This is the fourth book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey which started with Leviathan Wakes, and then continued on with Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate. I’ve learned to pay attention to the titles of these books, so even though I had some nebulous memory of Conquistadors searching through the wilderness and deserts for the lost (golden) city of Cibola, I did look it up. That’s right. The legend that lured Spanish Conquistador expeditions north into the unexplored southwestern region of the North American continent was one that involved seven fantastic cities of gold. Cibola.
At the end of Abaddon’s Gate gates to many, many new worlds opened up for exploration, settlement and exploitation through rings left behind by a highly-advanced civilization that vanished before life really got going on Earth. This book picks up the story a couple of years after the events that closed Abaddon’s Gate in a smooth continuation of story line that builds on situations and characters that occurred in the previous books. Predictably, the first mission to conduct a scientific survey of a planet on the other side of a newly opened ring-gate arrives under the auspices of an energy corporation with mineral rights to the planet. Of course there are squatters, refugees from damaged Ganymede, already on the planet looking to defend their new home. Conflict is inevitable as each group strives to establish precedent and policy for all the new worlds to come. The solar system is a big place, and the centers of power are months away from this planet on the other side of a ring. Enter the Rocinante, already in the region of the ring-gates, sent to try to mediate an escalating crisis on the frontier. Of course things won’t go smoothly!
The crew of the Rocinante is back with all the personality, interplay and snappy dialogue that I have come to know and love in the previous books. The story in the book is built in a realistic fashion that reaches a satisfying resolution while still serving as an obvious bridge from past events to future books. I started reading the book during a very busy week, and just resented having to stop to sleep. This book is even more of a page turner that will keep you up all night than the last one! Here are some of my reflections after the event:
- The science is great and very well presented. One of my bosses once explained to me that science is actually a verb: you do it! This book does science instead of trying to present it to you. The biology especially is very heartwarming.
- The story continues to be told from different viewpoints. The different points of view are interwoven extremely well , and it is fun to experience the crew of the Rocinante through different eyes.
- Two of the new major players in the story are people we met in the previous books brought forward to this one in a manner that is entirely consistent with who they were and what they did before. I loved it!
- The characters in the story were reflective and evolved as time went on. Wow!
- While we are past the time of protomolecule-technology bioweapons, the fact that the ring-gate to the new world is an artifact from a lost civilization is skillfully embedded into the story. This new (alien) planet was exploited by vanished aliens in ways that can’t even be imagined yet. The ramifications of that may continue on into future books. Oh, joy!
- This is the most intelligent, action-packed and compelling book that I have read this year. I’m not sure if it is better than Caliban’s War, but it is very, very good.
The Conquistadors discovered in their search for the lost cities of gold that things weren’t exactly what they thought they were. In “The Expanse” series the rush is on; what is on the other side of the rings in all those unexplored worlds remains to be seen.
One thing is sure, the Rocinante will be busy and we are going to need Bobbie again!