Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Babylon's AshesBabylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 6 of The Expanse

Publisher: Orbit (December 6, 2016)

Length: 544 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

The Expanse has become one of my favorite series in recent years, and it is no exaggeration to say that it has only gotten better with every new book. Of course, the one problem with this pattern is that it works much like gravity—what goes up must come down, after all. And yet, I say this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that after a major plot event, it’s important to dial things back a bit in order to let your characters regroup, refocus, and rebuild (not to mention give time for the reader to digest the latest bombshell) and this is exactly the way I would describe the circumstances surrounding Babylon’s Ashes.

This sixth installment of the series is the immediate follow-up to Nemesis Games, directly addressing the events that happened in that book, so I would strongly recommend catching up before reading this review or others to avoid possible spoilers. If you’ve read the last novel though, then you’ll know that a new villain has come onto the scene in the form of the Free Navy, a violent group of rebels fighting in the name of Belters (a term that describes people born in or beyond the Asteroid Belt, a generally exploited and oppressed working class). Their leader, the charismatic Marco Inaros has just orchestrated the biggest, most devastating attack on Earth, killing millions. In the aftermath, he’s sowing even more chaos by setting his ragtag fleet on the vulnerable colony ships traveling through the ring gates to the new worlds on the other side.

It’s basically a nightmare scenario for Earth and its allies, who are still trying to help survivors and prevent more from dying due to the complete breakdown of infrastructure and governance. In their desperation, they reach out to James Holden, a man who in the past has been as much help to them as a hindrance, but the times are dire and they need all the support they can get. Captain Holden and the crew of the fast-attack ship Rocinante have a good track record of completing many dangerous missions and then surviving to tell the tale, so now they are being assigned one more: to break through to Medina Station at the entrance of the gate network and prevent it from falling to the forces of the Free Navy.

So how do you follow up a book like Nemesis Games, which is probably my favorite novel of the Expanse series so far? Well, I knew it was going to be tough. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when Babylon’s Ashes took a step back from the action, using this installment as an opportunity to take a breather, looking at where everything is and where everyone stands. That’s not to say Babylon’s Ashes wasn’t a great book, because it was. However, its focus and pacing were also decidedly less intense and immediate. The first half was heavily dominated by system politics and character relationships.

Babylon’s Ashes also broke away from the usual tradition of following a set number of POVs (usually four, I believe), branching out instead to cover a greater number of character perspectives, many of whom we’ve seen before in the previous installments. There were pros and cons to this. From a positive standpoint, this opened up the book to greater possibilities. We got to see the solar system through many more pairs of eyes, getting a fuller sense of the political climate and state of affairs in the wake of the Earth attack. In addition, favorite characters like Chrisjen Avasarala, Clarissa Mao, and Bobbie Draper get a chance to chime in now and then with their own chapters. However, as a counterbalance to this, the greater number of POVs also served to dilute the focus of the main situation and arguably made the first half of the book a less emotionally engaging experience.

In fact, it wasn’t until the halfway point where something finally happened to really shake me up. It was a good reminder that things in the Expanse universe are always in motion, always changing. Important people die, major worlds are decimated, and yet the characters must evolve and adapt to survive the new reality. There’s really nothing negative I have to say about this book, other than the fact that as a villain, Marco was kind of wasted. Having learned nothing from the last book, he falls into the same predictable pattern, and it’s always a little disappointing to see a bad guy who suffers repeatedly from the same fatal flaw.

It will be interesting to see where the events of Babylon’s Ashes will take us next. Another chapter in the ongoing saga of Jim Holden and the Rocinante has come to an end, and if there’s one truth I have learned from my experience with the last six books, it’s that anything can happen in The Expanse, anything at all, and that is why I love this series.

4-stars

Mogsy 2

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Abbadon’s Gate (Book 3)
Review of Cibola Burn (Book 4)
Review of Nemesis Games (Book 5)

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22 Comments on “Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

  1. I just skimmed your review because I do intend to start this series eventually. From what I remember of your reviews of the other books, it seems to be one of the most consistently high quality series. And it must be hard to keep going for six books! And who knows when it will stop:-)

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  2. I’m right in the middle of it, and so far I’m enjoying it: yes, after the previous book’s devastating events and breath-taking pace, this almost feels like a step back – the operative word being ‘almost’. This looks like a transition book, one that gives you the necessary perspective to take in the catastrophic aftermath of the attack and the shift in balance – emotional and political – that came after it. There seems to be something of this kind going on aboard the Rocinante as well, what with the additions to the crew and the new dynamics in the small ship-family they built: it’s like a microcosm of what happened system-wide and I find it a nice parallel.

    I’m sorry to hear that Inaros remains pretty one-dimensional throughout: I hoped that the authors would develop his potential toward something more, but I will need to see it to the end before I pass judgment.

    And we can look forward to the second season of the show in less than two months… 🙂

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    • Right, you can’t have all-action, high-octane all the time, sometimes after a devastating event you need to step back and take a breather – this felt like a transition book in that sense. But I loved getting to catch up with everyone to see how they’re dealing with the aftermath. I look forward to your review, and I also need to catch up with season one of the show 🙂

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      • I’m at the last 90 pages or so, and right into the thick of battle: it took some build-up, which I loved every step of the way, and it’s now headed toward what I suspect will be an explosive finale. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed about my favorite characters…. 🙂
        As for the show, I’m certain you will love it: rarely I have seen a tv show that paid so much respect to the original characters and fleshed them out so well, to the point that now, reading this last book, I see their faces and hear their voices, and it feels wonderfully *right*.

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  3. I’m with Tammy – I so want to start this and time just keep slipping through my fingers. But, never say never is my new motto – I will get there eventually.
    Lynn 😀

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  4. Nice review. I watched a few episodes of the TV adaptation but haven’t read the books, but I’m curious. I’ve heard only good things. And I didn’t realize there were this many books already- this series is really growing. Maybe time for a bingeread.

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  5. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  6. If you like science fiction and/or near-future space opera The Expanse series should be at the very top of your list. I have been a fan boy since Book 1 but every since Book 3 the series has been the best in the genre.

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  7. Pingback: Book Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey | The BiblioSanctum

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