The fourth book in the Expanse SF series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Print
Page count: 583 + an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Orbit

Two years has gone from the end of the previous book. The Ring is now a gateway to space which apparently has thousands unexplored planets. Humanity has send some probes. But one desperate Belter ship has gone through the Ring and the people have settled on one of the planets, mining precious lithium which they’re hoping to sell. However, the Royal Charter Energy has gotten permission from the UN to mine there. They’re coming to evict the people they’re calling “squatters.” The journey has taken 18 months so the Belters have had ample time to establish their colony which they call First Landing. However, the planet is teeming with alien plants and animals, none of them edible by humans so life isn’t exactly easy for them.

The RCE ship, the Edward Israel, has called and made a contract with some of the colonists to construct a landing pad for them. But a group of the colonists don’t want the RCE to land and take away their planet. So, they’ve gathered explosives from the mining operation and when the book starts, they’re driving to the pad and setting the charges.

The book has four POVs. Holden is the only character whose POV we’ve read before. Basia Merton is one of the colonists. He’s from Ganymede and his son was one of the sick kids that the scientists kidnapped and experimented with. He carries a lot of guilt for abandoning his son Katoa. He took his two remaining kids and wife and left the station believing that Katoa was dead.

Dimitri Havelock is aboard the Edward Israel. He’s one of the security officers there. He’s from Earth but has worked all over the solar system, including Ceres station. He used to be Miller’s partner and was briefly seen in the first book.

Doctor Elvi Okoye is one of the RCE’s scientist and she’s been itching to get to a whole new alien planet. From the beginning, she resents the squatters (as she thinks of the colonists the whole time) because they’ve contaminated the planet rather than building a habitat and leaving the rest of the plant pristine. She’s in the first shuttle that comes down and is blown up.

After the colonists blow up the first shuttle, Avasarala sends Holden to negotiate between the two groups and the keep peace as much as he can. Everybody knows him and he has no stake on either side, so she says that he’s the perfect UN negotiator. Holden doesn’t like it but wants to do his best to keep the peace.

The situation starts really tense and only escalates. RCE’s security chief Murtry brings a team down and the sight of armed RCE guards only makes the colonists more fearful and willing make bad decision after another. The colonists from Ganymede have already lost their homes once and aren’t willing to lose anything anymore. And yes, the planet itself has some surprises, too.

The planet, called New Terra by UN and RCE but Ilus by the colonists, is months outside contact with the rest of the human civilization, essentially a new frontier. Holden points out that this place has thousands unexplored planets and humans are fighting over the first planet they came across.

Yes exactly and exactly why the situation and some of the escalations felt strange to me. RCE’s interest is two-fold: first the big lithium mine and secondly to show everyone that they’re in control here. To me, neither of those are worth a single human life. How do they know that the next planet won’t have an even bigger deposit? They don’t. They haven’t even bothered to look. So yeah, especially when things escalated out of control, I felt that the characters needed to step back and really consider what they’re doing.

For the most part I enjoyed the book. However, I wanted to know more about this first alien world that we see in the series. Elvi was at least trying to explore it. I’d love to see more of the worlds beyond the Ring but at least based on the last chapter and the blurb of the next book, that’s not going to happen. Sad.

The characters were ok. However, Elvi is the only female POV and she develops a teenager’s crush on Holden. I didn’t care for that and later she has a very strange and quick change of heart. What? It almost felt like the writers were sick of it and just ended it. Basia is guilt ridden over leaving his son behind and blowing up the landing pad. His daughter wants to go back and enter university and Basia doesn’t want her to go. Havelock is left in charge of Edward Israel’s security. On the bad guys front, I think the main escalator was a sociopath who had found just the right place to do what he wants to. His minions were also very linear thinkers.

The theme of the book is clearly frontier and how people fight over it. If and when humanity actually goes to space, I really hope we don’t end up killing each other over the first scraps we find.