2017’s Persepolis Rising is the seventh in James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series (which is now up to nine books and finished).
Thirty years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes, the thousands of colony worlds reachable through the alien ring network are dominated by the Transport Union, which controls the slow zone, the pocket universe linking all the stargates. Vexed by planet Freehold’s repeated violations of safety regulations, President Drummer dispatches James Holden’s gunship Rocinante to inform Freehold that they are cut off from interstellar trade for three years. Since Freehold is not self-sufficient, this is a death sentence.
The Rocinante is a heavily-armed gunship. Freehold’s colonists are a collection of heavily-armed, government-hating libertarians. Can even Holden overcome such formidable opponents?
Having easily managed Freehold (by providing them with an alternative to the Transit Union), Holden and crew head back to Medina Station. During the passage back, Holden and his lover Naomi Nagata decide the time has come to sell the ship to Bobby Draper and retire; if the Union is going to become increasingly inhumane and draconian, they do not care to be the ones enforcing the rules.
Scarcely has the Rocinante docked at Medina and the crew scattered when some old, long-forgotten business intrudes. Thirty years earlier, rogue Martian commander Winston Duarte fled with his commandeered Martian fleet to the Laconia system. For the last three decades, nobody has heard a squeak from the heavily guarded gate to Laconia. Duarte has used that time to master relics of alien technology found in the system. This new tech outclasses anything that the Transit Union can send against him. Duarte has the means and the will to extend his benign rule over all humanity.
Duarte sends two ships, the destroyer Gathering Storm and the Magnetar-class Heart of the Tempest, to conquer Medina Station, the Transit Union, and the slow zone. Which they do. Tempestheads to the Solar System. It doesn’t look good for humanity.
Meanwhile, Medina Station is now ruled by Laconian Captain Santiago Singh. He is finding it difficult to tame the intransigent population. Many of them are Belters, veterans of the century-long struggle for Belter independence. Old skills are put to new use. Singh narrowly survives an assassination and becomes even more paranoid and homicidal.
Holden and his crew, stuck on Medina, decide that it’s time to escape. They come up with a cunning plan. They will be free … or dead.
Once again, I am astounded that despite decades of James Holden steadfastly pissing in the collective punchbowl over points of principle, high ranking functionaries continue to trust him with important jobs that are seemingly calculated to offend Holden. For example, if you’re looking for someone to tell a few hundred people they’ve been condemned to death for traffic violations, the ideal candidate list should start with ANYONE BUT JAMES HOLDEN. Holmes’ boss has to take the blame for a result that the Transit Union will surely dislike.
Laconia may sound not so bad. In fact, there are a number of parallels between Laconian policies and those of the Transit Union. Readers are given enough info to conclude that both governments are nasty1. The Laconians are affecting leniency at Medina Station merely as expedient means. They don’t want to pointlessly kill people who they can later use, even if only as biotech feedstock, nor do they want to give Duarte’s future subjects cause for the sort of grudges peasants nurse for centuries. Their goal is to establish an authoritarian galactic empire with an immortal Duarte as its undying architect.
The author — or rather authors, as Corey is a pen-name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck — have actually finished their series (an example that other famous authors could well take to heart). This book isn’t the last book in the series (that’s Leviathan Falls, just out). But it’s the most recent book in the series that I’ve read. I plan on reading the last two books in 2022.
This volume delivers exactly what one wants from an Expanse novel: crises, thrilling action scenes, and of course Holden pissing off everyone because he’s trying to do the right thing. But be warned: this is not at all a stand-alone novel and it ends on something of a cliff-hanger. If you’ve not read earlier Expanse books, you’d likely be lost if you began here. Start with Leviathan Wakes and go on from there.
I’ve enjoyed this series and perhaps you will too.
1: For example, Duarte facilitated an attack on Earth that left billions dead. This gave him the confusion he needed to flee to Laconia. It also ensured that Laconia’s primary economic rival would have to spend decades rebuilding.