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Tiamat's Wrath

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Published by Orbit on March 26, 2019

Planning a story arc that unfolds over nine books is an impressive feat. Executing the plan with the skill displayed by the writers who call themselves James S.A. Corey is even more impressive. The Expanse is one of the finest accomplishments in the history of space opera.

You need to read the last seven books in this series, in order, to have a full appreciation of the background to this novel, the eighth. That’s a lot of reading. For those who have completed the assignment (and those who have watched enough of the excellent television series based on the novels to get the drift), here’s where things stand. None of this will make sense, by the way, if you aren’t familiar with the series.

The gatebuilders apparently left a massive construct in a dead system that might be their backup drive. Maybe book nine will finally resolve the mysterious rise and fall of the gatebuilders.

The Laconians are looking for a way to protect themselves from whatever destroyed the gatebuilders, although there is no evidence that Laconian civilization is actually threatened. To that end, they plan to launch a weapon that they hope will destroy or at least “send a message” to their perceived but unknown enemy. Like all authoritarians, the Laconians are sure that fear, terror and belligerence will help them get their way. A few Laconians, as well as science fiction fans and pretty much anyone who can spark a thought, know that chucking a bomb through a gate at beings who have the ability to bend reality is just a bad idea. Sadly, authoritarians think with their mighty weapons, not with their tiny brains.

Meanwhile, James Holden is being held on Laconia, where he is not exactly imprisoned but not free to leave. Teresa Duarte, the daughter of the High Counsel of Laconia, views Holden with some suspicion, perhaps with good reason, although her dog knows that Holden is a good guy. But Teresa, being an entitled teen, is also rebellious. She develops a secret friendship with a dude who has hidden himself in a cave. The identity of the friend, and the friend’s fate, will be important to fans of the series.

The Rocinante is in storage and Alex Kamal is now piloting the Gathering Storm, a stolen Laconian warship. Bobbie Draper is leading a secret military mission using that ship against Laconia. Naomi Nagata is argumentative, as always. In the end, the plot will seek a reunification of the original crew of the Rocinante, or at least those who survive.

A theme that consistently emerges from this series is that war is stupid and that leaders and pundits who push for avoidable wars are stupid. In that regard, the Laconian leadership is monstrously stupid, as any number of characters recognize, including Elvi Okoye, a biologist who has been conducting research for the Laconians and who had a firsthand view of the results of the Laconian attempt to fight aliens they know nothing about.

Another theme that is central to the series is self-sacrifice. Characters die for the greater good. Series fans have likely come to appreciate and admire one or two characters who do not survive to the end of this novel. At least one of them dies a good death, displaying the kind of heroism that fans of The Expanse expect.

Like all the books in the series, Tiamat’s Wrath is a strong mix of action, politics, and philosophy. At times, the story is genuinely touching. Characters in the series never stop growing although they have largely settled into their personalities. In this installment, at least one of the key characters has changed in ways at which the story only hints.

I recommend the novel, but only for readers who are willing to commit to the entire series, starting with Leviathan Wakes. It is worth the investment of time for science fiction fans, but anyone who enjoys an intelligent outgrowth of pulp fiction will likely find the series to be rewarding.

RECOMMENDED
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When I received the eARC of this book, it came with a request that reviews not go up more than two weeks before the publication date. The book is slated to be released on March 26th, and so this review is absolutely within that deadline. I was curious though as to how many people listened to the request of the publisher, and so I went searching for any sign of preemptive book reviews. And you know what I found? Pages up with “reviews” from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. I’m not going to link them because I’m kind of perturbed by both of them right now. Not only did they post their “reviews” better than two months early, but their “reviews” consist of what amounts to a book-cover blurb and two sentences of something that might be vaguely interpreted as a “review”. Honestly? This is what EBR has to compete against in the SEO world? I can’t say that I’ve ever actually read a review from either of those sites before, and now I doubt that I ever will again.

But no worries. The actual book is absolutely smashing fantabulous! Here we go!

