What I love about the Expanse are the risks the writers James S. A. Corey take. Babylon’s Ashes continue to explore those risks with the entire landscape cracked open. Earth is decimated. Billions of people are dying. Mars suffers a coup, or perhaps a mutiny is a better term, as a large contingent of the Martian Navy abandon Mars and heads to a new life through the Ring Gate. The Belt is under control of Marco Inaros and at war with the inner planets. Again, the writers upend the worlds of the characters and life can never go back the way it was before.
Perspectives Worth Showing
As the cast of characters have grown, the writers are able to bring back minor characters in order to offer small glimpses of events from a different perspective. One example is the scientist, Prax, on Ganymede. His motivations are to protect his daughter and sink into his research. He’s not political. He doesn’t notice much outside of his lab and his family. But, we see the Free Navy tighten control. We see characters become politically active and die. Prax offers a viewpoint into that fear and intimidation on Ganymede. He also offers us a view of how Holden’s human interest videos are seen by some and the inspiration they provide. It’s a change that works in the series.
Chrisjen Avasarala isn’t that believable; but she’s a wonderful character. It’s hard to imagine such a crafty, smart, political animal with an indomitable will and a sense of humor, but every scene of hers is sharp and funny. The only character that comes close to her might be Disc World’s Lord Vetinari.
I enjoyed seeing Michio Pa reintroduced to the series and have her be a counterpoint to Inaros. She offers a voice of reason in the Free Navy as Inaros begins to disintegrate. The alliances we’re presented with in the beginning of the book decay and the new ones, full of mistrust, make for an engaging read.
How will Mars and Earth work together? Who holds power? What are the role of pirates?
Deus Ex Machina
When all looks lost hope for an unexpected, irrational device to save the story. For anti-spoiler purposes, stop reading here. The showdown of Holden and Inaros is cheap. It feels like the writers just whipped something out of their back pocket and hoped readers would go with it. Hey, remember those disappearing ships at the beginning of the novel? Let’s have Naomi Ngata dive back into that problem and, not only solve it, but come up with a tactical advantage that destroys all the ships that were going to take out the Rocinante. A more fitting ending would have been some mixed fleet from the colonies to come through the gates and back up Holden, that would’ve been more interesting than what happens. I understand that the energy pulses in traveling through the gates provide a job or reason for the Belters to takeover Medina Station and have a new job in the solar system, but they could’ve done that and still had the more realistic ending.
The novel answers some questions, but raises plenty more. What happened to the breakaway Martians? What are they doing on the colony? The coalition has some prisoners from the space station and I assume will interrogate them heavily, but at this point we don’t know.
Will Mars basically just die as terraforming makes no sense in the face of hundreds of habitable planets?
Does Earth rebound? Or is humanity’s future tied up in colonizing new planets and abandoning the Solar System?
Is Marco Inaros actually dead or did he “go somewhere?” Unless you see a body, a disappearing death in pop culture might not mean dead.
Does Filip come back and reunite with Naomi?
Finally, what’s next for the crew of the Rocinante? A new adventure to a different planet? We’ll see.
I really enjoyed Babylon’s Ashes. It’s well-paced and character driven. I’ve read some complaints about Inaros, but as a character I didn’t feel like he was out of place. He’s narcissistic and a misogynist. He has delusions of grandeur. He and his son have killed billions of people. Is his fixation with Naomi unbelievable or crazy? Before one says, yes, maybe look at how abusive people act. Darth Vader is obsessed with Luke Skywalker and risks everything to turn him toward the dark side; but people seem to accept that defect of Vader’s evil persona. Likewise, Inaros is larger than life and also pathetically human. The reader and a few characters see that.