Review: Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon's Gate coverAbaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse series #3
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My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars 3.5 out of 5 stars
First Published: June 4, 2013
Read from: February 2 to February 12, 2015

Abaddon’s Gate – The End of a ‘Trilogy’, the Doorway to a Series

“Corners and doorways… It’s always corners and doorways.” – Miller, Abaddon’s Gate

This is the third book of an excellent space opera science fiction series. While I did not enjoy it quite as much as those that came before, it was still a very well written and entertaining read, and sets up a future for the series, and the “franchise” that it has become, with a lot of promise.

I am a little unsure how to proceed with a review of this book without spoiling any of the cool premise of the previous books. Even what is printed on the book backs and the published book blurbs seem a little “spoilerly” to me. While I will strive not to deliver anything that will spoil the reading of this specific book, if you have NOT read the previous two novels in the series I strongly recommend you check out my review of Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War and then read those books first, before proceeding with this review.

Book Blurb

For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

While this book was in the works it was announced that Orbit books had ordered another three novels in the series, along with five novellas in the same universe. So while it may not have been the original intention of the author — authors actually as James S.A. Corey is a pen name for the collaboration of authors Ty Franck & Daniel Abraham — to write a “trilogy”; this book does seem to bring a close to a solar system wide story arc that has been developing since the beginning of the series. At the same time it opens the door to a galaxy of possibilities for further stories. It is little wonder therefore that shortly before the release of the first of those new books, Cibola Burn, that the SyFy channel announced that they ordered a direct-to-TV series based on “The Expanse” series.

Unlike the previous books in the series, I feel this book does not present the same awesome blend of genres that the previous books did. While there are still some bits of intense action, interesting “hard science fiction” elements and military sci-fi elements they seem to play more of a supporting role to the character and political drama than before. There is still some mystery elements like there was with the first book, but really since the main mystery is entirely revealed to the reader as it unfolds it is more of a procedural or standard crime drama than a mystery or neo-noir. The horror genre aspects of the two previous books is almost entirely missing, though there are a few scenes that generate enough creepy uncertainty that skirt the borders of that genre.

The series continues to have a wealth of well-written (for the most part) characters. James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante, which have become the central thread that ties The Expanse seires together to this point, are of course present and accounted for. While their role is pretty significant to the main story arc, they do not seem to feature as heavily in a story POV role as in the past, which I found a little disappointing. I like the crew of Rocinante. However the new characters that take up much of this book, while well-written, I did not connect with nearly as much. The POV characters include::

  • Manéo “Néo” Jung-Espinoza – As with the two previous books, the prologue features a POV from a character whose point-of-view is never picked up again. This “punk kid from the Asteroid Belt” character performs a stunt involving the ring-like alien artifact from the end of the last book which ends up kicking off the scientific investigation that drives the story.
  • James Holden – and the crew of the Rocinante — Naomi Negata, Alex Kamal, and Amos Burton — despite their efforts to avoid anything to do with the Ring, find themselves part of large joint Earth, Mars & Belt mission to investigate it. The way in which the Rocinante has been maneuvered into joining the expedition has them worried to say the least.
  • Melba Koh / Clarissa “Claire” Mao – Melba is the supervisor of a crew of engineers and “fix-it” men aboard one of the support ships of the joint expedition. It is revealed from the very beginning to the reader however that she is actually Clarissa Mao, daughter of the disgraced Jules-Pierre Mao, the villain from the previous book. Her goal is to not just destroy Holden and the Rocinante, but completely discredit them in the process to avenge the shame brought to her family name. Yes, this seemed a little contrived to me too… The POV does do a pretty good job though of showing a woman with some pretty serious mental issues bordering on multiple-personality disorder.
  • Carlos “Bull” c de Baca – originally an “Earther” who has been part of the the Belt’s Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) for a long time, and a personal friend of the OPA’s leader. While he ostensibly is the better pick to command Behemoth, the ship that the OPA has sent to represent the Belt in the exploratory expedition to the Ring, he is sent as head of security instead for political reasons. Of all the new characters I liked “Bull” the best. With Holden taking a less central role, Bull’s no-nonsense personality seemed to take up much of what I felt was missing from Holden and company.
  • Annushka “Anna” Volovodov – is a pastor of a Methodist congregation on Europa. She is selected to represent her faith in the large multi-faith council that Earth’s UN delegation has sent to the Ring. Along with large groups of political and corporate leaders and advisers, these civilian emissaries makes up what the scientific and military parts of the expedition call the “dog and pony show”. While an interesting character, I find her role somewhat contrived. A female Reverend in a lesbian marriage with a daughter genetically engineered to represent a mixture of both her mothers’ genes. It all seems a little too “engineered” to cover too many hot topics to me. Some of the action she is pushed into also seems way out of character, even though the story does attempt to explain this gap away. All that being said, I must admit that many of the thoughts and ideas that resonated most with me came from this emotional and spiritual character’s POV.

I won’t go any further into the premise of the book than that already revealed by the published “book blurb”. While the story had a slow start and seemed to drag some in places, it was pretty entertaining and had a good mix of action and intrigue. Some of the dialogue and character interaction was not quite as witty or entertaining as that in previous books, but still very well written. The POV characters were decently constructed, but as with some of the previous books, some of the side supporting characters, (particular some of the villains,) skirt the border of cartoon characters at times. The last half to third of the book is close to perfect on multiple levels: intense action, deep issues being discussed, rich emotion, biting dialogue. Everything you could possibly want from any drama.

All in all it is a very intriguing and entertaining story, and sets up a future for the series that has me wanting to read more to find out what happens next. Having read two books in the series back-to-back however, I am going to give the series a brief rest before I continue further. Right now there is only one other book out, Cibola Burn, though the 5th book is expected in a few months, tentatively entitled Nemesis Games. There have been some short stories and novellas published in this series “universe” that I would also like to read at some point:

  • “Drive” is a prequel short story that takes place 150 years prior to the main series. It is about Solomon Epstein and his invention of the Epstein Drive which makes settling the solar system feasible. It was published in 2012 in the sci-fi anthology Edge of Infinty.
  • “The Butcher of Anderson Station” is a prequel short story that takes place prior to Leviathan Wakes that explores the back-story of one of the more key side characters of the series, Fred Johnson, and how he eventually defected to the OPA.
  • The Churn is a prequel novella that precedes Leviathan Wakes, and tells the back story of Amos Burton before he became one of the crewmen of the Rocinante. It explores his life on Earth as a criminal in Baltimore. This story was released in April 2014

And now, as usual, for some cool quotes and snippets that I highlighted for various reasons. There’s a lot of them, ’cause there’s a lot of awesome writing in this book. Be warned — These quite definitely contain spoilers.  

Spoiler: Cool Quotes Show


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