#Review Completed #Scifi Series: The Expanse
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
If you're like me, you sometimes hesitate to read huge speculative fiction novels. You've been burned too many times by books as thick as dictionaries and even less engaging or mile-long series that start with a bang only to fizzle a few novels in. But never fear, the universe of speculative fiction is vast, and few reading experiences can compare to binging on a great finished science-fiction or fantasy series.
The Expanse is a massive series, clocking in at nine novels and a handful of novellas. I've only read one novella—Strange Dogs, I believe—but I have read all the novels from Leviathan Wakes to Leviathan Falls. Is this series worth your time investment? Read on to find out if it's for you.
I'll be honest. I picked up Leviathan Wakes after reading a blurb by none other than George R.R. Martin. He's one of my favorite authors—I absolutely love The Song of Ice and Fire. The writing duo James S.A. Corey crafts a space opera that, in some ways, feels very reminiscent of Martin's most famous work. You can call The Expanse Game of Thrones in space and not be far off in your description. The Expanse features a multiverse spanning overarching conflict, but it's the core characters with their intimate relationships and interpersonal conflicts that make each novel and, indeed, the entire series worthwhile.
The Early Books
This series starts off on a high note with Leviathan Wakes. We are introduced to Detective Miller, a jaded Star Helix cop, and the ragtag group of characters who will become the crew of the Rocinante. The starship crew—Holden, Nagata, Alex, and Amos—go on to become the beating heart of the series. The series spanning conflict is introduced in Leviathan Wakes, but it takes until the last few books for the reader to decipher what exactly is going on.
I also enjoyed book two, Caliban's War, which introduces more enduring characters. The story world expands in Abaddon's Gate and Cibola Burn when humans discover a portal allowing them to travel to distant solar systems nearly instantaneously. Not only does this build on the mystery of the various alien artifacts humans have encountered, but also increases competition between the different human factions. Every faction wants to control the gate and thereby have a stranglehold on access to the bounty available for plunder in distant star systems.
The Middle Books
I found middle brooks weaker than the earlier entries. This is due to a couple of reasons. First, the novels are told from the perspectives of many different characters outside of the Rocinante's crew. While this paints a vast canvas of interstellar conflict, I never became attached to any of these characters the way I did Holden, Nagata, Alex, and Amos. Also, the Rocinante's crew is split up in some of the books. The reasons they separate are many, but it's still disappointing when one of the best things about the series are the interactions between the crew, which have become a found family.
Don't get me wrong, Nemesis Game, Babylon's Ashes, and Persepolis Rising are good books. It's just that the others are better.
The Later Books
The series crescendos to a fortissimo in the final two books, Tiamat's Wrath and Leviathan Falls. I honestly did not think the authors could satisfactorily explain the various mysterious alien forces humanity, specifically the Rocinante's crew, must overcome, but they do. The ending is satisfying at every level, both in terms of tying up the plot and at the emotional level of understanding why the characters make the choices they do for better or worse.
If you're looking to binge on an action-packed space opera with great characters, The Expanse is an excellent choice. The TV show on Amazon Prime is also great. However, you're better off reading the series before watching the show. I think the show is enjoyable even after reading the books because the actors embody the characters. However, watching the show first might make the novels less enjoyable since the program follows the series closely.