Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse #3), by James S.A. Corey — a book review


Abaddon’s Gate is the third novel in The Expanse series, written by James S.A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck). These are the books that the Amazon Prime series (formerly a SyFy series) The Expanse is based upon, going into its fifth season next year. Some of the events of Season 3 of the television series were based upon this novel.

This book was released in 2013, and there have been five others after it. I’m not going to shy away from spoilers at this point. Please skip ahead to the bottom if you haven’t read this yet and think you might someday.

You may have guessed, since this is the third book in the series I’ve read and reviewed, that I am a fan. This is true. However, I’ve liked all three novels for different reasons. The world-building itself—the introduction to mankind in our solar system that was the setting of this story—was the real star of Leviathan Wakes to me. With only two viewpoint characters—Holden and Miller—this book felt somehow smaller and more intimate, even when the spaces traversed in the story were huge. In Caliban’s War, the narrative seemed to open up, gaining more diversity and texture, as Prax, Bobbie Draper, and Avasarala joined Holden as viewpoint characters. Where Leviathan was a space noir story about the search for Julie Mao, Caliban was about the search for Prax Meng’s daughter, Mei.

At the end of the second novel, the alien protomolecule, which has been the guest star throughout, emerged from Venus, where it had been banished, and built a giant ring structure in space. Call it the Ring, or even a Stargate or Mass Relay, if you want. The idea of a wormhole portal isn’t exactly a new one. The effect on the overarching story of The Expanse series is impressive, though. We suddenly get a new focus, one that is simultaneously more cosmic and interdimensional. Just the idea of a space gateway opens up myriad opportunities for plot growth.

Abaddon’s Gate is largely about how the three main factions of this fictional solar system—Earthers, Martians, and Belters—deal with the existence of the Ring, and what happens after they go into the artifact itself. Of course, our favorite crew of the Rocinante are the wild cards of these newly christened explorers, a diverse team formed from all three factions. Detective Joe Miller returns as well, but he is mostly Holden’s imaginary friend.

Although the events of the novel seem to serve as a prelude to future plot threads, the story told in its pages is a rousing and interesting one itself. Again, we get new viewpoint characters along with the returning Holden (who is the central protagonist of the series to date, if anyone is).

One new viewpoint character is Clarissa Mao, another daughter of Jules-Pierre. Her initial story goal is to exact her revenge upon James Holden for destroying her family. In spite of her characterization as an antagonist, Clarissa is an interesting character, admirable in her own way, with truly impressive augmented abilities. Later in the novel, she has a bit of a redemption arc.

Another new viewpoint character is Carlos “Bull” c de Baca, a former UN marine and current member of the OPA, serving as security officer on the Behemoth (formerly the Mormon generation ship, the Nauvoo). While Bull is always an engaging character, he becomes even more interesting after a spinal injury requires his use of an exo-suit to move around the ship.

Anna Volovodov, a Methodist minister traveling to the Ring as part of a religious delegation, is initially the least interesting new viewpoint character. At least, to me. But, she grew on me, and she proved to be a strong and resourceful character who never wavers in her faith. The introduction of religion to this strongly science-slanted story was handled well and actually demonstrated how science and religion can—and perhaps should—co-exist.

I can’t imagine how the stories of any of these new viewpoint characters could factor heavily into future entries in the series. I suspect that this novel might be their only showcase. I know, for a fact, it is the last time we’ll see one of the characters. That’s the only spoiler info I’m giving you on that one.

We spend time separately with all of our viewpoint characters. Eventually, and as expected, their individual storylines come together in a rousing final sequence involving shootouts and explosions, with an ending that is probably the most hopeful one we’ve gotten yet.

In many ways, this has felt like the most traditional science-fiction entry yet in this series. In others, it reminds me a lot of several science-fiction video games I’ve played. The ending sequence feels very much like the boss battle sequence at the end of Mass Effect (a game I sorta namedropped earlier when I mentioned Mass Relays). That’s perfectly all right, though. I liked that game, and I liked this novel. The story remains very much character-based and builds slowly, naturally, to a rousing conclusion.

I remain a fan of this series and look forward to reading the next novel, Cibola Burn.

Firewater’s Holden-is-Miller’s-Ticket-to-Ride Report Card: A


There’s no use denying that I’ve swallowed the hook and it’s been set. I’m on board this ride to the end.


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