TIAMAT’S WRATH (Amazon) is the eighth and  second to last book in The Expanse. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck have done a brilliant job of bringing us into their universe and making us believe. The books themselves have been a ridiculous amount of fun and intensity and I have loved every minute of every one, but I have to admit that I’ve also very thoroughly enjoyed the series put together by SyFy and eagerly anticipate seeing its continuation on Amazon. But enough about that.

The story starts with Holden — of course it does — and news of the death of Crisjen Avasarala. Everything has changed. Not only for our heroes from the Rocinante, but for the 1300 solar systems of the Dandelion Sky. PERSEPOLIS RISING saw the return of the Laconian Empire with their overwhelming technology and militaristic deconstruction of everything that humanity had built. They crushed all opposition, and it is into the aftermath of this dominion that our story truly begins.

The story comes through five main point of view characters:

Elvi Okoye we know from earlier books. She’s the lead scientist on a massive Laconian ship that is systematically visiting various galaxies for clues to the mystery of those that came before them, more of the vast technology that was left for humanity to find, or any trace of whatever killed them all. And it isn’t long before she finds a little of all of these.

Teresa Duarte is the lone fourteen year-old daughter of High Consul Winston Duarte, the long-lived, protomolecule-enhanced leader of the Laconian Empire. She’s living on Laconia, being tutored by the finest the empire has to offer, and yet still she is a teenager. She has a lot to learn this time around. From her father. From those that protect and surround her. From those she calls friends and those she might call enemies as well.

Naomi Nagata is a regular around these parts, but she’s suffering after the loss of Jim and the split of the remaining crew of the Rocinante. Amos is missing after a covert op fails. She and Bobbie have their differences in how the war against Laconia should be waged. She’s sequestered herself away and wants nothing more than to stop the war with as many words as it takes and as little violence as possible. But the universe doesn’t always give us what we want.

Bobbie Draper and Alex Kamal are both aboard a stolen Laconian flagship and share the time there between them. They’re trying to wage the war of violence that Naomi will not. They’re searching desperately for a way to cripple their Laconian overlords at best, and be a major annoyance at the very least. This is how Bobbie is built though, and Alex is one of the best pilots around.

Of the five, the only truly new character this time around was Teresa, and she was a great addition to the story. From her beginning with the very mundane concerns of who the boy she likes is kissing, to dealing with more about her father’s empire than she thought she might ever know, Teresa’s story is one that had me excited for more every time another of her chapters came around. Each of the characters in this story though are told with the detail and heart that I’ve come to expect from every story of The Expanse. If anything, this story is even more character-centric than those that have come before it. We spend a lot of time in the heads of the individual characters. But that is what I come into an Expanse novel wanting to read, so I thought it was great.

In some ways, this large amount of emphasis that is placed on the characters makes the story feel a little slow. It seemed to me that there were fewer actual events in the story that occurred than in previous novels. The trade-off is that those events, when they come, pack a much more powerful punch. Each of them is introduced, built up within their own context, and then it hits you in the face. I just kept finding myself impressed over and over by how well the story was structured and presented. Never once did I feel like I’d been left in the dark or that anything was left unclear. Don’t let that make you think I’m enjoying the structure over the actual story though. I got pulled in by the storytelling every single time, and then once I’d come up for air I made the realizations about how everything was put together. Such good stuff.

There were a couple times when I thought that a little more time could have been spent handling particular situations. When it just felt… fast, for lack of a better term. Like I said, nothing that made it unclear what was happening. Just that it hadn’t been handled with as deft a touch as so much of the writing in this and other books by the authors had been handled. But really, if that’s the biggest complaint I had about the book (and it is), then they’re doing a pretty great job indeed.

