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TIAMAT'S WRATH - Book 8 of Expanse (SPOILERS)


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  • 3 weeks later...

The Expanse #7: Persepolis Rising

Over the last thirty years, Earth, Mars and the Belt have unified to explore and settle the thirteen hundred colony worlds beyond the ring gates. The divisions and damage of previous generations are slowly being forgotten...until the colony world of Laconia launches a coup using protomolecule-based technology. As a new empire rises, the crew of the ageing frigate Rocinante once again find themselves on the front lines.

Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in The Expanse, opens with a bit of a non-sequitur time jump as we leap thirty years after the events of Babylon's Ashes. This is an interesting narrative decision, although one that is decidedly undersold: everyone is pretty much exactly where we left them in the previous volume and doing much the same thing, which not so much stretches credulity as shatters it into ten thousand tiny pieces. Time jumps are tricky to get right and can often feel contrived, and the time jump in this book feels rather like the latter.

Once the initial discomfort of that passes, Persepolis Rising ups its game considerably by introducing the Laconian forces as a powerful new player on the scene. There was enough foreshadowing in the previous two books to allow Laconia's rise to feel reasonably organic and the authors do a good job of fleshing out the empire and its hierarchy by using Laconian military officer Santiago Singh as a POV character. There's also some good characterisation as Singh makes choices that seem reasonably logical in isolation but rapidly escalate towards disaster.

Elsewhere, the Rocinante crew get stuck in a very tricky situation and have to escape. This is a fairly good story, but it feels like it should have been a much briefer episode in a larger story. Instead, huge events are happening but then we cut back to our regular heroes plotting to escape...and then plotting some more...and then at the end of the novel they (spoilers!) escape. The main storyline here is treading a bit too much water.

Still, there's some very good characterisation and the authors pull off a major shift in the underlying paradigm of the series relatively successfully. Persepolis Rising (****) is available now in the UK and USA.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The Expanse #8: Tiamat's Wrath

The Laconian Empire has conquered the Solar system and most of the colony worlds established through the ring space. A resistance movement led by the crewmembers of the Rocinante is hoping to win back the freedom of the individual worlds, but High Consul Winston Duarte has taken James Holden captive. As tensions rise, Duarte makes the bold decision to declare war on the unknown, possibly unknowable aliens that killed the creators of the protomolecule, a war that will have unforeseen consequences.

Tiamat's Wrath is the eighth and penultimate novel in The Expanse, moving the series decisively towards its endgame with the conflict against the unknown aliens beginning in force. This is the moment that The Expanse has been building towards for a decade, with the true conflict finally getting underway.

It's a shame, then, that it feels anti-climactic. Part of the problem in this latter part of the series is that it feels like it is trying to do too much in too little space: the conquest of the Solar system by the Laconians happened very rapidly (and mostly off-screen) in the previous book and in this book the resistance movement forms and takes action with almost indecent haste. Persepolis Rising did at least benefit from the tight focus on the Rocinante crew trying to escape Medina Station and using that as a lens through which other events unfolded. Tiamat's Wrath is a much more epic, widescreen book which tries to tell the story across a number of fast-moving fronts, but in almost exactly the same page count. This results in a much faster-paced story where events happen quickly and sometimes without enough setup.

We've been here before, and in fact Tiamat's Wrath forms the second half of a duology that began with Persepolis Rising, and in doing so comes across as a near beat-for-beat retread of the previous duology (Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes): in the first book a huge, epic, game-changing event takes place with apparently massive ramifications for the series, and in the second it is wrapped up with almost indecent haste, both times relying on an important female character in the enemy camp deciding to swap sides. The structural similarities between the two duologies can leave the reader with a nagging sense of deja vu. The pieces are different but the game is being played the same way.

There is also the problem that we still know very little about the extradimensional alien threat. We know they're bad news, but their motivations, capabilities and real level of threat remain unclear after eight books out of nine in the series. It does feel a little like the situation with the Others in A Song of Ice and Fire, where we're supposed to be wary of this species but we don't really know what they want so it means their level of threat remains vague. The stakes, rather than being made clear or raised, are instead simply left undefined.

As usual, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who together make up the gestalt entity known as James S.A. Corey) deliver a fast-paced, moderately well-written space opera yarn with some exciting battles, interesting plot twists and some decent characterisation, but also one that feels like it is repeating earlier beats from the series and still leaving a lot of information undisclosed before heading into the final volume of the series. Tiamat's Wrath (***) is solid but occasionally feels like a detailed plot summary of a novel rather than a novel in its own right. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

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I didn't really get the impression that Tiamat's wrath wrapped up everything set up in persepolis rising. There was still a new status quo in the sense the laconians were still in charge but the playing field was a little more level. It certainly didn't return back to the OPA being in charge.

