Book Review: Abaddon's Gate
Onward, friends! I'm continuing to make my way through the world of The Expanse, and that means I recently finished book three, Abaddon's Gate - a welcome shift toward a larger world.
The protomolecule has left Venus and built a giant ring near Uranus. Nobody knows what it is or what it might do. So, shockingly, that discovery falls to Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante. While transporting a crew of reporters to the ring, Holden is framed for the destruction of an Earth ship by someone who wants him disgraced and dead - leaving Holden no choice but to fly into the ring. As ships from Mars, Earth and the OPA follow him through, Holden and his crew race to discover who framed him and the ring's purpose before their ignorance gets everyone killed.
The biggest thing I loved about Abaddon's Gate was how different it feels to Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War. Both of the previous books dealt with the protomolecule and attempts to weaponize it by unscrupulous organizations, but here, we've finally left all that behind in favor of a story that focuses on conflict between humans. Thus, Abaddon's Gate feels fresh in a way Caliban's War couldn't.
Part of that is because the protomolecule has finally achieved its objective. Turns out, the protomolecule wasn't necessarily sent to exterminate life - it was sent to build a gateway to add to the network of a powerful civilization (and got more than it bargained for when it was revived). With the gate built and Venus left for dead, the threat from the protomolecule appears to have vanished.
Of course, Miller is now appearing to Holden, a simulation that guides Holden and answers what questions it can, when it can. We get a lot of fascinating backstory here as Holden investigates the station at the center of the slow zone inside the ring. Even better, we find out that the station can provide access to many new worlds and solar systems - a wider universe has opened up to our character, though it isn't without a looming threat.
And yet, that's not really the book's focus. Instead, we watch the delicate play of politics between Earth, Mars and the OPA. Abaddon's Gate carries forward a theme of the previous two books, that even when faced with an outside threat, humanity just can't get its shit together and cooperate.
Much like Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate introduces new POV characters, three this time. Bull is the security officer on the OPA ship Behemoth. Anna is a priest, part of a group of influential civilians come to witness the interactions with the ring. And Melba / Clarissa is the sister of Julie Mao, out for revenge against Holden because of what he did to her dad.
So yeah, this is where the human drama falls down a bit for me. I'm sorry, but Clarissa's vendetta against Holden is just not believable. She knows and acknowledges that her father is responsible for the tragedy of Eros. So WHY would you think it acceptable to seek vengeance for such a person? It definitely makes sense that she would have some conflicted feelings, but jealousy of her sister just doesn't cut it here for explaining the extraordinary lengths she goes to in order to frame Holden. It feels wildly contrived.
Meanwhile, the other villain of this book, the OPA captain, feels far too flat. His motives aren't explored at all beyond his inability to admit when he's wrong and a desire to save face. He's cartoonish at best, and Corey missed a real opportunity here to come up with a three-dimensional, tragic villain that we could understand even as we rooted for his defeat.
OK, there's my bitching out of the way. The rest of this book is SO COOL.
Of all three Expanse books so far, this one has the best action set-pieces. The destruction of the Seung-Un to frame Holden and the ensuing chase through the ring will get your heart pounding early on. Holden exploring a potentially dangerous alien station while being chased by Martian marines, even as a power-suited Clarissa boards the Roci and tries to kill Naomi, will leave you with baited breath. And the whole last act is non-stop action on the Behemoth, a crazy assault on the bridge that's going to make for one hell of an episode if/when the show finally gets there.
It also has the best ending of the three books so far, with the universe newly opened up to humanity, but at a terrible toll.
After some debate, I ranked this lower than Caliban's War because the gripe I had with that book (its recycling of the protomolecule plotlines) was ultimately smaller than my gripes with Abaddon's Gate. But I still loved Abaddon's Gate, and I'm so pumped for Cibola Burn.
And, no, I still haven't watched the TV show. I...should probably get on that.