Nemesis Games is amazing, like legit amazing. I saw other very favorable reviews before I read it, along the lines of “It’s great, much better than books 3 and 4, though those books do set up book 5 very well.”, and was worried that I had hyped it up too much in my head, but fortunately that wasn’t the case this time. ZOMG, Nemesis Games is far and away not only my favorite book in The Expanse, not only my favorite book read so far in 2016, but might be one of my favorite fiction books of all time.
You know when you get one of those books that you just can’t put down, that you blow off other things in real life to read? That’s Nemesis Games. The action is very well paced through the entire book and keeps you enthralled the entire time. Even the setup to all the events going to shit is really interesting since, unlike the other The Expanse books, the other non-Holden POV characters this time are THE CREW OF THE ROCINATE!
Oh, it was such a joy to read things from the perspective of Amos, Naomi, and Alex. I felt like they had been relegated to side characters somewhat in the previous books; Amos being the muscle, Naomi being Holden’s smart gf, and Alex being the hotshot pilot that was a little past his prime. I know some of them got novellas to flesh out their characters, but really, we hadn’t gotten to know them a ton before this book.
But not now! Now I get to hear Amos’s murder-y thoughts, along with his thoughts on what is moral or isn’t. And you get to experience Naomi and Alex’s trauma as they reconnect with their past lives. It’s *wonderful*.
Okay, let’s get this review party started, shall we? It’s time to go from spoiler-free to spoiler-y.
Oh, Knuckles. Now we know your pain and how you ended up on the Canterbury. You had a homicidal terrorist ex boyfriend who you had a kid with? And you were unwittingly part of the OPA? Now we know why you Mars was interrogating you so harshly waaaaay back when in Leviathan Wakes. They suspected!
And we visit that dark, dark place that you were in. You were suicidal at one point? Actually went through with trying to kill yourself, only thwarted by a security measure? Wow.
And let’s not forget YOU HAVE A KID! A…kid partially responsible for the worst catastrophe to happen to Earth since humans have been on it…but a kid nevertheless. He’s smart, like you, and has been raised thinking you abandoned him and that the inners are cause of all of his problems. *sigh*.
But more than that, we get to see you in action this time, out from under the shadow of Holden and the Rocinate. We see you have to deal with being a prisoner guarded by people you once called friends, including Cyn. Oh, poor Cyn. You had to murder your friend, someone who stepped into that airlock with the best of intentions of *saving your life* because he thought you were going to off yourself again.
But you had to. It was the only way to even have a chance at saving everyone, at saving Holden and the Rocinate. And you did it! You had to survive in vacuum with no eva suit and had to launch yourself out of an airlock multiple times to do it, but you did it!
Bobbie’s back! Okay, technically, she only exists in Alex’s section, but Bobbie is one of my favorite characters, second only to Amos. And she’s back, this time with more than one stupid chapter to hook me (curse you Cibola Burn!).
I was pretty excited when I saw that Alex was going to meet with Bobbie while he was on Mars and beyond ecstatic when I saw the story leaning towards her becoming a crew member on the Rocinate. The scenes with her and Alex were endearing, both in the beginning where she meets him up and asks for help in solving this mystery she’d been looking into, and when they are trying to escort the Mars Prime Minister to safety on the Razorback.
“‘No,’ Alex said, ‘You’re not staying. I don’t give a shit. I’m not leaving you behind.'”
That was such a moving scene to me. I legit thought *exactly* what Alex thought, that she was going to stay behind to buy them some time. It wouldn’t be the first time an MCRN marine died to save a Rocinate crew member…
That scene cemented the growing relationship that she and Alex had been having, and was the first time that I felt like she truly became part of the crew.
The Adventures of Amos and Clarissa
Color me surprised that Clarissa also made an appearance in this book. I guess there was some payoff to having to read all of her chapters back in Cibola Burn.
Surprisingly, I empathized with her really well, considering how much I hated her character back in Cibola Burn. I guess that’s because Amos was such a big fan and well, I love Amos. I trust his character judgments haha. Plus, she didn’t try to murder my favorite protagonists this time around, and seemed genuinely contrite about what she had done. In fact, she was pretty critical in keeping Amos alive. And, it’s easy to feel sorry for someone if she’s a cute girl who is going through some shit, right?
