“‘What?’ Holden asked. His brain refused to believe this could be true. He’d heard the words clearly, but those words could not be, so he must have heard them wrong. ‘What?'”
I think I hate this book, not because the writing was bad, but because almost everyone I root for dies. This was a book of pure frustration.
The quote above, referencing when Holden learns about Sam’s fate? That is *exactly* how I felt. The thought “I definitely just read that wrong” crossed my head.
That might be as emotional as I’ve felt in The Expanse in a long time. I could not believe that had just happened. And the chapters immediately following it, where Corey describes the reactions of Amos, Holden, Naomi, and Bull? They perfectly mirrored mine. Amos first, with his immediate thirst for vengeance; Holden, with his similar, but more tempered reaction; Naomi, immediately turning into a sobbing wreck, focusing on sadness instead of anger; Bull, forcing everyone to keep moving along in the story instead of wallowing.
A lot of people die in Abaddon’s gate. A lot of good ones. For the record, if Miller were still alive and around, none of this bullshit would have happened. His pragmatism would have saved everyone. Ashford would have been either airlocked or at the very least, put under guard with guards with known loyalties, and the counter-mutiny would never have happened. But noooope; we have to go all soft hearted and keep Ashford alive even after he’s proven to be utterly incompetent, so that way he can 100% go off the deep end, try to get everyone killed, and kill my favorite engineer!
Okay, I guess I should stop being mad about Sam’s death. Let’s move on. I guess. *sob*
Abaddon’s Gate marks the first shift in The Expanse away from dealing with scary protomolecule monsters, changing the protomolecule’s role from the origin of vomit zombies that can kill everyone to basically a technology that opens up this gateway to weird space. It’s a marked shift in tone that changes the focus of the series from the scariness of the protomolecule to people’s reactions to new and unknown situations.
Miller’s Back, Bitches!
Okay, I admit it. I basically started this book within minutes of finishing Caliban’s War because of the final chapter. Miller was back! And I wanted to see how his reincarnated character would interact with our favorite spaceship crew.
The beginning starts off a little anti-climactic, basically telling us he’s been speaking gibberish the entire time between the two books. But I really liked the reveal of *why* exactly he’s back, and in many ways, not back. Rather than using a contrived sci-fi explanation to reincarnate him, proto-Miller basically explains that no, Miller is in fact dead. There’s a protomolecule-like machine / entity that is using his personality as a base, but Miller is most certainly dead. Because of that, you get to see flashes of his personality, but he has his own motivations for existing, motivations that exist outside of what may or may not be important to the Rocinate’s crew.
That being said, at several points, their motivations do in fact intersect, and Miller ends up playing a key role in Holden figuring out what is up with the ring and why it exists, creating the catalyst for the next book. Moreover, it’s Miller that spells out the implications of what might happen if Ashford tries to blow up the ring with a laser and why *everyone* is in trouble from his insanity.
But more than anything, proto-Miller is entertaining in his banter with Holden. His character might technically be dead, but he still throws quips as well as real Miller did. And Holden’s exasperation in dealing with him is rather amusing from my point of view as the reader.
Mars and Their Badass Marines
What was I talking about before? Oh right. This story kills everyone I care about. If you’ve been reading my other Expanse reviews, you already know that I love the MCRN and basically think they’re the good guys in this whole mess. Well, we get to know some of their marines again in this book; not quite as well as Bobbie Draper, but well enough to be upset when bad things happen to them.
Sergeant Verbinski, commanding officer of the marines that are ordered to surrender to the Behemoth (against his own advice); sarcastic, skilled, fun. I loved his quips with Bull, both in the exchange where he reveals that he smuggled some grenades on board and in the exchange where he tells Bull that none of this would be a problem had he and his squad been allowed to keep their power armor. Moreover, he’s shown to be smart in making the correct strategic decisions to take and defend engineering, and to take out one of the baddies in the stolen martian power armor. His death, much like Sam’s was sudden and quick. One moment he’s there, the other he’s not. Honestly, I’m still not sure how he died exactly. Was it from injuries sustained defending engineering? Or did his EVA suit break or something?
Verbinski is backed up by his squadsmates, Juarez, sniper extraordinaire, who actually takes the shot that takes out the aforementioned baddie in the stolen martian power armor. Even when he’s out of bullets, he’s still sighting for his fellow marine, Cass, still taking shots. With soldiers like these, how does the MCRN ever lose any battles? But of course, since Abaddon’s Gate likes to kill or at least severely maim all the good guys, Juarez gets his guts shot out when they try and take the bridge. Of course…
But okay, I’ve spent a lot of time on what seem like tertiary characters up until now. They’ve been my favorites. And they’re all dead. Let’s move on to some of the main POV characters.
To me, Bull is Fred Johnson Lite; Strong, self-sacrificing, and selfless, he spends the entire book getting the shaft. He should be Captain of the Behemoth, but since he’s officially from Earth and Belters are a bunch of racist assholes, he is relegated to 2nd officer. However, Fred puts Bull in the unenviable position where he has to be in charge without the power and authority to actually do so, which inevitably leads to the power struggle that defines the conflict on the Behemoth. Honestly, Fred Johnson should have been smart enough to see that coming.
