This is a different kind of book than we’ve gotten in the series so far, smaller in scope in a lot of ways, but set up for a lot of character development that isn’t realized as well as I would like. For a book that was so focused around Holden and Amos, I should have gotten to know them a lot better, but Amos was totally in a supporting role, and Holden is seen too much through other people’s eyes, mostly a woman who thinks she’s in love with him for a big chunk of the book (she isn’t, but she thinks she is.)
It’s also a book that can’t quite decide what kind of book it is. Science Fiction, certainly, but beyond that? It’s at times an exploration and settlement story, a “natural” disaster, an action adventure, a survival story, a posthuman experience, a rescue, and even a political thriller for a few moments here and there.
On that last, how the UN figures that it has any jurisdiction in another star system is completely beyond me. The characters in the book all seem to buy it, so I have to, but it seems ridiculous on the face of things to me.
The minor characters with their own POV scenes mostly came through better than those I consider the primaries, though none as well as Miller’s former partner, Havelok who shows the most growth of personality and the most change of any character in the book. It helps that I like the directions he grew in, especially considering his starting point.
Overall rating: 3.5 stars, which I’ll likely round up on Goodreads, mostly due to the strength of previous books in the series. This is a bridge book, with a smaller, far more localized scale than previous stories in the series. It hints at larger events to come in the next book, but gets a bit lost in pseudo-natural disasters, blind obedience, and death slugs.
The idea of cloud-dwelling bacteria colonizing our eyes is kind of neat, though.by
Picking up the third book in the Expanse series, I worried that the story might not grab me as hard as the first two had. Silly. There’s plenty of big stuff going on here, from the protomolecule being finished on Venus and throwing a ring into space settling into a really outer system orbit, the OPA refitting a colony ship with some serious firepower to Julie Mao’s little sister Clarissa deciding that she needs to get revenge against Holden and crew. Well, mostly Holden.
I’m a sucker for well done space opera, and this whole series qualifies so far. All of the things to love about the first two books are here.
The characters are all deep, well-rounded, and well-realized, though I’m missing both Bobby Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala in this book, who I really enjoyed in Caliban’s War. Alex doesn’t get enough screen time for me in this story, but there’s a lot of Amos moments, and that makes me happy. We get new elements and expanded depth to the relationship between James and Naomi. It’s also worth noting that Pastor Anna eventually proves to be the character who presents everything that could be good about religion, an unusual take in SF. There is a character of the opposite stripe, however, someone you might enjoy disliking.
The world, and here the word takes in the entire solar system, its environs, and the various cultures and political entities inhabiting it, gets more complicated and more varied. Things are still going on, things outside the purview of the story itself, and some of those things impact the story in ways you don’t always expect.
The stakes are huge. The political situation is still tense and now it has three real sides, plus the independents who don’t really fit on any side, the crew of the Rocinante, for example. And some revelations about the protomolecule, the ring, and their origins crank the stakes even higher through the book. At the end, we’re left with a broadened view of what the universe might be like for the flawed and varied humans living in it.
Overall rating: 5 stars. Oh, sure, but it’s the third book in a series, and that series is currently slotted to have nine books. It’s hard to review a third book and have anyone care, especially if you want to keep things spoiler-free, which I try to do with most reviews.
But here’s a good spot to say I don’t give a lot of 5-star reviews, and I’ve given the first three books in this series 5 stars each. I really, really enjoyed Abaddon’s Gate, but it’s worth stating that you should start with the first book first. I started with Leviathan Wakes only after seeing the TV adaptation and guessing that the rule holding the book to always be better would actually hold. It does, and continues to. But read Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War first.
I’m not going to immediately move to Cibola Burn, and not because I’m worried about being let down. I want to draw out the reading experience on this series and not get to the point too soon where I have to wait for each new volume until it comes out.by
But I almost put it down after the first couple of scenes. I’m glad I didn’t, but it was close.
My reason for almost abandoning the book is one of personal taste. I’ve said before here and there that one of the fastest ways to lose me as a reader (or a viewer) is to kill a kid while I’m reading (or watching). Not interested. Find another way to tell the story or tell a different story.
Caliban’s War starts with a kidnapping and then follows that with a marine platoon getting destroyed by a child-sized engineered creature which, just at the right time to save a POV character, more or less self-destructs.
After that, the story merges into the regular universe and we get all of the great elements from Leviathan Wakes, political tension and potential outright war between rival political powers, a mystery to be solved, realistic representation of a settled solar system and the technology that it takes to maintain things, characters you can care about, and an incomprehensible alien issue, now taking over Venus.
The alien issue is part of the scenery in this story, brought up just often enough to remind us that it’s there, it’s important, and we will be coming back to it. And people shouldn’t go to Venus.
This second book in the series also brings us one of my favourite characters from the series, Chrisjen Avasarala. The TV series tones her down a bit, but you get the full Avasarala in the book, the political expert with a mouth like a longshoreman and grandmother who will do whatever it takes to keep her world safe, because that will keep her family safe.
We also get a great character in Bobbie Draper, the martian marine suffering from PTSD who risks being branded a traitor to Mars by going to work for Avasarala in the cause of stopping the war that’s trying to break out.
Overall rating: 4.5 stars. I’m glad I got past those first couple of scenes, but as much as I enjoyed the book, those almost blew it for me. Persevere and you’ll be rewarded by a great story.by