Babylon’s Ashes: Storyline and Impact on the Expanse Series

The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey consists of nine books, excluding the novellas and short stories. Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth instalment, a direct continuation of the disastrous events depicted in the previous book, Nemesis Games. Much of the Solar System and the series’ heroes are picking up the pieces of shattered Earth and trying to end the devastating armed conflict for good. It is beyond the realm of possibility to re-establish the destroyed world, but it doesn’t mean the struggles for survival should end as well.

Babylon’s Ashes focuses mainly on the battle against the Free Navy – a rebellious group of Belters responsible for the destruction of Earth and now in an aggressive campaign to bring about violence to other planets. They are pirates targeting countless colony ships en route to the Ring. Thousands of new worlds now accessible through the Ring gates mean nothing if no one cannot reach any of them. Powered with (stolen) advanced stealth weapons system and an unhealthy dose of radicalism, no one seems strong enough to put a stop to their lawlessness. Rocinante should be the only thing standing between the Free Navy and total chaos in the galaxy. While Captain Holden and his crew play a central role in the battle, they can use help from all willing political powers to have any chance of victory.
Babylon’s Ashes
Unlike the previous books which use a relatively small number of POVs to chronicle the story, Babylon’s Ashes offers a massive expansion by giving many more viewpoint characters including but not limited to:
  • James Holden: Captain of Rocinante, an idealist in an ocean of mischievous political turmoil. He fights alongside the combined fleet of Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planets Alliance to take down the Free Navy. A troubleshooter of the Solar System, Captain Holden is the man everyone turns to in times of doubt and puzzling circumstances.
  • Naomi: XO of the Rocinante with a lot of personal stakes in the battle against the Free Navy. His son and ex-husband are key people in the terrorist organization.
  • Alex: pilot of the Rocinante, who finds love as the war rages on. For the first time in years, he possibly discovers something to live for, other than flying.
  • Amos: mechanic on the Rocinante, who now has developed a strong bond with a new apprentice. Amos spends much time with Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao, fighting the Free Navy.
  • Michio Pa: a former Executive Officer of the Behemoth who is now part of the Free Navy. She finally sees the truth and breaks her bond with the organization before too late. In fact, she aligns herself with Captain Holden and the Consolidated Fleet.
  • Clarissa Mao: a former prisoner from Earth, who has since become an apprentice to Amos on the Rocinante. Despite the rough history with the crew, she finds joy and a new purpose in their company.
  • Avasarala: The UN Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration is now the leader of the destroyed Earth. She is fighting political battles on multiple fronts to stop Mars from supporting the Free Navy while trying to keep Earth’s population alive for as long as possible before the armed conflict shatters the planet in its entirety.
  • Bobbie Draper: a military advisor to Rocinante, put in charge of the mission to capture the spaceship responsible for the asteroid attacks on Earth.
  • Praxidike Meng: the Chief Botanist of a soy farm project on Ganymede. He is the Solar System’s best hope to end the food production crisis and ensure humanity’s survival as a species.
  • Filip Inaros: son of Naomi and Free Navy leader Marco Inaros. Filip is a radicalized member of the Free Navy and OPA.
An expansion of viewpoint characters carries the notion of fewer details in terms of personality exploration, at least when compared to the strictly Rocinante-focused Nemesis Games. That said, Babylon’s Ashes also comes with a glance at a closure, especially if you consider the book a first attempt in the series to tie up some loose ends from the previous titles.

Relationship and character growth are the main points in the first few hundred pages accompanied by political maneuvers related to the battle. The action itself picks up the pace afterwards. Even with raging war and battle sequences, interpersonal relationships remain a big part of the story.


The plot of Babylon’s Ashes revolves around the battle between the Free Navy and just about everyone else in the galaxy: not only Earth and Mars military forces but also the OPA. Marco Inaros, leader of the Free Navy, wants to establish a new order in which he is the ultimate decision maker. There might be some truth to the claim that Free Navy represents the historically oppressed, although such an idea soon crumbles when even members of the organization realize that Marco is not bound by honor to achieve the goal. He goes as far as denying water and food to people for political play.

Standing against the villain is the Consolidated Fleet of the inner and outer planets. Rocinante is one of them. Thanks to Marco’s questionable leadership methods, a rebellion emerges within the rebellion. During the heat of the war, the Coalition Fleet sent hundreds of spaceships in the largest offensive in history. However, it is not the massive armory that finally defeats Marco, but the ingenuity and attention to detail shown by Naomi.

We think the sheer number of viewpoint characters in Babylon’s Ashes delivers some intricate interpersonal relationships without spending too much time on individual backstories. It makes the book an enjoyable read filled with tales of love, hatred, loyalty, nobility, and betrayal set against a grandeur backdrop of galactic warfare. Well-known characters like Captain Holden and the Rocinante crew along with Avasarala and Draper feel familiar as they should be. Meanwhile, the addition of new characters offers a better look at the scale of the battle and every event that unfolds from it. In short, Babylon’s Ashes has kept a good balance between the spectacular vastness of the galaxy and the minute details of human existence.

Have you read Babylon’s Ashes? Which new viewpoint character you like best? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know

Best book to complement Babylon’s Ashes:

Strange Dogs is a novella in The Expanse series, released in July 2017. James S. A. Corey also wrote it. Events in the book take place between Babylon’s Ashes and the seventh book “Persepolis Rising.”

Has the book won any award?

Babylon’s Ashes was nominated for the 2017 Locus Award under the Best Sci-Fi Novel category. While it didn’t win, the book received the Dragon Award – Best Science Fiction Novel of the same year alongside Death’s End by Cixin Liu, Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli, The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, Rise by Brian Guthrie, and The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier.

Is it alright to jump into the series from Babylon’s Ashes?

While it is possible to have a jump start with the sixth book, which is quite a leap, there might be some things you find somewhat confusing, for example, the dynamics between Clarissa and Amos (and other crew members of the Rocinante) or how the Free Navy gained the stealth weapon technology in the first place. That said, the jump start is fine although the storyline would feel much smoother if you read Nemesis Games (5th book) first.

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