Thursday, December 10, 2020

Review of Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Regardless what the reader thinks about the quality of Nemesis Games, fifth book in the Expanse series, it was a clear waypoint in terms of the series’ direction. Where the first four books had unmistakable, linear progression outward and away from the solar system and into other galaxies, Nemesis brought things back under the sun. Earth having been bombarded with asteroids (a la The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), it’s up to the next book, Babylon’s Ashes (2016), to see what remains once the ashes clear.

The Expanse series to date all about character viewpoint, Babylon’s Ashes possesses the most yet. Along with every crew member of the Roccinante (save Naomi) “Corey” also puts on the table Filip and Marco Inaros, Fred Johnson, Chrisjen, Anderson Dawes, Michio Pa, Praxidike Meng, and others. It’s through these viewpoints that Babylon’s Ashes cleans up the events of Nemesis Games, then sets the stage for the final four books in the series. In order to accomplish this, alliances must be made and broken, and old vendettas tested in fresh political waters.

Thus, the protomolecule does play a minor role Ashes, but it’s pushed to the periphery as politics and war among the Earthers, Martians, and Belters burns on. Those looking for answers in that areas will need to wait. For readers concerned that “Corey” burned all their fuel on Nemesis Games, Babylon’s Ashes shows something is still in the tank. Given how forced and unnatural Nemesis Games is, I would even argue Babylon’s Ashes is the better book despite it lacking “game changing” moments of the same caliber. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the reader is given more background on familiar characters and are introduced to new ones, all of which enhances the depth of the overall series. The Free Navy’s actions in Nemesis Games are anything but a black and white affair.

Overall, for readers who considered Nemesis Games a drop in quality, Babylon’s Ashes makes it seem more a bump in the road, the series’ quality returning to what readers found in Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate. A transitional novel nonetheless, the Corey duo pick up the Expanse pieces and re-orient them in a new direction, presumably setting things up for the escalation into the final four books.

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