Abaddon’s Gate by James S A Corey
Abaddon’s Gate is the third book in The Expanse and clearly represents a pivot in what the series is all about, shifting in an interesting new direction. Abaddon’s Gate is concerned with the pivot itself and in some ways feels awkwardly caught between what the series was and what it is going to become. That said, the quality of writing is strong enough that the flaws never stop this book being good fun.
After the events of Caliban’s War the protomolecule superstructure around Venus has transported itself to the orbit of Uranus, constructing itself into a vast gate with a mysterious starless void behind it. The arrival of ‘The Ring’ presents a crisis both practical and existential to the governments of Earth and Mars, as well as the OPA. All three major powers in the system send a group of ships to investigate. There are four point of view characters. The OPA have sent the Behemoth, a massive ship built from the salvaged Nauvoo, the Mormon ship which pushed Eros onto Venus in Leviathan Wakes. Bull is the head of security on the Behemoth and must keep the ship together under the leadership of an increasingly unstable captain. Anna Volovodov is a priest who has been chosen to join a delegation of cultural figures who have been sent to examine The Ring and what it might mean for humanity’s place in the universe. Melba Koh is an unstable and violent young woman who has hidden her true identity to get to The Ring and extract a personal vengeance at any cost. Finally, James Holden is back, being haunted by the protomolecule construction of Miller and avoiding The Ring at all costs. Events conspire him to bring the crew of the Rocinante there anyway and all four storylines collide and intertwine at The Ring.
Where Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War encompassed a variety of settings, Abaddon’s Gate is much more focused, taking place almost entirely at The Ring. Where previous books had multiple storylines which gradually converged, here all storylines are in the same rough place very early on. This means that Abaddon’s Gate feels a bit slower paced than the previous books. It hints at being the most epic of the series so far, but in the end it feels a bit smaller. There’s nothing wrong with turning towards being more focused, but considering the scales at play in the previous books Abaddon’s Gate doesn’t get quite as tense. It rattles along fairly well, but a fair bit of this book feels like stalling before we get to the interesting place the next book seems to be headed.
The two authors remain very good at straightforward, compelling and readable prose. The world building is less interesting by the simple fact that it primarily takes place on space ships, without the interesting sojourns onto planets or space stations. The setting doesn’t quite come alive and this make the closing action beats feel a little hollow. The good prose helps carry the, at times, slow pace of the storytelling.
All three of the new characters are interesting and good to follow, but I think it’s fair to say that none of them appealed to me as much as Bobbie and Avasarala from Caliban’s War, two characters who do not appear in this book and that I missed greatly. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are as charming as ever, although I would have liked to see more of them spending time together. The easy relationship between the crew is a joy. I liked the priest Anna a lot, but Bull is a bit straightforward and I never really bought Melba’s motivation. They’re decent characters, but I can’t say that I’m left clamouring to see more of them.
This review likely reads quite negative, but that’s largely because the positives are simply those elements which build on the strengths of the first two books. There isn’t much to say about them that I haven’t previously. Abaddon’s Gate is a good book and an enjoyable read, but I hope that Abrahams and Franck do justice to the compelling place at which this book is left off. This may not be the strongest book in the series, but it sure as hell isn’t weak enough to make me want to stop.