In the outer reaches, the protomolecule has built a gate to… somewhere else. It’s the last place a haunted Jim Holden wants to go, but a determined young woman with a vendetta against him holds all the cards. Leaving human space may be the only way the Rocinante can escape her well-laid plans…
Not going to lie: I was a bit taken aback to discover a plethora of new POV narrators at the start of Abaddon’s Gate. I shouldn’t have been: Caliban’s War introduced 3 new POVs, but I became very attached to Avasarala and Bobbie at least – it was a wrench to discover that every book in the series will throw a new set of perspectives at me.
Taking a step back from the emotional response (DISAPPOINTED), it makes a lot of sense. It’s enough of a stretch that the Rocinante ends up at the heart of every major event in the solar system; it makes far more sense to continually extend the cast as the setting expands. But it took me a little while to warm up to our new trio.
Bull is an off-the-peg too-old-for-this-shit military man with allegiances to Fred Johnson. He’s only in the OPA because Fred dragged him out of his alcoholic retirement; he’s only on the new OPA flagship Behemoth because Fred wants a trusted pair of hands on its maiden mission. And if he initially feels as thin as Holden and Miller did early in Leviathan Wakes (boo hiss, the Belters don’t want an Earther in charge, so he’s demoted to Head of Security), he came to life much more quickly for me – there’s nothing like throwing a miscreant out an airlock to win me over, apparently. Um.
Besides, however familiar Bull may be, there’s enough going on around him to fascinate: the OPA have retrieved and refitted the Nauvoo and I discovered I have a thing about generation ships.
We also meet Anna, a gay Methodist preacher with poor impulse control and – in a rare move for the gritty world of the Expanse – more idealism than you can shake a stick at. I’m always cautious of religious characters, but Anna’s honest desire to help those in need is irresistible, and certainly makes for good reading (although if I were her wife, I’d be a good deal less forgiving). For the first time, James S A Corey gives us a character entirely different to the rest of his cast and indeed his world-building – Anna is a ray of light, and I was utterly charmed by her.
Last but not least we get Melba, which is where my patience ran thin. Frankly, I think this would be a better book if Melba hadn’t had a POV – if we’d simply experienced her actions as their effects became clear. I had no sympathy for the self-indulgent little rich girl, and was never going to be able to root for her in seeking revenge against Jim Holden for the entirely reasonable punishment of her horrific father. Irrational doesn’t come close (her, not me); and I was irritated enough by her that I couldn’t even sympathise when she started to break down in response to her own extreme actions. It was obvious she’d be a pivotal player, but I couldn’t care about her as a person.
Thankfully, the book is rounded out with Holden as usual (or more to the point: Holden’s POV lets us follow the crew of the Roci, as usual – my loyalties are far more firmly with his crew than with Jim himself), and we find Jim in a pickle. He’s being haunted by what may or may not be the ghost of Detective Miller, which opens up a world of interesting story that I was happy to eat up.
As usual, Corey sets out a big stage and then plays it to the hilt. The protomolecule has launched off Venus and built a portal in orbit around Uranus; a gate to… somewhere. With Earther, Martian and Belter fleets patrolling around it, it’s inevitable that something will go horribly wrong (best behaviour can’t last) – especially with Melba intent on setting fire to touchpaper.
And when it goes off, it properly goes off. This is high octane space opera of the absurdly action-packed variety, and if I missed the political wiles of Chrisjen Avasarala, it was (mostly) made up for by getting a glimpse – if only a glimpse – of what awaits beyond the solar system.
My only real criticism is that given just what’s out there I’m a bit disappointed that we’re still wallowing in humanity’s worst flaws for our villains. I’m hoping that the future will hold something different to arrogance, pride and self-interest.
But in the meantime, Corey continues to serve up eminently tasty entertainment. Buckle up.