It’ll be super interesting to see the end of this series. It has been one of my favorites from the very first time I was introduced to it. Knowing what I do about the pair of authors, I’m wondering if they’ll continue to write more after this, or if they’ll be done with the “dynamic duo” bit for a bit. If Ty will write his own stuff. Whatever it is, I’m super excited to see it come, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The only other piece of this review that I feel I need to include is an apology to all of the people that I may have come into contact with while I was busy reading this book. Whether I interrupted them as I burst into laughter at the grocery store, or ignored them as I passed by them on the street, or if I made them wonder for a while as I sat at a table bent over my Kindle, holding my head and silently weeping. If you thought me odd or silly or full of geek, I’ll gladly take any of those. Just know that I was reading a great story. One that has affected me and brought feeling into my life and imagination that so few books these days tend to do. If you’re looking for a great read, you might just want to pick this one up. Just be sure you start at the beginning, if you choose to take this ride. Also, for those of you that are already fans, make sure you read the novella STRANGE DOGS (EBR Review) before you read this one, as what you learn there comes into play pretty strongly in this tale.

This will definitely be one of my favorite reads of the year. I await the final chapter with both fear and anticipation. Until next time.
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Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse #8) by James S.A. Corey
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orbit Kindle Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: B07BVNVWL6
Date: 26 March 2019
Links: Authors' Website / Show Official Info / 

Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth and next to last entry in The Expanse's run and the middle story in the third arc. With me so far? It's unusual for a book this late in a series to cause a stir, but this one did, shooting to the top of the best-seller lists and garnering high scores on Amazon and Goodreads. Actually, this isn't surprising for a few reasons.

Netflix/Amazon: The Expanse is the most popular space opera on TV since ST TOS. OK, I don't have rating numbers to back that up, but it is. Also the best combination of hard SF and space opera ever to make it to the little big screen.

It's a terrific read.

I don't know, weren't 1 and 2 enough?

The current arc starts years after the proto-molecule gates have been in operation opening thousands of inhabitable worlds to humanity. Empty worlds thanks to the mysterious disappearance of the original gate builders. James Holden and the crew of the Roci have been kicking around doing gunship for hire jobs for long enough that Jim was thinking of finding a nice piece of planet to kick back on when the folks who caused so much trouble in the original books with their stealth warships before they hightailed it through the freshly opened gate came back with a vengeance, rolling over everybody's space fleet and declaring the Laconian Empire, with Winston Duarte as the head. Although Bobbie Draper managed to liberate a Laconian destroyer, the empire was largely unopposed, and Jim was taken prisoner in the process.

Now, a few years on, Naomi is in hiding crunching data and laying plans for an underground that hasn't been able to do much in the way of striking against the new overlords, Bobbie and Alex are running their appropriated ship around doing rebellion business, and Amos has gone missing, off to rescue Jim but very overdue for contact. Jim has the best and worst of it, given limited freedom around the imperial capital, while being shown off as a threat declawed.

Except that James (Fucking) Holden is really good at stirring things up, and he's playing a deep game while captive, shaping the very future of the empire with a conversation here, a comment there, and wise counsel to the girl who might someday succeed her father the emperor. Except that he's immortal by way of proto-molecule injections. Still, things might change.

As Holden says, "...the problem with thousand-year Reichs, they come and go like fireflies."

Things are coming to a head in this book. Duarte has sent his pet scientists on a mission to find a system he can use to see if he can teach the proto-molecule destroyers a lesson by poking them in the nose. Bobbie has had enough skulking around and wants to take the fight to the enemy. Naomi is getting sick of hiding in the darkness and plotting plots. Jim's the only one whose patience doesn't seem to be wearing thin, but that's OK. The universe always seems ready to put him at the center of the action, and it hasn't tired of that yet. Alex frets, and Amos...we'll as Amos put it a few books back, when it comes down to it, he'll be the last man standing, though events here make that problematic at best.

Even though this book is clearly setting up for a grand finale, it manages to tie up a number of loose threads on its own. All the characters have matured, but their connections with each other, though strained by time and distance, have only grown stronger. I wouldn't start the series here, but if you've come this far, Tiamat's Wrath is definitely not one to miss.
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So, The Expanse is a massively popular adult Science Fiction series (which has now been turned into a TV show on Syfy) and we are now 8 books into this madness and I must say, Tiamat's Wrath took my heart and absolutely ripped it apart in the most exciting way possible!!!

