Book Review of “Abaddon’s Gate,” the Third in the “Expanse” Series

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“Abaddon’s Gate” by James S.A. Corey

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Finished reading Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) which is the third in the Expanse series. It was a little harder for me to get into at first, unlike Leviathan Wakes or Caliban’s War. Starting things off with Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante drinking and gambling in the casinos of Ceres didn’t set the right tone for me, at least not in the beginning.

Also, there was the plethora of new characters to absorb. True, each of these novels introduces characters unique to a particular book, but this one seemed to have a ton, including Anna, Bull, Tilly, Cortez, and Clarissa/Melba, and that’s just the short list.

Since each chapter is told from a specific person’s point of view, I had to keep reminding myself who that person was in the earlier portions of the novel. It was a tad “offputting.”

Oh, and Joe Miller makes a comeback but not as you might imagine, thanks to he, Julie Mao, the asteroid Eros, and the protomolecule all being thrown into the atmosphere of Venus, “cooking” for a while, and then having “something” emerge.

The Ring has formed or been discovered beyond the orbit of Uranus. It’s thought to be an interstellar (intergalactic?) gateway created by the intelligence that manufactured the protomolecule. The protomolecule, in the first two novels, was a weapon and lifeform of incredible power and menace. Earth, Mars, and the OPA all send representatives to the Ring to explore, and possibly to start a war over this vast resource. The expectation is that an invading force will enter the solar system through the Ring.

However, at the very beginning of our story, a young Belter taking up the strange fad of launching a small ship at high velocities without the benefit of the special drive that allows higher speed travel in normal space, thinks he’s playing the ultimate prank on the military guardian ships by doing a close flyby of the Ring. Unfortunately for him (and everyone else), he enters the gateway and finds himself…dead. This triggers an unanticipated response from whatever is on the other side waiting.

In the previous novel, Jim Holden was instrumental in putting wealthy businessman Jules-Pierre Mao in prison for weaponizing the protomolecule, using young children as test subjects. His daughter and Julie’s sister Clarissa Mao has glandular implants inserted into her body which with each use makes her a temporary weapon of destruction, vows to ruin and then kill Holden in the worst case of “Daddy issues” I’ve ever seen. She disguises herself as an engineer aboard one of the ships in the flotilla to go out to the Ring and execute her plan.

Holden and his crew have to leave Ceres in a hurry, discovering that Mars wants their “salvaged” warship back. “Fortunately,” a film crew needs a lift to the Ring and are willing to pay the fees to get the Roci released from the asteroid. No, it’s not a coincidence.

Carlos “Bull” de Baca is a former Marine and associate of Fred Johnson, who we met in the first novel, and is assigned security on the Behemoth (formerly the Nauvoo which the UN pressed into service as a war ship). He should have been Captain, but Johnson wanted a Belter to be in the Captain’s seat, which turns out to be a horrible mistake.

Annushka “Anna“ Volovodov is a Methodist pastor from Europa who joined the expedition as part of a UN delegation of religious figures and artists selected to witness the start of a new epoch of human history (sounds like something a modern politician would come up with). Her ship joins others following Rocinante into the Ring, and she ultimately becomes instrumental in saving all of humanity, more or less against her will.

Earth, Mars, and the Belt ships form an uneasy alliance and all might have gone well until Clarissa/Melba sabotages one of the ships causing it to explode. At the same time, her confederate on the Roci triggers a fake message from Holden who says he’s taking control of the Ring. Naturally, everyone tries to shoot the Roci, forcing it inside and into what he eventually names Slow Space.

All of the other ships follow trying to stop Holden from taking control of the Ring which further triggers the Ring’s defense mechanism. This causes severe damage to all of the ships, injuring or killing thousands, and trapping them in a starless realm. It’s the crossroads to anywhere, but all of the gates are closed.

The rest of the novel is a series of character driven events where at any one point in time, you don’t know who you want to cheer and who you want to kill.

In spite of what I’ve written above, there were vast portions of the novel where Holden, Naomi, Amos, and Alex seem like almost minor players, where in the prior two books, they were the center of the action.

To make matters worst, the Roci’s crew, minus Holden who went EVA to a structure at the center of the Ring and ended up contacting “Miller,” are severely injured, Amos and Alex by the slowing of space, and Naomi by a vengeful Melba/Clarissa.

Ashmore, the deposed Captain of the Behemoth, and Cortez, and celebrity cleric to UN officials and the wealthy, pretty much go nuts and believe the only way to save Earth from what they imagine is an impeding invasion, is to destroy the Ring.

Holden has learned from Miller that the Ring’s defensive mechanisms will do what it did with other star systems seen as a threat…destroy every living being in our own solar system.

The struggle begins, with each major player maneuvering to differing sides, over control of the Behemoth and the salvation or annihilation of humanity.

I was pretty upset when Serge and Sam were abruptly killed. They were two minor characters but the authors spared no effort in getting the reader to like them before they died.

I won’t say who else lives and dies by the end of the book, nor how (or if) Holden (or anyone) saves the day, but the latter half of the book is a true page turner. At the start, I thought Abraham and Franck were suffering from “sequel slowdown,” but such was not the case.

I’ve reserved the fourth novel Cibola Burn at my local public library and should be able to start reading soon.

So far in the first three books, the ride is fantastic.

Oh, on the issue of families. As you might expect this being the 21st century and this being a popular SciFi book series (also television), families aren’t presented as what you’d call “traditional.” We learned since the first book that Holden was raised on a farm with several “mothers” and “fathers,” so that’s pretty untraditional. And while Clarissa was raised with what seems to be a “standard” Mom and Dad with brothers and sisters, her growing up in extreme wealth makes her rather unusual anyway (and of the families presented, ONLY the normative family is depicted as dysfunctional, with the non-normative families offered up as considerably cool and supportive…go figure). We discover Anna has a female spouse and at least one small child (the book mentions how two women have a baby together, but I don’t remember the details). In and of itself, we can expect non-traditional families in modern literature, and to have the characters involved to be highly likeable. Yet as this is an indicator of current social and political values being inserted in the arts, the rest of us (which as of this writing is approximately 97.4% of the world population) would like to see ourselves in these stories as well.

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