Orbit Books, 2019, 534 pages
Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.
In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.
At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father's godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father, the emperor, doesn't guess.
And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte's authoritarian regime.
Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia's eternal rule - and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose - seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough....
I like the Expanse series, a lot. (Still haven't seen the TV show.) James S.A. Corey follows the George R.R. Martin school of writing, and it shows — every book is long, each one adds something big to the universe, advancing major plot arcs incrementally forward, and yet you get to the end of each volume and feel like you are still no closer to the real ending than before.
Which may be true when you're writing a series that isn't meant to end. Many series are like that: Jim Butcher can pump out Harry Dresden novels as long as fans like reading about Harry's latest adventures. There may be a metaplot, but that doesn't mean there has to be an ending.
However, I feel like the Expanse series should have an ending. I'm just not sure if the authors agree with me.
In this eighth volume, humanity has now spread to the stars thanks to the ancient alien ring gates, and is colonizing worlds by the hundred. But the Laconian Empire, thanks to discovering some particularly juicy alien artifacts, has become an almost unbeatable military power, thus making them the Big Bads of the last two books.
In Tiamat's Wrath, all our old friends are still knocking around, trying to figure out how to beat this unbeatable enemy. James Holden is now a prisoner on the Laconian homeworld. Naomi Nagata is leading the resistance. Amos Burton has gone dark. Alex Kamal is still a smart-ass pilot. Bobby Draper is still a badass space marine. And the protomolecule, which started everything off way back in Leviathan Wakes, is still wreaking havoc, but now in a quiet way, and mostly thanks to idiots who keep poking it and its creators.
While most of the book is about the struggle against domination by the Laconian Empire, lurking in the background is always the threat of the ancient aliens who destroyed the creators of the ring gates, an alien civilization that was itself centuries ahead of humanity. The Laconians, following the basic Evil Empire playbook, have decided that the best way to make incomprehensible alien technology behave is to play tit-for-tat using game theory. This works about as well as you might expect, and like previous books, Tiamat's Wrath ends with the unresolved but implied threat of an existential threat growing ever closer.
So, will it ever arrive? Will we ever see the aliens who've been lurking like ghosts in the metaplot, and will humanity face them down? Or will the next three books continue to be about evolving politics in human space, the Laconian Empire perhaps being replaced by some other hegemonic power our heroes have to overthrow, while the alien threat remains a distant, implied one making ominous noises now and then just to remind us that everyone should be scared?
Still a highly enjoyable series, so I guess I can't blame the authors for milking it.
Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, Cibola Burn, Nemesis Games, Babylon's Ashes, Persepolis Rising.
My complete list of book reviews.