James S.A. Corey – Persepolis Rising (2017) Review

7/10

Book 7 in James S. Corey’s The Expanse series.

Almost three decades had passed since (…)” are the words with which this book opens. Three decades on from the events of the previous books. From the perspective of the writers, this basically amounts to a soft reset of the story. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck made this leap into the future to have some of their storylines develop over a longer period before picking up the story again. This seventh book in the series is therefore also a new start of what would be the concluding trilogy of books in the series.

The characters that are familiar to us from the previous books, like Holden, Amos, Bobby, Drummer, they’re now in their 50s or 60s. And while they are still in the same headspace as they were three decades ago, history has moved on. Humanity is basically now trying to find its stride in becoming a species stretched out over multiple solar systems, and people like Drummer do their best to shape this transition in a good way, but every action they take will echo loudly into the future. Our characters have learned a lot too; they’re no longer such naive rocketeers as they once were.

Actually, no. Their bodies are 30 years older, but the Rocinante crew are still exactly the same characters as they were, with the same behaviour, the same concerns, mannerisms, reactions, relationships, as if not a day has passed. This is really strange to me. There’s no character growth at all. We’re even talking about the same six people living on a boat in space for all that time. None of them left to start a family somewhere? The real reason for the 30 year leap becomes clear soon: to have yet another evil empire blossom into life as adversaries for Holden. The writers are very obvious about it too: we have an immortality-hungry emperor who is building an oversized capital city and giant warships. Nothing in this series is subtle, is it?

The emotional core of the story that involves the most important characters is solid, but the writers use cheap, lazy ways to describe things or to communicate ideas. For example, Drummer’s political discussions have complexity and depth, but when the story needs Drummer to feel appreciative of a side character, the writers tell us that “they even shared the same birthday”. Or when the story needs a character to be annoying, they have that character mispronouncing names to be disrespectful. Or when the story needs a conference room, we are told it “looks very similar to the old UN room”, because they want the reader to have that picture in the mind. Descriptions are reused with the same words again and again. These are all small issues, small occurrences of lazy, superficial writing, but they accumulate and these books are full of them, giving me a constant itch of mild annoyance.

I am being awfully harsh and cynical about this book, but the writing just sinks into mediocrity now and then. The story it offers is generic as it goes through all the usual steps of an empire taking control and of underground resistance, and after an entertaining first few chapters the plot starts to suffer from a very long middle act in which a lot of characters try to organise a lot of things. Plot events are signalled way in advance, so you can always predict with accuracy who is going to die at the end. On the positive side, the final act is exciting and the main characters are likeable, and more distinct compared to the first books. Alex and Amos are easier to keep apart. Keep in mind that the TV show had already been running for two seasons when Persepolis Rising was published, so it could be that the writers adjusted the characterisations in the novel to be more like the actors in the TV show. 

What the writers are still good at is Hollywood-style action spectacle. Think about zero-G combat scenes, rockets and railguns, and space-station takeovers, interspersed with personal moments among the Rocinante crew. It is how the novel is set up – as an unfolding action movie in space. Like a Gerard Butler movie – slap a highfalutin title on it like Olympus has Fallen and profit. There I go again with my cynicism. I like a good action movie, and if I regard this book in the same way then it isn’t all that bad. It’s just that it has been done a thousand times before.

Now I have to tell you guys my terrible secret. I never read books 4, 5 and 6. I read the first three books but I wasn’t all too impressed with them, but then the TV show drew me in and made me love this universe. Persepolis Rising picks up the story after the TV show ended, and I wanted to know where the story would go next. Following the plot was no problem. Unfortunately, Persepolis Rising reminded me why I quit the books in the first place. The writing is superficial and the story seems to repeat itself. It’s fast food.

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13 Responses to James S.A. Corey – Persepolis Rising (2017) Review

  1. Bookstooge says:

    A very apt closing sentence.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. bormgans says:

    Great, honest review. That this series has gotten so much praise says something about fandom. I read the first book, thought it was okay, but I described it as popcorn I think, and I never felt like picking up the second volume.

    You think the series is better?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I think the TV show is much better. Mainly because the characters come alive and the universe feels real.

      I think I will still read the last two books. I’m following a YouTube channel that is going to do a readalong starting this summer, one book per month. So in early 2023 they will pick up the final books and I will jump on board then. I can take two more books. It’s just barely fun enough to read them.

      And, really, this series could have been iconic. The crew could have been iconic and the setting is pretty good. If only the writing was stronger.

      Like

  3. Ola G says:

    Yeah, now I’m so glad I haven’t finished the book series! I ended at book 5, I think, and never looked back 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth (2021) – Re-enchantment Of The World

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