuffin, starts to have a real feeling of epic history (future history, but whatever). I'm more excited for the series' continuation now, as it's all starting to fit together as one long story, even if Pepper is the only character in common.
Buckell's work is a lot of fun, not to mention a breath of fresh air in the generally whitewashed world of science fiction. Sly Mongoose might not quite have the magic of the world created in Crystal Rain, but it is damn good and better, I think, than Ragamuffin.