It seems like an awfully daunting task to actually review James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, so I’m just going to write a brief post about it and hopefully that will be enough to convince literally every single one of you to pick it up. I finally finished the 9th book last night after sitting on it for a little while (beginning it at the same time I was starting Elden Ring wasn’t a great decision) and now that I’m done with the series, I’m just kind of stunned at what an amazing accomplishment the entire series is.
I was kind of irritated to discover that Leviathan Falls, the final book of the series, was compared to A Song of Ice and Fire on the back cover, as if ASoIaF is the superior product that Expanse ought to be compared to. I’ve said this about other series before, but The Expanse is markedly better than ASoIaF, not the least because it’s actually finished, and we all know George is never, ever finishing that series. It is also better than That Other fantasy maxi-series you might have in mind, if for no other reason than the series, unbelievably, is nine books and, oh, 4500 pages long or so, and features almost no bloat. That’s kind of astounding, considering what has happened with nearly all of the long-term fantasy series on the market right now.
(Why am I not comparing it to other SF series? Because in a lot of ways there’s nothing to compare it to. Scalzi has done a bunch of books in his Old Man’s War series, but they’ve all been pitched as standalone, more or less, as opposed to having been deliberately structured as a nine-book series from the start. Kevin J. Anderson has his two Saga of Seven Suns series, the first of which was seven books and the second a trilogy, but I’m the only person I know who has read those and I never see anyone talking about them, plus the Corey collective is simply a better writer than Anderson. The closest SF analog may actually be Iain M. Banks’ Culture books, but … uh, I haven’t read those.)
But yeah: one way or another, this series feels like it was planned out, at least in the broad strokes, from the beginning, and while the scope of the series ends up enormous, the author(s) have been smart enough to keep the characters a fairly tight group, with a core of four main characters who are in every single book. Is this a plot armor situation? Maybe, but it never really feels like it, and frankly my two favorite characters in the series both died, so they’re entirely willing to kill characters when they feel like they need to. The status quo keeps sliding around, too; there’s a thirty-year time jump at one point, and there are at least two points in the series where they basically kick the legs out from under everything you thought you knew and remap the board from scratch. Alex, Naomi, Amos and Jim are the constants; everything else is up for grabs.
I know it’s a hell of a thing to tell everybody to go read a nine-book series, but if you’re a sci-fi fan at all and you haven’t picked these up yet, you really owe it to yourself, and the series is done(*) so there’s no longer any excuse. Go get ’em.
(*) There have been several novellas as well, which are going to be collected into a 10th book sometime next year, I think, but this story is definitely finished as of the last few pages of Leviathan Falls. The universe is still out there if they want to come back to it, but it’ll be something very, very different if they do.