By this moment most (everyone, actually?) of the readers already know what to expect and who's who and all those twists and little secrets that makes the plot tick and so on and on and on. There was a lot of changes in the 7th installment of the series. First off, we have that time jump of almost 30 years which set up quite a lot for this plotline. I plowed through this, resenting every moment I had to spend away from it, and when I finally got to the ending, it was perfect. There were STILL enough unanswered questions to keep me eager to read the next installment, THE SERIES FINALE!? while still having sufficient closure to be satisfying. And the closure allowed me to appreciate Corey's wry humor in a way I probably missed in earlier parts of the book, b/c too desperate to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING to pay attention to silly things like the subtleties of wry humor.

The quality of writing, the attention to detail, the intricacy of events from the first book right up to now that are coming together so perfectly ... this is setting the bar incredibly high and I expect to be disappointed by most other scifi now that I'm reading this. No, I'm neither kidding nor exaggerating. I loved all the books in this series so far but this, for now, is the best one.
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Tiamat’s Wrath destroyed me. How the heck am I supposed to review it? And without spoilers??? It’s a nigh impossible task, but I’ll give it my best go.

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, I need to note that Tiamat’s Wrath is book eight in a nine book series. YOU MUST READ THE SERIES IN ORDER. If you’re not up-to-date on the Expanse series, stop reading this review now. If you’re like, “what’s the Expanse series?”, it’s one of the best space operas I’ve ever read and the first book is Leviathan Wakes. Go read it now.

Spoilers for previous books in the series will follow from here on out.

Ever since Nemesis Game this series has gone from strong to mindbendingly brilliant. Fast forward to book seven, Persepolis Rises which dealt one huge emotional punch. Clarissa’s death still breaks my heart. And then that ending! Duarte essentially won, conquering the rest of humanity with an iron fist. Holden was captured and shipped back as a prisoner. The rest of the crew are fugitives on the run, often separated from each other. There’s little hope of retrieving Holden.

The beginning of Tiamat’s Wrath isn’t much sunnier. Naomi’s a resistance leader, gone through a transformation that actually kind of reminds me of Leia becoming General Organa. Actually, “the Rebellion from Star Wars but filtered through a gritty, Battlestar Galactica type lense” is a great way to describe Tiamat’s Wrath. Naomi’s mostly on her own, hiding in shipping containers to be smuggled across the known universe. Bobbie and Alex lead up the resistance fleet, which is basically just one ship that mostly hides. Amos was sent off on a secret mission to rescue Holden and hasn’t been heard from in like ten years. Holden’s still a prisoner with little to no power. And get this: for the first time, Holden’s not a major POV character. He’s the prologue and the epilogue. Maybe an interlude too? But that’s basically it. He’s been our anchor for the entire series, and now Duarte has not just taken him from his crew/family but from us too.

Tiamat’s Wrath has four principle POV characters. Naomi, obviously. She’s building networks of resistance with the desperate hope of undermining the empire. Alex, whose sections also give us a view onto Bobbie. Teresa Duarte is a new character, the daughter of the dictator. While her father plans to make himself immortal, he’s grooming Teresa as his heir, just in case he needs a backup plan. Elvi, the scientist first seen in Cibula Burn, makes a return. She’s reluctantly become a high ranking scientist of the empire, studying the civilization that made the proto-molecule… and whatever it was that destroyed them.

Mysterious alien artifacts and presences have always underlined the Expanse series, although the conflict largely stems from humans being awful to each other (not particularly surprising). But for ages now, the books have been building up this question: what destroyed the civilization that built the proto-molecule? And will they return to destroy humanity?

