The Expanse: Tiamat’s Wrath

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Laconia rules the galaxy, harnessing the resources of thirteen hundred systems. The resistance has gone underground, isolated and limited to tactical actions. But the true enemy has unimaginable powers. United or divided, humanity may not stand a chance…

Book cover: Tiamat's Wrath - James S A CoreyI read most of Persepolis Rising with my heart in my mouth. The opening sucker punch that it was thirty years later along with the irresistible might of the Laconian fleet had me terrified for the continued survival of some of my dearest characters. The final act was devastating.

I’ve been nervously awaiting Tiamat’s Wrath ever since, and I was all too aware as I opened the cover that the chances were high that it would completely destroy me.

Tiamat’s Wrath got the first punch in with the very first sentence, and didn’t stop hammering at my heart until the last page.

Corey has mastered the art of pushing me to the raggedy edge. Every book has become a gruelling emotional marathon: high stakes, high tension, highly personal. Tiamat’s Wrath doesn’t share the relentless book-long escalation of terror that was served up in Nemesis Games – Corey took pity this time; the tension ebbs and flows – but it never pulls its punches.

And I am bruised, people.

I’m going to dance around the details because this one is worth reading unspoiled. We left the crew of the Rocinante scattered: Bobby and Amos aboard their stolen Laconian warship; Naomi and Alex in hiding on Freehold; Jim – terrifyingly – in captivity on Laconia itself. Tiamat’s Wrath keeps them apart and largely unable to communicate with one another, guarding themselves against the despair that could be bred by their isolation.

“Are you trying to make me feel better?”

“We’re too old for that. I’m trying to make you feel like you aren’t alone in it.”

But this is the crew of the Rocinante. Separated or apart, they are indomitable. They do not bow. They do not give up. They simply ask what they can do to make a difference given their circumstances, and they get on with it. What Tiamat’s Wrath emphasises (like Nemesis Games under similar conditions) is that while they are each brilliant, they are better together. After decades of working as a unit, this is thrown into even sharper relief. It’s not as simple as a younger Amos outsourcing his conscience; here everyone’s frame of reference is skewed without their crewmates to balance them out.

One of the aspects of The Expanse that impresses me is that eight books in – one book from the end – Corey still takes time out for character development and personal arcs. I found myself quietly surprised by just how much Jim has changed over the years (and continues to change during his captivity); and then moved by being shown the ways in which he hasn’t changed at all (see also: Amos, who I simply can’t talk about without spoilers but OH MY HEART).

Then there’s quiet, reliable Alex, torn between fears for his family and loyalty to his friends. Uncertain whether he’s ready to die for the cause, when he can’t bring himself to believe that his death will make a difference given the odds they face. He makes for an awkward but rewarding pairing with Bobbie – fully comfortable with command at last, unflinching in her commitment to doing the most damage she can.

Last but not least, we have Naomi: deliberately alone, cut off not just from her crew, but from everyone. Naomi has always been able to break my heart; here I was in tiny, crunchy little pieces. She’s in less overt danger than in Nemesis Games, but her pain is tangible: cut off from Jim, often unsure which of her friends are still alive, and inexorably pushed towards a role she has resisted all her life. There’s so much development here, and it’s so damn hard. And ultimately, I’m so proud of her, which I know is an absurd thing to feel for a fictional character written by somebody else, but there you go.

If I’ve given you the impression that Tiamat’s Wrath is all the character development and heartache all the time, it’s not (well, maybe the second bit). It’s also – as you would expect from the penultimate book in a series this big – a high-octane thriller. After seven books of my intermittent complaints that I really wanted The Expanse to stop focusing on how shit humanity is and bring on the aliens, I got what I wished for. The ancient force (hereafter: the Antimatter Goths; it’ll make sense in context) that even the protomolecule’s masters were terrified of is back, and it’s not happy.

Possibly my only issue with Tiamat’s Wrath is with the poor decision-making of the galaxy’s new ruler. I’ll allow that Cortazar’s experiments are affecting Duarte’s judgement, but Duarte’s conviction that his alien antagonists will apply any form of human reasoning – not to mention his assumption of the universality of game theory – had me side by side with Elvi (returning in brilliant form for Tiamat’s Wrath and getting a much better character arc than her last outing) in screaming disbelief.

I guess every antagonist needs an Achilles’ heel.

Without going into any detail, Duarte’s obviously flawed strategy delivers just as much mayhem as you might expect, so hooray for schadenfreude. It also resulted in me discovering that it wasn’t just the crew of the Roci who had claimed a place in my heart. So hats off to James S A Corey: he has me invested in all of his universe.

In a nutshell: Tiamat’s Wrath doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s my new series joint favourite with Nemesis Games. Buckle up for one of those all-consuming reads where you don’t want to pause to take care of bodily functions (but DO. It’s LONG. You need to eat, sleep and pee, okay? Okay) because OH GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING. Oh, and keep your hanky handy.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.