Here I am, all caught up on the Expanse. From this point on I will be getting to the rest of the series at the mercy of publishing schedules and the speed with which my local library picks up the ebooks.
This book opens a few months out from the end of the previous novel. Following its stunning attack on Earth, the Free Navy under the command Marcos Inaros is seeking to consolidate its power over the Belt and enforce its will on the movement of goods and people throughout the solar system and beyond. The fanaticism of Marcos, however, is threatening to split the movement as not everyone within its leadership believes in either his heavy-handed tactics or his competence. Meanwhile, having combined their remaining forces, Earth and Mars, in conjunction with Fred Johnson, are courting moderate OPA factions as they prepare for a major counter-strike against their common foe. In the middle of all the action, of course, is James Holden, whose personal celebrity and past exploits, to say nothing of his private warship, uniquely position him as a central figure in the fight against the Free Navy.
I thought this book was pretty good in comparison to the last two, but at the same time I was hoping it was going to end up being something a bit more than what it was. The Free Navy storyline is interesting enough, but it is also such a drastic departure from the first few books that it kind of feels like the authors are blowing things up just for the sake of doing so. One of the things that really got me interested in these novels in the first place was the protomolecule storyline and the underlying threat of a mysterious alien menace. Unfortunately, that arc has been conspicuously absent from the last two novels, ending rather abruptly in the final chapter of Nemesis Games. Yes, there have been hints that there is more to come, but having this key aspect of the early story drop so suddenly has really affected the flow of the series for me. Also notably absent are any Martian perspectives (I don’t count Bobbie since she is essentially Rocinante crew at this point). Again, I get it that whatever the renegade Martian forces are up to will probably be a big part of the next books, I just feel like it’s a missed opportunity to have hardly any view of what’s going on inside Mars from either side. In light of how many different people from the other factions get POV chapters this book, this feels like a pretty glaring omission.
This diversity of perspectives was probably my favorite part of the book. It gave a great sense of scale to the action and allowed the reader a chance to check in on some familiar places and faces while showing the full impact of recent events. On the other hand, this variety also served to highlight the thing I dislike most about the series; namely that despite a potentially engaging story and interesting locations, this vast universe isn’t populated by any characters I really care about. I’m not going to rehash old criticisms of the main group, though at this point I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no one from the Rocinante crew is going to appeal to me. Of the new comers who get the most page time, I just plain don’t like Marcos (which is intentional, though I do think he is a bit too one-dimensional as a villain) or Filip (whom I think was supposed to be sympathetic to some degree). Michio Pa had potential, though unfortunately her scenes were too often focused on her polygamous marriage situation than the actual plot.
At this point I think a break from this series is exactly what I need to stay invested for the long haul. I am still curious enough in the outcome to want to read the next book and give the rest of the series a chance, but after not loving the last few installments I would rather focus on reading other things that I am currently enjoying more.