Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)
by James S.A. Corey
Review by Wes Breazeale
Orbit Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316334747
Date: 06 December 2016 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Over the years, The Expanse series has been building, from a tightly paced mystery early on to a sprawling, expansive (no pun intended) political space opera. Babylon's Ashes concludes the current arc the saga has been following, setting the table for future books that could be slightly less burdened by the complex political weight The Expanse has evolved into.
But the need for such a conclusion is unfortunate. The joy of the early books in the series was the compact nature of the relationships between the characters. As the series has expanded, so too have the roles of the supporting characters. While this creates an extended Game of Thrones-like level of intricacy and political machinations, it also dilutes that early pleasure of being close to the crew of the Rocinante.
Babylon's Ashes largely exists to tie up the system spanning events that unfolded in Nemesis Games. The result is perhaps the least enjoyable novel in the series to date. Please note, it is still a good read, but it does suffer under its own weight of both expectations and exposition. There is a little less doing and a little more talking. A little less action and a little more analysis.
Picking up in the ashes of a bombarded Earth, with billions dead and just as many in danger of dying from sickness and starvation, Babylon's Ashes follows the crew of the Rocinante; the leaders of Earth, Mars and the Belt; and the somewhat chaotic plotting of the Free Navy.
Marco, the leader of the Free Navy, is basking in the glow of his successful attack on Earth. He leads as much by charisma as by fear. Shifting his focus from Earth to colony ships heading through the gates, his plan resembles a siege, slowly starving everyone into submission and thereby making Belters the ultimate power in the solar system. Elsewhere, the other system leaders are gathering to figure out how they can hold on long enough to save as many as possible, while ultimately defeating the far flung Free Navy.
Unlike its predecessors, the character focus in Babylon's Ashes is a bit more spread out--with chapters focusing on fringe characters to expand the reader's perspective. While some might find this viewpoint expansion interesting, it seemed to ultimately diminish the emotional connection between reader and characters. Holden and his crew are well represented of course, but even the Rocinante has more crew on it for much of the book.
Some of the plotting and scheming is exciting to read about, and the battles still maintain the realism that we expect from The Expanse books (no faster than light travel within the system, no quick solutions to scenarios that can be clearly planned and plotted with proper analysis.) There are a couple of minor grumbles, including a perhaps too pat deus ex machina resolution to one problem and a somewhat meandering plan by Holden to address another.
But for the most part, Babylon's Ashes delivers what it needs to deliver, and properly sets the table for future stories within the expanding universe that is The Expanse. Questions still abound, including where the deserters of the Martian Navy wound up and who is doing what with the stolen protomolecule sample. Fans, even those somewhat disappointed with this outing, will still look forward to the continuing adventures of characters they have come to know and love.