Tiamat’s Wrath is the penultimate novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, and it certainly feels like an epic reaching its conclusion. James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, Amos Burton, and Bobbie Draper are already legends of a former age after the 30 year time jump in Book 7, Persepolis Rising, and even though the team is separated in this installment, with Holden still on Laconia as at the end of the previous novel and Bobbie and Naomi handling different aspects of the resistance’s efforts, the sheer scale of the obstacle to overcome is worthy of the characters’ elevated status, even if they’re not together.
It’s important to remember that as soon as the protomolecule was introduced in the first novel, this was always where things were headed. We got to know the cultures of Earth, Mars, and the Belt just as something alien was introduced, and as that element changed the social dynamics of the solar system, especially once the rings opened, the path was set. And now, with humanity under High Consul Duarte’s galactic dictatorship bent on rapidly expanding its empire, the showdown with greater forces demands wider breadth than simply a uniquely skilled crew on board the Rocinante.
Tiamat’s Wrath delivers on the promise of its heroes, however, as they all have their time to shine with both the desperate lows that some experience and the greatness that has been thrust upon others. Although some readers may regret the diminished importance of Drummer and the Trade Union here in Book 8 after the Belter’s reluctant but magnificent rise to power in Persepolis Rising, the resistance is still alive and well albeit in the absentee hands of Saba, whom we don’t hear from directly in this installment. Instead, Naomi Nagata and Bobbie Draper are now brilliantly placed as two sides of a coin; the former as a diplomat and political manipulator, the latter as an opportunistic aggressor with the stolen Laconian destroyer, Gathering Storm.
It’s all about the lonely life of a leader, and honestly, it’s not always the most compelling read. Naomi spends a lot of her time inside a shipping container with narration that merely describes her actions elsewhere, ensuring the political placements of those sympathetic to the resistance. It’s easy to side with Bobbie in their strategic disagreement, especially since she and Alex are the only members of the team still together, and their missions, both successful and not, provide a majority of the action sequences in the book. But even the Storm spends a frustrating but understandable amount of time in hiding.
The additional perspective of Teresa Duarte, the daughter of the High Consul now in her teenage years, gives us a glimpse behind the curtain at an empire about to reach its moment of hubris. The prisoner’s dilemma, an ethical exercise offering differing outcomes for cooperation and betrayal, is posed as a lesson for the young girl, and it becomes a brilliant framework for Laconia’s larger plans to force a confrontation with the enemy that destroyed the makers of the protomolecule. At times, it might seem like they should have known better, but the awe-inspiring nature of the punishment, which takes out one of the unconquerable Magnetar-class ships among other things, allows for hope that the authoritarian regime could meet its end.
An additional point of view comes from Elvi Okoye, the exozoologist from Cibola Burn, now conscripted into service as a major in the Laconian military, and her reluctant cooperation with the officers who try to defeat a completely inscrutable enemy gives us a better idea of what the missing time effect we saw in Persepolis Rising is all about and plants the seeds for knowledge that might prove pivotal in the ninth and final book of The Expanse. The use of antimatter in the weapons tests against the alien force also ties in nicely with the unexpected windfall that Bobbie and Alex gain during their attempt to capture a high profile Laconian hostage. It’s a failed mission that gives them the key to victory at a horrible price.
The stakes are at their highest, which is appropriate for Book 8 of 9, and the scenes with Amos and Holden going through their separate, very different experiences on Laconia, show how much of the inaction in Tiamat’s Wrath is due to most of our favorite characters being trapped in circumstances beyond their control. Again, those parts of the novel aren’t the most exciting, but how could it be any other way? Even the characters themselves reflect with nostalgia on the simpler days on the Rocinante, and we as readers are supposed to long for those earlier adventures so that we cry out for a reunion that takes all 500-plus pages to achieve.
So although Tiamat’s Wrath may not end up being your favorite installment in The Expanse series, it is without a doubt the grandest in scope. With an ending that changes everything about the slow zone, the nature of travel between systems, and the ability for anyone to ever achieve what even the Trade Union was able to do, much less the Laconian Empire, the stage is set for the most massive battle yet. How do you take out an enemy that is not limited by locality, gravity, or the speed of light? It will take all of the gathered knowledge of the gate-makers, stored in a diamond the size of a planet to come up with a solution, and our aged heroes, despite the fallen they leave behind, are equal to the task, and fans of The Expanse will thank Tiamat’s Wrath for building the perfect amount of suspense for what’s to come.