Friday, February 25, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9) by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Falls is the ninth and final book in the bestselling space opera series called “The Expanse” written by James S.A. Corey (which is a pseudonym for the writing duo of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham). The Expanse has been adapted for television and has become a hit show with the same name on Amazon Prime that recently concluded with its sixth and final season in January 2022. It’s an amazing feat that the authors were able to write and publish all nine books in the series in roughly 10 years: Leviathan Wakes (2011), Caliban’s War (2012), Abaddon’s Gate (2013), Cibola Burn (2014), Nemesis Games (2015), Babylon’s Ashes (2016), Persepolis Rising (2017), Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) and Leviathan Falls (2021).

Most of the titles of the books in the Expanse have always had a somewhat Delphic quality to them, since they don’t seem to directly relate to or describe the events that occur in them. But the authors were pretty direct when they titled the last book Leviathan Falls in a clear echo of the first book’s title Leviathan Wakes. Another interesting aspect of the book series is that the nine books can be thought of as a trio of trilogies. This last impression is bolstered by the fact that the final three books take place nearly 30 years after the events of the first six books so that Persepolis RisingTiamat's Wrath , and Leviathan Falls work together as a separate trilogy to conclude the story that began in Leviathan Wakes .

The great thing about Leviathan Falls is that even though it’s the last book in a 9-part space opera series it still tells a self-contained story. Just like every other book in the series, at its core this is a story about a chosen family of four characters: Amos, Naomi, Alex and James. Of course the crew of Rocinante has been through a lot since we were first introduced to them in Leviathan Wakes but they are still the hooks on which the principal story in The Expanse hangs thousands of pages later.

In Leviathan Falls the family the reader has come to know so well over the first eight books is expanded to include other characters, such as adopted family members like Elvi Okoye and Teresa Duarte and actual family members like Alex’s son Kit, Kit’s wife and their newborn child. There are even some new characters introduced in Leviathan Falls that have significant impacts on the outcome of the series’ overall plot. Chief among those would have to be Aliana Tanaka. Tanaka is a Colonel in the Laconian Intelligence Directorate who is tasked with tracking down the head of the Laconian government, Admiral Winston Duarte (Teresa’s dad).   Duarte had a mysterious interaction with an alien entity in Tiamat’s Wrath that left him physically and mentally capacitated but in the beginning of Leviathan Falls he seems to have recovered and used some kind of mysterious alien technology to leave Laconia.  Since Laconia is basically an authoritarian empire with Duarte as it’s head, that he was incapacitated and that now he’s missing are two incredibly important (and sensitive) pieces of information that the de facto head of the Laconian government, General Anton Trejo, is trying very hard to suppress. He’s the one who gives Tanaka her carte blanche to track Duarte down by whatever means necessary.

In Persepolis Rising, Laconian forces burst out of their ring gates with protomolecule-fueled spaceships that were far more technologically advanced than anything in the Galaxy and quickly took over control of the solar system, which even 30 years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes still contains a plurality of the entire human population in our galaxy. Eventually Laconia takes over all of the Ring gates, and in doing so, maintains control over all 1300 potential systems where humans have been settling since the gates were discovered by James Holden in Abbadon’s Gate. Due to their alien-enhanced ships, Laconia has superior military firepower to any other human government and Duarte has basically declared himself Emperor of humanity. The Resistance to Laconia has been run principally by Naomi Nagata, Bobbie Draper and Alex Kamal for decades.

As the story in The Expanse has advanced, the plot of the struggle for supremacy between different factions of humanity during the race to colonize and control the solar system has slowly been subsumed by the greater mystery of what happened to the alien intelligence who created the ring gates and the protomolecule and the other alien intelligence who eliminated the ring-builder aliens.

The ring-builder aliens are long gone but their vanquishers remain, and it has become clearer and clearer they are very powerful and very pissed off at the latest intelligent aliens (i.e. humans) to use the ring gates. They have the ability to alter the physics of space-time temporarily in localized regions, and this sometimes results in all human consciousness being affected for brief periods of time. Literally every human being stops thinking for say 15-20 minutes on multiple planets simultaneously. If they could eliminate all human consciousness by making the effect last permanently, it seems like they would. And the blackout periods are becoming more frequent.

Thus in Leviathan Falls the stakes of the plot have been raised to the highest possible level: it is about the survival of humanity itself (or at least humans as self-aware individuals). But even as this story unspools, the author(s) keep(s) the focus on our four main characters, with each of their arcs being resolved by the end in ways that seem incredibly well-aligned with how each has been depicted through the entire series. And so the story ends. Or so the reader thinks, but then there’s an epilogue, which like icing on the cake or a cherry on a sundae, is really the perfect ending to an enjoyable experience. There are reports that Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham knew the last sentence of the last book multiple years before it was published and I believe (and want to believe) that this is true. It definitely left me with a smile on my face, and I believe it will leave everyone else who reads the entire series with one as well.

Title: Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9).
James S.A. Corey.
Format: Hardcover.
Length: 528 pages.
Publisher: Orbit Books.
Date Published: November 20, 2021.
Date Read: December 25, 2021.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0 /4.0).



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