The Expanse, #4: Cibola Burn (BOOK REVIEW)

In my experience, trilogies are trilogies because if you can get three solid stories out of a series then that’s great – ideal even. Unless you’ve got some epic fantasy tale that necessitates more than three books, it’s a safe bet to stick with three. But with Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey honestly puts the initial three books in the Expanse series to shame, breaking the mold outright. Thinking back on the wild twists and turns the series has taken in these four books (all for the better), it’s hard to imagine it’s the same series as the almost horror-filled first novel Leviathan Wakes. But that’s 100% okay. I loved this book. I loved how fresh it felt. Spoilers for the rest of the series follow.

Two years after the events of Abaddon’s Gate, humanity has sent probes through the portals/gates to finally go out in search of new planets to colonize and habituate. One group of belters colonizes a planet they name Ilus. Unfortunately a big-name company with UN survey rights called RCE sets out to remove the colonists “peacefully” from the planet (which they choose to call New Terra) so that they can go about their business, as per their contract. Conflicts erupt, obviously, as the story becomes a matter of “well we were here first,” and “but we have the legal right to be here.” Captain Holden and his team aboard the Rocinante are sent to settle the dispute.

The alien world of Ilus/New Terra reminds me heavily of the planet in the movie Aliens, except it can sustain life and doesn’t need to be terraformed. The proto-molecule (as it’s described and my mind’s interpreted) owes heavily to that alien architectural style found in the movie. There is a surprising lack of the proto-molecule present in the book though, which makes sense after the events of Abaddon’s Gate, but that doesn’t mean the planet is entirely defenseless. New threats await, whether it be death slugs (whose slime paralyzes and kills within seconds), a virus that blinds you over time, or an inconvenient mix of both. And that’s not nearly the worst of it. The planet is waking up. It’s original purpose coming to life.

On top of it all off there’s the hot blood between Holden and the chief security officer Murtry, due to his vendetta against the colonists. This inspires the book to include terrorist sects, some serious stare downs, and excellent conflict, both on land and in the air. You really start to hate Murtry.

The series is known for introducing a host of new character viewpoints with each book for dynamic storytelling purposes, and for the most part it works. Although my favorite characters all seem to be from book 2, the new spotlighted storylines held very strong interesting individuals. Elvi Okoye the biologist was essentially the eyes and ears of the planet, helping describe its biomes to the reader, and her bravery mixed in with her very human desires and needs grounded her as a character. Dimitri Havelock, who’s character initially didn’t make much of an impression on me, soon became essential to the plot and survival of those in orbit. Basia Merton, the colonist who, early on, got in with the wrong crowd in the hopes of saving his family, pulled more than one tear-jerk moment from me. But most interesting of all, The Detective, the embodiment of the proto-molecule’s subconscience – these chapters, short and sweet, were pure poetry.

What’s so great about this book is that it doesn’t feel like the characters are jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire consistently. There is always constant threat, but it’s building upon itself in the background. It’s a natural progression that, I’ll admit, floored me with its enormity and gravitas. Whereas the Expanse had always been a fantastic SciFi series since I began reading a few months back, this book pushed it into favorite territory for me. This is truly a modern SciFi Classic. Corey knows where humanity is headed, and I can’t wait to read on. Seeing that a novel’s been released each year since the series’ debut, chances are I won’t have to wait too long.

Grab it in:
Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #1 – Leviathan Wakes:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #2 – Caliban’s War:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #3 – Abaddon’s Gate:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #5 – Nemesis Games:
My ReviewHardcover | eBook | Audible

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