Book Review: Tiamat’s Wrath 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: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 8 of The Expanse
Publisher: Orbit (March 26, 2019)
Length: 534 pages
As the penultimate book in the epic Expanse series, Tiamat’s Wrath gives one the feeling of an entire galaxy holding its collective breath—things aren’t so much happening as they are preparing the field for the final play. And yet, if you’ve been on this train since the beginning, you’ll know that James S.A. Corey, the collaborative team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank writing as one, isn’t going to let that get in the way of telling a full-force, action-packed and dramatic story. Sure, the end is just around the corner, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still blow a lot of stuff up and put readers through the emotional wringer in the meantime.
Given that this is the eighth installment of the series, it’s going to be pretty damn hard to give even a brief rundown of the premise without spoiling anything from the previous books, so I would highly recommend being caught up all the way to Persepolis Rising before proceeding. In fact, I would say it’s even more imperative considering how the last book carried us three decades ahead, offering a new beginning of sorts. That said though, you’ll still need to know everything that happened to fully appreciate the sheer magnitude of the events Tiamat’s Wrath, because this novel is the culmination of multiple intertwined narratives and a lengthy complex history. Earlier threads in the series are being drawn together as characters old and new are swept up in the chaos of a fast-changing universe.
Some more time has passed since the end of Persepolis Rising. The Laconian Empire has since become the dominant force in the galaxy, with former rogue admiral of the Martian navy Winston Duarte becoming the High Consul. More importantly, Laconia also controls the thirteen hundred or so alien gates that have opened to solar systems around the galaxy, giving them full access to the transportation network. In addition, the intensive research Duarte commissioned into the protomolecule has paid off, giving his military the most advanced ships humanity has ever developed, with the High Consul himself attempting to use the technological findings to achieve immortality.
What’s left of the crew of the Rocinante, now scattered to the four winds, is forced underground, with Naomi, Bobbie, and Alex fighting for the resistance. Meanwhile, Holden is being held as a political prisoner on Laconia and Amos has gone off the grid to try and get him back, even in the face of impossible odds. Things aren’t looking good for our characters, leaving them doing the best they can while praying something unexpected will happen for them to catch a break. And what do you know, something unexpected is exactly what comes to pass. Beyond the thousands of mysterious gates that have opened, some of them lead to dead systems. In one of these, an alien presence is stirring, not content to stand by while humanity continues to expand. A Laconian scientist, Elvi Okoye, uncovers disturbing details of an ancient genocide that might be related to this new alien threat, and at the heart of the empire, Duarte’s daughter Teresa finds herself prematurely thrust into the limelight as something astonishing and unforeseen happens to her father.
As we make our way steadily towards the grand finale, I found myself wrestling with a storm of feelings swirling within me. As enthusiastically as I awaited this novel, a part of me also never wanted this ride to end. As soon as I read the first sentence, I literally wanted to scream, because fucking hell, what a way to start the book, knowing full well what these four little words would mean to longtime fans of The Expanse. Cruel as it was though, I also knew that nothing could have me better for the tone of what was to follow, and the “beginning of the end” that this book would signify. This is where we must start saying goodbye, and clearly, the authors are not going to be gentle about it, and it says much about their talent when in response, all I can say is, please give me more.
And hey, lucky us, the revelation in the prologue was just the first of many more shocks to come. As you know, something BIG always happens in each of these books. Some event that makes you drop your jaw and think, holy shit, did that really just happen? On the relative scale of things, the “big event” that happens in Tiamat’s Wrath might not be as horrifically destructive or sensational as some of what we’ve seen in the series before, but it does give the reader an eerie sense of foreboding and a sick realization that, wow, humanity is soooooo screwed.
There are many remarkable moments like this in the book, and in fact, one of the things Tiamat’s Wrath does best is making the story feel like it’s in constant motion and packed with action. What’s more impressive is that this is happening even as the authors are spending lots of time pushing plot points and maneuvering characters around the place like pieces on a chessboard. Granted, many of surprises and twists they end up inflicting on us are painful, hitting readers right in the emotions. Here’s where the relationships between characters come into play, especially if you’ve gotten the foundation from the first seven books. Coupled with the joy to see familiar faces return to new roles is also the heartbreak of seeing them make their sacrifices and say their farewells. And it’s not just the old characters appealing to our deepest feelings of sympathy and compassion either; there are some new perspectives here too, endearing themselves into our hearts, making us feel as if we’ve known them forever, and of these, Teresa Duarte’s voice was probably the one touched me the most.
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s been another science fiction series that has come anywhere near to consuming me the way The Expanse has. It is, in every sense of the word, a phenomenon, capturing the imaginations of readers everywhere with its space-operatic intrigue and daring action, its intense thrills and wonder, as well as its human tales of courage and resilience. Tiamat’s Wrath is a gut-punching, ass-kicking, body-rocking installment that will leave you breathless. Bring on the final book.