25 September 2023

Tiamat’s Wrath

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By James SA Corey, Hachette, $32.99.

The Expanse, a series of doorstop-sized but compulsively readable space operas, now also a major TV series keeps on delivering the goods. Authors Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, collectively known as James SA Corey, are staying well ahead of their tv adaptation which is currently in post production of book four (Cibola Burn).

Tiamat’s Wrath picks up months after the events of the previous book Persepolis Rising which itself jumped the whole saga and its characters thirty years forward. It opens with reports of the death of a much loved character from previous volumes, a move which foreshadows that the series is starting to play for keeps – that potentially more fan favourite characters are going to die in the run up to the finale. When the book opens, James Holden is being held captive by the slightly mad emperor Duarte and his old crew mates are living perilously as part of the resistance. Meanwhile, scientist Elvi Okoye is on a mission to explore strange phenomena within the 1300-strong gate network. But her work is compromised by the military ideals of Duarte and his generals who want to use her work to strike a blow against the aliens who killed off the intelligence that built the gate network.

Much like other books in the series, Tiamat’s Wrath starts slowly as characters are reintroduced and their various situations are laid out. But about a third of the way through the shit hits the fan in various ways, the tension builds quickly and never lets off. Being book eight, Corey is able to play off the fact that the main characters are well known to their audience. They have rich backstories and well developed inner lives and now also dealing with getting older. In this book series stalwarts Naomi, Alex and Bobbie all get point of view chapters, often giving very different aspects of the same battles. Holden, the lynchpin of the whole series only gets a couple of point of view chapters but they eventually reveal how much he has been doing behind the scenes.

Tiamat’s Wrath is another great entry in fantastic space opera series. Like every other volume in this series it is a potent mix of politics, action, big alien mysteries, cliffhangers and character beats. But for newbies, book 8 is not a great place to start. There is plenty of call back to earlier books, in particular for this one Cibola Burn, and assumed knowledge about things like the protomolecule, the gate network and the old politics of Earth, Mars and the Belt. But as I always say in Expanse reviews – if you have not caught up with this series yet and you like space opera do yourself a favour and start at the beginning. Tiamat’s Wrath sets up a new dynamic involving human political structures across the gate network and leaves the board reset again for what is expected to be the final book in this saga.

This and 300 more reviews can be found at Pile By the Bed.

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