Persepolis Rising

I've been saying it for the last few years. 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! No doubt about it, this is space opera on a grand scale and as good as anything written by genre powerhouses like Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks, Ian McDonald, and Alastair Reynolds. With the first three installments, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the two authors behind this pseudonym, managed to raise the bar higher and higher with each new release. Which boded well for what would follow.

Unfortunately, with Cibola Burn they elected to forgo the formula that made the first three books such memorable reads and went for a different approach that didn't work as well. At least for me. My main gripe with the fourth volume was that it appeared to be some sort of interlude between the opening chapters of the series 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. Then came Nemesis Games, which was the best one yet!

The fifth installment raised the stakes even higher and I was curious to discover the aftermath of such a catastrophe in Babylon's Ashes. Like Cibola Burn, it was not as dense and multilayered as Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, and Nemesis Games. To a certain extent, the sixth volume worked more or less as a self-contained epilogue to the events and storylines that made Nemesis Games such an amazing read. The plot was not as far-reaching and mysterious, and it had more to do with how the remnants of Earth and Mars ultimately responded to the terrorist attacks which killed millions of people. Given that Daniel Abraham has often said that the Expanse would probably be comprised of nine installments, it felt as though Babylon's Ashes marked the end of the series first story arc and that everything that would come after would take us toward a promising endgame.

Considering the huge amount of disparate storylines, I was wondering how Abraham and Franck would bridge the gap between the two arcs in Persepolis Rising. And like most readers, I was shocked to realize that the seventh volume occurred three decades into the future. There was a brief moment of panic at the beginning, but each new chapter demonstrated that this jump ahead in the timeline had been necessary. In the end, Persepolis Rising was even better than Nemesis Games!

Here's the blurb:

The seventh novel in James S. A. Corey’s New York Times bestselling Expanse series–now a major television series.


In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

One thing's for certain. We have come a very long way from Leviathan Wakes. Of course, we've always known that everything was connected. And yet, Persepolis Rising is the first volume to weave elements from all previous books into a convoluted tapestry of storylines. And little things that made little or no sense before now play an important role in this one. And given the vast amount of plotlines and characters, I believe it's high time to include a "What has gone before" at the beginning of each new installment. I mean, I had to Google who High Consul Duarte was while reading the very first chapter. Having said that, the authors go out of their way to remind readers of who's who and what's what, so it's all good. But given the depth of this series, a reminder of key events and storylines at the start of each book would help a lot.

The fragile political balance between Earth, Mars, and the Belt was always at the heart of the story and influenced everything. It was even more fragile in Babylon's Ashes, now that millions of people had died on Earth, and thousands kept dying everyday in the aftermath of the strikes. The planet was in shambles and it remained unclear whether or not mankind would ever be able to thrive again, or if our home world would have to be abandoned. In each volume, I loved how Abraham and Franck handled the political facets of the various plotlines, as well as the grave repercussions the politicking generated 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. Thirty years later, the political balance has stabilized for the most part. There is an Earth-Mars Coalition and the old OPA has become the Transport Union. They're in charge of shipping and commerce with all thirteen hundred colonies beyond the gates. There is also the Association of Worlds, speaking on behalf of those same colonies. But that balance will be torn to pieces when Laconian military ships unexpectedly emerged from their gate to threaten Medina Station.

The characterization has always been the aspect which makes the Expanse such a remarkable read. 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 this work. This allow readers to live vicariously through these perspectives. Old favorites such as James Holden and Bobbie Draper return as POV protagonists. But it's the new faces that offer the most interesting perspectives. Paolo Cortazár, High Consul Duarte, and Santiago Jilie Singh allow us to find out more about Laconia and its culture. President Drummer of the Transport Union, whose point of view showcases how the Earth-Mars Coalition and her own organization face and react to the Laconian crisis, is another captivating perspective. Her interactions with Chrisjen Avasarala, who returns as a retired secondary character, were always great. Alex, Naomi, Amos, and Clarissa Mao also have their occasional points of view, yet they are few and far between. I was concerned that the thirty-year gap would have dramatically changed some of the protagonists, but not really. The crew of the Rocinante might be older, and maybe a little wiser, but overall the group remains the same. Holden and Naomi have decided to hang it up. They plan to cash in their shares in the ship and make Bobbie the new captain. But when Laconian starships of alien design take control of Medina Station and put the Rocinante on lockdown, dreams of relaxing on the beach and enjoying their retirement evaporate quickly. As the invulnerable ships usher in a new world order, it's up to a small group of people to attempt to escape the Laconian yoke.

In terms of rhythm, Persepolis Rising is paced to perfection. It may not be a fast-paced affair, but the novel is nevertheless a veritable page-turner. It takes a few chapters to get accustomed to the thirty-year gap, true. But after that, this book becomes impossible to put down. The endgame and finale are quite exciting, though this one ends with a number of cliffhangers. Too bad, yet there was no helping it. Persepolis Rising is definitely the first installment in what can only be the concluding story arc, hence we can't expect each book to act as a stand-alone. There are simply too many storylines woven together and coming to their resolution. And considering the quality of this seventh volume, I just can't wait for the sequel!

After reading Babylon's Ashes, I felt that we had now reached a point where all the pieces were on the board. If there were indeed only three volumes left, with worlds decimated, important players dead, an increasingly more fragile political balance between the various factions of the solar system, thousands of worlds awaiting to be discovered beyond the Ring, and an ancient alien civilization that could destroy everything, the time had come for the authors to elevate their game even more and take us toward an endgame that promised to be spectacular. Well, Persepolis Rising is all that and then some!

Like most of its predecessors, Persepolis Rising is a sprawling novel that is vast in scope and vision. The Expanse sequence, with its passionate and compelling characters, with its textured, detailed, and thoroughly imagined world, continues to be the most satisfying science fiction sagas on the market and is shaping up to be one of the very best space opera series of all time.

The final verdict: 9.5/10

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1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Couldn’t disagree more. I thought Cibola Burn was the best of the series, and everything after it has been running on fumes. Persepolis was incredibly dull imo.