Review: “Babylon’s Ashes,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, 6) follows on the heels of his Nemesis Games. Earth is in dire straights after the “Free Navy” bombarded it with asteroids. Billions are dead and the rest are refugees living under falling ash and dirt. Filip, Naomi’s son, now knows she’s still alive–and he blames Holden for her having left him and his father, even though Holden had nothing to do with it. Medina Station (in the middle of the alien gates) has been repurposed as a sort of Belter homeland, while Captain Michio Pa thinks maybe there’s something wrong about following Marco (Naomi’s ex and the architect of the current disasters). The Rocinante and her crew are on their way to confront a ship that may be the one hurling rocks at Earth, and they have Bobbie on board now. And Marco’s true colors are showing through–he claims to be working for the benefit of the Belters, but he’s all too happy to abandon them as it suits his goals.

We’re getting to see the effects of the war on various people, governments, and sectors. A couple of old characters from a previous book (Pastor Anna and her family) make a reappearance as refugees on Earth. We get to see Avasarala interacting with one of her granddaughters (I may have cried a little). Prax shows up briefly regarding a particularly useful new strain of yeast that could help ease Earth’s hunger crisis.

I love the fact that relationships include a variety of orientations and situations. Pastor Anna has a wife. Michio Pa is in a plural marriage that’s accepted as perfectly normal by those around them. Holden and Naomi have never bothered getting married despite the closeness and length of their relationship. Holden’s eight parents are also in a plural marriage, although it’s partially for convenience.

This entire book, actually, is about tribes and families (really, so is the entire series), of every kind. Marriages, parent-child relationships, romantic love, and more get explored against a magnificent backdrop of military science fiction with plenty of action. There’s also a good theme of whether humanity deserves to be admired or reviled, and where that line lies.

The big problem coming up is the viability of the new economy. One of Marco’s advisors is very clear on the fact that certain things have to be accomplished by certain times in order to make sure that the Belt becomes self-sustaining within five years, which is how much time they have before the situation becomes critical. Unfortunately, Marco doesn’t entirely care about such worldly matters, so not everything is getting done.

It’s also fascinating to explore one station that’s taken over by the Free Navy and how the people there live–the ones who support the Free Navy, the ones who don’t, and the ones who just want to do their jobs and live in peace.

This is a great continuation of the series!

“So,” Holden said. “Martian coup. Free Navy killing the shit out of Earth. Pirates stripping down all the colony ships that were heading out. Medina Station’s gone dark. And we-don’t-know-what eating some of the ships that go through the gates.”

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