Unexpected saviours of Ilus, the crew of the Roci scatter for a well-earned break. But old feuds die hard. As humanity streams through the Gates to colonise new worlds, the Solar System is ripped apart by unexpected violence on an unimaginable scale. Can Alex, Amos, Jim and Naomi survive alone?

Only Avasarala has qualms about Holden’s unlikely success on Ilus. Ruthless old bitch that she is (and oh I adore her for it), she knows what opening the Gates will mean for humanity: an exodus, undermining the fragile balance of the Solar System. But even Avasarala doesn’t imagine that Belter insurgents will turn the very rocks against their enemies. Think about it: it was a big rock that wiped out the dinosaurs, and Marco and his Free Navy have similar ambitions. Worse, they have allies – someone in the Martian Navy has been selling them weapons – so they have all the advantages as they unleash war on an unsuspecting system.

The attacks catch Amos on Earth, making a pilgrimage to Baltimore; Alex on Mars, trying to reconcile with his ex-wife; and Naomi on Ceres, as her OPA past finally catches up with her. Because as well as being the book where humanity tries to make itself extinct, it’s a big emotional character-building book that delves into past of the Rocinante‘s crew.

Well, except Jim. He’s an open book, haunting the restaurants on Tycho and waiting for his friends to come home. He has no secrets to unearth. No regrets to explore. Just blind panic for his loved ones, and the uneasy prospect of taking on a temporary crew to try and rescue them.

It’s a heart-stopping thrill ride once the rocks start falling – and one with emotional depths that show just how much groundwork has been laid over the previous 4 books.

This book is all about pay-off. We get a glimpse of where Amos came from (and get to further appreciate just how complex his loyalties and emotions are); we get reunited with old friends and enemies (SPOILER PEACHES. Who knew I could come to love Peaches?!); and every member of the crew is placed in apparently insurmountable danger. However much I adore the whole crew, for me the beating heart of this book is Naomi (but I’m going to say no more because it’s worth reading without spoilers).

There’s also an unexpected gut punch to reading about your planet being showered with extinction event rocks. Marco’s assault on Earth is ingenious. And it hurts to read about it. Hats off to Corey – there’ve been enough disaster movies destroying the Earth that never evoked the slightest reaction from me, but he captures the visceral horror of what this means for humanity.

I’ve complained previously that The Expanse is always about human beings being awful to one another, and this one is no exception. But I had no time to mourn this time, because I was too busy gripping my book to turn the pages faster.

And once I put aside dissatisfaction with how awful humanity can be, Marco Inaros is probably my favourite villain to date: utterly self-absorbed, far too good at manipulating those around him and not interested in playing fair. He’s easy to hate (and oh, I do hate him), but he’s entirely believable – and he arguably has a better cause than any past antagonists.

Because in the end, he’s driven by a similar recognition to Avasarala’s: he can see the impact that planetary colonisation will have on the Belt – and on the Belters who can never survive on the surface. The Belt lives or dies based on need for the resources they supply and access to drugs that are may no longer be produced if humanity settles the worlds beyond the Gates. But let’s be clear: in the end, Marco’s cause is Marco – there’s a hefty chunk of ego in play too.

Nemesis Games is without a doubt my favourite novel of The Expanse to date (having now read up to and including Persepolis Rising). It’s a breathtaking contrast to the lacklustre Cibola Burn – and I’m happy to take getting the crew of the Rocinante as our POVs as an apology (yes, there was cheering. Possibly also air-punching). It goes all-out for the jugular, delivering all the action and all the feelings.

Be warned: while it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, Nemesis Games doesn’t resolve all its plot lines in full – you’ll want to have Babylon’s Ashes handy for when you finish.

*****

 

I read Nemesis Games as part of @sffreadalongs. My weekly discussion posts (unabashedly spoilertastic, be warned) can be found here: Week 1 | Week 2 |Week 3 | Week 4