I'd also argue that the whole point of the aliens is that we can't fathom/understand their motivations. I'm happy with the notion that the gates harm/worry them and to have more insight in their goals and methods would make them less alien to me. To use your ASOIAF analogy the characterisation and motivation of the antagonists is at the level of the human characters. The uber threat is just that, something that the warring human factions have to tackle either by destroying their competition first or by finding a way to work together

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I'd say Tiamat's Wrath, while wrapping up the Laconian domination to a certain degree, created a new game changing situation, as well.

Laconia lost control of Sol, its own system got beat to hell, a number of other systems may now be dead after the ring space incident, with only tepid travel taking place in between the rest. The Laconians still in charge of other systems may be faced with revolts of their own. All the while, the hidden enemy is becoming more dangerous, as "shots" were finally fired.

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8 hours ago, red snow said:

I didn't really get the impression that Tiamat's wrath wrapped up everything set up in persepolis rising. There was still a new status quo in the sense the laconians were still in charge but the playing field was a little more level. It certainly didn't return back to the OPA being in charge.

The Laconians completely lost control of Sol and ring space. They still have control of Laconia, but they're down to one effective ship there. There's maybe a few colonies where they warships in place, but they're now cut off from support at home. The Laconian Empire effectively does not exist any more at the end of Tiamat's Wrath.

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10 hours ago, Werthead said:

The Laconians completely lost control of Sol and ring space. They still have control of Laconia, but they're down to one effective ship there. There's maybe a few colonies where they warships in place, but they're now cut off from support at home. The Laconian Empire effectively does not exist any more at the end of Tiamat's Wrath.

I thought they just lost the ability to make more of their hybrid ships and antimatter. A big set back, I agree but they still have more of those ships than anyone else. It's a year since i read so my memory is clearly hazy, i just don't feel like it was wrapped up as neatly as if Persepolis rising never happened.

 

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5 hours ago, red snow said:

I thought they just lost the ability to make more of their hybrid ships and antimatter. A big set back, I agree but they still have more of those ships than anyone else. It's a year since i read so my memory is clearly hazy, i just don't feel like it was wrapped up as neatly as if Persepolis rising never happened.

It isn't wrapped up neatly, but the Laconians are now just one player among several human factions.  They only have one unstoppable dreadnaught, and it cannot simultaneously control Sol system, the ring space and Laconia.  If the ship were to leave Laconia, even a small fleet could capture their leaders and raze the planet, which would reduce the "empire" to a single ship.  Very difficult to govern that way. The Laconians have a few other destroyer types, which are formidable, but lack the firepower to go toe to toe with an Earth/Mars dreadnaught.  And with their shipyards destroyed and antimatter lost, it will be years before they can bolster their fleet again.  

So instead the Laconians are (temporarily anyway) ceding control of the ring space and the non-Laconian systems to local control.  It's possible they'll try and project force into a few other systems with their destroyers, but I would have to think they'll be leery of engaging with the only mobile forces they have left.  After TW, the Laconian military is effectively pinned in place. 

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1 hour ago, Maithanet said:

It isn't wrapped up neatly, but the Laconians are now just one player among several human factions.  They only have one unstoppable dreadnaught, and it cannot simultaneously control Sol system, the ring space and Laconia.  If the ship were to leave Laconia, even a small fleet could capture their leaders and raze the planet, which would reduce the "empire" to a single ship.  Very difficult to govern that way. The Laconians have a few other destroyer types, which are formidable, but lack the firepower to go toe to toe with an Earth/Mars dreadnaught.  And with their shipyards destroyed and antimatter lost, it will be years before they can bolster their fleet again.  

So instead the Laconians are (temporarily anyway) ceding control of the ring space and the non-Laconian systems to local control.  It's possible they'll try and project force into a few other systems with their destroyers, but I would have to think they'll be leery of engaging with the only mobile forces they have left.  After TW, the Laconian military is effectively pinned in place. 

I think a Laconian destroyer can easily go toe to toe with an old dreadnought, but can't fight off an entire fleet like the Tempest did in Persepolis Rising

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On 4/6/2020 at 7:32 AM, red snow said:

...I'd also argue that the whole point of the aliens is that we can't fathom/understand their motivations. I'm happy with the notion that the gates harm/worry them and to have more insight in their goals and methods would make them less alien to me. To use your ASOIAF analogy the characterisation and motivation of the antagonists is at the level of the human characters. The uber threat is just that, something that the warring human factions have to tackle either by destroying their competition first or by finding a way to work together...

