Book Review – The Expanse 3: Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

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So far I’ve had mixed feelings about this series. I enjoyed Leviathan Wakes a lot but I was sorely disappointed with Caliban’s War. Now I come to Abaddon’s Gate with a feeling of trepidation. Following on from the events of the previous two books the protomolecule has left Venus and created a ring on the edge of the solar system. The three factions of humanity all rush out to investigate and they’re accompanied by, of course, the intrepid James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. The characters from the previous book are jettisoned and replaced by Anna, a priest who goes to the Ring to try and figure out what it means spiritually, Bull, an officer ordered by Fred Johnson to keep things steady on the OPA flagship, and Melba, a mysterious woman who has sworn vengeance on Holden.

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this one a lot more than Caliban’s War. The plot was more epic and the actions of the first book feel like they’re expanded upon. The new characters are far more interesting than their counterparts from the previous book and that feeling of excitement returns when they collide. I also felt that there is less padding in this book. The action moves along at a fast pace and unlike in Caliban’s War, where the climax felt glossed over, it’s given the proper treatment in Abaddon’s Gate. I liked the dynamics between the different characters and what happened on the different ships, and how the different factions react to the emergence of this structure. I also liked the inclusion of Anna as a religious viewpoint had been missing from the previous two books, and I found it much more interesting than the discussions of politics in Caliban’s War.

And of course there’s the return of the co-star of Leviathan Wakes, Miller. Except it’s not really Miller. And this leads me to a major problem. The book starts off with a few big mysteries – how is Miller communicating with Holden? What is the object of the structure? What does it mean?

I’m not sure these answers were answered satisfactorily. There were times when the book felt like it was verging into something deeper but then it pulled away and went to another break-neck action set-piece. It sometimes feels like the authors stitched together a loose framework that let them move from action sequence to action sequence with little thought to what it all means. It’s flashy, stylish and there are some really cool moments, but now that I’ve put the book down I realize I wasn’t moved by it and there weren’t any moments when I engaged emotionally with the characters.

When I read a book series I want to feel involved with the characters. I feel like that’s part of the point of a series, to see how characters develop and grow over time, and as the books progress we delve more into their psyches. But the characters that have appeared in all three books – Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex – haven’t really changed from when they first appeared in Leviathan Wakes, and I barely know anything more about them. In fact I’d say over the course of the books they’ve actually become even less developed. We get a few hints at Amos’ background in Caliban’s War and we’re given morsels about Naomi in this one, but it’s never anything substantial. And this is the big problem with the series. At the end of the day I don’t really care about the characters because I don’t know them well enough, so although the action is fast-paced and blinding it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an easy read but it’s an empty one.

There’s nothing here that’s going to challenge your mind or make you think about things in a new way. I’m quite surprised it’s been getting as high praise as it has been. I even heard it referred to as ‘Game of Thrones in space’ but that’s a laughable claim as it comes nowhere near the depth of that universe.

Although I liked Abaddon’s Gate I still feel disappointed by it. If you just want a fast-paced sci-fi action story then this would be a good fit for you. For me though, it doesn’t quite scratch deep enough and it’s a pity because I really wanted to like it. I bought Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate almost straight after I had finished Leviathan Wakes and while I don’t regret the purchases (well, maybe in the case of the second book) I won’t be pursuing the other books in the series. I know a new book is coming out soon and there are going to be some novellas, but I think these books are enough. I’m also not going to check out the television adaptation either as while I would love to see space opera on TV I just can’t work up the enthusiasm.

If you want to get into this series I’d strongly urge you to skip the second book and just look up a synopsis on Wikipedia or something. But even if you like the first book you should be warned that the characters don’t get any deeper. That’s the biggest disappointment for me and it’s why I can’t recommend them.

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