Since there was a bit too much familiarity about the crew of the Roci by book four—a sense that if they pooled their efforts they could somehow triumph against any obstacle, even an alien one—it seemed the series was building to a problem serious enough to jeopardize the synergistic relationship the four had. Sure enough, Nemesis Games almost immediately sends all four main crew members off on disparate quests, with little chance to affect each others’ situations.
This sort of ‘scattered to the ends of the earth solar system’ setup entails some risks. Since we have grown accustomed to having the Roci’s crew (not to mention the Roci herself, practically a fifth main cast member at this point) demonstrate the importance of interpersonal relations by solving every problem together, how will the story proceed if we, the readers, are denied the pleasure of seeing them work together (and denied any meaningful glimpse of the Roci, out of commission temporarily due to damage sustained in Cibola Burn)?
I’m pleased to say that the authors of The Expanse did a masterful job of what is essentially back-story exposition (no easy task to avoid the typical sort of “You know I don’t like snakes…(and I'm saying this now because lots of snakes are in the near future)” clumsiness, but they managed it!), giving us a major glimpse into everyone’s past (well, everyone but Holden). We learn, in essence, some of the key reasons such a skilled group were on the Canterbury in the first place: what they were running from, and why. Since the core relationship on the Rocinante is the one between Holden and (Naomi) Nagata, it is only fitting that it is this romance which is most directly imperiled by the reemergence of these shady pasts.
All this might sound pretty small-time—the ghosts of the main characters’ misdeeds rearing their ugly heads might be scary to those individuals, but it would hardly measure up to the sort of civilization-ending threat these four (+ the Roci) have faced previously. At the risk of being terribly mysterious (thank you, The Sphinx from Mystery Men!), I’ll say only that the stakes turn out to be all too high, the threat all too dire. Just when we thought the worst that was in store was the addition of new crew members to the Roci, and the risk that both the diegetic dynamic and the reader’s appreciation for the tight-knit crew of four could be shaken, we discover that the true danger is to the core of human civilization itself!
Does the "Holden+Nagata, Alex and Amos too" dynamic survive this dire challenge? Is this, in fact, the best Expanse book yet? (Given The G's almost visceral dislike for the first book in the series, one could optimistically say that it must be getting better overall!) You’ll just have to read it to find out! (Alternatively, you could check out my forthcoming review of book six, Babylon’s Ashes—check back here on NOAF soonish!)
Objective Assessment: 7/10
Bonuses: +1 for masterful exposition, without a single “But you KNOW I can’t eat strawberries!” ham-fisted foreshadowing, +1 for successfully upping the ante—with a vengeance!
Penalties: -1 for describing Nagata’s protracted ordeal in what struck me as a conspicuously pseudo-scientific manner (in essence, hit stuff with a wrench after a serious physical injury/setback, but still get one’s message through without being “permanently damaged”, to quote Vader)
|Funny how main characters seem to survive just about anything, eh Naomi? Keep swimming around unprotected in deep space--I'm sure everything will work out!
Nerd coefficient: 8/10 “A bit of alright”, as the Australians say!
[Puzzled by our scoring system? Learn why 8/10 is an exceedingly high score here.]
All the comments and opinions written here are solely Zhaoyun’s, longtime lover of space opera and fantasy literature and reviewer for Nerds of a Feather since 2013, and should not necessarily be taken to represent all Nerd-kind.