Review of “Persepolis Rising,” Book Seven in the Expanse Series


Cover art for Persepolis Rising

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I’ve just now finished James S.A. Corey’s (really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) book Persepolis Rising, the seventh novel in the Expanse series.

This time, the authors decided to jump over about three decades from the previous book, giving time for Earth to heal thanks in part to Martian terraforming technology (now that terraforming Mars has been abandoned).

The Transport Union, run by belters, is in full swing and Jim Holden and the Rocinante are still doing errands for them; an aging crew and an aging ship.

One of the ring colony worlds, Freehold, seems to be run by (probably) how the authors interpret far-right extremists, all conservative attitudes and guns. Drummer, the current President of the Union running things from a “void city” in Sol’s system, orders their gate to be blockaded as a result of them sending a ship through the ring and nearly causing a disaster.

That would mean cutting Freehold off from vital supplies, killing the colony and everyone on the planet. Holden comes up with a different solution (of course) and Drummer is going to rub his nose in it.

That’s when Holden and Naomi decide to retire, sell their shares in the Roci, and make Bobbie Draper the Captain, which is an natural fit. But Holden’s plans never seem to work out quite right.

Duarte, a rogue Martian naval Admiral, who had sold out his planet in order to provide the former Free Navy with ships and weapons, has established his own Nirvana on another colony world, Laconia. He’s the one who took the protomolecule sample from what had been Fred Johnson’s offices on Tycho. He put it to good use.

Laconia is a planet with protomolecule ship building platforms in orbit around it. Not only has the protomolecule been used to build up enormous prosperity for the new Laconians and organic “super ships” of conquest, but Duarte is using it to make himself an immortal “god.” He means to build an empire with the grandiose goal of ruling humanity across the galaxy.

The invasion of the Laconians through the gate to take Medina is devastating. Commanded by uber-toady Santiago Singh, the totalitarian socialist Soviet…uh Laconian forces take the station and present themselves as liberators. If you had only half a brain, you might believe them. Then again, as current events have shown, plenty of people would just love to be ruled. After all, conquerors often come speaking the words, “We are your friends.”

Singh’s only redeeming quality is that he loves his wife and little girl. He isn’t mean exactly, but he’s arrogant the way a stereotypical millennial is arrogant when his avocado toast and chai tea isn’t delivered on time and to his exact specifications. For a military officer, he’s seen no action whatsoever, so when real trouble on the station starts, he has no idea what to do about it. He’s a study in bureaucratic snobbery and incompetence.

Not only is he working with a station full of belters who have resisted the dictatorial forces of Earth and Mars for a century, but he also has to deal with the crew of the Roci, who quickly throw in with the dissidents.

One of the things that drew me though were the relationships, such as they were.

Singh has the closest thing to a traditional family, but otherwise, he’s what used to be called a regular Army clown. He drank the Kool-Aid and totally believes Duarte’s propaganda about the benevolence of the Laconians in conquering not only Medina and the gates, but taking the Sol system as well.

Holden and Naomi want to grow old together, just the two of them. While Holden had tons of parents (I don’t know who biologically created him), he had no siblings so I guess it’s natural for him, plus the consequences of his lifestyle, that they had no children.

Alex got married but the relationship tanked. More than a few people think that’s inevitable in marriages so I guess Alex is a model for that.

Bobbie still seems to have a thing for Alex, but it’s hard to tell where the boundaries are. She also wants to grow old with him, but I never got the idea she was particularly attracted to him. I know a person’s job can often define them, but I found it hard to believe she hadn’t engaged in even casual relationships over the years.

Amos and Clarissa Mao remain close, especially now that her implants are leaking toxic chemicals into her body, slowly killing her. Amos’ “orientation” was only hinted at in a past book. He enjoys casual sex with hookers but isn’t looking for permanency. He found it anyway with “Peaches” (Mao). Still kind of messed up relationship, though.

