3 Ways to Read The Expanse Books in Order

It can be hard to find a popular SFF series longer than a trilogy that is already complete. Game of Thrones fans know this plight all too well. But not only are The Expanse books in order a complete series, there are also nine full-length novels and many pieces of short fiction to enjoy from this world.

About The Expanse

The first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, introduces the setting and characters of The Expanse. It is in these pages that readers first meet James Holden and the rest of the crew aboard the Rocinante. In this world humanity has colonized its own solar system, but what lies beyond its borders in the stars is still out of reach.

The author of these books, James S.A. Corey, is actually a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham.

The epic setting of this space opera first came to Franck as the idea of a video game project and when that failed, he adapted it into a role-playing game. That is where he met Abraham and also George R.R. Martin because they were players in his game.

Franck would then go on to become Martin’s personal assistant for several years, but forged his own path when writing The Expanse series in partnership with Abraham. It was allegedly Abraham who saw all the material in the RPG and thought it would work great as a book. He proposed to Franck that they should write a book together, but neither expected the series to take on the breadth or scope that it did.

The series is sprawling, encompassing nuanced characters, ethical dilemmas, and tense race relations. It won the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2020.

Much has changed since the initial idea for a book series was conceptualized, but the last line and last scene of Leviathan Falls has remained the same since 2012. Prior to the publication of the last book, the series sold four million copies in North America and had been translated into 21 languages.

#1 – The Nine Expanse Books in Publication Order

The first way to read The Expanse books in order is the most straight-forward way. That is by reading the books in order of publication first, and then moving onto the short fiction. This is the best reading order for readers who may not typically enjoy short fiction.

With this reading order you can skip over the short stories and novellas in perpetuity if you wish, but if you are craving more from this world, you can explore the short fiction after the conclusion of the last book. This might also help your reading experience of the short fiction because you will already have an understanding and fondness of this world.

  1. Leviathan Wakes (2011)
  2. Caliban’s War (2012)
  3. Abaddon’s Gate (2013)
  4. Cibola Burn (2014)
  5. Nemesis Games (2015)
  6. Babylon’s Ashes (2016)
  7. Persepolis Rising (2017)
  8. Tiamat’s Wrath (2019)
  9. Leviathan Falls (2021)

The Expanse Short Fiction in Publication Order

An important note on the list below is that The Last Flight of the Cassandra was part of The Expanse Roleplaying Game. As well, Memory’s Legion, which has an asterisk next to it, collects all of the short fiction set within this world. Memory’s Legion, however, does not include The Last Flight of the Cassandra.

  1. The Butcher of Anderson Station (2011)
  2. Gods of Risk (2012)
  3. Drive (2012)
  4. The Churn (2014)
  5. The Vital Abyss (2015)
  6. Strange Dogs (2017)
  7. The Last Flight of the Cassandra (2019)
  8. Auberon (2019)
  9. The Sins of Our Fathers (2022)
  10. Memory’s Legion (2022) *

#2 – All the Expanse Books in Publication Order

The second way to read The Expanse books in order is a twist on publication order which includes both novels and short fiction together. This is the order which is recommended by the authors.

This reading order will match the way most fans experienced the series for the first time, and will also match the way the authors intended for the world to be revealed. It will feature some jumps in chronology, but it will not have any spoilers.

This list does not include Memory’s Legion in favor of listing each short story instead.

  1. Leviathan Wakes
  2. The Butcher of Anderson Station
  3. Caliban’s War
  4. Gods of Risk
  5. Drive
  6. Abaddon’s Gate
  7. The Churn
  8. Cibola Burn
  9. Nemesis Games
  10. The Vital Abyss
  11. Babylon’s Ashes
  12. Strange Dogs
  13. Persepolis Rising
  14. Tiamat’s Wrath
  15. The Last Flight of the Cassandra
  16. Auberon
  17. Leviathan Falls
  18. The Sins of Our Fathers

#3 – The Expanse Books in Chronological Order

Finally, the third way you can read The Expanse books in order is by following the chronological timeline. However, this is not the recommended way to read the series for the first time.

That is because with this reading order you may come across spoilers for part of the mystery and intrigue of the series. As well, Leviathan Wakes is the best introduction to this world and its characters, and where your reading journey should begin. But if you read the series in chronological order first, you will begin with a short story which takes place 150 years before Leviathan Wakes.

However, this reading order is a great way to experience the series in a new way as part of a reread. Or, if you’re feeling muddled trying to make sense of the chronology, this list will help you understand where each story slots into the timeline.

This list also does not include Memory’s Legion in favor of listing each short story instead.

  1. Drive
  2. The Churn
  3. The Butcher of Anderson Station
  4. Leviathan Wakes
  5. The Last Flight of the Cassandra
  6. Caliban’s War
  7. Gods of Risk
  8. Abaddon’s Gate
  9. Cibola Burn
  10. Nemesis Games
  11. The Vital Abyss
  12. Babylon’s Ashes
  13. Strange Dogs
  14. Persepolis Rising
  15. Auberon
  16. Tiamat’s Wrath
  17. Leviathan Falls
  18. The Sins of Our Fathers

The Expanse Beyond the Books

With the success of the books came an adaptation. The television show premiered in 2015 on SyFy before it was cancelled after the third season. Thankfully, the series was picked up by Amazon Prime for three more seasons before the sixth and final season aired in 2022.

