Nemesis Games (The Expanse Book #5), by James S.A. Corey — a review

Season 5 of The Expanse series on Amazon Prime was based upon this novel.

Until now, I’ve always thought that watching the streaming series prior to reading the book it was based upon actually enhanced my reading experience. It fed me visual images that helped bring the printed words to life for me, giving me references for the individual characters and places in the story.

For the first time, I wish I had read the novel first.

The source material—the written word—is, by nature, more immersive than a live-action series. You’re able to get inside the heads of the viewpoint characters, experiencing more of the character’s senses than merely sight and sound. There is smell, and taste, and tactile sensations. There are memories and interior monologues that actors can only suggest, unless the clunky technique of the voiceover is used.

In a story that finds our found family, the crew of the ship Rocinante, separated from one another, pursuing their own individual story threads, there is a real sense of isolation and loneliness from all of the characters. The pervasive feeling that things just aren’t right. The Amazon series communicates this as best as it can, but nothing is as effective as being able to get inside a character’s head for a while. That’s something that gives this novel a huge advantage over its adaptation.

Having watched the streaming series, I knew that the crew would be split up in novel. While I initially disliked this turn of events on the Prime Video series, I better understood the value of this separation while reading the novel. Collaborators Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, writing together as James S.A. Corey, use third-person-limited point-of-view throughout the books of The Expanse. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Before this entry in the series, there had never been a need to have Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton or Alex Kamal as viewpoint characters, since the crew of the Rocinante were almost always together on board the Martian gunship. Frankly, it’s been the Capt. Jim Holden Show prior to this book. Now that I think about it, Naomi may have been a viewpoint character prior to this novel, but not to the same extent.

By having the team split apart to play out their individual story threads, we get to spend time in the heads of Naomi, Amos and Alex, getting to know each character better. What I viewed as a major flaw in the streaming series is actually a huge strength in the novel.

Sure, I still didn’t like the team being broken apart. It helped that I knew it was only temporary.

After the events of Cibola Burn (another good book: read my review here), the crew of the Rocinante make their way to Tycho Station for much-needed R&R and ship repairs. For a moment—just a moment, mind you—it seems like this book will be the literary equivalent of a bottle episode, set primarily on Tycho Station.

Nope. That’s not going to happen.

Alex Kamal is taking advantage of the downtime to return to Mars and try to make amends with his ex-wife, who he abandoned to pilot the ice freighter which was blown up in the first novel of the series.

Naomi is contacted by someone from her past, and she leaves Holden behind on Tycho to go see him. If you’ve watched the streaming series, you already know what this is about. To avoid a few spoilers, I’ll just say that we learn a whole lot more about Naomi’s history in this book. She also becomes the frontrunner for favorite Expanse character. At least, in my opinion.

Amos hears about the death of a woman from his past, and he travels to Earth to pay his respects. I’m told that this woman was featured in one of the Expanse novellas. I haven’t read any of those yet, and I don’t think it’s necessary to read them to follow what’s happening in this story.

I plan to read the novellas someday, however. Really.

Even though Holden is left behind on Tycho Station, he is, as a character, a magnet for plot complications. This holds true even when he’s not rocketing through space on the Rocinante.

The reasons our team is split up are compounded by new plot threads that remain interconnected even though our favorite characters aren’t together. The people from Naomi’s past commit acts that affect Amos on Earth. Alex, after looking up the terrific Bobbie Draper on Mars, delves into mysterious events that keep him linked with both Naomi and Amos. We also get the return of Clarissa Mao and Chrisjen Avasarala.

The introduction of The Ring changed things forever in the milieu of The Expanse. Yet, this change was largely a positive one, infused with hope and the spirit of adventure. This entry in the series changes everything once again, and while hope remains a powerful component of the story, the results are darker and more pessimistic. It probably says something about me that I so enjoy seeing my favorite characters being hurt and tortured. I do, though; I can’t deny it.

I’ve enjoyed every book in this series. It seems like my favorite is always the one I just read. Which makes Nemesis Games my current favorite, of course. Babylon’s Ashes is on a shelf in my library closet, waiting for a chance to take its place.

Firewater’s The-Laws-of-Physics-Were-Altered-Mistakes-WereMade Report Card: A

Another great outing with our favorite crew. If you’ve ever considered reading this series, you should start now.

3 thoughts on “Nemesis Games (The Expanse Book #5), by James S.A. Corey — a review

  1. FWIW, I’m the opposite when it comes to adaptations of books. Seeing the story reified collapses the “wavefunction” of my imagination. For instance, whatever image I had of Frodo Baggins since reading those books back in the 1970s, after seeing the movies, Frodo is forever Elijah Wood.

    Quite agree The Expanse, both the TV series and, more so, the books, are some of the best modern space opera I’ve experienced. That said, I definitely prefer the Roci fam together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I read the book first, I feel the same way. Amazon’s recent adaptation of The Wheel of Time didn’t exactly hit all of the right notes for me. And, yes, Frodo is forever Elijah now.

      Like

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