After the events of the last book, Babylon's Ashes, the Expanse series was clearly building up to a crescendo and I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth book of the series, with only one more to follow if James S. A. Corey sticks to the current plan, and it took only a single sentence for this book to make clear that the series is nearing the end. To keep things spoiler free I won't say what that sentence was, but know that this book is full of big moments and if you are a fan of the series then you will not be disappointed.
Things have been building up for two books and now it is time to find out how it all plays out. Cassius' plan to destroy the religous zealots of the New Earth Tribunal is simple in concept - you can't worship the spirit of the Earth if there is no Earth, so he plans to do just that. It is also just as likely that his plans involve more than just revenge. Most of the rest of the characters are pawns in his game, but they have started to figure that out, and the word is spreading that the war was orchestrated by Cassius from the start. This fact is prompting others like Sage and Talon to pursue their own agendas, so the final confrontation of this war is going to be a wild ride.
Book one of The Circuit series, Executor Rising, did a good job of setting the stage for the rest of the story. The main characters are all established, their backgrounds and motivations are mostly clear, and the state of the solar system is such that the impending conflict will have dire consequences depending on how it all turns out. However, none of the factions can be classified as the good guys in this story so I do not find myself emotionally invested in any particular outcome, or character. Normally that is an issue for me, but in this case I found myself eager to know how it turns out anyway.
I remember when I first started reading The Expanse series and how I was surprised that I found it compelling even though human space travel was limited to our own solar system. No warp drives or hyperspace conduits seemed pretty boring at first, but I eventually came around because limiting the scope of the story to our own solar system made it that much more real. Although similarly limited to our solar system, Executor Rising puts aside realism and instead offers up something much farther out there in concept. The Earth is no longer a habitable planet and mankind instead has The Circuit, which is an interdependent ecosystem that uses Solar Arks to transport needed materials between human colonies that are spread across the solar system.
To my dismay Persepolis Rising starts a full thirty years after the end of the previous book, Babylon's Ashes. I found myself instantly unhappy that the writing duo known as James S. A. Corey had decided it was time for the crew of the Rocinante to be getting old. All of a sudden my favorite characters were spending time complaining about the aches and pains associated with aging instead of kicking ass and taking names. Luckily the authors also put forth an intriguing story line that makes it easy to set aside such concerns. When everything goes to hell, Holden and company prove that despite their age, they aren't done just yet.
Our solar system will never be the same. Book 6 of The Expanse picks up right after the end of the last one in the bleak aftermath of the sudden and devastating attack on Earth by the Free Navy. Out of nowhere they laid waste to the bread basket of the solar system and now humanity struggles to pick up the pieces and find a way to survive. The super powers of the solar system who were central to mankind's expansion into space now find themselves mere shadows of their former selves and short on resources. Earth is in disarray after the attacks with billions of starving people and Mars is a hollow shell after being left behind by those that moved through the Ring Gate to colonize other planets with actual atmospheres. To add insult to injury, those same Martian defectors were the source of the military ships acquired by the Free Navy to wreak havoc on Earth so Mars also finds itself in the middle of a political upheaval.
The future, as initially presented by author James S. A. Corey, finds mankind having achieved space travel within our solar system but with no means to reach further out to the stars. Unfortunately, having access to additional planets and resources does little to unite humanity and instead it gives us a new way to discriminate against each other. A tenuous peace barely exists between Earth, Mars and the residents of the outer planets, and it is within this fragile environment that the discovery of an ancient alien proto-molecule lights a spark that threatens to ignite the powder keg. It all feels very plausible and makes for some great story telling.