Review: “Persepolis Rising,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

30 years later… No, really. James S.A. Corey’s military science fiction novel Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, 7) takes place roughly three decades after Babylon’s Ashes. Laconia, the colony formed by the rogue Martian contingent led by “High Consul” Winston Duarte, has decided it’s time to reinstate contact with the rest of humanity. They’re certain that they know how to make civilization peaceful and prosperous–even if it means they have to conquer everyone in order to achieve their goals. And they’ve been building warships based on alien technology that can do the job. They’re also doing human experiments using the protomolecule–something that almost certainly won’t end well. Drummer, who used to be Fred Johnson’s head of security, is now “Madame President” of the Belters’ Transport Union, and she finds herself in the unenviable position of having to decide whether or not to use her resources to fight against the Laconians. Earth has also recovered just enough that it’s starting to become active in matters again–one of the benefits of picking up 30 years later. As for our heroes on the Rocinante, Holden and Naomi want to retire, and they’ve decided to sell the ship to Bobbie. She becomes captain just in time to deal with this latest crisis.

There’s a theme of fascism and dictatorship running through this book. Before Laconian ships arrive, Holden is contracted to deliver consequences to a colony that’s refusing to obey the Transport Union, and he has to decide how to handle the fact that he’s basically delivering a death sentence. Once the Laconians arrive and take over Medina Station, we get to see that the best of intentions can still devolve into arrests, deaths, and so forth. We also experience the new Medina “governor’s” slide as he, a loving family man, starts to see the conquered as less than human. The Laconians legitimately seem to want to improve people’s lives (most of them, anyway), but this book gives a great look at how the way you go about such a thing has consequences. For everyone. We see what happens when there’s zero room given to negotiate those consequences.

The crew of the Rocinante has seen better days. Alex has married and divorced again. Amos seems to be going off the deep end–and we see what happens when he begins to lose control of his psychopathic tendencies. Clarissa is very sick, actually dying, because of the degradation of the glands she had implanted. Holden and Naomi are tired. Bobbie chafes at being under someone else’s command for so long and wants to run things herself. There’s also no way for the crew to free Medina without causing a lot of collateral damage–to themselves and others.

Don’t worry–we come back to that odd anomaly where some ships get “eaten” by the gates. There’s a massive weapon the Laconians are wielding that’s based on the same technology, and it’s causing its own side effects. We also see bits and pieces of what the Laconians are doing with the protomolecule, and if it took up more of the book I’d be adding “horror” to my mental list of keywords.

As a little tidbit, I also appreciate that this series shows plenty of relationships between members of the opposite sex that have nothing to do with sex or romance, ranging from professionalism to close friendships.

“I don’t want to bet my life on other people being smart,” Holden said.
“Voice of experience?”
“I’ve been hurt before.”

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