While the Expanse series does feature many different sorts of families, like a lot of science fiction, those families are at best non-traditional, and if more traditional, dysfunctional. I guess a man and a woman getting married, staying married, raising a bunch of kids together, and that all being okay isn’t what the future is supposed to hold.

[As an aside, I just had another novella accepted for publication where a man and women get married, have three children together, and they all love one another. Yes, it all goes spectacularly sideways, but not because the relationship is bad. Look for it in 2022].

There’s an interesting comparison to be made between the Freehold colony and the Belters. The Freehold colonists are depicted by the authors as undesirables and “deplorables,” but the Belters, who have virtually the same values relative to authority, are considered heroic and good. Funny how politics and social perceptions are played out in the pages of fiction.

I won’t go through the details of the book (although you may think I have given the length of this review) but I’ll mention in broad strokes the two main actions; what happens on and around Medina and the Laconian incursion into the Sol system.

The Belters engage in active resistance on the station. It seems to Singh that it’s all random, but there’s a master plan behind their actions. On a station as old as Medina, there are spaces that have never been mapped and in them, the resistance thrives.

The goal is to shut down the Laconian Marine power armor (Laconians are paranoid so they’re prepared even for their own Marines to go rogue), disrupt communications and sensors, liberate the political prisoners, and then get to their ships and escape through the rings.

In the midst of all this, Amos, who can be violent, goes more crazy than usual. He’s been worried about “Peaches” so much that when the Laconian invasion comes and he can’t take care of her anymore, he starts fantasizing about how to murder everyone…including Peaches.

Bobbie’s solution to get through to Amos is to get into a near-fatal fist fight with him. She actually beats him, which isn’t easy, and by some miracle, it works. Amos gets back to his “old” self.

I have no idea where the authors pulled that piece of psychology from. It feels like it must have come from somewhere rather than being totally made up, but it makes exactly zero sense. A total head scratcher.

Also, there was some seemingly random quote from an Islamic Iman (as opposed to any other theological or philosophical source) saying “I am human. Anything that can happen to a human being can happen to me.”

I Googled the quote and came up with zip, but again, it doesn’t seem like a randomly made up thing. The authors pulled it from somewhere, maybe a personal experience. But like the whole Amos/Bobbie thing, it jarred me out of the narrative, as if there was a message in it that never really came through.

Except for the fact that Holden is shipped off through the ring back to Laconia, the dissident plan works. Prisoners are freed, Marines are frozen in their armor, dozens of ships, including the Roci, leave Medina, and in a bonus, Bobbie, Amos, and company manage to board and commandeer the Laconian warship, Singh’s ship, and take it through a ring.

The Laconians live by a very strict code of discipline and the consequences of this are that Singh is executed. He can’t believe it’s happening, even right up until the time he’s shot and killed.

Like Mao and Filip before him, I thought such a hated character might find redemption of a sort, but no. Not this time. He lived and died a totalitarian socialist ass hat. I did feel sorry for his wife and especially his little girl, though.

The Sol system, while cleverly observing the Laconian warship’s weaknesses, are still unable to defeat it, even after an all out assault. With no choice left but extinction, Drummer surrenders, and the Laconian Admiral Trejo takes possession of Earth, Mars, the Belt, the whole enchilada.

So humanity (minus the Laconians) are either on the run or servants to their dictators, reading prepared statements to the press and pretending like being under the boot of despots is fun.

The book ends with Duarte trying to manipulate Holden into becoming an ally. Holden knows too much about the protomolecule and especially what happened to kill it to take the bait, but he’s cut off from every type of support he’s ever known. Just how long can he hold out?

I guess I’ll uncover the answer in book eight: Tiamat’s Wrath.

Yes, the series is progressively becoming more “woke” but it still tells an interesting story. I don’t think the authors meant it this way, but given the current trend toward enthusiastic obedience of government mandates, I found this quote most telling:

“I am an officer of the Laconian Empire, governor Singh. I believe what I’m told to believe.” -pg 520

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