Whoops, need to get this review out before I start my re-read of book five.
This wasn’t my least favorite of these books the first time through, that for some reason was book two (even though I can objectively say that one is a better book, I just prefer this more inferior one for some reason). This is also most people’s least favorite of the series, and I can see why, I really can. This is actually the only one of these I read in hardcover the first time through. I did the audio narrated by Jefferson Mays the first time on the other eight, but for whatever reason, good ol’ Jefferson was unavailable to record this one and it was some other dude at first, and no thank you. I think that actually might have worked in my favor. This is one of the few of these books that really works better not in audio, because it starts so slowly, you can get through those parts quicker than you can in audio. By about the middle of the book, though, this one is really cracking.
Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are sent on a peacekeeping mission to be mediators in the conflict between settlers on the planet Ilus/New Terra (depending on who you ask). Avasarala wants to take advantage of Holden’s reputation for transparency, so they head out through a gate and to one of the first planets colonized. Belter colonists claimed the planet first, but not “legally” (as if anyone can have jurisdiction here) and when they learned a corporation had chartered an official claim and was coming to either kick them out or cut them out of their profits from mining, things start badly and start with violence.
It’s interesting to see what Corey does with an alien planet for the first time, alternate biologies and ecosystems that are a big part of the plot, and also seeding in clues for the overarching story of the gate-builders and the civilization that ultimately killed them. The conflicts on Ilus are really a microcosm for the tribalism and greed, and the strains of humanity and hopefulness that are hidden within, that we see play out so broadly in the rest of this series. That’s ultimately why I think this book really works, and why I definitely don’t see it as a pointless filler book like some. If you’re going to write books about humanity expanding out into the stars, it’s good to see what that actual expanse looks like down on the ground.