Book Review: Nemesis Games
Readers, it's time to go back to the world of The Expanse! I read Nemesis Games this month, and it's getting good, y'all.
The fifth book in The Expanse sits a little closer to home than its predecessor. Humanity is setting out for the stars. The Roci is in "drydock" for repairs after all the damage sustained in Cibola Burn, and the crew (except for Holden) set out on personal missions. Alex returns to Mars to see his ex-wife, only to get embroiled in an investigation of disappearing Martian resources, alongside Bobbie Draper. Naomi goes to Ceres to meet up with the radical OPA, lured by her ex who tells her that their son is in danger. Amos goes to Earth to look into the death of someone from his past, and ends up reuniting with Clarissa Mao. And when the radical OPA strikes at both Tycho Station and Earth, Holden teams up with Fred to investigate.
Unlike the previous four books, the external plot isn't the focus here. Don't get me wrong, there is one and it's definitely exciting. Ships get attacked, rocks finally fall on Earth, etc. It's written at Corey's usual breakneck pace, and it's not the kind of book you get stuck in.
But more than any of the other Expanse books, this one is focused tightly on the personal stakes. We get the follow-up from Cibola Burn when Alex goes to see his ex, a super ill-advised decision. But in the process, he sees firsthand how Mars is changing and turning into a ghost planet now that the ring gate is open. And he realizes that the Roci is truly his home.
Amos gets more backstory because he spends the novel on Earth amid characters from his past, and we see clearly why he gravitates toward someone like Holden - he needs a moral compass, because without one, he's capable of terrible things. He and Clarissa work very well together; he's basically sharing his "moral compass" model with her, and in the process, she realizes that she can try to be better.
An un-moored Holden struggles with the crew gone. They're his family, and nothing feels right when they're not there. He's also grown up quite a bit; he no longer feels the need to trumpet everything to the entire galaxy. He realizes now that sometimes things must be done in secret.
But the real treat of this book is Naomi. This is her book, and her emotional journey is at its core. The series has never dug into Naomi's past before, but here we get it in spades. She was part of the radical OPA, not really knowing what that meant, and she even had a son with one of its leaders, Marco. But when she was recovering, Marco used her boredom; Naomi ended up writing code that the OPA used to attack ships. Naomi didn't want anything to do with that, but she felt trapped by Marco, who used their son to keep her with him. It got so bad she tried to commit suicide. Eventually, she couldn't take it anymore and left.
Now Marco has lured her back, but it's only to trap her again. Naomi struggles to face the son she abandoned, and she struggles to face the man who emotionally abused her. But eventually she finds the strength to stand up to him; she finds the strength to be honest with her son about why she left, and why he should too. And then she finds the incredible emotional and physical strength to escape alone (and save her crew in the process). The book's climax, where an exhausted Naomi, alone on a tumbling ship, manages to do enough to survive, will leave a deep impression.
On top of this, we get the best villain Corey has written yet. I'm not referring to Marco, necessarily, though he's definitely the face of it. But here the OPA's motivations are crystal clear and understandable, not the cartoonish bad guy motivations in the previous books.
With humanity streaming through the ring gate and a wealth of planets available for the taking, Belters have no niche left. They can't survive down a gravity well, not without considerable painful therapy. They've evolved to live in space exclusively, except now there's no need. So they decide to create a need by doing what they've always threatened and dropping rocks on Earth. It's terrifying, because the one planet that's always been hospitable, always our home, will never be the same after this book.
Nemesis Games shines for the detail it lavishes on the characters. And its ending sets up a level of excitement for the next book that I haven't yet experienced. Will the Earth become inhabitable? Can Earth and Mars hold against the OPA? And what is attacking the ships that travel through the ring gates?
I'm so hype for Babylon's Ashes, y'all.