This is the first book I’ve ever waited on, the first book that I bought on launch day and put off other plans in order to read. Hell, I even spent the preceding week re-reading Nemesis Games, so that way I could get fully immersed back into the story in preparation for it. So I read 1000 pages in like 2 weeks. Does this mean I’ve become a full fledged book nerd? Haha
I thought for sure this book would center around the gates and about the mysterious aliens that seemed to live in there, eating ships sometimes. Hell, the epilogue of Nemesis Games is about one of the MCRN deserter ships disappearing while going through a gate! In fact, I thought the title Babylon’s Ashes would be about how said aliens would come through and wreck humanity’s shit, and we would see Holden et al deal with that.
But nooooope! The ashes in Babylon’s Ashes are the ashes of human civilization, created from the events of Nemesis Games. Color me surprised.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Basically a continuation of Nemesis Games
Every other book seemed to have a good amount of time pass between it and the one before it, so that large events could have occurred. Not this one! This one picks up basically where Nemesis Games left off, with Marco Inaros running around, crowing victory with his stolen Martian fleet that he’s renamed the Free Navy.
Except…he’s a gourram idiot. Did he seriously think that he’d be able to keep Earth and Mars pinned back forever? His entire plan broke apart when the combined fleet killed *ONE SHIP*. I thought he was supposed to be some sort of genius.
Let’s recap the military situation once Earth is no longer pulled back. We know from before that the MCRN fleet is less numerous than the UN’s, despite being newer and better in general. We know that Mars can’t take Earth in a fight. Duarte’s deserters took about ⅕ of their fleet, and definitely left Marco and the Free Navy less than that. So let’s say that the Free Navy has like…1/20 of the original Mars fleet? That seems generous in my mind, but sure, whatever.
So you’re sitting here, with 1/20th of the MCRN fleet, trying to take on the remaining 70% of the MCRN fleet, the COMBINED Earth Fleet, and on top of that, whatever Fred Johnson OPA loyalists can scrape together. You’re a goddamn idiot if this was your endgame.
Oh, his endgame was to get to make the combined fleet “stretch their resources too thin” and rely on the vastness of space? Well geeh, that sure does make a gigantic assumption that this fleet wouldn’t have genocide on its minds. If I was Avasarala, I would have just said “Fuck Ceres” after Marco stripped it for parts and left; then I would have proceeded to burn for Ganymede, take control of the main food source left in the solar system, and let all the Belters starve to death, including the Free Navy.
Then I would have taken my fleet and either taken control of Medina station or blown it up. Yes, I’d probably take high casualties in doing so, but they only have so many rail gun rounds, right?
Yes, I realize that basically is the opposite of the point that Holden was trying to make, but whatever. So let’s say Avasarala did something like I had planned – what then? Everyone starves to death and you keep trying to throw rocks at Earth? Awesome plan, Marco. I can see why Michio Pa deserted you.
Speaking of Pa, we got to see the perspective of an entirely new crew this time, on their own MCRN corvette. Too bad it gets blown up at the end; I rather liked the idea of the Rocinante having a sister ship out there that’s kind of on its side.
Alas, I had a little trouble relating to this crew on anywhere near the same kind of level as I do with the Rocinante crew. For one, I didn’t really get why she was so mad at Fred Johnson in the first place. We last saw her in Abaddon’s Gate as the 1st officer of the Behemoth. She helps with Bull’s mutiny against Ashford only when it’s 100% clear that shit has hit the fan – I got the distinct impression that she recognizes authority a lot.
So…why is she so mad then at Fred Johnson? It seemed like an abrupt character transition to me. Certainly when I’m supposed to buy that she was so mad, she quit the OPA after the events in Abaddon’s Gate, and then eventually joined Marco’s insane Free Navy.
But whatever. Let’s just assume it made sense. I do like that she was the first of the OPA heads to be like “Fuck this shit, I’m out.” when it was clear that Inaros kept redefining what “victory” was to suit his own needs, and when he was doing things to actively hurt Belters in order to do it. It provides good character continuity if you assume that she is the Belt’s Holden, someone who will do anything and everything in order for better the lives of her people.
Anderson Dawes had been part of the OPA since before he was born. Trying to curry favor with their corporate overlords, his parents had named him after a mining company. Later, Fred Johnson’s butchery turned that same name into one of Earth’s greatest crimes against the Belt.
Speaking of cool Belters, let’s pour one out for our boy Dawes. Considering how suave and awesome he is portrayed in the show, I’m surprised that he really doesn’t get much play in the books. His POV chapter was probably *the best* in the entire book, and reading other discussion threads of the book, it seems like this was a popular sentiment.
Especially after having read The Butcher of Anderson Station and knowing about his backstory with Fred Johnson, his chapter is extremely emotionally moving. You can see him in his element, persuading these various OPA factions to do what they don’t want to do in order to help Holden. And why? Because Fred Johnson believed in Holden, so it must be the right thing to do for Belters.
That’s a big leap of faith right there. Sucks that at the end, it’s implied he was captured and imprisoned. He would have made a pretty good head of the new Guild that Holden proposed.