Amos, unsurprisingly, went around being a badass through most of the book. We get to see his interactions with Erich and the crew that he grew up with, hear about his acts of mercy which end up paying dividends now that Erich is in charge, see him getting into violent scuffles in part just because and in part for his own sense of social justice.
This book does a great job of making his character darker, more of a violent killer with a questionable moral compass instead of an aloof mercenary/mechanic who just happens to be good at his craft. Up until now, I wouldn’t blame you if you’d imagined him as Jayne from Firefly: definitely dangerous, but mostly comedic. Nemesis Games highlights his violent side as he makes threats, even against old friends, in order to get what he wants.
But it also accents his loyal side. Erich may have threatened to have him killed once or twice, but when one of the Pinkwater guards tries to manhandle him, Amos beats the shit out of him, making a point to the other guard that he was safe since he hadn’t threatened to skullfuck his friend Erich. Plus, he stays by Clarissa’s side and sticks his neck out at the end with Holden to open the door to Clarissa becoming a Rocinate crew member. Surprisingly, I’m on board with this idea, and hope it comes to fruition in the next book, despite Holden’s obvious misgivings.
And, we get to see some character development too. He saves the staff on the island and brings them with, even though he doesn’t have to; in fact, even though they would slow him down. I like the nuanced way that his motivations exist too as Amos points out it’s not because he wants to do it, but because “it’s something Holden would do.” That counts as growth? haha
Holy shit that story
But beyond getting to know our crew better, and possibly introducing new members to it, Nemesis Games also brings us an *amazing* story, complete with huge changes in the established universe and new antagonists who, this time, don’t end up dead/out of the story at the end of the book.
First off, catastrophic asteroid impacts on Earth. Billions dead. Billions more will follow. Almost kills Amos, but that is actually not the main point of this. This pulls back the entire UN fleet to protect Earth from this happening again. It kills the UN Secretary General and puts our favorite grandmother in charge of the entire government, including the UN Navy. It also turns Earth into a land with a unified purpose, whereas before they were fractured groups of people. I expect to see something like a post 9/11 vibe from Earth in the next book.
Second off, just like Avasarala predicted, Mars is falling apart. Its population is leaving, and it can’t keep track of its military assets. Ships and weapons are going missing. The Prime Minister is almost killed, and a huge section of the MCRN Navy is just up and burning towards the ring for reasons nobody in the story seems to know. Also, it seems like the main bad guy behind Marco either is in cahoots with someone high up in the MCRN command or is that person himself. And that person has enough influence to have murdered at least one MCRN soldier and has tried to murder Bobbie and Alex to cover up his dealings.
Third off, Fred Johnson is now his own political entity. The OPA, the bunch of racist jerks that they are, tries to have him killed because he’s from Earth. Nevermind that he joined them because the UN was murdering innocents on their side; nevermind that he has probably helped the Belt more than almost anyone in the solar system; because fuck him he’s from Earth. Bunch of racist assholes. And they take Medina Station! They now hold Fred Johnson’s trump card, the entire reason he has “a seat at the table” with the other governments of Sol.
The hits just don’t stop coming in Nemesis Games. The entire power structure of the solar system is destabilized by the end of the book. Heck, there’s an entire MCRN fleet headed towards the ring at the end that the Prime Minster can’t control. AND THEY DIE. So not only is there a power struggle here at “home” in our solar system, but something crazy is happening beyond the rings as well. Now I’m sad that I can’t immediately start up the next book and see what happens. Game of Thrones fans, who have to wait for some undetermined about of time for your next book? I don’t know how you do it.
I love this book. I love it *so much*. If it were a girl, I would do naughty things to it, get married, buy a house, and raise little book/human hybrid babies with it.
It is a great culmination of all the books before it, and definitely changes the entire landscape of the story. Major characters from the other books are brought back, whether just in memory (Sam! *sob*) or as actual characters in the story (Bobbie and Clarissa!).
The entire universe of the story is changed, with Earth being un-inhabitable-ish, Mars’s society collapsing, and the OPA fracturing into racist vs non-racist factions. And it looks like we’ve gotten our first encounter with an alien species. But which one?! The protomolecule creators? Or the species that destroyed them?!
But at least the crew of the Rocinate is back together, complete with what looks like two new crew members. Avasarala is in charge of Earth, and once she gets shit calmed down, will probably be taking care of business here in Sol against Marco’s “Free Navy”. Can’t wait to see what happens in Book 6.
Sigh, waiting is a game I am bad at.