The always volatile Outer Planets Alliance are becoming bolder, driven by the shift in the political structure of the solar system which is the legacy of the Protomolecule. The Ring complex having opened up distant new worlds for colonisation and exploitation, the low-gravity adapted Belters and their specialist trades have been rendered superfluous overnight and in response Filip Inaros, ruthless beyond his fifteen years, has led a devastating terrorist attack on a Martian military installation on Callisto.
Three years after she departed for the Ilus system the Rocinante has limped home to Tycho Base for a long-overdue overhaul, the unexpected success of that supposedly no-win mission having prompted an exodus to the stars despite the warnings issued by Jim Holden that somewhere out there is whatever vanquished the mysterious creators of the Protomolecule, the outwards population shift already impacting the Martian economy.
Taking advantage of the downtime, Alex takes a trip to Mars, ostensibly to pay a visit to his ex-wife but instead assisting Bobbie Draper in an investigation into the Martian navy regarding discrepancies in disposition of materiel, Amos has departed for Earth to visit his old neighbourhood and Naomi is on Ceres, yet each of them realise these places are no longer home to any of them.
Left alone to supervise the repairs to the Rocinante, Jim is approached by reporter Monica Stuart whom he met during the Ring incident who asks for his assistance in looking into ships which have gone missing while traversing the Rings, but the data they examine points to a concern more immediate than the esoteric threat of the Protomolecule: the feeds have been tampered with to make it seem as though the ships have vanished, an undeniably human action.
The four central characters of The Expanse have been a team across four books now and are well established but while Jim Holden has been central to the narrative since the Eros incident Nemesis Games is the first time that Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal and Amos Burton have featured as point of view characters. Even apart they rely on each other, Naomi who normally walks with confidence wherever she goes asking herself what Amos would do in the situation she finds herself in, Amos performing random acts of kindness which once would have been alien to him while Jim still can’t help but blame himself for everything.
It’s his first case without the late Josephus Miller looking over his shoulder and he’s all too aware of it, wistfully wishing that he had a hat, and while it would have been interesting for the four characters to have progressed independently in parallel storylines it quickly becomes apparent that despite the distances between them their orbits will converge; in every revolution there is one man with a vision, and naturally it is someone with a connection with the crew of the Roci who is pulling the strings.
Perhaps it was inevitable that with all the changes to the sociopolitical makeup of the solar system, the sudden expansion of frontiers, that there would be a pushback, that the already uneasy status quo would be prone to seismic resettling of catastrophic scale and reach, and despite apparently beginning small this may be the most wide-reaching and devastating series of events the crew of the Rocinante has ever been faced with.
Despite that, Nemesis Games does not feel as epic or involving as the previous volumes, much of the action taking place beyond the horizon with the characters only experiencing the aftershocks, witnessing the aftermath rather than the incidents themselves, and despite the welcome roster of established supporting characters some strands are inevitably more interesting than others, and there is a feeling that all this is merely setting the stage for the imminent relocation of the story beyond the Sol system to the greater expanse.