Persepolis Rising opens a new era of The Expanse

Book cover: Persepolis Rising - James S A Corey (who would have guessed - it's a close up of a spaceship in flight)Earth has almost recovered from the Free Navy’s genocidal attack. The Alliance have nearly rebuilt their depleted navies. The Belters’ Transport Union controls traffic to all the colonies beyond the Gates …except one. Now the Gate to Laconia is about to re-open. Mars’s wayward children are ready to return, and they have their own vision for the future of humanity…

The fifth and sixth books of The Expanse were devastating. They ripped apart the solar system, practically destroyed the habitable planets, and laid waste to much of the Belt. While Naomi Nagata was able to snatch a victory of sorts from the ashes (yes, yes I AM laying that victory entirely at Naomi’s feet), there was a lot of rebuilding to be done to ensure the survival of the human race.

Building stuff isn’t really what The Expanse does best, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to discover Persepolis Rising is set thirty years later. It was. In fact, it was a punch to the gut: the crew of the Rocinante have leap-frogged me, and are starting to feel their age. Peaches health is declining as her implants finally poison her system. Holden and Naomi are intent on retiring, and turning the Rocinante over to Bobbie.

Way to go, Mr Corey, with ALL THE FEELINGS, RIGHT FROM THE START.

Appropriately for its aging protagonists, Persepolis Rising is all about unfinished business coming back to haunt you. The Free Navy was dealt with, but the renegade Martians got away – and they’ve been busy. The glimpses of Laconia at home are as terrifying as their super-powered fleet when it gets down to business. The Laconians have all the science, all the technology, and all the blind loyalty a military dictatorship could hope for. Oh, and a semi-psychic leader who dreams of immortality (for the greater good, naturally) and has a protomolecular research programme to help him achieve it.

The solar system has constructed wonders like the void cities of the Belt, but distributed humanity still tends to fractious streaks of independence over heroic co-operation in spite of Drummer’s best efforts (yes, Drummer is in charge, and she’s taking no prisoners). Trying to get the colonies to work together is a Herculean task, and the systems are in no way prepared for a surprise attack from a superior force.

Medina Station falls immediately.

As usual, we get multiple POVs to cover the action: notably Singh, the new Laconian Governor of Medina; Drummer, leading the defence of the solar system; and Holden and Bobbie, working with the OPA resistance aboard Medina.

Corey always likes to give us an antagonist’s perspective, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from Santiago Singh. I hoped he would show us the humane side of Laconia, but he’s a by-the-book authoritarian and a true believer: he can justify anything to himself in service to the great Laconian vision. As the threat from the quickly-mobilised resistance increases, Singh’s responses go from bad to worse, driven by his inexperience and insecurity. I admire how Corey manages to make his villains so very human, but gosh it’s easy to hate them sometimes.

Which makes it oh, so very good to be back aboard with Bobbie Draper. Much of my joy in this volume came from watching her handle pressure: not just resisting an invasion by an overwhelming force, but being in command for the first time in thirty years. Perceptive and well-trained, it’s unsurprising to find her people skills are light years ahead of conflict-averse Holden’s. I loved her interactions with the ailing Peaches – suffering now her implants are past their sell-by date – and with Amos, whose coping mechanisms are breaking down as his found family falls apart.

My poor heart and shredded nerves.

But Bobbie’s real challenge lies in dealing with those outside the Roci‘s crew: all the people who automatically defer to Holden, as if he were still its captain. This bites particularly deeply because she’s a woman; it’s way too familiar, even if the OPA has more excuse than most to assume Holden is in charge. I loved her struggle to keep a lid on her feelings as she wrangled everyone else’s to get what she needed from them. I’m going to say it: she learnt more from Avasarala than I think she’d care to admit.

With its scope oscillating from the deeply personal to the galaxy-wide political, Persepolis Rising is the start of what promises to be a truly massive final act for the The Expanse. I won’t go in to any more detail because oh my word you won’t want to be spoiled, but it’s as tense and explosive as anything we’ve seen. I keep asking how Corey can live up to what has gone before, but I should stop worrying. Corey’s got this. Effortlessly. Spectacularly. Devastatingly.

The last chapter alone has me on the very edge of my seat for Tiamat’s Wrath.

Keep your hankies handy (and brace for a cliffhanger).

★★★★☆

 

For those unafraid of spoilers, more detailed thoughts can be found in my weekly read-along posts: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4