I’ve recently read the second and third instalments in the Expanse series near-enough back-to-back, so I’m truncating my (spoiler-free) reviews into one post!
Caliban’s War was a suitable escalation of the events at the climax of Leviathan Wakes, and it was, for me, a great ride all the way through! Yes, the similarities between the events of Eros (Leviathan Wakes) and Ganymede were there, but given what happens in Leviathan Wakes, the escalation in Caliban’s War is certainly feasible. I felt the main cast on the Rocinante are explored to a bit more depth, which was nicely done. There’s a bit of breathing space for a tiny bit of normalcy before the plot events inevitably engulf them.
Overall, the narrative ratchets up in a smooth and linear fashion, building up to the frenetic and exciting climax that I’m seeing become a hallmark of this series. The entire book is a powder keg that the last few chapters really light the touch paper on. Along with Holden’s perspective, there’s a few new perspectives that events are seen through: Praxidike Meng’s understandable anguish and desperation over the events of Ganymede is an interesting alternate to Holden’s righteousness. But it was Bobbie Draper, the Martian Marine, and Chrisjen Avasarala, the highly-placed UN official that really endeared to me, especially when working together. These two characters built up a much clearer picture of the internal politics and inevitable skulduggery of the Expanse universe that seemed almost fated against their genuine wish for the just thing to be done. The sense of tension and urgency of speeding around the universe trying to prevent the outbreak of war was both epic in scale and quite intimate, from the character perspectives; a single person is a very small cog, after all.
I was slightly disappointed in the characterisation of the antagonist of the story. It was good for the book to avoid the trope that all futuristic/sci-fi Earth governments are, indeed, homogenous blobs that always agree but rather reflected a more human sense of branches of government, ostensibly on the same side, working against and to undermine each other with each’s belief they are doing the correct thing. However, the antagonist did seem to fall into the trap of being a classically clamped-shut military mind whose answer to the unknown is to simply shoot first and ask questions later. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for me though.
I really enjoyed Caliban’s War, as you might be able to tell. It was a great, easy read that dragged me right back into a universe that, again, shows a lot of thought and consideration behind it.
Abaddon’s Gate was a bit different. Initially it helped me understand a bit better the ending to Caliban’s War (I may have suffered from finishing that book at 3AM) with the new status quo, but I felt this third book was considerably more subdued in terms of both the narrative and setting.
A great deal of Abaddon’s Gate takes place in the “slow zone” where ships can only operate at very low speeds, fittingly. My concern with this setting – for a large portion of the book was that it prevented a bit of action. I quite liked the real sense of claustrophobia – even in the vastness of space – and the tensions leading from that felt very real and relatable.
However, I do feel that for a portion of the middle of the book, the narrative sagged into introspection which robbed the action somewhat. Maybe I was pining for Draper and Avasarala from Caliban’s War; great characters but I realise they needn’t be overbaked. The new perspective characters in Abaddon’s Gate did themselves undergo personal change as the story progressed. The universe got a lot bigger, and the politics between the Inner Planets both brought about tension and became, as the climax approached, an irrelevance really.
I was pleased though, that despite a bit of a sag, the stakes for the final climax of Abaddon’s Gate couldn’t have gotten any higher and, it made up plenty for the lack of action the middle section of the book may have suffered from.
I didn’t dislike Abaddon’s Gate by any stretch; maybe allowing the book to take a bit of a breather helps the series as a whole. I still wholeheartedly enjoyed the adventure. But, happily, I can’t wait to get stuck into the next instalment to see, as with Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, how the characters handle the brave new world Abaddon’s Gate leaves them with!
Buy Caliban’s War on Amazon UK
Buy Abaddon’s Gate on Amazon UK