Leviathan Falls: Strong conclusion to one of the best sci-fi series in decades

Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham/Ty Franck)Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham/Ty Franck)Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

THE EXPANSE has been my favorite science fiction series for many years now, so while I looked forward to Leviathan Falls (2021), the ninth and final book in the series, with eager anticipation, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it also came with a bit of pre-grieving. So maybe it was a bit of denial, combined with a hellish end-of-term, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and the general fk-you-ism of 2021 that had me completely miss the book’s release in late November. But after seeing a reference to its existence in the wild, I quickly rectified my oversight, and then, for various reasons, began reading it at about 4:30 in the morning. And, because it’s an EXPANSE book, didn’t put it down until I finished it. And yeah, it was as good a return and as bittersweet an ending as I’d assumed it would be. Sigh.

Honestly, from a reviewing standpoint (as opposed to a critical one), what’s to say at this point? This isn’t a should-you-read-it-or-not situation since let’s face it, if you’ve read the first eight, you’re obviously not going to stop at the last one. And if you haven’t read them, you’re not reading this review. In a nutshell, this series has always shown an amazing level of consistency and that holds true here in all its elements: deeply rich characters that continue to grow and yet retain the core of who they’ve always been, wonderfully natural sounding dialogue, big action scenes mixed with tautly suspenseful smaller confrontations/situations (including one absolutely kick ass heart-in-throat slow torture “no, no, no!” chapter), as well as moments of warm intimacy and/or thoughtful introspection, a sharply wry sense of humor, seamless transitions between a number of POVs, fluid and seemingly effortless (it isn’t) prose that here also includes some unusually lyrical chapters, a clear structural vision executed for maximum effect, a pervasive sense of empathy (which in this book is an abstraction made concrete) that has as its reflection an equally pervasive rejection of utilitarianism. Leviathan Falls is exactly as well written as one would expect at this point.

As for its effectiveness as a conclusion, the best way I can put it is that it wraps up with surprising inevitability. Many of the characters face situations that make them do the opposite of what they want, or you’d think of them doing, and yet, what they do in those moments is utterly predictable, is completely “them.” Which sounds utterly paradoxical and annoying abstract, I know, but I don’t want to ruin moments (more for their emotional impact than for plot spoilers), and it will make perfect sense (I think) when you reach those moments. Most everyone gets an ending (that doesn’t mean they’re all happy), most questions are resolved, though one’s mileage will vary on that depending on personality; personally, I felt James S.A. Corey answered some of the bigger questions to just the right degree. There are a slew of call backs, including one that had me punching the air and exclaiming “yes!” loud enough (and early enough) that I winced at the anticipated “what the hell” from my formerly sleeping family members.

THE EXPANSE began as space opera across the “smaller” scale of the solar system and then swelled outward to the greater scale of the intergalactic, but even as it, well, “expanded” it never lost the sight of what made this series so damned good — a relentless and ever-rewarding focus on a family of richly emotional, compelling characters so fully alive that one can’t help but feel somewhat bereft when turning that final page.

Luckily, that’s what rereads are for.

A few favorite key lines:THE EXPANSE

  • “Are you still human?”
    “Not sure I ever was, really. But I know I’m still me.”
  • “You got now, and you got the second your lights go out. Meantime is the only time there is. All that matters is what we do during it.”
  • “Well, this can’t be good.”
  • “He saw something incredibly, stupidly dangerous that needed to be done and only he could do. And he just …”
    “He just did it.”
  • “I got this part. You take care of yours.”
  • “You want bullshit happy mouth noises, or the truth?”
    “Bullshit happy mouth noises.”
    “It’s great.”
  • I absolutely believe that people are more good on balance than bad. All the wars and all of the cruelty and all of the violence. I’m not looking away from any of that, and I still think that there’s something beautiful about being what we are. History is soaked in blood. The future probably will be, too. But, for every atrocity, there’s a thousand small kindnesses that no one notices. A hundred people who spent their lives loving and caring for each other. A few moments of real grace.
  • The crew of Roci had developed something between them that, over the decades, had felt like more than the sum of its parts. It was cracked and fractured … but  there was still a spark of it. The last smooth surface in a universe that had gone rough and biting.
  • “Whatever you think you have to do? Whatever it is, wait until I’m asleep.”
  • “For fuck’s sake, this isn’t the last day of summer camp. How many fucking tearful embraces are you planning on?”
  • “We collect the most astonishingly brave people, don’t we? And then we watch them die.”
  • “It was good.”
    “It was.”
Published in November 2021. The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again. In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before. As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win. But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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5 comments

  1. Kevin S. /

    I loved the first eight books in the series…and didn’t even know a ninth was coming out! I thought it finished at eight, so this is great news. Can’t wait to read it!!

  2. Avshalom /

    Just finished it and held off on reading this review until now – Thank you Bill, beautifully written, I agree with every word!

    P.S. there is a major spoiler in the quotes above, so I’m glad I held off on reading until now…

  3. Alma A. /

    i WILL NOTget the last book until I can get it in paperback so that it matches the rest of my set. other than that… looking forward to it…

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