James S.A. Corey – Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) Review


The Expanse, book #8

You know… this book isn’t half bad. It is actually – gasp – a little bit good. After the uncomfortable time jump in Persepolis Rising (2017), which I took for a really clumsy setup for a new trilogy, I had little hope for enjoyment in this series without heavy rolling of the eyes. But Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) proved me wrong. It is a compelling space adventure. It avoids the middle book syndrome of so many trilogies by giving us some of that big epic stuff with ancient aliens that I’ve been craving since book three. Also, the writing on the sentence and paragraph levels feels more inspired. Not spectacular, but it’s not tripping me up all the time, and individual chapters were crafted well, to my enjoyment.

In the first novels of the Expanse series, humanity’s expansion through the solar system was the source of excitement, but in Tiamat’s Wrath we scaled up. The colonisation of the thousands of other planets is happening apace. This is another thing that I was waiting for, that was promised since book three. What disappointed me was that we first had to go through another fight with the Belters in the middle books of the series and then through this awkward jump in book seven to finally get to this point. Too bad it is near the end of the series. Another fun element is that one of the plot lines involves Big Dumb Objects, which I always love. In short, much of what I was hoping for earlier in the series is finally coming to fruition.

The novel takes a while to get going. The first quarter is quite bleak. Laconia’s rule seems absolute and Naomi, Bobbie, Alex and the rest fall back into that old role of underground resistance fighters, again. It is what they know, and we know, but it is all looking hopeless and a bit repetitive of earlier storylines. These are just the dark clouds before the storm, though. In typical Hollywood fashion, bad leaders don’t listen to the scientists and make stupid mistakes, and then we get our fast-food blockbuster SF adventure. 

The writers found a format of writing short chapters that works well for their style, as each little chapter has a goal, a momentary situation with a character that it wants to communicate. And in this way the writing stays consistent, evenly paced between characters, has lots of cliffhangers and is uncomplicated in what it wants to convey in terms of development of characters and plot. Still, the writers do so much handholding that we never have to think deeper about the text. For example, in a single chapter, Theresa tries to explain the Prisoner’s Dilemma to a kid and the exercise goes bad, and then she has to visit her father who was doing his own version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma with aliens, which also went bad. You could see the first part of this chapter as a signal to the reader, but the writers found it necessary to spell it all out: “It seemed ominous that she’d just been reviewing the prisoner’s dilemma, and that it had gone badly.” Just in case that we didn’t get it. That we didn’t feel that it was ominous.

I suspect we’re dealing with a deliberate dumbing down of language to make the series as accessible as possible. But I’ve complained about the writing enough in the Persepolis Rising review. The impression that I want to leave you with is that Tiamat’s Wrath is a better book than its predecessor, possibly the best of the Expanse series so far, and if you are in any way invested in the characters of the Roci and in the world that “Corey” has created, then some shocking events will lie in wait for you. This series might be fast food, but fast food can be done right.

I quite enjoyed this one, and I am surprised about it myself. It was emotionally powerful and did just about everything right. New POV characters were interesting. Plot armour was taken away from the characters and we are witness to shocking events, both on a personal level and on a civilisational level, and the hits just keep coming. I felt compelled to keep reading just to let the events sink in and discover what they would mean for the story. Even the journeys that were not so interesting at the start, Naomi’s and Alex’s, had powerful emotional moments later on. Their long careers really begin to weigh on them, and combine that with the emotional fallout of big events and their stories combine into an emotional homecoming that carried weight. With a long series like this, the characters become so familiar that they start to feel like family, and the writers made good use of the fact that the old guard is old now and ready to pass the baton to a new generation. 

Tiamat’s Wrath is the series’ highlight, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the concluding volume can top it.

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13 Responses to James S.A. Corey – Tiamat’s Wrath (2019) Review

  1. Bookstooge says:

    While I know the series has ended, was it at book 9? or do you still have a couple to go?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a huge fan of the series, I was able to accept some of the “wasted space” – narratively speaking – that at times bloated the story because it was always balanced by the deep emotions that the characters’ journeys engendered. And I know exactly what you mean when you say that the long acquaintance with the characters makes them feel like family – which hits you hard when you come across the shocking events you wrote about. One of these days I will have to find the time for a thorough re-read…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really needed the TV Show to tide me over from the first books to the last ones. But because I have followed the character journeys through the TV show, it still feels to me as if I have followed the entire story from beginning to end and that they are like family. The Roci and its crew are iconic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous says:

    I found your blog today by happenstance, really enjoy reading many of your reviews. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ola G says:

    I surrendered after Cibola Burn, I think. That book was a burn for me, indeed, and I might have read Nemesis Games afterwards but stopped caring enough not to remember anything from it. Glad you liked this one, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh yes, the time jump was very uncomfortable. I really think this book helped a lot by easing readers a little bit further, and also got ball rolling again after the shock of it in book 7.

    Liked by 1 person

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