Review: “Abaddon’s Gate,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

I am seriously enjoying James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series of military science fiction books (with a touch of horror). I’m up to Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, 3). When the alien structure lifted from Venus in the last book, it moved itself just outside the orbit of Uranus and assembled a ring. When a fame-seeking young man goes through the Ring, it becomes obvious that doing so takes you somewhere else–and is exceedingly dangerous. Meanwhile, Clarissa Mao, Julie’s sister, is working to ruin Holden’s legacy before she kills him for ruining her father and causing him to be put in jail. She’s calling herself Melba and working as an engineer on one of the ships headed for the Ring. When Holden’s ship arrives, she sends a fake broadcast from Holden taking credit for blowing up a large, manned ship. Holden is forced to take refuge through the Ring, setting off a bizarre and deadly chain of results.

As always I just love the characters. I missed Avasarala and Bobbie, but I figure with such a long series of very long books (I swear each one could be turned into a trilogy on its own), they’re almost guaranteed to come back in later books. Meanwhile, we spend most of our time going back and forth between several spacegoing vessels. There’s the ship Clarissa is on, a UN ship full of dignitaries sent to the Ring because of the optics, the Rocinante of course, and the OPA’s Behemoth–a huge ship that used to be the Nauvoo and has been retrofitted as a weapons platform. Sort of. On the ship of dignitaries we spend most of our time with Pastor Annushka Volovodov, an idealistic woman who thinks mankind needs to start asking questions about what the Ring and its makers mean to the realms of philosophy and religion. She and Tilly, a wealthy, grouchy woman who latches on to her, are a ton of fun to spend time with. Even the mostly-unnamed members of Anna’s ersatz congregation on board the ship are given detail and weight. On board the Behemoth, we catch up with engineer Sam again, who’s good friends with Naomi. Bull is the head of security, and he’s at odds with image-conscious Captain Ashford. Monica is a journalist who wants to get to the Ring and who hires Holden and his crew, and while her crew is mostly background, Monica is a low-key interesting player.

Holden, despite being a self-righteous man (righteous man? Eh, depends on who you ask) has a tendency to start wars by just putting all the information he gets his hands on out there for everyone to see. He’s been used to manipulate relationships between the major powers several times already, but that doesn’t stop him. He and his crew are living well and getting plenty of jobs. He has some narcissistic tendencies, and usually makes his decisions based on what’s emotionally most comfortable to him at the time, but he does genuinely care about his crew and want to do the right thing. He’s also seeing visions of Miller, the dead detective who ended up a part of the alien mess on Venus, who’s only being semi-coherent and seems to be talking in circles about death. But Miller is definitely trying to tell him something. Because of that and some other things that happen, Holden becomes convinced that the aliens want him to go through the Ring for some reason. (See those narcissistic tendencies there?)

Meanwhile, Clarissa is willing to kill hundreds, even thousands of people if it means she can destroy Holden, his crew, and their reputations. She develops a lot along the way to the Ring, learning to fit in better, making an actual friend, and flipping out here and there. She eventually becomes a very fascinating look at dissociation and psychotic breaks, and not in stereotypical ways–her decision-making processes are crucial to the story and they make sense.

The story is riveting, the pacing perfect, and I don’t know why I never read this series before now. I’m going all the way through!

Content note: some deaths/injuries/blood.

He was sick. Hell, he was dying. It seemed deeply unfair that he should have to improvise at the same time.

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