I’ve been taking my reading seriously lately in an attempt to make good my Goodreads Reading Challenge; after a bit of a break, I’ve returned to the Expanse series which I have been enjoying all year with the fifth instalment, Nemesis Games.
I’d previously found the fourth book, Cibola Burn somewhat underwhelming. A bit too “low-fi” and insular, considering the Expanse universe is so huge. Nemesis Games was a welcome true to form – a thrilling and out-of-this-world story that upped the ante even more than previous books have done, but without breaking the sense of feasibility and just-out-of-reachness that the richly-made Expanse has made its hallmark.
Nemesis Games almost, for me, felt a bit like Cibola Burn – a little slow, insular and unaware of the universe around it. It begins with the crew of the Rocinante splitting for the first time ever while the ship is undergoing a major overhaul (which, to be fair, going by the hijinks, it was really overdue). While this, perhaps, breaks up the group dynamic that the crew had it also gave a chance to pause and give each crewmember – Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex a chance to show their backstories a little more.
Of course, I was extremely silly to fall into the trap of thinking: they’ll be back on the Roci in no time to start the proper adventure as the proverbial quickly hits the fan and, about a third in, the book motors into gear. The simple “chores” that each crewmember embark upon end up taking decidedly unexpected and ominous twists.
I feel it was a welcome change of pace to break up the characters from a homogenous group and expand their personalities, backstories and pasts they’d left behind to gallivant across the Solar System. It was an interesting but not laboured way to explore the backstories of these characters. They’re not all angels and it underpins to a degree how they came to be on the Canterbury in the initial book. I thought it a lot more gripping and narratively-deft to finally see what these characters had told us about in previous books to differing degees of detail. And, naturally, these “loyalty missions”, as players of Mass Effect 2 might recognise, do quickly go awry and the plot proper begins to motor ahead.
There’s a real sense of pace and urgency in the latter half of Nemesis Games as events take hold and begin to reach their conclusion and, for the first time I think seriously, the main cast come into jeopardy. Each crewmember seemed more fragile when isolated and unable to communicate. There’s tension, too, which kept me up as it’s a real pageturner. Obviously, the events taking place across the universe are taking a profound and unexpected turn and, for the first time, too, shaking up the established status quo (which, ominously, had seemed stable as the book began).
Nemesis Games is deftly put together, and presents an interesting fusion for the series. I’d almost say this book is two-thirds grand space opera to one-third post-apocalyptic nightmare which is an interesting contrast to say the least; both of these aspects are well-realised but it’s the nacent post-apoc scenes that grabbed me. They’re surprisingly well done and the authors should definitely look at continuing the thread that the events of Nemesis Games present. It’s hard to be less vague without major spoilers which I am biting my fingers to avoid typing!
Nemesis Games was, then, a thoroughly enjoyable, intelligent return to form for The Expanse following the somewhat-disappointing Cibola Burn. It also feels like we’re over the hump for the series (nine novels are planned, of which Nemesis Games is the fifth); there’s a seismic shift in the status quo we’ve come to expect from the first four books that’s looking toward how things are changing. Things aren’t going to be the same again.
I’ve seen Nemesis Games described as The Expanse’s Empire Strikes Back. I’m not a massive Star Wars fan but Empire is my favourite. The stakes here are up in the stratosphere and I can’t wait to see how high they really go. Again, a stellar and surprising return to form for The Expanse
Buy Nemesis Games on Amazon UK