Leviathan Falls

I've said it numerous times: 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 today. Over the course of a decade and eight installments, it continues to be space opera on a grand scale and as good as anything written by celebrated genre powerhouses like Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks, Ian McDonald, and Alastair Reynolds

The eighth volume, Tiamat's Wrath, was another action-packed and dramatic novel, the culmination of a panoply of multilayered storylines that came together at last to set the stage for what should be a memorable finale. That book hit an emotional high seldom seen in the genre and was possibly the very best installment in the series.

Could James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Falls top that? Sadly, the answer to that question is no. Though this final volume brings the Expanse to a satisfying end, it failed to strike a chord the way some of its predecessors managed to. Tiamat's Wrath raised the bar to such heights, I don't believe there was any way for the authors to elevate this work even higher.

Here's the blurb:

The biggest science fiction series of the decade comes to an incredible conclusion in the ninth and final novel in James S.A. Corey’s Hugo-award winning space opera that inspired the Prime Original series.

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win.

But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

Needless to say, we have come a very long way since Leviathan Wakes. In many ways, Persepolis Rising was the first one to weave elements from all previous books into a convoluted tapestry of storylines. The same could be said of Tiamat's Wrath, which took everything a step further. There was a definite sense throughout that Tiamat's Wrath marked the beginning of the end for the Expanse. And à la George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb, it was evident that Abraham and Franck didn't intend to make it easy for us to say goodbye to these protagonists. To a certain extent, though there are fireworks in this last volume as well, it's within the pages of the last book that the proverbial shit hit the fan. And though it would be false to claim that Leviathan Falls only works as some sort of epilogue focusing on the aftermath, there's no denying that this novel is unable to recapture what made its predecessor such an unforgettable read.

As a matter of course, the characterization remains the facet which makes the Expanse such a remarkable read. It's no secret that this series is about fascinating and far-reaching ideas and concepts. No matter how vast in scope and vision the Expanse turns out to be, it's the interaction between the protagonists as they deal with what's taking place that elevates these books to another level. In the past, each volume featured a more or less tight focus spread across a limited number of points of view and the same can be said of Leviathan Falls. Once more, this allows readers to live vicariously through such perspectives. Having said that, something is a little off in the first part of the novel. The fate of mankind hangs in the balance, yet the focus of Jim, Naomi, and Elvi's POVs doesn't quite convey the impending sense of doom and urgency that should characterize the series' endgame. Tanaka is a nice addition to the mix, sort of a dark Bobbie. The Dreamer's interludes didn't work well for me, I'm sad to say. Which is disappointing, for these chapters are where we learn the truth about those two ancient alien civilizations. As was the case in previous volumes, there will be casualties before we reach the end. So prepare youself for some heartbreaking moments that pack a powerful emotional punch. I had not realized just how attached I had grown to certain characters and losing them hurt more than I expected. Dead or alive, I will miss this bunch of men and women!

Though the end is nigh, the rhythm inexplicably drags for most of the first half of the novel. Not that it's boring, mind you. Just a very slow pace that makes you wonder exactly when things will pick up. This is meant to be the endgame of a nine-book sequence, but the first portion of reads like a slightly off-putting chunk of a Brandon Sanderson doorstopper. Thankfully, by the halfway point Leviathan Falls takes off and starts to deliver. And even if it cannot hold a candle to Tiamat's Wrath, Abraham and Franck close the show with the sort of spectacular climax that stays with you long after you turn the last page. The final scene, in particular, is a nice way to cap it all off.

Leviathan Falls is far from the best installment in the series, yet it brings the Expanse to a compelling and satisfying end. The second half of the book concludes the series on a high note. No doubt about it, the Expanse is one of the best, if not the best, SFF series of the new millennium.

The final verdict: 8/10

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