BRIEF SUMMARY: The spotlight turns on Earth, specifically Baltimore, as a crime syndicate comes under pressure from a private security crackdown.
PROS: Gives some solid back story to the first three Expanse novels; gritty portrayal of the criminal element alive and well in the future of Planet Earth; an (electronic) page-turner; satisfying conclusion; contains preview story material from the upcoming novel Cibola Burn.
CONS: Complaints are already out regarding the price and how much story is given at that price point; the full impact of the story is completely ruined if you read the story’s description on sites like Amazon.
BOTTOM LINE: Suckers for…or fans of…the Expanse series are going to want to read this. Each work of short fiction set in this universe has proven to be worthwhile reading, if only because they give readers a glimpse back to see how various aspects of these stories began. The story is tight, suspenseful and whets the appetite nicely for the June release of Cibola Burn.
This review may prove to be quite brief, the reason being that The Churn is at its best when the reader is left to discover events as they are revealed in the story. That experience is easily ruined by the book description copy which gives away a major portion of the novella’s end in the advertising copy. I am most grateful I pre-ordered my copy long ago without glancing too closely on Amazon. If the publisher was the one who provided this blurb to sellers, it is a real shame.
This novella moves the focus away from solar system travel of the novels and places it Earthside, on the city of Baltimore. In doing so it provides an interesting, if sad, view of the state of affairs on Earth. It fits well within the confines of the story to paint a bleak future as part of the kick-in-the-butt humanity needed to reach out into the solar system.
The Churn focuses on a handful of characters in a criminal organization, who come under fire when the Star Helix security detail targets Baltimore for clean up. The writing team of James S.A. Corey are known for character-focused fiction with multiple viewpoints, which is how they approach this novella. Readers are introduced to the organization head, Burton, his former lover, Lydia, one of his henchmen, Erich, and a newcomer to the group named Timmy. It is of particular interest that the story is chock full of characters who are hard to root for, and yet the writers make you do just that, playing with your loyalties throughout the story. In the end you find yourself hoping for the best for characters whose behavior is nothing if not reprehensible.
Life in a criminal organization is grim, and no punches are pulled in painting the kind of environment in which these characters exist. This is dark, but not dark to the point of being a depressing read. The suspense picks up early, leaving the reader to guess at the direction the story will take while also thinking about the greater Expanse universe and how this story might fit in. Rest assured, it does fit in rather nicely.
I think it best to wrap this up before spoilers become impossible to avoid. My personal experience is that I received a great reading experience in exchange for the money I spent. It was brief, to be sure, but I did not feel cheated. I was able to get lost in the story to the degree that the end surprised me in the way that I expect the writers set out to accomplish. If you are a fan of the series, it is well worth taking the time to read this, as well as the other works of short fiction set in the Expanse universe.