As promised, I bring you the review of the third installment in the Expanse series. It started so well with Leviathan Wakes, it got slightly worse but still quite readable with Caliban’s War, and then it reached the bottom (wherever it is in space) with Abaddon’s Gate.
If I wanted to sum up Abaddon’s Gate in one sentence, I would say that that’s what you get when you expand a meticulously planned trilogy into five books. Contrary to Gordon Gekko’s famous saying, greed is not good. Not at all.
It’s not that I’m irritated with this book. Although I am, even if I know that I really shouldn’t care less. Abaddon’s Gate is not only terribly b o r i n g. It has not enough action, and what it has gets mired in a quagmire of improbable actions and decisions, papery, one-dimensional characters, and a flood of pseudo-intellectual tirades that made me want to erase the book from my Kindle (I don’t know what I would do to the paper version. Maybe tear out all Melba and Anna POVs. Maybe chuck it all into fire and gleefully watch it burn. Or maybe just leave it on a bench somewhere and let it poison someone else’s day).
This book took whatever was good in the first two installments and totally ignored it. There’s almost no Rocinante and her crew, there’s no Avasarala or Bobbie. Instead the authors introduced a lot of new and completely uninteresting characters, that are also absolutely unnecessary. There’s the Methodist pastor Anna who hugs her pillow all the time, has numerous guilt trips and babbles about merciful God till she loses her breath or conscience. Which happens all too rarely for my tastes. There’s Melba, the less-loved daughter of the head of evil galactic corporation, who wants to get her revenge on Holden to resolve her Daddy issues. And she does it in such a lousy way that I needed to stifle an urge to buy an insecticide. These two are the worst character arcs I’ve read in a long time, but let’s not forget the stupid OPA captain who doesn’t understand the simplest tactical or strategic decisions and whose only role is to create unimaginative and painfully obvious problems for one of the main POVs, Bull. Who, by the way, is the only new character who has at least a bit of substance and sense. But don’t worry, we won’t see him much – most of the time the readers are forced to fight their way through long speeches designed to proclaim the authors’ views on society, politics, life and death, and religion. Bleh.
The protomolecule, the big and fun secret of the first book, is almost non-existent. Yeah, it’s out there, but it’s nearly completely passive. It doesn’t drive action, it just hang’s out there as an unrealized threat, or a lost opportunity. We finally get to see some alien stuff, but it’s too little, too late. The only bit of story tied into the previous installments and setting the ramifications for the future action takes approximately two short chapters. That’s what this book boils down to. Two short chapters.
I’m disappointed. The Expanse series had all the markings of something potentially very good. The first book was proof enough of that: interesting ideas, decent writing, characters who were given a lot of space to evolve. There was this intriguing leading idea of showing how to overcome the physical trappings of our current position in the Universe. But right now the Expanse series doesn’t look much like an interstellar shuttle, but instead mostly resembles a wet firecracker. If you don’t know what to write, don’t write. If you still write, and do it poorly, don’t be surprised that your readers lose interest and faith in your work.
I will read the rest of the series, in fact I’m finishing the fourth book in a (probably vain) hope that at least the fifth installment will come back to the original track and improve a bit, but the Expanse series definitely won’t find its way to my shelves in a dignified paper form ;). It’s a summer read in its most popular form – buy at a convenience store when you have nothing better at hand, read, and forget.
P.S. The Expanse series has such nice titles – Leviathan Wakes points us directly to Hobbes, Caliban’s War to Shakespeare’s Tempest, Abaddon’s Gate to St. John’s Apocalypse, Cibola Burn to the myth about seven cities of gold hidden somewhere in North America. Why, oh why the content of the books doesn’t fulfill the promise made by these titles?