So here’s the thing: when you have books that, in order to really justify being re-read, are dependent on the characters being compelling enough that they will minimize visibility for the plot happening, you damn well better make each and every one of those characters awesome.
Now The Expanse has compelling characters—I could read about Holden and his crew for extended periods without any complaint. And Bobbie Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala are a similar delight to read. Clarissa Mao starts to get interesting, but mostly right at the end of the novel. Pastor Anna and Carlos Baca…just aren’t.
What that means is that something like half our narration is focused on people who just don’t hold your attention the same way the second time around, which means you end up staring at the plot happening, and that makes things a lot less interesting.
Sure, Bull is smart enough to understand the politics that put him where he is, and how to at least attempt to leverage whatever he can to get a good outcome, and owes Fred Johnson…but that isn’t enough.And Pastor Anna is obviously a good person, and asks us to think about WTF does the idea of meeting actual aliens would mean for humanity, and provides wonderful contrast to Amos, our endearing, light-hearted psychopath. I mean, it makes for some wonderful copy…
“Killing people won’t make him feel better,” Anna said, regretting the words the second they left her mouth. These people were going to be risking their lives to protect her. They didn’t need her moralizing at them.…but it ain’t enough.
“Actually,” Holden said with a half smile, “I think it might be for him, but Amos is a special case. You’d be right about most anyone else.”
“God damn, Red,” Amos said, putting his hand on hers. “You must be hell on wheels as a preacher. You’re making me feel the best and worst I’ve felt in a while at the same time.”
…Good-hearted unrepentant killers were not something she’d had to fit into her worldview before this, and she wasn’t sure how it would work. But now she’d have to try.
All of which feels a little bit like nit-picking, insofar as it’s a still a fun read, but it just doesn’t feel like it’s going to hold up like the first two novels—I found myself putting it down far more than the first two books because I could too easily find something more interesting to do.
That said, plot-wise, it is a big shift for the universe of The Expanse, and opens up a whole lot of new possibilities to be explored (at least through book #9).