Friday, January 29, 2021

Review of Tiamat's Wrath by James S.A. Corey

It’s here, the penultimate tale in the Expanse novels, 2019’s Tiamat’s Wrath. Picking up where the wild swing of Persepolis Rising left off, the novel doubles down on the crew of the Rocinante in old age and their fight against the authoritarian Laconian government which would have the human universe conform to its rule.

Tiamat’s Wrath opens with the crew of the Rocinante still scattered. Jim remains captive on Laconia, but is in daily contact with Dr. Cortazar, passing on what he knows about the protomolecule while sowing seeds of knowledge of his own. Naomi, in an attempt to deal with Jim’s absence, has taken a passive role in the resistance, while Bobbie plays the active role plotting sabotage, and more. Not seen since Cibola Burn, Elvi Okoye returns, this time as chief science officer aboard a Laconian military ship investigating the warp gates. And newly introduced to the series is Winston Duarte’s fourteen-year old daughter, Teresa. Highly intelligent, both in IQ and EQ, she is being groomed by her autocrat father to someday be leader. Little does he know, however, the effect his tight grip on her upbringing will have.

Despite being the eighth book in a nine book series, Tiamat’s Wrath still feels like a bridge book. Getting readers from Persepolis Rising to Leviathan Falls, there are unexpected, engaging moments which provide momentum to continue reading, just as much as there are paint by the numbers scenes and events which merely keep the novel afloat. Teresa the sharpest breath of fresh air, her behind-the-scenes view to proceedings in Laconia are perhaps the most invigorating, while Naomi, Bobbie, and Alex’s arcs trod familiar paths of ‘rebellion in space’. This is not to say they lack the humanity Abraham and Franck have imbued them with to date, only that their scenes seem more predictable overall—placeholders for the bog showdown in Leviathan Falls.

Corey” dedicates Tiamat’s Wrath to George R.R. Martin, which, for secondary reasons, should come as no surprise given two (and-a-half) major characters meet their fate. With only one more novel to be published in the series, I guess it’s time to start eliminating the expendable. One death happens naturally, and readers will go with the flow. The other happens naturally as well, but only in the context of a century’s worth of science fiction, which cheapens the moment to some degree. The half, however, I would argue is the cheapest of all—like an idea not part of the master plan yet tacked on at a later date—Wouldn’t it be cool if we…? That being said, that character has escaped death so many times that perhaps things were bound to catch up to them? (For those who have read the Expanse novella “Strange Dogs”, this plot twist will explain things…) And who knows, maybe it has larger implications?

Tiamat’s Wrath, the novel, moves and ends in both standard sf and non-standard fashion—a mantra, I suppose, for the series thus far. There are elements which are cut-and-dry sf that readers have encountered multiple times in other books, from Star Wars to Start Trek, and will either enjoy them or be neutral. The new elements, the elements which drive tension, suspense, and ultimately engagement are not present in as much quantity as Persepolis Rising, but do exist, and are enough to tide over the overall “bridge” feel to the novel. Regardless of any of this, there is nothing in Tiamat’s Wrath that will stop readers from checking out Leviathan Falls, final Expanse novel, in 2021.

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