[Some spoilers for Book 7]
The minds behind James Corey are the masters at the obvious-in-retrospect plot twist. Each of the Expanse books never quite goes the way you expect it might but there is a common sense to the events. It is a feeling of realism rather than any deep commitment to realistic science fiction. The background setting has evolved from a gritty tale of social conflict among asteroid miners to interstellar travel, aspiring galactic empires and not one but two sets of enigmatic aliens.
There’s never been many fundamentally new ideas in the Expanse series but rather it has pieced together familiar science fiction elements to tell a serial epic story of politics and protomolecules. Which of the two themes dominate in a story varies but the implications of more science fictional events always ripples out politically. Likewise, the factional manoeuvrers of the political stories gang aft a-gley as ancient alien legacies do their own thing.
Tiamat’s Wrath is the direct sequel to Persepolis Rising, in which the serial jumps forwards several years to first show a new normal for the solar system and humanity’s colony planets only to be disrupted by the return of a breakaway faction of the former Martian Navy. Dubbed the Laconians, they have formed a militaristic society under the leadership of “High Consul” Duarte (a background presence in earlier books). Armed with technology derived from the protomolecule, the Laconians stomp all over everything. By the end of the book, the protagonist crew of the Rocinante are scattered and their captain, Jim Holden, has been captured by the Laconians.
The end of the last book marked out what to expect from the next one: a tale of dogged resistance against the fascist Laconians as Bobby, Alex, Naomi and Amos each find ways to fight back against the growing tyrrant. Put another way, it looks like we were going to get a more political rather than protomolecule book. When there is expectation to zig, Corey inevitably zags. Life and the universe is fickle and Duarte’s plans for galactic domination face threats more complex and incomprehensible than a resurgent Belter resistance.
As always, there’s a mix of point-of-view characters. Of the establish cast, Alex, Bobby and Naomi take centre stage. The character-returning-from-a-previous-book-that-you-had-forgotten-about is Elvi, the scientist from Cibola Burn who is now working for the Laconians investigating the remains of the alien civilisation that built the hyperspace gateways. The newer pov character is Teresa, the daughter of the High Consul.
There are plots, schemes and intrigue aplenty as Naomi attempts to coordinate a scattered resistance and Alex & Bobby try to work out how best to use their stolen Laconian warship. Holden is a secondary character, kept as an open prisoner on Laconia but running schemes of his own as best he can. Meanwhile, the lingering mystery of ships that disappear as they pass through the gates comes to the fore, setting off catastrophic consequences for everybody.
By the end, there have been multiple epic space battles and at least one person reanimated from the dead by alien technology and everything has changed again. Disruption as the only normal is the recurring theme of the Expanse books, the authors notably skipping a few years between book 6 and 7 when they needed a period of relative calm to have existed.
I gobbled up this book in two days. Bring on the finale.