The Expanse is a very successful series of science fiction books credited to the author James S.A Corey. This is a pen name for books written by the duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
Together, they have written the nine main books of The Expanse series as well as nine novellas and a short story collection set in the same universe.
The first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel when it was released. The entire series has been nominated for Best Series at the awards on two occasions and won in 2020.
The books achieved another level of success when the series was adapted for TV by the Syfy Network and later Amazon Prime Video. In total 62 episodes spread over six seasons of the show were made before it ended in December 2021.
About The Expanse
The Expanse features a large cast of characters over the course of the nine books but largely focuses on Captain James Holden and his crew. It is set in a distant future where humanity has spread across the stars and colonized most of the solar system.
However, humanity’s spread is kept in check by the Martian Congressional Republic, another superpower in the system. A third group lives alongside the humans and Martians. Known as Belters, they are the people of the Asteroid Belt.
Throughout the course of the series, The Expanse deals with many themes such as authoritarianism, colonization, aging, science, and discovery.
Humanity continues to spread when some new and uninhabited worlds are discovered and there is a rush to colonize them and claim their land and resources. There are many wars between different races as they struggle for power.
The series takes place over several decades so the reader is able to see the personal development of each character and how the aging process affects them.
The Expanse Books In Order
Now let’s look at each book in order.
The first book in The Expanse series follows Captain Jim Holden who stumbles across the wreckage of a derelict ship, the Scopuli. As Holden and his crew check the abandoned ship they are attacked by a group they believe to be of Martian origin.
At the same time, Detective Miller is searching for a missing girl and his investigation leads to the Scopuli.
- Strong worldbuilding
- Interesting and varied characters
- Mixes genres effectively
- Relies a little too much on tropes
The solar system is on the brink of an interplanetary war that threatens the lives of everyone that lives within its borders. Another threat is also emerging on Venus, where an alien protomolecule threatens to spread throughout the universe.
Captain James Holden and his crew are trying to keep the peace and help people the best they can. Soon, Holden is drawn into a bigger story and he and his crew might be the only things standing between the solar system and an impending alien invasion.
- Raises the stakes from the first book well
- Page-turning and thrilling structure
- Quick pace
- Not all of the POV characters are interesting or likable
An alien artifact that began its work on Venus is spreading throughout the solar system. Appearing in the endless space are mysterious gates that lead to unknown areas of space.
A number of scientists and military personnel are on the site, trying to examine the gates and determine what is happening. One of these is James Holden but the real threat to Holden doesn’t come from the gate, instead, it is coming from closer to home.
- Starts slow but the pace greatly picks up
- More of a character-driven story than the previous books
- Introduces some new themes
- Too many characters
With the gates now open and allowing for travel to thousands of new planets, colonization of the new worlds begins. This rush isn’t a peaceful process, however.
James Holden is in the middle of the colonization rush but unlike many others, he can see that things are not going well. After all, there were civilizations in these worlds before, but what happened to them?
- Good character interactions
- Smaller scope but is still thrilling
- Full of suspense
- Some of the story devices are hard to believe
With so many rushing to begin new lives on the new worlds, it leaves the old solar system in a dangerous place. Many of the power structures that kept it together have relocated and have left a power vacuum.
Many threats start to rise that would have never happened only a few years ago. In the middle of all of this upheaval is James Holden as he and his crew try to get back home.
- More insight into the main characters than before
- Has several stories running at once and balances them well
- Interesting villain
- More of a placeholder to set up future stories
A violent terrorist group called The Free Navy has established itself on Earth and crippled the planet. The Free Navy has free reign to prey on ships and the planets nearby.
Even approaching the gates to the new world has become treacherous and it’s up to James Holden and his crew to venture into the danger.
- Good backstory for several characters introduced
- Slower pacing but a thrilling finale
- Introduces new characters without doing the older characters a disservice
- Not as focused on the main story arc as other books
Set 30 years after the last book, things are finally more peaceful across both the new worlds and the solar system. Tentative alliances have been formed and the new planets are constantly swinging between innovation and collapse.
James Holden and his crew are deployed to one of the new systems to speak with the inhabitants after they’ve frequently broken regulations. However, Holden doesn’t agree with the job he’s been given and tries to find a compromise.
- New and interesting villains
- Good development in the characters due to the time skip
- Brings in interesting political themes
- Lacking new ideas
Humanity has firmly established itself in the new worlds that exist through the gates. However, there are parts of the universe that humans have never known and Elvi Okoye begins to discover the details of a large-scale genocide that predated humans.
The Emperor’s daughter Teresa is destined to follow in her father’s footsteps but she has her own ideas on how to run an Empire. Holden’s scattered crew tries to fight back against this authoritarian Empire.
- Change in the protagonist allows other characters to shine
- Many relatable themes
- Many interesting and important developments
- Trope-laden story
In the final book of the series, the Empire has fallen and the worlds are free. However, the universe faces another threat. Elvi Okoye continues to research the unknown threat that wiped out the creators of the gates.
James Holden and his crew try to find a way forward for humanity after all of the turmoil and war of the last few decades.
- Ties up most loose ends in the series
- Gives characters satisfying endings
- The epilogue gives a definitive end
- A quiet end to an epic series
In this article, I introduced the nine main books in The Expanse series. The series starts with Leviathan Falls and ends with Leviathan Wakes, making the series complete and finished.
The series is soft-science fiction that brings in many themes that are important in modern life. It deals with colonization and wars between races, as well as the importance of science and discovery.
Through the use of a 30-year time skip between book 6 and book 7, the series is able to show both the advancement of humanity and the problems it brings to the universe.
The writers are also able to show their main characters as they age and how this affects their actions in the story.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about The Expanse.
Do You Need To Read The Books In Order?
It is recommended that the books in The Expanse series are read in the published order. The story they tell does progress from book to book so if you read them out of order you miss aspects of the story and become spoiled to later events.
Are There Other Related Books?
In addition to the nine books in the main series, there are several short stories and novellas as well. Many of these are set before the first book in the main series but several fit in-between different books.