It stars Steven Strait as James Holden, Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata, Wes Chatham as Amos Burton, and Shohreh Aghahloo as Chrisjen Avasarala. Both Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham were executive producers for the TV adaptation.

But even with the publication of the final book in 2021 and the last season of the show airing in 2022, that is not quite the end for The Expanse.

That’s because a Kickstarter campaign began following the end of the adaptation. Its goal was to raise $25,000 to create a graphic novel that would be a sequel to the show and take place before the seventh book.

The Expanse: Dragon Tooth by Boom! Studios absolutely smashed that target with more than $1.4 million pledged. The campaign raised more than $340,000 in its first day alone, making it the biggest Kickstarter launch ever from the studio.

The graphic novels, twelve in total, will ship in 2024.

A Summary of The Expanse Books in Order

Below you will find the summaries of the nine full-length Expanse books in order. This is the recommended reading order for the books and these summaries will be a great refresher on the series. However, if you have not read these books before, there will be minor spoilers as the series progresses.

Leviathan Wakes Expanse Books in Order

1. Leviathan Wakes

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Asteroid Belt. Then when he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they also stumble upon a secret they never wanted to know. It is a secret that someone is willing to kill for.

Unless Jim can find out who left the ship and why, there will be war. Meanwhile, Detective Miller is looking for a girl and his investigation leads him to Holden and the Scopuli. This girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations as the odds are stacked against them. The rules are different out in the Belt, where one small ship can change everything.

Caliban’s War James S. A. Corey

2. Caliban’s War

A Martian marine on Ganymede watches as her whole platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous super-soldier. Meanwhile on Earth, a high-level politician is struggling to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. Finally on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet and is causing mysterious changes that threaten to spread throughout the solar system.

James Holden and the rest of the Rocinante crew have been maintaining the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. They agree to help a scientist search Ganymede for a missing child, but the future of humanity depends on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun.

Abaddon’s Gate The Expanse

3. Abaddon’s Gate

Humanity has been limited by the edge of its own solar system for generations. Until now. That’s because an alien artefact operating under the clouds of Venus has built a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus. It is a gate that leads into the starless dark.

The crew of the Rocinante are part of the flotilla going out to examine the artefact. But a complex plot is unfolding behind the scenes and the destruction of Holden is at its core. Everyone is trying to determine whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, but the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

Cibola Burn James S. A. Corey

4. Cibola Burn

On the other side of the gates there are thousands of habitable planets, which means the land rush has begun. It is a poorly controlled flood of people, but among them is the Rocinante. They are haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But there are also growing tensions between the settlers and the company which holds the official claim to the planet that Holden and his crew must navigate. Then, as both sides fight to defend what is theirs, a terrible disease strikes and only Holden can find the cure.

Nemesis Games Expanse Books in Order

5. Nemesis Games

The power structures of the old solar system are buckling as wave after wave of colonists leave for new worlds. Ships are disappearing while private armies are secretly being formed. The last remaining protomolecule sample is stolen while terrorist attacks are bringing the inner planets to their knees.

The sins of the past are returning to exact a horrible price. And amidst all that, Holden and the rest of the Rocinante crew are struggling to survive and get back to the only home they have.

Babylon’s Ashes The Expanse

6. Babylon’s Ashes

Earth has been crippled by the Free Navy, a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships, and they have begun a campaign of violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the new worlds are easy prey, and no single navy remains that is strong enough to protect them.

The Rocinante know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. So, they’ve been called on for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network. But as the chaos grows, so does an alien mystery.

Persepolis Rising James S. A. Corey

7. Persepolis Rising

The new colony worlds are struggling to find their way amidst this period of humanity’s expansion. Each planet is balancing between collapse and wonder, which means the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands full trying to maintain the fragile peace.

The inner planets and the Belt have formed a tentative alliance in the wake of war and prejudice. But on the lost colony of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for humanity and the power to enforce it. The forces unleased will have their own price that will change the shape of humanity forever.

Tiamat’s Wrath The Expanse

8. Tiamat’s Wrath

Humanity is building its interstellar empire after 1,300 gates opened to solar systems around the galaxy, but the mysteries and threats are growing deeper. Elvi Okoye has begun a search to uncover the nature of a genocide that took place before humans existed. She is also searching for weapons to fight a war against the near-unimaginable, but the price of that knowledge will be high.

Meanwhile, Teresa Duarte is preparing to take on the burden of her father’s god-like ambition. There are many dangers in the palace, including sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden, but Teresa has secrets even her father cannot guess.

Leviathan Falls Expanse Books in Order

9. Leviathan Falls

The Laconian Empire has fallen and the Duarte rule has been broken. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake and the war against the universe has begun again.

Elvi Okoye is desperately searching to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them. Colonel Aliana Tanaka is hunting for Duarte’s missing daughter, along with the emperor himself. Finally, aboard the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew are struggling to build a future humanity out of the shards and ruins that remain.

One last chance to unite humanity is discovered, but the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

Final thoughts

The Expanse books in order have become one of the most highly recommended science fiction series to read. If you enjoy space operas then you will appreciate these books, but equally this is a great entry point into the genre if you enjoy strong character development and loveable characters.

More Science Fiction Resources

One thought on “3 Ways to Read The Expanse Books in Order

  1. This is so helpful, thank you! I found this the most informative summary with options on how to explore the book series.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *