Orbit | 2017 (7 December) | 549p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Expanse is, with no doubt at all, my favourite current science fiction series. I’m not talking about the TV series but the books. I love them. I have been known to hug them. For years now they’ve been going straight to the top of my reading pile and Persepolis Rising, the seventh, was no different. I daresay you could read Persepolis Rising as a standalone if you really wanted to but you’d miss out on so much. Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex, Bobbie…. I love these people. This review assumes you do too.
About thirty years have passed since the events of Babylon’s Ashes. The solar system and the hundreds of colonies on the other side of alien ring gates are enjoying an uneasy but much welcomed peace. Survival on the colonies isn’t easy. Many are just one supply vessel away from collapse. Controlling traffic through the gates is key. And so these days the business of government isn’t done by presidents and politicians as much as it is by trade companies – the Transport Union to be precise. It’s the job of Holden and his crew aboard the Rocinante to police their laws. But the past is about to come back to haunt them.
The distant colony of Laconia disappeared from the attention of humanity thirty years ago. It has been forgotten. But now it is back, with the power and technology to support its ambition, which is immense. It comes at a bad time for Holden and Naomi. They were hoping to settle down to a peaceful retirement, on some paradise shore with cocktails. But at times of crisis Holden has always been called upon and now is no different. The stakes though are extraordinarily high. Laconia may not be aware what it has unleashed.
Each of the Expanse novels is different – they have moved along the story of the protomolecule and the ring gates in the most original and varied way. Their perspective shifts from the intimate to the universal. Persepolis Rising is equally original. For the first time in the series we have shifted forwards by decades. Holden and his crew have changed and we have to catch up with each of them. And the novel does that wonderfully. As always with these books, chapters shift between characters – not just between the members of the Roci crew but also between the other influential personalities of the novel, including the intriguing Governor Singh from Laconia. We are shown all sides and opinions. But just when we become comfortable with certain characters, we’re given a shock.
But the big strength of this novel, as with the others, is the portrayal of the Roci crew. The authors treat our heroes with great warmth and care. I love the crews aboard the Enterprise, Voyager and Discovery, and I love the crew of the Rocinante every bit as much. And now they’re all that little bit older. This adds something new. Some other well loved characters also make cameo appearances, I’m very pleased to say!
The plot of these novels has come a long way since the outstanding Leviathan Wakes. The plot here is deliciously complex and deep. There are hints of something ominous. The mystery surrounding the creators of the protomolecule and those other aliens who wiped them out builds. Every time I read one of these novels I’m left intensely anticipating the next book in the series. There are answers out there somewhere. The books are so satisfying to read while they also tantalise. I love this intensity as much as I love the worldbuilding, which is fabulous. Much of the action here is set aboard a space station and we’re left in no doubt as to what it’s like to live on it – cramped, smelly, dangerous, isolated, vibrant, exciting. The action sequences are as thrilling as ever.
Persepolis Rising is a superb addition to this fantastic series. It’s an immersive reading experience, particularly for those with any kind of affection for Holden and his crew. I find it incredible that the two authors who combine to make James S.A. Corey can maintain this momentum and originality year after year but they do. Likewise the quality of the writing is always tremendously high. Persepolis Rising is one of the very best of the series. It marks a new beginning in some ways, due to the years that have passed, but it points clearly ahead and I can’t wait to see what happens next.