Review: “Nemesis Games,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

In the previous book of James S.A. Corey’s marvelous series “The Expanse”–Cibola Burn–Holden was sent to mediate a dispute between self-avowed colonists and an Earth corporation who both wanted the same planet. We learned a little more along the way about what might have happened to the extinct aliens who built the Ring system. Now, in Nemesis Games (The Expanse, 5), the form the story takes gets a bit different. The crew of the Rocinante is forced to take some downtime while the ship gets fixed, and one by one the various members (except for Holden) take some time off to take care of various personal issues. Amos goes to Earth to find out what happened to a woman he cared about who died. Alex goes back to Mars to reach some sort of closure with his ex-wife (yeah, that’s never a good idea). Naomi receives a message that sends her off to the Belt and into contact with some old friends who are up to no good. Somehow, one by one, they end up in the middle of a spreading series of disasters engineered by someone who wants to see the Belters come into control of the solar system. The availability of new worlds past the Ring is making Belters obsolete, and some of them think the only way to solve this is to blow things up.

Plans within plans within plans. Marco is a charismatic Belter who has organized a group to take over the solar system. He plans to get rid of Holden and Fred, rope Naomi back into his world (the world she escaped from years ago), get his hands on a small fleet’s worth of Martian military ships, and even attack the Earth. That’s some serious ambition.

I like the timescale things are on. It’s been three years since they left for Ilus, because space travel still takes time. It’s going to be several months for the Rocinante to get fixed up, because major repairs take time. As much as I think near-instantaneous space travel in other books can be a good thing, the scale in these books allows for more political development and a world rich in consequences.

Filip is a 15-year-old boy who’s in deep with the Belters, because Marco is his father. He already has blood on his hands, and his place in things is particularly interesting. He and the rest of Marco’s little cabal let us in on Naomi’s darker secrets, the things that have been barely hinted at that she hasn’t even wanted to tell Holden. Speaking of Holden, I love that he’s growing as a person but sometimes falls back a step. He’s trying to cope with not knowing where Naomi is, and it’s making him look at himself a little bit closer. Journalist Monica returns and takes a more active role in this particular plot, such as poking at Holden to help her look into some ships that went missing when they went through the Ring. We also get to see some of the crew finally having to deal with the fact that they’re well-known now. Maybe not as much celebrities as Holden is, but interesting in their own right.

This is tightly plotted, with fascinating stories going on in parallel. It also seriously digs into all of the crew, examining their past and present lives, their relationships, their secrets, and more. All of that without bogging down at all. I can’t wait for more!

Content note for emotional abuse, manipulation, and gaslighting.

“Alien superweapons were used,” Alex said…. “The laws of physics were altered, mistakes were made.”
“Same shit, different day,” Amos replied.

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