After ten years, nine books and a bunch of short stories and novella, Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, aka James SA Corey, have brought their Expanse series to an end with Leviathan Falls. As expected, this volume answers some long teased questions about the creators of the protomolecule and the ring gates while also creating a universal existential threat. But while doing that they also provide as good a send off as they can for the four central players – giving them all moments where they both show their growth but also be completely true to their core beliefs and approaches to life.
For those who have not been part of The Expanse journey, book nine is obviously not the place to start and there will necessarily be some broad spoilers in this review. For lovers of great space opera who are not on board yet, the best thing to do is to go and pick up the first book in the series Leviathan Wakes and discover this world.
This volume opens with a death that was not quite as final as readers might have thought. Self styled Emperor Winston Duarte, thought to be brain dead due to his dabbling with eldritch technologies, comes back to awareness and he has a plan for taking on the unseen enemy that is attacking humanity. And that enemy is still looking for cracks in reality – changing physical constants in an attempt to rid the universe of the users of the ring gates. The Laconian search for the missing Duarte has bulldog Aliana Tanaka tasked with tracking down his daughter Teresa. Teresa in turn is being kept safe by the crew of the Rocinante, which is also the nerve-centre of the Underground thanks to Naomi Nagata being back on board. Meanwhile, Elvi Okoyo is still pushing her scientific ethics aside while trying to delve further into the mysteries of the ring gates.
Every volume of The Expanse has taken a slightly different spin on the premise. The original book had leaned into a noir sensibility, Cibola Burn (Book 4) had frontier Western elements, Nemesis Games (Book 5) had an apocalyptic thread. Leviathan Falls comes back to the big idea space opera. Ancient intelligences, inscrutable enemies giving rise to an existential threat and a potentially species altering response. So there is plenty of consideration of what makes humanity, and what it might take to keep humans human. But this is just in among all of the common elements that makes this series great –plenty of well described space battles, intimate character moments and a driving plot full of jaw dropping cliff-hangers that practically require readers to turn the next page.
There is a lot going on in Leviathan Falls, but James SA Corey shows once again an adroit capacity to juggle all of these balls and keep the pace high. Possibly in line with The Expanse TV series, the limited point of view approach of the earlier books in the series is once again put aside for a multitude of voices (with the exception of Amos Burton who has become more of a mystery in the last couple of books). This is all done while still considering their long running themes of the fundamental inability of mankind to act in a unified way for its own benefit, of the importance of family, both blood and found, and the need to sometimes put the political aside to just do the right thing.
The Expanse unashamedly built on the science fiction that has come before it. But it did so in an intelligent way, blending those ideas with a political sensibility and peopling it with well-drawn characters who grew and changed over the length of the series. But overall James SA Corey delivered a cracking series and, most importantly after the investment of readers over this last decade, absolutely stick the landing.