Winston Duarte has evolved faster and more completely than any other individual of his species; indeed, by most standards he is now of an entirely different species, having willingly become a conscious, self-aware host of the alien protomolecule. Driven by his plan, his singular vision is of the continuity of humanity, that it should avoid the inevitable collapse and extinction of other earlier civilisations, but crucially with him as the eternal emperor shaped by the military dictatorship from which it sprung, his lofty goal tainted by the towering ego of a newly risen god.
Devoid of major habitable planets though often with useful physical resources, the backwater systems accessible through the system of ring gates created by the protomolecule are not a priority for the tactically-minded Laconian Empire, ruled by default by Admiral Anton Trejo in the absence of the ascended High Consul, and so have become havens for the underground, a loose assembly held together by the continuing efforts and ingenuity of Naomi Nagata.
On board the Rocinante with Jim Holden, Alex Kamal, Duarte’s teenage daughter Teresa and her dog Muskrat and the hybrid which once was but is now not quite Amos Burton yet wears his face and carries his memories, they are always running but never arriving as there is no safe destination, hunted now by the fanatical Colonel Aliana Tanaka, convinced of the justness of her cause and handed broad latitude in her actions alongside her Omega designation and impossible assignment, to find the demigod gone walkabout, her plan to track Duarte through his fugitive daughter.
The eight previous novels of The Expanse having taken humanity from the disputes between the inner and outer worlds and the Belters through the discovery of the alien protomolecule and its transformation of their worlds, their economies, their politics and the domain of humanity, spreading across over a thousand systems via the ring gate system, it now comes to an end with the appropriately named Leviathan Falls, James S A Corey continuing to write with the assurance of those who know where the ultimate destination is despite the uncertainty of the future.
The very fabric of the space the characters inhabit under threat, the “dark gods banging about in the attic” seemingly able to alter it, disrupting life processes as easily as the gates transport ships instantaneously across the galaxy, Duarte’s rapport with the alien intelligence aligns with his ambitions but is antithetical to the notions of self-determination and individuality enjoyed by the those he regards as his beholden subjects.
Nagata, Holden and their sparse allies an order of magnitude lower than the Laconian Empire, itself dwarfed by the unseen forces which created the protomolecule millennia before, despite Leviathan Falls being the final novel the urgency and momentum which powered the sequence so far is largely absent for much of it, and while there is danger the excitement which formerly went hand-in-spacesuited glove is lacking, Corey perhaps exhausted by the endeavour now that the end is in sight, as numbed at the crew of the Rocinante to have come so far and to now face the impossible.
The protomolecule evolved so it no longer operates via the blind infection of the host species it co-opts to serve its grander purpose by direct exposure, its effects now apparently propagating faster than the speed of light, where before the focus of the drama was the conflict between the factions of humanity driven by their aspirations and needs against the backdrop of the immensity of space suddenly shared with the remnants of an ancient alien presence it is now the same familiar characters with whom the readers have shared the epic journey so far facing a threat incomprehensible in human terms, monkeys trying to reason with the fall of night and the turn of the seasons.
A discontinuity which lies awkwardly on the pages, multidimensional cosmological concepts and conflicts flattened as they are rendered into prose on the page, by the standard of most similar extended works of imaginative fiction Leviathan Falls would be a superlative work and certainly in tying together threads first spun twelve years before it cannot be faulted, yet having come this far and never faltered at any step until now it is disappointing that the first book of The Expanse to be less than a thrilling ride which demands the next chapter be read is the conclusion.
Leviathan Falls is available now from Orbit