REVIEW: The Mercy of Gods by James S.A. Corey

When you read a James S.A. Corey novel, you expect sprawling imagination, characters that command your attention, seamlessly woven science and science fiction, and an absolutely barnstorming story. The Mercy of Gods is no different, bringing all of these storyteller skills to play, while also providing a markedly different experience from The Expanse.

Cover for The Mercy of Gods by James S. A. CoreyIn The Mercy of Gods, we follow a group of team members as they drive their careers as part of the bleeding edge of scientific research industry. They chase funding, protect their research from other teams, and politic their way around trying to find out who is trying to break their team up. Their work is all consuming, the only thing they really care about, until one of them accidentally discovers cloaked ships in the local space around their planet. All of a sudden, which faction is trying to break their team up and take over their research is the most insignificant problem they, or humanity, will ever face. The Carryx are here, and compared to humanity, they are gods.

As the Carryx take over the planet with brutal force and then steal humanity’s best and brightest, The Mercy of Gods is told through a range of human and alien perspectives. Tonner Freis is the scientific genius leader trying to hold his team and his research together. Else is his right hand person in the field, and partner personally. Daffyd is the most junior, whose aunt happens to be the head of the funding committee, and finds opportunity to step out from obscurity. Jessyn is running out of medication as the team are shipped to another galaxy entirely. Campar and the rest of the team and desperately trying to hold themselves together.

The Carryx, a multi-galaxy-dominant alien species who view every other species as a tool that needs sharpening to usefulness as so well done. They feel truly alien, properly removed from humanity, and so far further advanced compared to us that we aren’t even like children to them, we are a branch on a tree, waiting to be cut off and sanded into a tool. I love the snippets of POV from the human’s Carryx librarian (a character who shepherds them to make scientific breakthroughs), providing brilliant excerpts of the vast Carryx empire, their vast war against an enemy we aren’t given much of an insight into, and how the humans are viewed.

Finally, we get to one of my favourite characters, the swarm. The swarm is amongst the humans, taking control of their bodies and minds, one crushed person at a time. The swarm notes all the Carryx do, and waits for the opportunity to report back to its hive mind all it discovers about its species’ greatest foe in the hope of influencing the war against the Carryx.

With all the human and alien POVs, it can sometimes take a moment to orient yourself at the start of a chapter or section, but I think the authors did well to differentiate the characters for the most part. If you are a stern adherent to a single POV style of storytelling, this book is going to be a struggle for you.

The Mercy of Gods is story of resistance in the face of insurmountable odds. Of what people might do when the universe crushes them beneath its vicious heel. Of science, and mystery, wonder, terror, and perspective of horror. Of what it feels like to be an ant or an animal, and your life to be worth only what you can produce for a more powerful species. I’d say it’s a nice play on the story of what it’s like to be anything other than a human being, in our real life world.

From the perspective of what a grimdark fan will enjoy, you’re going to find a lot of brutality, and a lot of characters reaching down into their souls to find out who they are in the face of adversity. I really enjoyed that aspect. I also loved the the two alien POVs, but I’m always here for the grey moralities of humanity, and I don’t think you’ll find a lot of that in the main perspectives of this story. In some of the side characters you’ll find it in spades, however, and those are worth delving in to.

I think The Mercy of Gods is going to be a book that splits fans of the authors’ previous work, The Expanse. Some I think will love the retention of scientific detail and intellectual focus, of wonder and the unknown becoming horrifically known. Others will decry the loss of sprawling human factions and raging space battles, of political manouvring and that Game of Thrones in space feeling. I, for one, think that’s okay. I quite enjoyed Corey spreading their wings and really showing their creative range, and I can’t wait to pick up book two.

Read The Mercy of Gods by James S.A. Corey

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.

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