The Expanse, #5: Nemesis Games (BOOK REVIEW)

Another year, another Expanse novel. James S.A. Corey, the famed writing duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, have been consistently churning out expansions to their sci-fi space opera, The Expanse, on a yearly basis. The series will see it’s tv treatment later this year on Syfy, and it’s expected to be a huge hit for the network, going back to hard space science fiction and all. Interestingly, it’s a series that with each installment, finds a new subgenre of sci-fi for the crew of the Rosinante to traverse, and generally it’s all awesome fun, always delivering a good punch. Cibola Burn ranked quite high on my list of best sci-fi/fantasy novels of 2014, so Nemesis Games was one of my most anticipated novels of 2015. This review will contain some spoilers.

And it was great to be back with the crew at long last. It felt like coming home again, a theme that also had a heavy presence in the novel. While the Rosinante was docked at Tycho Station for repairs, Amos went down to Earth to pay his respects to a woman whom he had the utmost respect for. Alex decided it was time to pay the ex-wife a visit on Mars. And Naomi went to help out someone named Phillip in the Belt. Jim is left to himself, and finds trouble brewing on Tycho Station, after reporter Monica Stewart introduces him to the next big piece she’s working on.

Of course, all goes wrong for everyone. Naomi is a victim to a trap concocted by none other than her ex-lover, who is the leader of a militant terrorist gang faction of the Belt. Jim, along with O.P.A. (Outer Planetary Alliance) director Fred Johnson, find themselves in a deep conspiracy involving missing ships that have entered into the alien rings, and the theft of the only remaining sample of the proto-molecule. Alex, along with Bobbie Draper, find themselves on the other side of the system, where the heaviest front of the initial naval attack of a rogue martian fleet are shooting at them for apparently no reason. But worse still, while Amos is on Earth visiting the imprisoned Clarissa Mao, terrorists send a series of gigantic asteroids onto the planet, leveling it and killing billions.

One thing the novel does exceptionally well is incorporating some of the series’ best one-off characters (including Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao who featured prominently in books 2 and 3, respectively) back into the series, and perhaps for good. One thing Naomi tells Jim at the start of the book is that they will need to hire more hands for their ship (as they only now have a skeletal four), and what better crewmates than people already introduced in books past. Chrisjen Avasarala, the acting head of the U.N., is delightfully profane as usual, but we get to see a side of her that really stood out to me in this novel, and solidified her character as one of my favorites.

On top of that, the fact that each member of the Rosinante crew was elsewhere allowed POVs of their perspective, and gave each breathing room to be the characters they would be if not on the Rosinante. Naomi particularly gets an excellent role in all of this, being the damsel in distress without her knight in shining armor to save her. She is left to her own devices, and has to consistently make hard, gut-wrenching choices that allow her to get through it all.

But the threat of this novel, although very terrible, somehow doesn’t feel all that impressive next to what we’ve seen in the past. The last four novels had a heavy proto-molecule (alien) presence that made the unbelievable tolerable. This book, by contrast, feels like a step back – with humans being their own greatest threat. But to think that some belter thugs singlehandedly crippled three governments (Mars, Earth, OPA) in one fell swoop seems far-fetched. Particularly the part where they bombed earth with asteroids. Just because they tampered with them in a way that made them somehow untrackable as they descended unto earth, you’d think somebody would still notice.

It’s clear that Nemesis Games also just doesn’t want to tell you what’s really happening. There are too many holes that it doesn’t fully explain, particularly who’s behind all the chaos, and the missing ships, stolen proto-molecule, etc., and that left me more than a bit frustrated and dissatisfed. This is the first novel of the series that didn’t deal with the immediate threat at hand, and that was disappointing. It feels like the authors decided to split the book in two, and only gave us the first half of the story, a vast departure from other installments in the series. I was waiting for a climax that didn’t happen, and instead was gifted an epilogue so vague without context I could honestly do without.

Still. It’s not a bad book by any means. This book feels like the beginning of a middle act, but we’ll see how well that assessment holds up. Not quite sure what the title ‘Nemesis Games’ means. Perhaps that too will be explained elsewhere.

Grab it in:
Hardcover | 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 #4 – Cibola Burn:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible

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