Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey. ★★★★
While it doesn’t match the intensity of Nemesis Games, Babylon’s Ashes is another solid entry into the Expanse series.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Expanse, it’s a space opera where humanity has colonized Mars and the asteroid belt. Political intrigue, war, and some extraterrestrial discoveries make this a very exciting series. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and if you haven’t read it, head on over to my review of the first book, Leviathan Wakes. The Expanse is definitely a series you should read in order.
Babylon’s Ashes picks up right where Nemesis Games left off. Marco and his Free Navy are terrorizing the solar system. He’s got control of Ceres and he’s preventing colony ships from leaving the system. Earth, Mars, and the remnants of Fred Johnson’s OPA call upon the Rocinante to help them defeat Marco. Thanks to Naomi, they know him better than anyone else. Oh, and ships are still disappearing through the gate…
The major change with Babylon’s Ashes is that it throws out the POV structure established by previous books. Gone are the limits of only three or four POV characters. Babylon’s Ashes takes all the work done by the five prior books in character development to expand the chapters dramatically, giving a wide look at the conflict rocking the solar system. We get POV characters from prior books, like Avasarala and Clarissa, and new insights from characters like Fred Johnson and Filip.
I always expected the Expanse to go this route eventually, and it works well for Babylon’s Ashes. It does mean that we get less time with each individual character and that there’s not as much focus or character development. For the story that Babylon’s Ashes is, I think this is okay. It’s a very large-scale conflict, and it’s important to see it from a lot of different angles. Also I don’t get stuck with a bunch of chapters about a character I dislike!
Not that Babylon’s Ashes doesn’t have characters I dislike. Marco easily falls into the “love to hate” category. He’s undeniably the Expanse’s most memorable villain, partly due to his prior connection to Naomi. In our read along, there was a lot of discussion about Filip (Marco’s son) and Pa, one of Marco’s allies. Both receive a sizable number of chapters. Both are participating in war crimes, and both look like they might be getting redemption arcs. It’s weird. I wasn’t a huge Clarissa fan at first, but by Babylon’s Ashes I’m all like “Let Clarissa join the crew! Peaches!” But why do I feel differently about Pa and Filip? Especially Filip, who’s arguably been brainwashed by his father. In Clarissa’s case, we’ve had a couple book’s distance from what she’s done, and she’s also acknowledged that what she did was wrong and tried to face justice for it. I think I’d need to see similar from Filip and Pa to buy into any sort of redemption arc for them. For instance, I felt like Pa didn’t seem to care that Marco killed fifteen billion people.
One last character note: I loved Clarissa and Bobbie as additions to the crew! I was so excited when it looked like this would happen, and I’m glad to have more women join the team.
While Babylon’s Ashes doesn’t have the tight emotional focus that made me love Nemesis Games, it’s a satisfactory ending to this plot arc. It could even work as an ending to the series, if there wasn’t still the destroyer of civilizations hanging out there, among the stars…