Book Review: Persepolis Rising 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.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 7 of The Expanse
Publisher: Orbit (December 5, 2017)
Length: 608 pages
What do you do when your epic space opera series is seven books in, you’ve already put your readers through some of the most intense storylines they can imagine, and now you need to do something even bigger and better to usher it into the next phase with style? Well, you hit the “soft reset” button, so to speak. Not exactly starting things over, but there is certainly a sense we’re getting a new beginning of sorts in Persepolis Rising. That’s the impression I got anyway, when I opened the book, and the first line literally started with “Almost three decades had passed…”
I confess, at first there was a momentary feeling of panic. Were we really skipping ahead thirty years? That’s one heck of a time gap between this book and the last, and never has this series seen such a huge jump forward. But it’s true; Persepolis Rising returns to our heroes who are now quite a bit older, maybe a little wiser, and the solar system and the new colony planets beyond the ring gates are enjoying a protracted period of peace not seen since before the arrival of the protomolecule. That being said, life has not been easy for the fledgling colonies. Survival depends on the flow of supplies through the gates, and some planets have attempted to gain an advantage by cheating the Transport Union systems. Minor as they are, these transgressions cannot be tolerated, lest things descend into chaos, so Transport Union President Drummer hires teams like Holden and the crew of the Rocinante to lay down the law.
Decades of doing such odd jobs can take their toll though, and now that Holden and Naomi are getting on in years, they’re thinking it’s time to call it quits. But of course, it’s inevitable that a momentous decision like that will precipitate something big, and indeed, Holden’s retirement has barely begun when an old foe makes his return. For close to thirty years, this enemy has been hidden away on the lost colony world of Laconia, developing new technologies and amassing the strength required to invade the solar system and make all of its Union worlds a part of their new empire.
The Expanse series definitely has a special place in my heart. For years I have followed these characters, come to know them and love them. It would be impossible overstate my relief at finding them all here in Persepolis Rising, even after the passage of almost three decades in the timeline. We’re talking the entire crew of the Roxi—Holden, Naomi, Alex, Amos, Bobbie, Clarissa—and even my favorite foul-mouthed UN politician Chrisjen Avasarala. Older they may be, but in all the ways that matter, they are still the same. It felt very much like returning home to good friends.
It was while reading this book, however, that it really hit me just how far we’ve come since Leviathan Wakes. As much as I’ve enjoyed the earlier installments, they feel almost simplistic and jejune now compared to some of the more intricate plot lines since Cibola Burn. Clearly, we’re well beyond the days of vomit zombies, though I was also happy to see that the protomolecule still had a role to play in Persepolis Rising. The difference is, the concept has now been adapted and expanded on a scale that affects thousands of worlds and a countless number of people, and if you thought things couldn’t get any bigger and badder than what we’d already seen in the last couple books, think again.
But as I’ve stated before in my reviews of the previous novels, the reason why I keep coming back to this series is because of the characters and their relationships. If the crew of the Rocinante felt like they were a family before, they’ve only gotten even closer since the last time we saw them together, and if I have one regret about the thirty-year time skip, it’s that we’ve missed all those interactions between them in the intervening period. Still, some things haven’t changed, thankfully. Holden is still a hopeless do-gooder. Bobbie is still a total badass. Avasarala is still a master maneuverer. I loved how we got to fall back into the old conversations and routines like no time has passed at all.
Plus, let’s not forget the other side of the story. To me, the fact that the focus is not solely limited to the “good guys” is what makes The Expanse a special series. This time, Persepolis Rising includes the perspective of Governor Singh, a young and inexperienced officer tasked to bring the rebellious inhabitants of Medina Station into the fold of the Laconian Empire. Grossly underqualified for the job he must do, Singh is a tragic figure who engenders feelings of both dislike and sympathy due to his duo roles as severe authoritarian in public versus the loving family man he is in private. Believing wholeheartedly in the Laconian cause, he will become the ruthless soldier he needs to be if it means securing a better future for his young daughter.
Before this, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to be more excited about The Expanse, but authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck AKA James S.A. Corey have managed to fire me up once again. Their decision to jump ahead so many years after the previous novel may have been a bold move, but it’s one that ended up paying off, giving the series the shakeup it required. More than just a brilliant sequel, Persepolis Rising is also a beginning, and indeed, in a series that is supposed to include nine novels, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume this is the first book of a concluding arc. Regardless, whatever happens next is bound to be exciting, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.