I have finished the Expanse novels.
I started reading the series in the fall of 2019. The 8th book, Tiamat’s Wrath, was released in January 2020. Going by my tweets I tore through the first three books in about a month and a half during the busiest season of the year for me. I fell hard for this universe. The first book I could not put down despite the inconvenience of having to work. I slowed down for books 4-7 and read them over the next 4ish months. And I don’t recall when I did my first read of Tiamat’s Wrath. I still need to read a couple of the novellas, Churn and Gods of Risk. Then next spring the (last?) novella Memory’s Legion is coming out.
I liked this book. I don’t think it hits the highest notes of the series. But it is an ending. It’s an ending that works. It feels earned. It doesn’t make me look back on the series as a waste or taint what I enjoyed. It definitely feels like a place the authors chose to stop rather than there being no more adventures to be had. The book starts with Duarte waking up out of his catatonic state that he fell into back in Tiamat’s Wrath. There was no suggestion that might happen. It’s just, the thing that’s happening to put us into the endgame.
I think what strikes me most about this novel is that it is a very simple story. High Consul Winston Duarte uses the protomolecule to try and mind control the universe to defeat the Dark Gods. Jim injects himself with the protomolecule and stops him. Then destroys the Ring Network and himself to stop the war. That’s it. Those are the beats that matter.
There is more to it than that. Jillian Houston and the Gathering Storm are destroyed in a fight with Laconia. New POVs include a Laconian Marine, Colonel Tanaka, introduced in book 7, who is almost the main character of this book. New POVs also include Kit, Alex’s only acknowledged child, and The Catalyst, the protomolecule infected woman used by Elvi Okoye and her crew in The Falcon. Millions of people are killed when the Dark Gods kill everyone in one of the systems connected to the Ring Network. One of the highlights of the book for me is the “relationship” we get between Admiral Trejo and Naomi. Both of them are the reluctant leaders of their sides and my favorite parts of this book are their very few messages back and forth.
But the core of the story is incredibly straightforward. It kind of feels like the first half or so of the book the plot is spinning its wheels. The crew of the Rocinante is running around with Teresa Duarte trying to find safety with Laconia on their heels. It feels episodic. They’re going to a few different systems and having short adventures just barely escaping each time. That has nothing to do with the stated Story goal which is to end the war with the entities that live inside the Ring Gates. The Ring Builders, I like to call them the Magratheans, built their Ring Portal Expressways right through the neighborhoods of someone else’s dimension and those people are pretty pissed about that.
The story really gets started when The Rocinante joins up with Elvi Okoye and the Falcon. Laconia and the Underground make peace when Tanaka realizes that Duarte is on the little alien moon in the Slow Zone where Holden went to in Abaddon’s Gate. Nobody can get into the thing though, so Holden injects himself with protomolecule and the door opens. That is the moment you really realize that This Is The End. Holden, Teresa, and Tanaka head in. Tanaka kills Duarte. Holden takes Duarte’s place when the Dark Gods start to attack. The Ring Network is destroyed and Holden along with it and the war is over.
I was really surprised by this, I assumed the story would end with Holden talking the monsters down. I thought he would succeed in reasoning with them. It seemed like they could’ve restored the status quo where Humanity uses the Rings carefully to avoid pissing them off. But no one ever talks to the Dark Gods. The Wormhole Aliens. The Goths. Them and Duarte are both trying to control humanity with their psychic powers. In the end, Holden takes that power and smashes it. It’s a very Bran Stark ending. Holden making himself this psychic god king trapped in a mass of roots and branches, albeit protomolecule instead of weirwood.
The most tearful part of the final book is the final Alex chapter with the Rocinante. Holden says that the only way to end the war is to destroy the rings and everyone needs to get the fuck out. Initially, the Rocinante and the remaining crew are headed for Sol system, Earth, Mars, Ceres, home. But Alex wants to go to the system where his son and grandson are so Naomi and Amos evacuate with another ship leaving Alex alone in the Rocinante. In the final moments, alarms start to blare and there’s something wrong with the reactor. It’s left ambiguous if Alex ever makes it out but he’s not worried and I’m not either.
Naomi and Amos return to The Solar System. Humanity is cut off from the stars again but now there are humans on hundreds of planets in hundreds of solar systems. Sure, the millions of people in systems that hadn’t developed agriculture yet are fucked. But Naomi is optimistic that one day they’ll find their way to each other again. We never find out if she ever learned that Filip made it out okay, she continues to assume that he died with Marco in Book 6.
The epilogue is a little Handmaid’s Tale. 1000 years after the last chapter, humans from another planet are landing on Earth having developed technology to travel between the stars. They land on Earth hoping to make first contact since the rings were lost and there’s Amos, still immortal after what happened to him on Laconia in Book 8. He walks up and suggests they go get a beer.
I think it’s a little neat, again, the beats feel very straightforward. I think they nail the feeling that this is not so much a sad ending as the conclusion of lives well lived by the characters in this series. The characters have always been the real strength of this series. They’re people whose company we enjoy. I think this series works and would recommend it.