Unfortunately, Duarte is in power and he’s decided that the best course of action is to attack the all-powerful, unfathomable alien beings. I can’t really talk about anything else relating to this, but I literally gasped out loud at some of the plot twists here. It’s incredibly thrilling and I get chills just thinking about it. It kind of feels like humans are busy throwing rocks at each other and meanwhile, the godlike aliens who already destroyed one incredibly advanced civilization are like, “Oh shit, I’ve got a pest problem, better call the exterminator.” How the hell book nine is going to resolve this, I have no freaking idea.

Moving on from how intense this book was, the Expanse series has always been driven by its characters who captured my heart in a way I never would have predicted. The first sentence of Tiamat’s Wrath is a character death. I got so upset and worried about my beloved characters that I read the first half of the book pretty slowly! I was scared about more deaths, okay?

Holden’s never been my favorite of the cast, but he’s grown on me, and I missed him here. That said, it was interesting to see him through Teresa’s perspective. Teresa reminds me a bit of Filip (parallels of being raised by wannabe dictator fathers) but I like her more. She’s less violent, more thoughtful. She feels trapped by the life she’s in. She’s constantly watched and while she has more power than say, Holden, she’s still largely powerless, at the mercy of the adults around her. Over the course of Tiamat’s Wrath she begins to discover her own strength as well as her own anger.

I liked Elvi Okoye a lot more this time around. I think she’s matured since Cibola Burn. Also we don’t get the weird subplot about her emotional problems being solved with sex. Anyway, here she’s worried that she’s complicit in the ills of Duarte’s empire. And let’s be real, she sort of is. She keeps thinking that if it wasn’t her, it’d be someone else… but she sort of knows she is complicit and just doesn’t have any way to deal with it. If she protests too much, they’ll flat out murder her. So she’s basically stuck lodging the occasional formal protests that everyone above her handwaves away while she’s also looking at things that have the power to destroy all of humanity. Good luck with that Elvi.

Tiamat’s Wrath is an amazingly intense read in a series that moves from strength to strength. While it’s only been about a year since I started reading it, I’ve put an audiobook of Leviathan Wakes on hold because I need to experience it all over again. I don’t know how I’ll deal with this series ending, and there’s no way I will ever be prepared for what the final book has in store.

I received an ARC with the expectation of a free and honest review.
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While there might be spoilers for the previous books in the series, I will try my best to avoid any in this review: to do otherwise would be a huge disservice to anyone reading this.

More than many of its predecessors, this new installment in The Expanse series took me through an emotional rollercoaster that left me breathless, and often reeling in shock – starting with the opening sentence that is nothing short of a violent punch in the gut.     And I freely admit feeling more than a little incensed at the authors for leading with that…

Story-wise, the galaxy is far from a happy place: granted, it was no unicorns and rainbows before, when Earth, Mars and the Belt were at each other’s throat and the protomolecule ran amok throughout the Solar System, but after the all-to-brief respite enjoyed by humanity in the hiatus between Babylon’s Ashes and Persepolis Rising, the arrival of Duarte’s fleet and the founding of the Laconian Empire with its dictatorial iron fist have plunged mankind’s origin worlds and its many colonies into dark times indeed. The situation becomes even grimmer when the Laconians’ drive for expansion and dominance meets once again with the mysterious entity that once vanquished the protomolecule engineers: the show of force dictated by Duarte provokes a dramatic reaction that threatens the humans’ tenuous foothold on the many worlds beyond the alien gates and their continued survival, while giving the underground resistance a feeble chance to strike the kind of blow that might change the balance of power.

As for the Roci’s crew, they are scattered to the four winds: Holden is Duarte’s prisoner on Laconia; Bobbi and Alex, who have signed up with the resistance, are playing a dangerous game of sneak attacks on the enemy fleet; Naomi is doing her part by keeping the rebel network functioning and thriving, and Amos has been out of touch after undertaking a dangerous mission following Clarissa’s death.  Our heroes are quite aware of the David vs. Goliath nature of their struggle, and sometimes the temptation to leave it all behind, to find some quiet place to burrow down and live the rest of their lives in peace, makes itself felt and causes some tension among them, but never in such a measure as to bring them apart despite the wear and tear of life on the trenches.  For his part, Holden is not resigned to his prisoner-disguised-as guest situation, and still manages some small measure of defiance that shows he has not given up either on the struggle or the hope of one day being instrumental in the downfall of Laconia.

