It’s weird. I did my mammoth James SA Corey re-read specifically in order to read this and then… it took me a while to really get into it. Partly, I think that’s because it was jarring to go from the familiar to the not but with some familiarity; it kind of threw me. And then there’s the fact that most of this book is set on, or orbiting above, a planet. I mean, there’s been bits set on Earth before, and quite a lot within the inhabited asteroids, but – a planet? as the main setting for an Expanse novel? That’s just weird.
But, eventually I got there. And of course I’m glad I did because this, really, is the conclusion to the arc that started with Leviathan Wakes (… although I’ve just bought the fifth novel and there’s a sixth due next year, so I don’t really know what’s going to happen there).
As always, there are multiple narrators. The prologue starts with Bobbie Draper, which is mean because it meant she wouldn’t feature and I really like Bobbie. Anyway. The first chapter is Basia, and it took me a little while to recognise the name (and a rather obvious hint, actually): but this is Miller’s acquaintance from Eros, the one whose little boy was kidnapped at the same time as Mai. He’s been part of the first wave of people to head out through one of the gates that’s now opened to the galaxy; basically, they’re squatters. Which is mostly fine, since their planet has a nice store of lithium for digging up and then selling – but because of that lithium, there’s a corporate ship coming with offical Earth papers that say the planet is theirs for the mining. Of course, why should an Earth piece of paper make a difference? And so Basia gets caught up with the wrong people (saboteurs) for the right reasons (family and freedom). He has many difficult decisions to make over the course of the novel.
The second narrator is Elvi, a scientist who is coming to the new planet (whose name depends on which side you’re on) with the corporate ship because heck, wouldn’t you? Chance to check out (what should be) a pristine new environment? Of course things go wrong (see previous comment on Basia’s friends), but she does at least get to do some science. I wasn’t always happy with Elvi’s narrative; I’m particularly conflicted about the romantic aspects, because while I think I understand it, it did feel a bit like “oh a lady must feel romance” and that makes me sad. She does get to be a kickass scientist though, which I guess is a consolation.
Third is Havelock, and I am so embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out who this was. It wasn’t until there were really obvious comments about being an Earther and being part of Belter security that I realised: this was Miller’s partner, back in the day. The one he warned off when things were getting difficult for Earthers. So we have a marvellous set of call-backs to the first novel, here. I mostly liked Havelock, although his tendency to just follow and mirror what his leaders are doing got pretty old. I enjoyed the perspective he allowed, though – it did add a nice rounding to the story.
And fourthly, of course, what would an Expanse novel be without James Holden? Oh Jim. Seriously. This time, he’s involved precisely because of who he is: one of the most notorious men in the solar system, renowned for a disturbing sense of decency and fierce love of truth. Who better to negotiate between Belter squatters and an Earther corporation? BAHAHA.
Also, of course, Miller is still around and being annoying in Holden’s head. In fact, the artefact gets its own occasional appearance in the narration of the story…
Not quite as enjoyable as the previous novels, but still a really solid SF story… and the epilogue makes me rather excited for the fifth.
You can get Cibola Burn from Fishpond.