I read Leviathan’s Wake, which I reviewed here and Caliban’s War last year – and loved them both. Strong military science fiction where the action crackles off the page and peopled with characters I care about doesn’t come along all that often. Far too often, a sprawling plot stutters over huge distances and the characters are somehow flattened by the enormity of all the technological gismos flexing their shiny muscles. Not so with this series. But having read the first two books, would I also equally enjoy this next instalment?
For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless space beyond. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with Holden’s destruction at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to decide whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.
That’s the blurb. So… something alien has appeared and now Mankind needs to work out what they are going to do with it. A science fiction theme that is as cosily familiar as late-night cocoa – although this time around it has a particular backstory which I will not be going into right now. In fact, if this is the first Expanse novel you’ve encountered, my strong advice is to put it down and get hold of the first in the series, Leviathan’s Wake. While Corey (writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) are far too experienced to either produce a slew of spoilers, or leave readers flailing around amid a forest of allusions to previous plotlines – this story rackets along at a fair clip with a lot going on and events in the previous two books have a direct bearing on what happens and why.
One of the main protagonists that keeps me coming back to this series, is James Holden. His apparently heroic stance in the first book created a fair amount of havoc – to the extent that parts of Humanity loathe him. So when he directs Rocinante towards the Ring, it is going to create tensions in an already unstable situation – but what actually happens could not be foreseen by anyone. Or how certain factions of Humanity decide to react…
As ever, along with the non-stop action and excitement, Corey also provides us with plenty of food for thought – what is the nature of Faith in a world where planet-killing forces are at work? How does that line up with the notion of a loving God? While I would have liked to see a tad more of Rocinante’s crew, there were a cast of characters in this book that more than made up for their relatively minor role in this slice of adventure. It didn’t hurt that both my favourite people in this novel were powerful women who represented very different viewpoints. I loved Anna, her strength and core of kindness. Reading and appreciating her, I realised that people with a strong religious belief all too often come off badly in genre fiction – either portrayed as some narrow-minded fanatic or misguided fool. The other character I really enjoyed was Clarissa. Her journey through the novel could have been all too predictable – in fact I was reasonably positive that I knew exactly what would happen to her by the end. And it didn’t… I am hoping to see her again in Cibola Burn, the next instalment which cannot come fast enough.
If space opera does it for you at any level and you haven’t yet encountered The Expanse series, do yourself a favour and start hunting it down.