If I keep saying it, maybe more and more people will finally listen to me! In my opinion, James S. A. Corey's Hugo-nominated and New York Times-bestselling Expanse sequence is the very best ongoing science fiction series on the market! This is space opera on a grand scale and as good as anything written by genre powerhouses like Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks, and Alastair Reynolds. With Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, and Abaddon's Gate, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the two authors behind this pseudonym, have managed to raise the bar higher and higher with each new release.
Unfortunately, in the fourth installment, Cibola Burn, the authors elected to forgo the formula that made the first three books such memorable reads and tried a different approach which didn't work as well. My main gripe with Cibola Burn was that it appeared to be some sort of interlude between the opening chapters and what would occur in subsequent installments. Previous volumes were sprawling space opera affairs that hit all the right buttons. That book was much more limited in scope and was more of a transitional work. Mind you, it was a good read in its own right. Yet nowhere near as remarkable as the first three installments. The ending did open up the door for great things to come, but it remained to be seen if the authors could recapture the magic which made the first volumes so awesome. Well, let me set your mind at ease from the get-go. Nemesis Games could be the best one yet!
Here's the blurb:
A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.
The worldbuilding turned out to be of little importance in Cibola Burn, as the plot more or less followed the corporate power vs "innocent" squatters stand-off on Ilus. Reaching the end of the novel, the Avasarala epilogue revealed that the whole "interlude" that was Cibola Burn was meant to show that with this new frontier open to all comers, the powerful Martian space fleet, with their home planet soon to become a ghost town, will probably go to the highest bidder and might spark the first interstellar military conflict. Fast-forward to Nemesis Games, in which the worldbuilding was one of my favorite facets. Once more, the fragile political balance between Earth, Mars, and the Belt, is at the heart of the story and threatens everything. As was the case in the first three volumes, I loved how Abraham and Franck handled the political facets of the different plotlines, as well as the repercussions the politicking generates in the greater scheme of things. I loved how the whole concept behind the Ring and what lies beyond would come to affect mankind so profoundly. And when the proverbial shit finally hits the fan, mankind will never be the same.
Throughout this series, the stakes became higher as the tale progressed, with tension rising with each new chapter. Indeed, The Expanse reached new heights with every new installment, gradually becoming a very complex science fiction tale. Having gained such momentum, I was wondering why the authors decided to activate the hand-brake, so to speak, and pretty much bring everything to some sort of standstill for the duration of Cibola Burn. Be that as it may, the stakes have never been as high as they ultimately become within the pages of Nemesis Games. As an unthinkable terrorist attack kills millions of people back on Earth, relationships between Earth, Mars, and the OPA will never be the same again.
The characterization remains the aspect which makes this series such a remarkable read. Their latest misadventure on Ilus has left the ship in need of major repairs, which essentially sidelines the entire Rocinante crew on shore leave. With a lot of time to kill, each crew member decides to attend to some personal matters before they can rejoin the rest of the team. I must admit that I was a bit scared at the beginning, for I thought that this would be another kind of intermission. And though it is, at least to a certain extent, the storylines are as far-reaching and multilayered as those that characterized the earlier volumes. The structure of Nemesis Games gives us a chance to get the perspective of each crew member, something that I have been waiting for a long time. As a matter of course, do-gooder Holden is back as a POV character and will probably continue to be present as the series progresses. But what makes this fifth volume so special is that we also get the points of view of Alex, Amos, and Naomi. Which means that we finally get the backstories of all three, and that's a doozy. By far the most shocking and the most touching, Naomi's POV packs a powerful emotional punch and is the heart of the tale. At times, how each member of the crew finds themselves right where they need to be for the plot to move forward felt more than a little contrived. But that's just nitpicking. It doesn't take anything away from the overall reading experience.
Similarly to Abaddon's Gate, Nemesis Games is paced in a way that always makes you beg for more. A true page-turner, this novel is almost impossible to put down!
Like most of its predecessors, this one is vast in scope and vision. The Expanse sequence, with its passionate and compelling characters, with its textured, detailed, and thoroughly imagined world, is shaping up to be one of the very best space opera series of all time. Believe me when I tell you that it doesn't get much better than this! Nemesis Games is the best SFF novel of 2015!