Nemesis Games (The Expanse #5) by James S.A. Corey
Posted December 20, 2016on:
published in 2015
where I got it: purchased new
When Leviathan Wakes first came out, I just about forced my husband to read it. We were both starved for space adventure/space opera, and Holden and his crew felt a lot like our other favorite space adventure crew, that of Serenity. Hubs and I took turns devouring the books. I stalled out at book four, so much so that I wasn’t interested in continuing with the series. But my better half powered through to Nemesis Games, and promised that a) I would love it b) it was completely different than the previous books in the series, and c) It went some dark, dark places. He was right on all counts.
I’ve always referred to James Holden and his crew as “James Holden and his crew” because Jim was always the star of every scene he was in. Amos and Alex and Naomi seemed to instinctively shrink back when Jim opened his mouth. It’s ok, he’s the protagonist, right? It’s a little like a Matthew McConaughey movie – did you even notice anyone else in that movie as soon as he shows up? No, you did not. When Naomi, Alex, and Amos are with Jim, they are, as my better half so accurately put it, “Jim’s appendages”. It’s an apt description. Ok, so who are these folks when Jim isn’t in the room getting all the attention?
It’s a great question, and it’s exactly half the plot of Nemesis Games. The other half of the plot is the space opera politics, action, and wheels within wheels this series has delivered from page one. Warning: minor spoilers ahead!
Back from Ilus, and uninterested in ever leaving the solar system again, Holden and crew have enough funds to get their beaten up ship fixed up and chill out for a while. Amos gets a call that a friend has died, so he rushes to Earth to pay his respects. Alex heads to Mars to look up his ex-wife and see if maybe they can’t patch things up. An Naomi gets a call afterwards which she refuses to tell Jim where she’s going and for weeks doesn’t answer his calls.
This is where things get interesting. You, as the reader, think Jim Holden is a good guy, right? You, as the reader, assume Naomi, Alex, and Amos, by dint of association, are good guys, right? What do you think their childhood was like? What do you think their young adulthood was like? Holden, raised in a huge family, and given all the opportunities a child of Earth is given, assumes his friend’s lives were similar to his. He assumes this because he is privileged. He doesn’t want to know how different he really is from his best friends.
Alex and Amos have their own adventures, and wow, poor Amos, that dude is like a magnet for Extinction Level Events. But sorry peeps, I really want to use my words to talk about Naomi. A Belter, she was born and raised in low to zero gravity. Her body can’t handle any amount of G’s for long. It’s a source of tension between her and Jim, how she won’t visit his parents with him because Earth gravity is torture on her bones and joints. Naomi and her kind have evolved to live in the vacuum. They can not survive planetside. All those thousands of planets just past the gate, ripe for exploring and colonization? All the Belters see is a giant sign that reads “Belters need not apply, because you’ll die here and btw everyone else is totally okay with that”. Aren’t humans nice to each other?
Remember I said I’d be giving you some spoilers? Here they come. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And that mysterious call Naomi got that had her packing her bags in the middle of the night? It was about her son.
Bet you didn’t know she had a son. Holden didn’t either. Because he never bothered to ask. Naomi’s always been a world class engineer, and what that means for spaceflight is that she hasn’t met a math problem she couldn’t solve. She can figure out a way to move any size mass to any spot in any solar system at any speed. Even a crazy speed, even a lethal speed. She’ll give you the math that gets you there in one piece.
Once she gave some math to a man she thought she loved. He used that math to kill a bunch of people, and then he took their son from her. Would those people still be alive if not for Naomi’s math? Maybe, maybe not. Naomi’s son has been raised with the knowledge that Mom’s math can kill as many people as you want.
I feel a little guilty that it was what Naomi went through in this book that absolutely destroyed me. Because there is something much bigger, and so much more horrible that happens, something that is so unthinkable I am still in complete denial that it happened. Or maybe it’s just that there isn’t room in my brain for Naomi’s pain and this other big horrible unthinkable thing. Or maybe it’s because I know I can eventually process Naomi’s emotions. This other think? Unprocessable. Seriously Corey, how the fuck are you going deal with this in future books? Also, is Holden capable of letting anyone else have the spotlight when he’s in the room? I know he doesn’t do it on purpose, but I’m curious to see how the deeper characterization and backstories of Naomi, Amos, and Alex will play out in future installments.
So yeah, read this book. But don’t read it as a stand alone. This series is a space opera, and a bit of a soap opera, so you’re gonna have to read everything that came before this one, even the lackluster book four. It’s worth it, I promise.