the Little Red Reviewer

Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey

Posted on: August 16, 2014

cibola burnCibola Burn, #4 of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

published  June 2014

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)












The first three books in the Expanse series were a complete yet open ended space opera, with a very definite change in where the story could have gone at the end of book 3.  Now, in book 4, we’re exploring story arc those changes.  The ring that opened at the edge of our solar system allows our ships to travel through any one of a thousand gates. On the other side of each gate is an empty solar system, all with at least one habitable planet. But all the planets are empty, there’s no one to be found. Who built the gate system, and where did everyone go?


The people on the Barbapiccola don’t care about where everyone went. They are running out of oxygen and water, and no port will accept a ship of refugees. What choice have they, but to go through the ring and hope for the best? If their ship survives the journey, there will at least be a planet with breathable air and gravity on the other side.


Fast forward 18 months, and the “refugees” are now “colonists”, making a life for themselves on Ilus.  Back home, the charter for mining rights to the planet has been awarded to Royal Charter Energy, who sent a provisional government and security to the planet.  The opening scene of Cibola Burn is a small group of terrified and angry colonists blowing up the landing pad on the planet and inadvertently blowing up the provisional government’s landing shuttle. Not the best way to make a first impression, to say the least.

It’s a cluster of a mess, and the powers that be back home need to buy some time. They send James Holden out to Ilus to attempt to make peace between the two small sides fighting over a very large planet. And if he can’t barter some peace, maybe he can at least stop everyone from killing each other. Holden still talks to Miller, and they’ve started to figure each other out, a little. The more hours Holden spends on the surface of Ilus, the more Miller begs him to investigate strange things that have been locally triggered recently.


The first three books in the trilogy were about alien technology doing alien things in our solar system, scaring the shit out of humanity,  and eventually building us a way out of our solar system, and all this against the backdrop of political power struggles between the Earthers, Martians and Belters. It was fun, complicated, satisfying, often very violent, sometimes creepy and sometimes outright funny. It was a big picture story, and it was awesome. Cibola Burn has a narrower focus, and takes the story arc into a new direction, pushing the characters (and the readers) to ask new questions.


I so very much wanted to love this book. And there were parts of it I did love, including the banter between James and Amos and Naomi and Alex, the alien tech (bio-bits? sleeping things? I’m not sure) that is discovered on the planet.  But the action never felt as epic or life changing as what I witnessed in previous installments. I never felt like what was happening on Ilus mattered to anyone except the people on Ilus. In Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate, the events all felt like they had far reaching consequences. Whatever happened was going to affect all of humanity. And I just didn’t get that feeling while reading Cibola Burn.  It didn’t help that I wasn’t overly impressed with the new POV characters that are introduced. The RCE security chief, Murtry, was especially annoying because his mustache twirling evil bad-guy attitude doesn’t much match the atmosphere or mindsets of the other characters, and there’s another new character who develops a little crush on Holden and she’s just annoying.


I don’t want you to think this was a bad book, because for the most part, I enjoy reading it. I loved getting to spend more time with Holden and Amos, and especially to watch how Holden was going to handle everything about him. His minor obsession with knowing the Roci’s coffee machine works, and his crew’s banter has that Serenity-esque feeling, and everyone loves that, right?  I enjoyed reading about the biology of this new planet (in fact, I wish there had been more of that), and how creatures might have legs and a head and two eyes, but it’s dangerous for us to think of them as lizards or bugs, because they aren’t. The last third of the book is non stop “what else can go wrong?” with everything going wrong, including deadly rescues, explosions I can’t go into more detail about, weird stuff underground, and Miller getting some much needed attention.  All that fantastic stuff that happened in that last third? That’s all the spoilery bits, so I can’t tell you about it.


Had this been the first book in a series, I wouldn’t be so hard on it.  The gentlemen behind the name James S.A. Corey (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) so spoiled me rotten with Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate, that now I know what they are capable of. Anything less was going to be a disappointment.
My hopes are that Cibola Burn serves a similar purpose as the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, in that it’s set up for something much, much larger.  After all, thanks the gate, we have hundreds of empty planets to explore. I can’t think of something much larger than that. And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to know where everyone who lived on those planets else went.


Random useless bit #1:  The ship that brings the RCE scientists and employees to Ilus is called the Edward Israel.  The ill-fated polar explorer Edward Israel was born in Kalamazoo Michigan (where I live), and he’s buried in the Jewish Cemetery here.


Random useless bit #2: Inside of the dust jacket. White print on florescent orange background? Really? My eyeballs be saying ouch.



7 Responses to "Cibola Burn (The Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey"

Nice review. Though I actually enjoyed this one more than book 3. I really liked the survival against the elements and western feeling to it.

My review:


I loved your references to “the mall” in your review! Very apt for the types of books we like. Completely agree that this one is more of a western, and it’s weird, I enjoy western style TV shows/movies, but books with a western/frontier feel, i dunno, i have a tough time with them.


I agree. Western is typically not something I flock towards. It worked here though. There’ve been very few Western feel books/movies I’ve really enjoyed.


I haven’t read this series but I do keep reading positive reviews, so now I’m intrigued, even though you didn’t like this as much as the first books. The idea is fascinating and for that reason I’m putting it on the TBR pile:-)


I decided not to read the bulk of the review in order not to get any clues about the previous books. I know you’re very good about spoilers, but still.


I’m losing faith in our diminishing shared tastes! (Though I guess this lovely friendship started with a big disagreement, so maybe this is par for the course.)
I agree that it’s a tighter focus when much more interesting things are going on, but I kind of took it as “look how easy it is for people to totally miss the big picture.”


I really liked the first three books in this series and had been impressed by the authors’ ability to integrate new and interesting POVs into the backdrop of the other “main” characters. I’ve always been a little bummed when my favorites haven’t shown up in the next book!


join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,067 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on



FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
%d bloggers like this: