Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth in the hugely popular Expanse series. Not only has The Expanse been a highly successful run of books, but it has also recently been made into a very well-received TV series by SyFy (available on Netflix in the UK). It’s also one of my favourite SF book series – so I’m not quite sure how I’ve fallen a whole book behind, but here’s my (very late) review of Babylon’s Ashes.

A revolution brewing for generations has come to fruition. The uneasy peace between Mars, Earth and the Outer Planets Alliance has been broken. The Free Navy – a violent off-shoot of the Outer Planets Alliance – has committed a terrible atrocity on Earth; throwing asteroids into the planet that have resulted in huge casualties. The network of planets opened by the ring gates has effectively been closed off to the United Nations, and a terrible new power is rising in the solar system. But there will be repercussions for the Free Navy’s actions, and Earth is planning to respond in force to Marco Inaros’ act of war – a response lead by James Holden, and the crew of the Rocinante…

James SA Corey (the pen-name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) deserve some series props for keeping the energy up to this sort of level. The series is now sprawling – counting some six books, and several novellas. That’s impressive stuff. I hugely enjoyed Nemesis Games (the fifth book in the series), and Babylon’s Ashes manages to reach the same levels of excitement. Babylon does stand apart from other novels in The Expanse though, in that it felt considerably broader. It breaks with the traditional Expanse format; most notably, in that there are nineteen viewpoint characters throughout the book. That’s the most in any Expanse novel, by quite a long margin. But I can well see why James SA Corey (collectively) took that decision. This is a book far broader than any so far. The promised war in the solar system is finally here, and the only way to do it justice is through many viewpoints across the system. The book actually needed this extra breadth.

That said, the side-effect of a broader POV selection is that the Rocinante’s crew tend to feel a bit more distant this time around. This is a shame, because if you’re this far into the series, you’ll no doubt really look forward to seeing more of Amos, Naomi, and the rest. This isn’t a criticism, but perhaps an endorsement for how familiar the crew now feels. Nemesis Games felt like it added a lot to Naomi in particular, but this time around we’re dealing with bigger, wider issues. Holden and the crew therefore have to take a back seat for some of the story.

But not fear; there are other characters to love and hate in Babylyon’s Ashes. Readers will be glad to know that Marco Inaros is every bit as terrible as he was in Nemesis Games. He is both tyrant and liberator; the promised saviour of the Belt, but also the potential destroyer. His relationship with Filip is excruciatingly painful at times. Inaros is an arch manipulator, whose schemes extend to manoeuvring of his own son when the situation demands. This makes for compelling reading!

Babylon’s Ashes also feels like a linking novel in the series. As Nemesis Games was left, the alien gates were open and the galaxy was for humanity’s taking. Babylon’s Ashes wraps up the plot-strands in the solar system. Whilst the situation is not quite solved (I don’t think that the universe of The Expanse will ever be truly at peace!), the way is now clear for exploration of the worlds beyond the ring gates. I’m definitely eager to see where James SA Corey will take us next…