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Tiamat’s Wrath is the eighth novel in the Hugo Award winning “The Expanse” book series by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). This book ramps things up quite a bit from its predecessors. While we’ve seen Earth all but destroyed by asteroids, now an artificial neutron star found through one of the rings, throws out an intense gamma radiation burst, destroying everything in the “slow zone” including Medina Station, plus “disappearing” two of the rings.
Holden is being held prisoner on Laconia, Amos has plain disappeared, Bobbie Draper is leading the rebellion in the Sol system with Alex and other dissidents on the stolen Laconian warship Storm, and Naomi is hiding out on various space craft coordinating the over all fight as the underground’s de facto leader.
This novel is just as enjoyable as the others, and sees the return of Elvi and her husband Fayez (last seen in Cibola Burn). The Laconian dictator Duarte and his various henchmen come back, and Duarte’s fourteen-year-old daughter and heir apparent to the empire Teresa is introduced.
The sweep of the novel is no less than epic and the writing remains consistently strong (I admit to a bit of envy). I won’t try to encapsulate the entire drama, but there were a few points.
Abraham and Franck fell into the classic “trap” of using the word “sentient” to describe an intelligent, conscious entity rather than “sapient.” Sentient just means something can feel. A chicken and a sheep can feel but they aren’t particularly bright.
A few people, such as Alex’s co-pilot on the Storm Caspar are gay, but their presence, or rather them being gay has no affect on the story whatsoever. Mentally, I changed their orientation or just deleted it in my imagination and the story didn’t change even a little.
There were a couple of nods to other science fiction works. For instance, a Laconian officer named Burnham surely references the now famous (or infamous) Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery. Also, the mention of a spaceship called Belleraphon calls back a vessel of the same name from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet. There are probably plenty of others I missed, but while I enjoy trivia, I’m not a living encyclopedia of science fiction facts.
While Duarte might be cast as a Hitleresque character, having a kind and loving side (but only toward his daughter) but otherwise being a cold, calculating extremist and totally brutal, Dr. Cortazar, the scientist supposedly helping Duarte bend protomolecule tech to make him immortal is the living soul of the evil Nazi physician Dr. Josef Mengele. His experiments with human beings in the pit, killing them and then rebuilding them with the protomolecule are nothing less than ghastly. No, the novel doesn’t descend into a horror show, but the implications are macabre enough without that.
We lose Bobbie Draper in this one, but it’s in an act outstandingly heroic, using her skills to personally deliver a devastating weapon to the single Laconian ship that conquered the entire Sol system. Her death reverberates through the rest of the characters and ultimately, she becomes almost legendary.
Duarte and his minions are determined to find the entity that killed the protomolecule engineers. They believe this force or being is behind certain ships going “dutchman” when they go through a ring. They also believe they can “convince” this entity to stop the practice and consider themselves at war with it. To that end, they launch antimatter charges on ships that are designed to go dutchman. Once delivered, the idea is that the devastation of such an explosion will convince them to “negotiate” with the Laconian Empire.
Instead, whatever it is strikes back by loading the space around an artificial neutron star with matter so it collapses into a singularity, releasing a devastating blast of gamma radiation, not only destroying all vessels in the slow zone and taking out two rings, but changing the very nature of the zone itself.
There are several instances of “no time” where this entity apparently is attempting to use its abilities to eradicate all humanity. But whatever destroyed the protomolecule engineers, is not quite so effective on people…except Winston Duarte. The great leader of the supreme empire doesn’t quite go into a coma, but he does go off into “La La Land” being unable to feed or change himself, let alone command a vast interstellar realm. This is kept secret from most Laconians, and the leadership is in a panic about what to do, especially when Naomi’s underground chooses that moment to attack Laconian space.
I have a favorite quote from the book:
“Governments exist on confidence. Not on liberty. Not on righteousness. Not on force. They exist because people believe that they do. Because they don’t ask questions.” -Admiral Anton Trejo
Applied to the current social and political clime in the U.S., it seems awfully appropriate. Maybe it always has been.
Amos ends up on Laconia, basically with the purpose of planting a pocket nuke in the Capitol city and blowing away Duarte and gang. He ends up making an unlikely friend in Teresa Duarte, who sneaks away to the mountains periodically to talk with her companion “Timothy” in his cave. She also unwittingly leads to his (seemingly) destruction when her teacher, a Laconian officer named Jason Ilich, tracks her through an implant (she’s that important) and with other soldiers, kills Amos.
But that’s not the end of it. Like Cortazar’s experiments, Timothy’s repair drones seemingly rebuild him with the protomolecule. Like Holden at the end of the story, he is miraculously returned to the Rocinante, but in a stranger, not-quite-human form.
Unable to keep up the farce that her Father is still a sane and capable leader, Teresa frees Holden and uses him to escape Laconia on the Roci. Amos takes her and her dog under his “wing” as he once did “Peaches,” but the former “Princess” of an empire is a very different person.
The space battle of Laconia is the stuff of classic space operas. The goal is to destroy the protomolecule spaceship makers in orbit around the planet, eliminating the Empire’s ability to make solar system destroying warships. After a months long struggle, the platforms are destroyed, which gives Naomi and Alex the opportunity to rescue Holden and Amos.
Teresa is really behind this part of the story, but while she knew how to capture and activate Amos’s transmitter and request extraction, I don’t know she’d have realized the Roci was so near Laconia at the time. Maybe it was just hope, but in the case of fiction, a one-in-a-billion shot worked out.
The platforms destroyed and the only Laconian warship left having to closely guard the planet, the rebel ships make a hard burn for the ring, the slow zone, and then back to the other ring systems.
Jim and Naomi are together again, Amos is seemingly his old self apart from the gray skin and uniformly black eyes, and Alex is piloting the Roci. There’s about 20 other people on board plus Teresa and her dog, but for our core crew, it feels like home.
Of course, a leaderless Laconia left in disarray is still there with one very dangerous warship. Teresa, now that she’s escaped a life of privleged hypocrisy, has no idea what do to next, and even Amos knows the being(s) behind the destruction of the protomolecule engineers wants to kill the human race.
Elvi and her husband, though wanting to escape with Holden, stay on Laconia, which apparently was part of Jim’s plan all along. Taking Cortazar’s place as the head of the most advanced research facility ever created by people, she intends to find a way to convince Trejo to make peace with the other systems. She also plans to take her old ship and investigate an object in one of the ring systems that just might contain the entire knowledge of the protomolecule engineers.
The conclusion to this “expansive” saga will be presented in book nine Leviathan Falls. This was just published on November 30, 2021 and it already has four glowing reviews on Amazon. I checked my local library system and they do have a copy. There are 26 people ahead of me who have placed holds on it, so I probably won’t get my turn to read it for a while.
It’s been a fun ride and I’m just one book from seeing it end. When it’s over, I’m going to miss Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos. I already miss Bobbie.