I actually enjoy the distance between the motivations of humans and whatever the alien force is.  The disconnect between them feels real, and the lack of communication feels real.

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On 4/7/2020 at 3:24 PM, Maithanet said:

It isn't wrapped up neatly, but the Laconians are now just one player among several human factions.  They only have one unstoppable dreadnaught, and it cannot simultaneously control Sol system, the ring space and Laconia.  If the ship were to leave Laconia, even a small fleet could capture their leaders and raze the planet, which would reduce the "empire" to a single ship.  Very difficult to govern that way. The Laconians have a few other destroyer types, which are formidable, but lack the firepower to go toe to toe with an Earth/Mars dreadnaught.  And with their shipyards destroyed and antimatter lost, it will be years before they can bolster their fleet again.  

So instead the Laconians are (temporarily anyway) ceding control of the ring space and the non-Laconian systems to local control.  It's possible they'll try and project force into a few other systems with their destroyers, but I would have to think they'll be leery of engaging with the only mobile forces they have left.  After TW, the Laconian military is effectively pinned in place. 

Thanks for the re-cap, i can see what Wert was getting at now. But it's not quite as neat as completely undoing as the weakness was always there to be exposed. And they could bounce back with time.

It'll be interesting to see how many colonies liked the laconians. I imagine not many given the heavy handed take over and relatively short timeframe. However there must be some that felt they were better than the sol based rule or at least no worse.

On 4/7/2020 at 5:27 PM, Wilbur said:

I actually enjoy the distance between the motivations of humans and whatever the alien force is.  The disconnect between them feels real, and the lack of communication feels real.

Me too.

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I kind of thought Tiamat's Wrath's resolution was meant to be somewhat abrupt and specifically a way of pointing out how systems with single failure points fail pretty hard. That was something of a central message in Persepolis Rising, and then they took it to 11. Everything about the Laconian way - their simple means of doing the communication with an alien power and framing it entirely in the prisoner's dilemma instead of anything else, their reliance on Duarte as the only leader that was worth anything and on his inhuman intelligence and age, their reliance on specific vehicles to project power without anything else backing it up - it was an empire built on weakness, and much like most of the empires built around a single person's ego and brilliance it fell fairly quickly once that was down.

I thought it also did a very good job of setting Laconians up as these very powerful, intelligent knowing people and then proceeding to showcase precisely how ignorant they were to the point of showing that they were ignorant of being ignorant. Duarte being vulnerable to the blackout is a good example - this never even occurred to them. Cortazar looking at the kids in terms of nanoinformatics and not biologic structures is another. Laconians were secretive, monolithic and required dictatorial control, which meant that they had a huge blind spot for anything that they actually got wrong. The concept of them being wrong in any way was as impossible for them as it was for Inaros. Everything was just a setback to Duarte's brilliant plan, but it was always 'possible' and they had other plans in place, and they were incapable of framing any of the problems in a way other than what they had. 

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1 hour ago, Kalbear said:

I kind of thought Tiamat's Wrath's resolution was meant to be somewhat abrupt and specifically a way of pointing out how systems with single failure points fail pretty hard. That was something of a central message in Persepolis Rising, and then they took it to 11. Everything about the Laconian way - their simple means of doing the communication with an alien power and framing it entirely in the prisoner's dilemma instead of anything else, their reliance on Duarte as the only leader that was worth anything and on his inhuman intelligence and age, their reliance on specific vehicles to project power without anything else backing it up - it was an empire built on weakness, and much like most of the empires built around a single person's ego and brilliance it fell fairly quickly once that was down.

I thought it also did a very good job of setting Laconians up as these very powerful, intelligent knowing people and then proceeding to showcase precisely how ignorant they were to the point of showing that they were ignorant of being ignorant. Duarte being vulnerable to the blackout is a good example - this never even occurred to them. Cortazar looking at the kids in terms of nanoinformatics and not biologic structures is another. Laconians were secretive, monolithic and required dictatorial control, which meant that they had a huge blind spot for anything that they actually got wrong. The concept of them being wrong in any way was as impossible for them as it was for Inaros. Everything was just a setback to Duarte's brilliant plan, but it was always 'possible' and they had other plans in place, and they were incapable of framing any of the problems in a way other than what they had. 

