The Expanse Read-along: Babylon’s Ashes – Week 4

Banner: Babylon's Ashes Read-along (a close-up of the side of a space ship all massive metalwork)

All eyes are on Medina, the Free Navy-held station blocking the way to the gates and the colonies beyond them. Can the alliance find a way to open up the stars – or will Marco Inaros complete his revenge against Earth and bring down the entire solar system?

It’s the final week of The Expanse Read-along! We have worked our way through The Expanse from beginning to end, blogging weekly in response to a host’s prompts. There has been flailing and ranting, and no end of spoilers.

Well, I say the end. If it’s not okay… you know the drill. Persepolis Rising is out next month so this isn’t the end – just a brief hiatus. We’ll be back in January to read-along through Book 7 if you’d care to join us.


1. So – we get up close and personal with Marco Inaros. Reactions?

I wouldn’t have chosen to spend time in Marco’s company (because he makes me spit chips), but it was interesting to see if he really was what I thought him to be (err, yes). As with villains of books past, Marco is utterly self-absorbed and dedicated to his vision, and while he may fool himself that it’s all about the Belt, there’s no hiding that really, it’s all about Marco.

The Belt would take its hits. But it would never take them passively again. That was his victory.

Ever heard the phrase Pyrrhic victory, Marco?

He simply won’t hear anything that doesn’t match his world view (Sanjrani never stood a chance). I can see why his people follow him – he’s bullish and aggressive and emotionally savvy when it comes to manipulating others (that scene where he humiliates Filip!) – but I don’t actually see how he got half the Martian Navy on side. Because he’s not that clever, in the end. His desire to board and claim the Roci smacks of too many nights watching cheap action movies – he’s all posturing and optics, not strategy and true vision.

And then there’s the thing about him that makes me the most squeamish – the blind obsession with Naomi. He simply can’t let her go, can he? (“taming”?!! ARGH I CAN’T EVEN) It doesn’t fit his internal narrative; and while it comes across in part as insane possessiveness (what’s his is his is his), on some level it seems like he still measures himself by how she sees him. He performs for the impact it will have on her as much as on the Belt.

…none of which elicits anything other than a burning desire to see him vaporised, so that worked out well.


2. Filip completes his arc – were you surprised? How do you feel about him as a character now? Would you be happy to see his POV in the future?

Well hats off – Filip surprised me, in a good way. I found Clarissa’s arc in Abaddon’s Gate horribly clichéd. She annoyed me as a villain, and once it was clear where her arc led it felt forced and clichéd (all of which has subsequently been forgiven, obviously. I love Peaches). And while I am enjoying the Expanse enormously, I wouldn’t call it particularly nuanced or ground breaking – so I was reluctantly expecting some heroic redemption arc for Filip that would really irritate me; or for him to stick to his guns so that Jim was forced to decide whether to kill him this time.

So I was delighted to see him simply walk away. I would never have called that – it’s such an anti-climax, and yet that final chapter leaves him open to character progression that I wouldn’t have previously been interested in. That’s not to say I’m warming up to him! He’s still an unbearable little shit. But I love the plot choice.


3. What do you make of Holden’s choice at the end?

I must admit, of all the missteps I’ve seen Avasarala make, trying to nominate Jim as the new leader of the OPA struck me as particularly left field. She knows better – way better – and while it was a choice Earth and Mars could live with, I don’t believe for a second that she honestly thought the Belt would swallow it. Sure, they followed Fred Johnson; sure, Jim worked closely with Fred and has worked with the OPA for years now; yes, they accepted him as a go-between – but he’s still the man who destroyed Marco Inaros and brought down the dream that Marco sold. Podcasts showing the essential humanity of the Belt – and sleeping with a Belter – doesn’t make him a Belter; at best, he’s a sympathiser; at worst, he’s an Earther leashing the Belt at every step of the way.

Avasarala – in my head – is way too canny to have missed this, and unlike Marco she’s not afraid to confront unpalatable truths. So was the whole thing a gambit to force an alternate suggestion that didn’t come from Earth? …obviously by my own logic, given the solution comes from Jim, that backfired. But it’s not like it was a public meeting – they can sell anything after the fact. I think I’m overthinking this. But I think Corey mis-stepped in having Avasarala make such a dumb suggestion in the first place.

…and I’m obviously delighted for Pa. On the one hand – she genuinely is qualified for this, and she’s Belter through and through (although I’m sure there will be cells who consider her a traitor); and on the other – she’s all out of excuses now. The buck for forging the future stops with her; and that’s quite satisfying for a character whose arc has been defined by resentment of authority figures (ahem, I may have just spotted why I sympathise with her) and agonising over bad decisions and divided loyalties.


4. Can Holden’s vision succeed? Is it going to be happily ever after?

Well it’s a huge ask, but… sure, I think so. The OPA is a mess and always has been – do I think it will continue to be many splinter cells? Yes, definitely. Will some of them try to undermine the system? Probably. Is Pa really the right person for the job? Well, if they let Anderson Dawes off the hook and he goes to work with her, she’ll do. I’d like to see them let Dawes back into the game rather than executing me (and Sanjrani). Yes, they were complicit but… so was Pa. And they have the skills and the connections (…including with Earth and Mars now) to rebuild in a way that benefits everyone.

Assuming the Things That Lurks In The Darkness doesn’t swing by to finish us off.


General comments / flailing / theories about the future!

While I can easily be snide about Marco and Filip, I do think it’s a brave choice on Corey’s part to paint such a vivid picture of extremism – and give them POVs, so they’re not just second-hand antagonists. Now we can dislike them for exactly who they really are.


A round-up of my favourite moments this week:

Peaches, meanwhile. Or specifically, Peaches and Holden.

“Not dying, though,” Holden said.

“Not any faster than usual, anyway,” Clarissa said.

She’s just comfort and cream, isn’t she? I laughed out loud at Jim deciding she was probably past the point of wanting to poison him (yes, Jim, well past). And her decision that she’s crew enough to join in on the ship’s comm chatter is just hilarious in terms of her off-key contributions.

”Seriously?” Alex called from above. “’Sounds good, we’ll be right over?’”

“I may kind of suck at this job,” Holden called back.

The voice over the ship’s comm was Clarissa’s: “I thought it was sweet.”

And this week wouldn’t be complete without a moment for Naomi. NAOMI. While I could spend time flailing about Naomi’s response to being largely helpless in the face of oncoming death (or in her case, possibly worse) – because throwing yourself into data analysis and finding a way to change the outcome of the whole fucking war is epic on a level that makes me well up – instead I’m going to stick with how awesome a human being she is.

“Even if we lose,” Naomi said, “how we lose matters.”

This is the Naomi who towered over Nemesis Games. This is the Naomi Marco Inaros would never be able to tame. This is the Naomi who probably could have led the OPA (but gosh, I’m glad it didn’t go that way).

Also, her gentle chiding of Holden when he wanted to know if his messages had succeeded. It’s not the first time she’s called him out for being wrapped up in privilege or ego, and it’s a delight every time.

Last but not least, the way she sees Clarissa and Bobbie. Her EQ is so much higher than everyone else’s (sure, low bar) and it delights me every time. It’s always a privilege getting her point of view.

Jim hadn’t understood what she’d really been asking. Now that the war’s over, do I still have a place here? And he didn’t know that he’d answered yes.


Take a tour of our responses this week:

  • Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow
  • Sarah at The Illustrated Page
  • Allie at Tethyan Books
  • Feel free to join in in the comments on our blogs or on Goodreads – but no spoilers!


A round-up of the weekly discussions for Book 6: