The Expanse: A TV Fan’s Post-Finale Guide to the Books

The Rocinante landing on Ilus in The Expanse
Photo: Prime Video

This article contains The Expanse spoilers.

Many fans of The Expanse on Prime Video who haven’t already read the James S. A. Corey novels upon which the series is based probably have at least thought about checking out the books at some point. But the floodgates likely opened after the series finale aired for those looking to answer the questions left unresolved by the show’s untimely cancelation with books seven through nine still unadapted.

For those still on the fence, we’ll attempt to outline the plot of the remaining story without spoiling the big moments that should be experienced firsthand. The good news is that Persepolis Rising can be a starting point, skipping the first five books with only minor catching up to do. That’s not the recommended path, of course (read the whole thing!), but here’s what’s in store for anyone who takes that shortcut.

Duarte and the Protomolecule

It’s probably obvious given the events of The Expanse series finale that Admiral Duarte is the main antagonist of the final story arc in the books. Given that he traded MCRN military equipment to Marco Inaros in exchange for the protomolecule sample the rogue Belters stole from Fred Johnson, it’s clear that he felt that the devastating price he paid for the final bit of blue goo was worth it. If it weren’t for this deal, millions on Earth would still be alive, and the Free Navy would have been completely impotent without ships or rail guns to attach to the ring station.

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It was all a distraction to allow Duarte and his loyalists to set up a colony on Laconia, a planet with an unusual alien artifact in orbit around it: a construction platform that can create space vessels with advanced capabilities based on protomolecule technology. In The Expanse season 6, we hear the obsessive scientist Cortazar telling Duarte that they have been able to use the stolen sample to activate the orbital station, the same way phantom-Miller was able to activate the artifacts on Ilus in season four. Let the fireworks begin!

The Strange Dogs, Cara, and Xan

But that’s not all the protomolecule can do! We’ve also seen that Laconia has some unusual wildlife that appears to be modifying “broken” things in a semblance of repair. Remember, the protomolecule was discovered in season one on Phoebe, one of Saturn’s moons. Miller (as an eventual spokesman for the protomolecule) informed Holden that it was designed to modify anything in its path to the specification of the alien race that created it. It lay frozen and unused until Protogen dug it up.

If you look closely, however, you’ll see that the “strange dogs” in The Expanse season 6 make changes to the drone and the mama bird which leave a soft blue glow, such as we see with anything protomolecule related. After Xan is brought back to life with black eyes and increased perception, it’s clear that the repair creatures made modifications less destructive than but certainly just as radical as what happened on Eros in the opening season. Without Cara and Xan’s involvement in the later books as a result of these changes, humanity would have little hope of understanding the alien forces around them.

Needless to say, Duarte has his own discoveries to make about what this more stable form of protomolecule can do for the dominance of his new empire. Considering the hardiness of Martian efforts to terraform their own planet back home, it should come as no surprise that this same discipline will become the central tenet of a new political force bent on doing what’s best for the survival of the human species… at least from Duarte’s point of view.

The Transport Union and the Gates

Drummer was put in charge of the new independent Transport Union at the end of The Expanse season 6, and that’s exactly where she ends up in the books, too. But her position of leadership becomes far more important to the solar system than perhaps Avasarala or Holden could have possibly anticipated, and it’s a glorious thing to behold. The many fans of this great character will be excited to see her rise to power.

Taking into account the strategy Naomi employed to defeat Marco in The Expanse series finale, one of the main dangers the Transport Union must manage involves the entities inside the gates that eat ships for breakfast. Traffic must only pass through the rings at a regulated pace to avoid “going Dutchman,” as they call it, referring to the famous ghost ship. But even with the careful coordination there are no guarantees, and the pressures that arise from increased colonization will take their toll in the later books.

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The Time Jump

Because it takes time to build the Laconian Empire, The Expanse novels necessarily jump forward almost three decades, but this leaves our favorite characters much older and scattered to the far corners of the galaxy at times. Readers will perhaps be unsurprised to find Bobbie Draper, for example, in a combative role against the immense power Duarte has amassed in the intervening time. Likewise, Naomi cultivates relationships with an underground element that put her in a position of prominence in old age.

Holden has, shall we say, more direct interactions with the Laconian leader, and the devotion Amos shows towards his captain in the later books takes on new levels of heroism. Even Alex, who is very much alive in the continuing saga, finds his place alongside his fellow Martian, Bobbie, and explores new ways to reconnect with his family by the end of the last book, receiving a fitting reward for his service throughout The Expanse story. Oh, and remember Elvi Okoye from Ilus? As humanity’s foremost xenobiologist, she’s back in a big way!

But speaking of time jumps, The Expanse saga has one final leap to make at the end of the final novel, Leviathan Falls. Many TV fans agree that the Prime Video adaptation had a pretty spectacular ending, providing an amazing sense of closure considering how unresolved much of the story was. That’s nothing compared to how the books end; if you don’t fist pump after flipping the final page, you’re dead inside.

Don’t think for a moment everything will be wrapped up with a neat little bow, though. The Expanse doesn’t do that. Do, however, expect answers to long-held questions. What is the nature of the protomolecule makers, and how can the aliens who killed them be stopped? Will humanity find a way to come together in common cause? Who lives and who dies in the end, and was the sacrifice of those who don’t make it worth it? All will be answered, and it’s a promise: you’ll be satisfied.

But just like those who only watched The Expanse, you’ll still wish there was more.