Orbit, 2015, 544 pages
A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land-rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.
Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.
And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.
The Expanse series started with Leviathan Wakes, introducing us to James Holden and his crew. We learned about the ancient alien protomolecule, capable of wreaking biological and technological havoc on entire civilizations. And we were dropped into the politics of Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets Alliance.
With Nemesis Games, we're five books into the series, so there are a lot of recurring characters, and many of the politics and events make more sense within the context of what has happened previously. So I would not recommend anyone start the series here; at this point, each book is not really self-contained.
This volume begins with the Rocinante, a souped-up former Martian warship under command of James Holden, in dock for repairs. This is a good opportunity for the crew to take some R&R, which is how most of the cast starts the book scattered around the solar system, each one taking care of some unfinished business. Amos Burton, the Rocinante's cheerfully murderous mechanic, goes to Earth to check up on the circumstances of his foster mother's death, prepared to kill a lot of people if it was foul play. Alex Kemal, ship's navigator, goes to see an ex, which of course is always a bad idea. Naomi Nagata, the engineer, responds to a message from a man in her past and returns to Ceres Station. And James Holden, naturally, gets hooked by a conspiracy theory he can't let go of and begins investigating the disappearance of ships emigrating out of the solar system through the newly-opened ring gates.
Initially it seems like Nemesis Games will be a departure from epic soap opera, giving each character a storyline of their own and telling us more about their backgrounds. Amos, as sociopathic as he is, has a sense of duty to the people he cares about, and amusingly, takes offense when he finds out that he's considered "James Holden's pet killer." Naomi has a past, and a very bad ex, and ties to a radical faction of the OPA. Alex ... well, he's kind of boring, and his storyline didn't really make him less so.
We also see the return of our old friends Fred Johnson, "the Butcher of Anderson Station" who is trying to turn the OPA into a real government, Chrisjen Avasarala, the foul-mouthed head of the UN government, Bobby Draper, the former gunnery sergeant who you always know is bound to strap on a suit of powered armor at some point, and Clarissa Mao, the chief villain of Abaddon's Gate who returns as a ally in catastrophe to Amos.
The book does not stay confined to background stories, however. Soon enough all sorts of shit hits the fan, bigger and worse than ever before. It would be a spoiler to say what happens, but the authors (James S.A. Corey is a pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank) have upped the ante in every book so far, and are not shy about escalating the scale of each book's Big Bad Thing.
Verdict: Nemesis Games is very much part of a series — you need to know what went before, and not much is tied up in this book so you'll need to read on to follow what happens next. I am still enjoying the Expanse series and following it faithfully. This wasn't my favorite book of the series, but it wasn't a let-down either. 7/10.
Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, and Cibola Burn.
My complete list of book reviews.