Thursday, June 06, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S.A. Corey

Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth and penultimate book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.
I have eagerly bought and quickly devoured each of the previous books in this fast-paced, high-quality space opera after I stumbled into the first one, Leviathan Wakes, giving it a chance because of  the recommendation from George R.R. MartinThis series (and the author) are at the very top of the short list of my favorite reads and authors. (Others on this list would be anything by Peter F. Hamilton, Tana French, and Richard K. Morgan.)

Tiamat's Wrath takes place a few years after the events depicted in Persepolis Rising. The main characters of the series (James Holden, Alex Kamal, Naomi Nagata, and Amos Burton) are scattered across multiple star systems while more recent additions to the crew/family like Clarissa and Bobbie have also experienced big changes since they were added to the original inner circle. 

Tiamat's Wrath begins with the news of the death of Chrisjen Avasarala, one of the most popular characters in the series (played irrepressibly by Shohreh Aghdashloo in the television adaptation of the books) and probably my favorite character in The Expanse overall. That devastating news basically sets the tone for Tiamat's Wrath, because since it is the penultimate book it is becoming more likely that not all characters will survive each installment, and clearly not everyone is going to make it to the conclusion of the story. In fact, Tiamat's Wrath has the biggest body count of significant characters who die in any of the previous books in the series. In addition to Avasarala, there are other significant deaths in Tiamat's Wrath as well, which I won't mention here but are shocking and saddening when they occur.

The situation in Tiamat's Wrath  is definitely not good for our heroes and for most of humanity in the solar system and the nearly 1300 other star systems that can be accessed by the alien gates discovered at the end of Book 3, Abaddon's Gate. By dint of superior technological and military firepower (fueled by the mysterious alien entity called "the protomolecule" discovered in Book 2, Caliban's War), High Consul Winston Duarte of Laconia is now the de facto Emperor of the known Galaxy and Bobbie, Alex, and Naomi are trying to organize what little resistance there is to Laconian hegemonic rule of humankind. Holden is a prisoner on Laconia, an "honored guest" (read: prisoner/hostage) of Duarte and has been for years since the events at the end of Persepolis Rising. Amos is missing and assumed dead after not being heard of for years after volunteering for a special ops mission on Laconia several years before. Naomi has put herself into a self-imposed isolation as she works as the chief strategist for the Laconian resistance. Alex is piloting the Resistance's biggest ship under Bobbie's command.

The POV characters we get in Tiamat's Wrath are Elvi Okoge (an exobiologist who we first met in Book 4, Cibola Burn, who is now an important scientist in the Laconian Science Directorate), Alex, Bobbie, Naomi, Holden and a surprising new one: Teresa Duarte, the 14-year-old daughter of the most powerful man in the known Universe, Winston Duarte.

While the main storyline is how our main characters fight (and die!) to resist (and successfully!) end Laconian domination of the Sol system and others, another even more important story is how the aliens who destroyed the other aliens who developed the ring gates are apparently trying to figure out a way to eliminate the consciousness of every human in every system where humans live. It is clear those aliens know how to affect the consciousness, because during the course of Tiamat's Wrath there are multiple times that the entire human race (on all planets) simultaneously loses consciousness for a brief (but not insignificant) time. Only Elvi seems to realize how serious the threat to all human life is; all the other main characters are focused on the Laconian threat.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the plot in Tiamat's Wrath is the inside look at the putative Laconian Empire, as seen from the perspective of the 14-year-old Teresa. The way that everyone defers to Winston Duarte, and  by extension his daughter is fascinating (and frightening). The warping of the social fabric of an entire society is clearly depicted and manifests in unusual ways. For example, crushes and friendships between teenagers are nonsensical when one member of the group has the ultimate power to have anyone expelled, vanished or worse. We also get the perspective of Naomi Nagata as she becomes the head of the underground resistance and finds a way to undermine the seemingly omnipotent Laconian empire, even as the attacks by the evil aliens become more disruptive.

For me, an incredibly attractive aspect of Tiamat's Wrath and The Expanse series as a whole is the diversity of the characters. This is (obviously)  easier to see in the television adaptation but the authors make it explicit in the book as well. Non-white characters (such as Naomi, Elvi, the Duartes, Cortázar and Bobbie, to name a few) have incredibly significant parts to play in the story. The inclusion of non-heterosexuality happens casually but intentionally among various secondary characters which for an LGBT reader like myself is quite affirming. The effort to be consciously inclusive is a clear feature of the book (and show).


By the end of Tiamat's Wrath  our four main characters are actually back together (on the Rocinante no less!) which was incredibly satisfying (if a little improbable). It brought back nostalgic memories of where the entire story began, way back in Book 1. It’s nice that Book 8 basically has a “happy ending” but this does make me suspicious that Book 9 may not....

Regardless, things are teed up perfectly for an exciting conclusion to the entire 9-book series in the final book. I can't wait!


Title: Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8)
James S.A. Corey.
Paperback: 534 pages.
Date Published: March 29, 2013.
Date Read: May 24, 2019.

★★★★  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


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