It’s a true but saddening cliché that all good things must come to an end and it’s with a mixture of feelings that I look forward to the publication a month from now of Leviathon Falls, the final (sobs) part of what has become my favourite science fiction series, The Expanse. It’s been some time since the publication of the last novel (the eighth), Tiamat’s Wrath, in fact I’m rather shocked to discover it’s more than two and a half years. You don’t need me to tell you how much the world has changed since then but I do know that I am very ready to discover what is to happen to Holden and his crew, not to mention that pesky protomolecule.
I am delighted and honoured to take part in Orbit Books’ celebration of this landmark series, while we await Leviathan Falls. A re-read has been taking place by some of my most excellent fellow book bloggers (do take a look at the poster below) and I am so pleased to be taking up the mantle for Book 6 – Babylon’s Ashes.
The Expanse is, obviously, a series and so it’s not one you’d want to read out of order. If you’ve been following the re-read then you’re reached Babylon’s Ashes and so I’m very happy to encourage you to read it, while trying hard not to spoil anything for those who haven’t. I’m not mentioning the TV series here as I’ve not watched it. I just can’t. I adore these books and the crew of the Rocinante lives in my head as I know them and I don’t want that messed with, however good the series might be.
For starters, here’s the official blurb:
The sixth book in the NYT bestselling Expanse series, Babylon’s Ashes has the galaxy in full revolution, and it’s up to the crew of the Rocinante to make a desperate mission to the gate network and thin hope of victory. A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood. The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.
James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun.
And here’s my review:
Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth in the series and, while you could enjoy it as a standalone book, I really advise against it. Each of the books is very different but each complements the others and broadens even further this brilliantly imagined future world and solar system. As a whole, they form the story of Captain Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. Whatever goes on around the crew, however extraordinary it might be, the heart of the series lives aboard the Rocinante. It is an utter delight to follow their adventures as they do their utmost to save humanity from itself – and from something else. Do read the books in order. This review assumes you’ve done just that.
The war in the solar system continues with Earth, the mother world of mankind, now all but destroyed by the militant forces of the Free Navy, an organisation that claims to act on behalf of the Belters, the inhabitants and miners of the industrial outer planets and the asteroid belt. Many humans have sought escape on the planets beyond the strange gate complex but these new fragile colonies rely on supply ships from the solar system for survival – these ships have become the target for Marco Inaros, the leader of the Free Navy. Mars and Earth have formed an uneasy alliance in the effort to fight back and who better to lead their enterprise than the infamous Captain Jim Holden, regarded as hero by many and traitor by others? The battle lines are drawn aound the Medina Station at the entrance to the gate network, a place so alien it may never be understood, never be tamed.
As anyone who’s read the Expanse series knows, these are no ordinary military SF novels. Each of these books is strongly character-driven and Babylon’s Ashes is no different. Jim Holden is a wonderful figure who has evolved over the course of the novels as the responsibilities have weighed ever heavier on his shoulders. He always has a smile for his crew. He inspires them. But they know him well and can see the cares that lie below. There’s something so touching about the way that he gathers video and audio clips of people living ordinary lives to try and prove to a solar system at war that every one within it is a human being. It’s great to see some of our much-loved characters again, including my favourites Bobbie and Avasarala. And there’s another figure from the past, too – Captain Michio Pa, whom we first met in Abaddon’s Gate. And she is fantastic.
The novels might depict dark and frightening events but ultimately the message is one of hope, compassion and humanity. And this is achieved by making us care so deeply for the crews of the ships that we travel aboard. The crews of the Rocinante and the Connaught view themselves as families – the Connaught crew actually is a family with members forming one marriage. There are other dysfunctional examples of family aboard the principal Free Navy vessel for contrast but the overriding message is that a harmonious family, however unconventional its composition, can prop up society. But what a battering it’s going to take.
As usual in the Expanse series the chapters flit between the different characters, allowing us to move around the conflict and see what life has become on planets, on ships, on space stations, and in the presence of the awe-inspiring gates. The action sequences are deadly and thoroughly exciting but the thrill of Babylon’s Ashes extends beyond the combat because of the intensity of the crisis facing this poor solar system. This is a series with big vision!
Each of the books is different but in them all we can’t forget the protomolecule and the threatening alien shadow. Anything is possible in the future for Holden, his ship and crew, and the people of Earth, the inner planets, the Belt and the colonies so far away. This is a spectacular series.