I've been reading science fiction for 52 of the 63 years I've been alive. In that time, I have seldom picked up a sequel volume to some story, and found it to be every bit as good, if not better, than its predecessor. Fortunately, I can say exactly that, about 'Hand of Mars'. It surpasses its preceding volume, 'Starship's Mage' by quite a bit, in terms of its tightly woven plot, the twists that come unexpectedly, and the solutions to plot problems that are never what one might expect - and are never 'deus ex machina' in their construction. It was one that I put down - when I had to do so for some reason - with great reluctance.
I'm traveling from almost Philadelphia to Honolulu, in a few weeks, on vacation, and I just purchased the third volume in the series, 'Voice of Mars', and have it on my tablet, waiting to entertain me on the pair of long airplane rides.