And we learn such cool things about him, like he was named Anderson after *Anderson Station*?! Mind. Blown. Now we can see why he’s been so committed for his entire life. He was basically born into this.
“I had a speech ready. Well practiced. You’d have liked it. All about the nature of politics and the finest of humanity being our ability to change to match our environment…What I really meant was I’m sorry. Not just sorry I backed the wrong horse. Am sorry about that. But I’m sorry I compromised you while I did it.”
– Anderson Dawes
Oh, did I gloss over one teensy, tiny little thing? HOLY FUCK FRED DIED!
That really added quite a bit of tension and danger to the story. His death was written so well too – we experienced it the same way that Holden and Bobbie and everyone else on the crew probably experienced it.
The preceding chapter describing the fight between the Rocinante and Inaros’s wolf pack was amazing, and definitely would have been my favorite chapter if the Dawes chapter didn’t exist. The urgent tone that was set was just *perfect* in describing the battle.
High G burns, quick whiparounds to shoot the rail gun, the enemy adjusting tactics so that they don’t lose a 2nd ship – the fact that the only people that really matter in the fight are Alex and Bobbie and everyone else is basically just fragile cargo. That chapter perfectly encapsulated the stress what I imagine it would feel like to be in that battle. And the way that Bobbie ended up winning the battle by basically re-using PDCs that had already been launched? Brilliant.
So then how do we find out that we lost Fred Johnson? Only when we’re done with the battle, thinking everything is peachy and we’re celebrating and happy and…oshit. Wut? He’s having a stroke? Oh fuuuuuck.
Fred lay on the table, stripped to the waist. The audotoc was strapped to his arm, needles inserted into the veins. He looked weirdly vulnerable, as if he’d physically shrunk between the time he’d gotten into the crash couch and now. Bobbie stood over him, arms crossed, glowering like an angel out of the Old Testament. One of the scary kind. The kind that kept you out of paradise and killed armies in a single night. She didn’t look up as they came in.
“How bad is it?” Holden asked.
Somehow Bobbie made her shrug an expression of rage. “He’s dead”
Speaking of said battle, I remember highlighting the portion where Holden oh so casually disarms the torpedoes near the end and thinking “WHAT THE FUCK, HOLDEN?!” Didn’t realize it would become as big of a plot point later as it was.
“The damage had left a blind spot in their PDC coverage, but the torpedo that came through it had malfunctioned. If it had detonated, it could have cracked the ship in two, and the old bitch from the galley would have had to hope for the mercy of the inners to keep her leathery ass from drowning in her own waste air.”
“If we’re not willing to win the fight, I’m not sure what we’re doing in the cage.”
Goddammit Holden. You could have ended this entire thing. Your crew was good enough to to take on not one, but TWO stolen MCRN vessels, both of which were more powerful than your now out of date corvette.
Bobbie had the kill shot lined up. Marco would be dead, and this entire Free Navy bullshit would be over. His movement wasn’t one that would have survived without him and the people on his ship. Oi. Now I understand how Fred Johnson and Avasarala felt like when they dealt with you. -.-
“Inaros isn’t going to chase after the Giambattista and Rocinante, because he’ll be distracted by the largest and most aggressive fleet action in history kicking his balls up into his throat. By the time understands what we were really after, it’ll be too late for him to do anything but hold his dick and cry.”
One really nice thing that I did like about this book was that you had 2 distinct action sequences. The first one was the skirmish between the Rocinante and Marco’s vessels earlier, the one where we *sob* lost Fred Johnson. But we also had a coordinated fleet offensive, the one where we simultaneously attacked the Free Navy almost everywhere in the system at once, but mostly as a distraction so that way we could take back Medina Station all sneaky like with the Rocinante.
Though I much preferred the first, the second action sequence had its own share of cool moments and surprises. I liked how Corey gave us the vantage point of people on the station as they were trying to figure out wtf was going on with this ice hauler that launched a million torpedo like thingies at them, and as the rail guns tried to take them out, only to find out that that was a feint designed to get troops not onto Medina Station, but onto the weird alien sphere where they’d basically rubber banded a bunch of railguns on.
It also gave us the first glimpse into Battle Bobbie in a long time, basically since she was introduced in Caliban’s War. Actually, more than that, we got to see her work with our other instrument of destruction, Amos, and that was entertaining to read.
It was interesting when Bobbie kind of accidentally won the battle by pissing off the alien sphere, which ended up messing up all the rail guns. They technically neutralized the threat, even though they didn’t accomplish their full objective to taking control of the rail guns, leading of course to the final weird climax for our story.
Filip and Marco
Filip hadn’t fucked it up. Marco was wrong, that was all. This time, he just got it wrong. Words came into his mind, as clear as if they’d been spoke. Though he’d never heard her speak them, they came in his mother’s voice. Wonder what else he got wrong.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel sympathy for Flip from his POV chapters, but I definitely didn’t. He came off entirely as a petulant child the entire story, and I wanted his ass dead. Even after he “sees the light” regarding his father, he never really seems that redeemable in my eyes.