What becomes clear, as we follow the main characters’ individual journeys, is that the sense of family they built by living and working together for so long is too strong to succumb to the separation imposed by vast distances and the different paths taken: even when they are million of miles apart it’s as if they still shared space on the Roci, so that they still quote an absent friend’s catchphrase at the appropriate moment, or recollect their gestures or expressions in the face of similar occurrences. It’s a way to keep alive the memory of those who are far away and to show that the bonds that tie them together are strong and vital: I found myself deeply touched reading such passages, not just because they worked so well in the economy of the story, but because the Roci’s crew has grown on me so much that I have long since stopped envisioning them simply as fictional characters, and they have become living and breathing people I keep caring about.

Alongside our old friends we see the story through some new – or newfound – points of view: Elvi Okoye, the scientist we met in Cibola Burn, is now working for the Laconian military in what she believes is a mission of discovery beyond the alien gates and instead turns out to be something quite different.  Much as I did not care overmuch for her character in that first encounter, here I greatly enjoyed her point of view, mainly the fine line she and her husband have to walk, balancing the needs of scientific study with the goals of the hierarchy, especially the Laconian expansionist and merciless military.  Looking through her eyes gives us a measure of what it means living under an oppressive regime that likes to paint itself as benevolent and enlightened while it conducts appalling experiments on human subjects, and I managed to sympathize with her dilemma between the drive of scientific curiosity and the need to adhere to ethical standards: Elvi gains a good number of facets here, and I always welcomed her p.o.v. chapters with great interest.

The new addition is represented by Teresa Duarte, the teenaged daughter of the High Consul and the heir-in-training to the empire: her path takes her from basking in the illusion of a charmed life to waking up to far starker reality that forces her to grow up much faster than her already peculiar position previously required her to.  Teresa is an interesting character and in some way her journey mirrors Elvi’s in reverse: having been indoctrinated from birth to believe that Laconia is a force for good, she has to wake up to reality bit by bit, and probably the major factor in this change of perspective comes from a dramatic event that undermines the belief in freedom of choice she had given for granted until that moment.  I realize how cryptic this sounds, but there is a huge spoiler here, and all I can say about it is that this narrative thread was another of those gut-punches I mentioned before, one of the many that the authors deliver in this latest Expanse installment. 

But of course my favorite character remains Naomi Nagata: I’ve always envisioned her as a mixture of strength and wistfulness, the latter tied to past experiences and mistakes that still prey on her mind, and in this novel she still tries to temper the underground’s penchant for violent action by being the voice of reason. It’s clear that this desire comes both from the weight of her past and the need to keep faith with Holden’s vision – a means to keep his legacy alive and to lessen the sting of his absence: for this reason Naomi chooses to isolate herself, to work in a sort of bubble – both physical and mental – that page after page takes on the aspect of a chrysalis in which she undergoes a change, one that will become evident as the events unfold and will transform her in a very unexpected way. Again, I apologize for the vagueness with which I’m expressing this, but I want you to enjoy this journey on your own, and if you are Team Naomi like I am, you will certainly want to explore this with as little prior knowledge as possible. You will not be disappointed.

If the characters, old and new, are the backbone of the story, the story itself is a constant escalation of events that become more and more pressing as the stakes pile up in a breath-stealing progression that moves inexorably toward the final showdown, and a further change of perspective in a series that bases its very strength in such changes. Be prepared for some painful shocks as well, and a constant worry about what is going to happen next: given the premises carried from the past installments and those contained in Tiamat’s Wrath,  the ninth and final book in this amazing series will certainly blow our minds.

And I can’t wait to read it…
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