Orbit, p/b/ 560pp, Â£13.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
Itâ€™s not often I come across a book with no wasted words in it, but this is one of them. Itâ€™s a cracker. 540 pages of twists, turns, great characters, action, dialogue and description.
This is the third in the series of â€˜Expanseâ€™ novels, but you donâ€™t need to have read the previous two in order to follow whatâ€™s going on, though having read this one you may want to.
The ring has settled on the edge of the solar system and the three human groups, Mars, Earth and the OCA are sending ships to investigate. Add in a woman with a mission and a vendetta, politics, a shipâ€™s captain picked because of his connections and a dead human who keeps appearing at the most inopportune moments and you have a recipe that could easily have become a clichÃ©d piece of work, but didnâ€™t.
Instead, you get one of the best books Iâ€™ve read in a long time, that you can get into without much effort and a story that you donâ€™t want to put down.
The four lead characters are Melba, a woman with a vendetta against Holden; Holden, a shipâ€™s captain who, against the norms of SF, is actually doing well and is rich; Bull, the head of security aboard one of the OCA ships heading for the ring; Anna, a priest who has been invited to go along as part of the UNâ€™s mission. Not all of them will survive.
Iâ€™m not a fan of prologues, but this one does actually add something to the book, as it shows what the ring does to ships that get too close and gives a sense of its power. What happens to the pilot is highlighted later on in the book, so itâ€™s not an empty chapter or filler.
The author takes us through the journey to the ring and the problems on board the ships, as well as the politics of the mission. Once at the ring, things take a turn for the worse, when ships are sabotaged and one heads into the ring itself. This is where the politics and the abilities of the ring come into play and the characters are tested to their extremes.Â Some fly, others burn and the result is a lot of dead people. Add in a believable dose of religious fundamentalism and you get one hairy journey to hell and back, not knowing how itâ€™s going to end.
The kind of book I like.
Will humanity survive? Will the characters make the correct decisions? Who will live and who will die? Youâ€™ll actually care what happens.
One of the reviews on the cover described it thus: â€˜As close as youâ€™ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form.â€™ Itâ€™s a statement I would agree with, with the proviso that youâ€™ll remember this book long after a blockbuster has faded from your mind.