I think that’s part of why I was so frustrated that Holden disarmed those torpedoes. His ass *would* have been dead if Holden wasn’t such a goddamn idiot. But I digress…
I guess we’re supposed to see his adulation for his dad falter and fail from the beginning of the book to the end and feel happy for him? Happy that he didn’t disappear along with his dad and the rest of the Free Navy? So that way he can have some sort of redemption arc with Naomi later?
I dunno. I just did not care for this little shit that was clearly a spoiled little kid. The only reason he’s not dead from Dawes’s people on Ceres is because his daddy is Marco Inaros. He shot a cop for no good reason. What a dumbass.
Marco Inaros = Trump?
As far as Marco goes, I read a very interesting post in the Babylon’s Ashes discussion thread on /r/TheExpanse that basically equated Marco’s appeal to the Belters with real life Trump’s appeal to disenfranchised inner America.
“You hear a lot about how a vote for Trump is ‘a brick chucked through the window of the elites’ … well how about some rocks chucked at the planet of the elites?”
‘Marco’s the one who decides when he wins. You don’t understand how slippery he can be. Whatever happens, he’ll shift so it was his plan all along. If he were the last person alive, he’d say we needed the apocalypse and declare victory. It’s what he is.’
It’s a very interesting point in that if you disenfranchise people enough and give them no choices except to stop existing, they’ll do very desperate things, like BLOW UP THE ONLY VIABLE PLANET THAT CAN INDEPENDENTLY SUPPORT HUMAN LIFE.
And the part about Marco basically changing the plan and being like “yeah, this was my plan all along.” echoes how Trump’s campaign would seek to reframe things all the time, even what most would consider solid defeats.
Corey may not have intended for this to be commentary about our recent election results, but the parallels are very intriguing…and a little scary.
Side note: One of the unexpected things about this book that I *did* like was how much I liked Clarissa joining the crew. She didn’t really have a ton of character development chapters, really only one if you think about it, and that’s when she’s helping Amos and Holden in a firefight outside the ship, but it was nice how she integrated with the crew so seamlessly on nothing but Amos’s word.
I thought for sure it would be a problem, that there would be more tension than Holden just feeling a little antsy. After all, she did try and kill Holden and Naomi and this crew more than once.
It was cute, and I liked it, especially after getting to see her and Amos escape her prison back on Earth.
The Final Confrontation
“Huh. That is super creepy.”
I’m probably not the only one who felt like the final confrontation between Inaros and Holden felt a little…anti climactic. I thought for sure that Naomi’s little trick would get Inaros’s 14 other ships and somehow we’d have a firefight between the Pella and the Rocinante. But whatever.
I very much liked how Naomi was the one to finally find a solution to deal with Marco. And she did it thinking that she killed her kid too. Can’t imagine how hard that must have been. It also wrapped up the story in a very nice circle, since she blamed herself for letting Marco get as far as he had in the first place.
Things I didn’t understand
1. How many ships did the Free Navy have? I thought they had at most like 15, but they got several of theirs tied up and blown up and were still able to send 15 after Holden. How?
Plus, it took the actions of the entire combined fleet to distract Marco and the Free Navy? That makes it seem like they could maybe kind of stand toe to toe with the combined fleet and that makes no sense to me.
2. Why did the dissident factions of the OPA help Holden? I get why Michio Pa did it – she needed protection from the Free Navy, and she wanted to keep helping Belters by commandeering colony ships and distributing the supplies to the Belt. But why all the other people? Particularly the ones that helped Holden try and retake Medina?
If I was a Belter on the Giambattista, I’d be like “Fuck you coyo, I’m not strapping myself into these tiny little capsules and trying to take out those railguns. That seems like a dumb idea that will 100% get me killed.”
And why weren’t UN or MCRN flagships the ones taking on the Pella? Why was it a little outnumbered and outmanned OPA force lead by the guy whose brother got killed, Micah al-Dujaili? That seems like poor strategic planning honestly. Poor guy, lost his brother, then his family and all his ships. I wouldn’t have agreed to that, no matter how charismatic Anderson Dawes was.
3. Why aren’t there more combined fleet ships out there helping Holden? Seems like you should have a ton of ships to spare. Why is the Rocinante the only one out there trying to A) take Medina Station and B) hold Medina station after? I know the plan was to take over the railguns rather than disable them, but it seems like a competent strategist should have planned for the possibility of them not working after you took Medina station.
There were just a few too many POVs for me (I think we had like 10?), but sometimes you have to overshoot to get the right number haha. I really liked Nemesis Game’s 4, and prefer 10 to the 2 that we saw in Leviathan Wakes, but 10 is just too many. And some characters I flat out disliked (Marco and Filip) or found annoying (Prax and sometimes Michio Pa), so…
That being said, all in all, a nice sequel to Nemesis Games, with two really great action sequences that I very much enjoyed reading, plus we got to see Bobbie as part of the full fledged crew!
I, like many other people, were pretty surprised that the protomolecule plot didn’t really make an appearance, but so be it. I obviously liked what we got enough to finish it within a week!
Too bad I can’t just start the next book like I’d been able to do with the previous books, but oh well. At least I’m not a Game of Thrones book fan, right? It could always be worse.