Well put. I think the Laconians were awesome and intriguing. There were chapters and scenes, like when Duarte kills Cortazar and Trejo just walks the fuck out of the room and they make the body man keep interacting with the insane dictator, that feel like they're lifted right out of Inside the Third Reich. Everyone is paralyzed by their cult leader's paralysis. And they're afraid to act because literally a gesture can have you killed. So when a crisis brews, there's a lack of cohesive leadership as everyone prioritizes not upsetting the cult leader over dealing with the problem. It's very true to historical precedent.

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  • 3 months later...

Sorry to join the party so late - I just finished this book.

I think, overall, that this has been my favourite Expanse book (though I did skip book 4 and books 6-7). The sci-fi weirdness of the protomolecule, its creators, and their enemies is front and centre, especially through the great Elvi chapters, and this is where the book series really excels, imo. It felt more thoughtful than some of the other books - there are fewer gunfights and shipfights for the sake of having an action scene every few chapters, and the action scenes that do happen feel much more meaningful. Especially the takedown of the Tempest by Bobbie. That was a beautiful scene and send-off for the character.

On the human plot side of things, Duarte is a much more interesting villain than any of the other human villains I've read about so far in the book series, even if his "tit-for-tat plan" was really, really dumb. And for whatever reason, the characterization works much better here than in some of the other books. Again, I skipped over books 6-7, but this is the first book I've read in which Naomi feels like a fully fleshed out character. I know Daniel Abraham is a talented writer and great at character development, so I've always found it strange that the characters in these books have tended to be pretty flat.

On the downside, I agree with @Werthead that so much happens in this book that it would have been nice to have more pages to flesh some of the ideas and developments out. I liked the Teresa chapters at first but overall, her character and arc weren't particularly interesting. I enjoy the way Duarte got taken out, but it seemed like a waste to get rid of your best villain halfway through the book; everything with the Laconian/rebel war seemed pretty anti-climactic afterwards, especially once Cortazar also got removed from the board. And I wish the authors would just in general spend more time on these books - though to be fair, they seem to be doing this with the final one. Again, I think Daniel Abraham at least is a great writer (and Ty Franck may be as well). Knowing that, so much of the series has always struck me as wasted potential, as really cool ideas and story arcs are limited by clunky prose and stilted dialogue and a very pulp sensibility. Why does everyone speak like a 25 year old, no matter who you are in these books? The TV series at least has realized the potential of the earlier books: I hope it continues to do so.

Overall, though, this was a really fun and cool read, and one that got closest to what I was hoping from these books when I started reading Leviathan Wakes a long time ago. I'm excited to see where they take things with the protomolecule killers in the final book.

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On 2/15/2020 at 8:19 AM, Rhom said:

I couldn’t remember if the title for Book 9 had been released yet, so I Googled “Book 9 Expanse.”

I swear to God, one of the suggested common search questions was “What order should I read The Expanse?”

:bang: 

Seriously?!!!?  WTF????  

48 minutes ago, Caligula_K3 said:

Sorry to join the party so late - I just finished this book.

I think, overall, that this has been my favourite Expanse book (though I did skip book 4 and books 6-7).

Apparently the proper order is 1, 2, 3, 5, 8.  Who knew?

But seriously, if you feel like it's worth it to read the series generally, why are you skipping some of them?  If you find the protomolecule Romans and the Killers interesting, book 4 has a lot of answers in there.  And the plot jump between books 5 and 8 is pretty substantial.  

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12 minutes ago, Maithanet said:

Apparently the proper order is 1, 2, 3, 5, 8.  Who knew?

But seriously, if you feel like it's worth it to read the series generally, why are you skipping some of them?  If you find the protomolecule Romans and the Killers interesting, book 4 has a lot of answers in there.  And the plot jump between books 5 and 8 is pretty substantial.  

It's the reading order for cool kids!

I know I'm weird. Basically, I read books 1-3. I felt let down by the second half of book 1, enjoyed book 2 more, and then really disliked book 3. So I decided to stop there. But then I started watching the show, which especially as of season 2, felt like exactly what I had wanted from the book series all along. Excited by the show, I decided I'd start reading them again, but skip over book 4, because even fans seemed to think that one wasn't great. I figured I'd get the TV series' version of it (which I eventually did, thanks to Jeff Bezos). I enjoyed Nemesis Games, but not enough to make me want to do a full read of the series; and looking at reviews of Books 6-7, it seemed like the focus was on all the things I didn't enjoy about the books. After watching season 4, I was in the mood for more Expanse stuff, and book 8 seemed to be when the protomolecule/killers story started paying off. I read some short summaries of books 6-7 and figured out what I'd missed, plotwise. I've got no regrets. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

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