Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review of Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Hang on to your boots: Persepolis Rising (2017), seventh book in the Expanse series, takes readers a place they never would have expected upon the conclusion of Babylon’s Ashes: thirty years in the future. The time gap allowing events put in motion in previous novels the chance to blossom, indeed the solar system is turned upside down—but I’m not sure ‘blossom’ is the right metaphor.

Amos has gray at the edges. Alex is balding and looking in the rearview at a second failed marriage. And Holden and Naomi are retiring, handing the reins of the equaling aging Rocinante over to Bobbi. What is going on here? With humanity flung to the far reaches of space through the warp gates, colonies have begun to thrive, and establish governments of their own. The Earth has begun to re-establish normalcy after being decimated by meteors. Drummer is the leader of the Transport Union, an organization that has gone down the road of many large-scale organizations with time: bureaucracy. And there is still another group which has evolved: Admiral Winston Duarte’s band of breakaway Martians, and the protomolecule they stole. Evolved, in this case, is figurative and literal.

Pushing events thirty years into the future does a lot of positive things for the Expanse series. Foremost, it prevents a kind of episodic disease from springing up. Upon reading the prologue, the reader must immediately put aside the question: What will happen in this week’s installment?, and say: Oh, that was unexpected. What does that mean for Jim, Naomi, and the rest of the crew and universe? Cast in a different light, any expectations the reader may have had about what happens next are quickly put into doubt as the implications of the “new” setting are revealed.

The second positive thing shifting thirty years to the future does is to add the weight of time to the characters’ lives and to readers’ perspectives of them. In short, we feel we’ve grown older with them, that life has been lived, and that we are on the downslope rather than upslope of their story. With only nine novels planned in the series, things are starting to come to an end. This likewise adds a certain sentimentality, reading of the characters. Amos, while still stolid and dour, has likewise softened a little with old age, settled back a little, rather than let the angst of his youth drive his psyche.

In the end, Persepolis Rising is one of the most engaging novels in the Expanse series (top three or four so far). The biggest part of this is how readers’ expectations are turned on their head in terms of time (thirty years in the future is handled well), but also the manner in which those thirty years have allowed secondary plot threads to come to fruition, turning the state of the solar system on its head while growing old and sentimental with the main characters. The Rocinante is no longer the fastest thoroughbred in the Belt. Thus, for anyone who considered Babylon’s Ashes a kind of clean-up novel after Nemesis Games (which it was), Persepolis Rising kicks off the plot arc for the final three novels in the series in exciting, unexpected fashion.

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