Poor Bull. He gets crippled; all he wants to do is get everyone safely out of the slow zone. But he has to deal with all sorts of bullshit just to do so. In fact, he has to engineer a freaking mutiny to get his Captain to stop making idiotic decisions. And then, when he’s finally right and victorious, the new Captain / old XO decides to basically put him under minimum security guard instead of spacing him or putting him in a more secure prison. So he has to take his crippled ass, take back engineering, and then basically fight back against almost invincible antagonists in martian power armor.
Oh, and of course, since this is Abaddon’s Gate and he’s a likeable character, he dies. At least he takes out a few of the bad guys with him.
Can you sense my frustration with this story?!??!
Clarissa Mao/ Melba
Okay, so one very different thing that Abaddon’s Gate brought us that the other Expanse books didn’t was having one of the POV characters be one of the antagonists. We’re brought into the thoughts of Clarissa Mao, who has concocted honestly a pretty damn good scheme to character assassinate + actually assassinate James Holden.
Unfortunately, since we’re already firmly on the side of the Rocinate‘s crew, it’s hard to empathize with the poor rich girl trying to get vengeance on her (evil) father’s behalf and murder our favorite protagonists. It’s even harder to do so when you see her murder innocents like Ren along the way because they were too nice / too smart.
I assume Corey’s purpose in showing us Clarissa’s POV is to tell a story of redemption, of a person misguided by their upbringing, who then realizes the wrongs that she’s doing and who ultimately redeems herself.
Except…this entire situation is her fault in the first place! I, the reader, don’t forgive her. I wanted her spaced in the first place, and just because she ends up playing a pivotal role in keeping Holden and Co. alive later doesn’t absolve her of her original guilt!
I’m pretty sure I missed the entire overarching theme that I was supposed to see about forgiveness and redemption, but oh well.
I find it rather amusing that when Clarissa is in her cell next to Ashford, she doesn’t listen to his rantings, and then later thinks to herself “Wait, what was that guy saying? Why is he acting all crazy?” Because I feel like that is pretty similar to what I felt whenever Ashford went from incompetent, insecure idiot to homicidal maniac bent on trapping/killing everyone in the slow zone.
It was such a large character shift I had to go back and re-read to see if I missed anything. Nearest I can figure, he just went crazy after his crew mutinied on him, and his insecurity drove him to want to save his ego by trapping everyone in the slow zone to “save” everyone at home. When I think about it though, that doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand how anyone that stupid could ever have ascended the ranks, even in the OPA, where command structure is a little more loose.
He becomes fully unhinged once he’s loose. Remember before, when he was upset that Bull spaced the drug dealer? That painted a picture of a man who cared about his crew, who was upset that one of his own was killed without due process. Next thing I know, he’s ordering roaming death squads, deciding that everyone in the slow zone needs to die, and shooting Sam in the face! (*sob*). Makes no sense at all that he’d get that unhinged because of some people questioning his command.
But oh well, stories need unlikeable antagonists, right? So we got one.
Okay, so you’ve heard me rant…a lot in this review. Now it’s time for me to say that I still thought my time reading it was time well spent. The entire last 20% of the book is a very well written action sequence where our crew of good guys tries to take engineering, fails to hold it, and hunkers down in the broadcast booth to try and send out the message of what Ashford is trying to do and how it’s going to get everyone killed. This will be an enjoyable sequence to watch on The Expanse if the show lasts that long. I found the book very hard to put down once the action started flowing, and I imagine watching it will be just as great.
With hindsight, Sam’s death evoked the emotional reaction I think that Casey was going for. It was sudden, unexpected, and affected me and all our cast of good guys deeply. I think the point was to illustrate just how serious the situation was, and that Ashford had gone off the deep end. It still sucks, I can see why it was important for the story.
Bull got a hero’s death, which at the end of the day, is in the vein of what his character was all about: self sacrifice for the good of others. He got the shit end of the stick, took it, and made the most of it, helping our cadre of good guys as best he could in the process.
Our martian marines? They took out several people with them, and helped to display the awesome military might of the MCRN Marine Corps, showing that Bobbie Draper is not the only person from Mars worth a damn in a fight.
The overarching themes of forgiveness and redemption were kind of lost on me (Sorry Anna!), but I always tend to struggle with those concepts anyway.
The big takeaway from this book though is that it changes the entire tone of the series. We’re no longer confined to our solar system. There are
Stargates rings that we can go through now, leading to brand new planets in other solar systems! The promolecule creators are revealed to be mortal, and have mysteriously disappeared! Moreover, the protomolecule itself changes from this big scary thing that might end humanity to well…the heart of some new mysterious technology? THAT was a large, series altering shift.
Abaddon’s Gate sets the scene nicely to lead into Cibola Burn, where the focus again continues to shift away from the protomolecule. I’ll see you there (and hopefully more of our friends don’t die along the way *sob*)!