The novel “Babylon’s Ashes” by James S.A. Corey was published for the first time in 2016. It’s the sixth book in the Expanse series and follows “Nemesis Games“.
The Free Navy devastated the Earth, threw Mars into a crisis and caused a deep division among the Belters, with Fred Johnson’s OPA struggling to maintain its importance. Many people try to escape to other solar systems through the portal but there’s no longer anyone able to regulate that traffic and prevent migrants from being attacked.
Necessity leads the former enemies of Earth, Mars and OPA to work together to try to prevent the solar system from falling completely into chaos. James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante return to the center of crucial events in an attempt to change the fate of the war against the Free Navy but its leader Marco Inaros considers them special targets to be strauck at any cost.
James S.A. Corey is the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham, who on his own writes mostly fantasy, and Ty Franck, who worked as an assistant to George R.R. Martin. Together, they’ve been writing the stories of the Expanse series, a space opera set in a future where humanity has colonized part of the solar system.
“Babylon’s Ashes” continues the story practically from where “Nemesis Games” ended and is more than ever based on previous events. The Expanse series tells a great story of future humanity in which each book offers something new along with the development of what was previously written. In this case, however, the story of the Free Navy remained completely open in the previous book and continues in this one.
Some themes featured in “Nemesis Games” also keep on being developed in “Babylon’s Ashes”. The chaos caused by the Free Navy in the solar system left many people in a crisis that is also of identity because the old balance that offered a certain stability have been swept away. The Rocinante’s crew members were already somehow misfits, now they’re more normal than most of the inhabitants of the solar system because at least they kept their group, joined again by Bobbie Draper.
For the Belters, the situation is made more complicated by the fact that they have to decide who they should give their loyalty to in what has become an open war among factions. Marco Inaros is a leader who achieved great results thanks to his manipulation skills but even for him it’s not easy to convince all the Belters with his promises that they’ll be repaid for all the injustices suffered by their people.
In “Babylon’s Ashes” the story is developed following more characters than usual to try to offer more points of view on the complex situation. Having a Belter who is in the middle of intrigues such as Captain Michio Pa among the protagonists is useful for this purpose, however other characters are more secondary so their contribution is limited. Prax allows to show the perspective of a civilian population when the Free Navy takes over but Anna Volovodov and her family offer very little ending up being a filler, as if the authors felt the need to include many characters, including some who appeared in previous books.
Personally I would have preferred that the authors focused more on Marco Inaros to make him a stronger villain. In the end, he’s a great manipulator but in “Babylon’s Ashes” in addition to his intrigues he ends up carrying out above all his personal war against James Holden and of course against Naomi Nagata. In short, he became a character functional to the plot and little else.
In the Expanse series the book endings always leave something open for the sequels and so is “Babylon’s Ashes”. The plot about the war in the solar system comes to an end and in my opinion this is important. I think this novel has some flaws but overall it seemed like a good space opera with the merit that, together with “Nemesis Games”, also offers some food for thought. The Expanse series always maintains a good level so I recommend reading it.