After ten years, nine books, eight short stories, two compiled graphic novels, one roleplaying game, one board game, and one show produced by two networks, The Expanse is a daunting world.
Created by James S.A. Corey—the pen name of authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham—The Expanse has attracted many new readers in recent years. And the biggest question new fans ask is, what is The Expanse book order?
There are several ways to approach the books, short stories, and novellas. One is to read them in the order they were released, as that’s what the publisher, Orbit, recommends.
But sometimes, short stories or novellas are written to explore events or characters in an in-depth way that the authors weren't able to in traditional novel format.
In this case, especially for readers new to the series, reading the books, novellas, and short stories in chronological order according to plot can be far easier, and offers a way to catch up to the fanbase emotionally and contextually.
If you're invested in taking that route and learning as much as possible about the characters, there are three prequels—and one comic series which is also considered a prequel—that can be read after the first novel in the sci-fi book series, Leviathan Wakes.
The third way to approach the series is through the completionist perspective, which means reading everything in chronological order, even if the stories aren’t deemed canon.
Honestly, there’s no wrong answer here. You can read the books first, and then explore the short stories, novellas, and comics later. You can read chronologically, and really walk through the timeline with the characters. You can read in the order they were published, or be truly chaotic and read everything in absolutely no order at all. The choice is yours.
Our list is in completionist chronological order, starting from the very beginning, so you can get to know the characters through an immersive story experience. Here’s your complete guide to exploring the Sol system.
This short story takes place about 150 years before Leviathan Wakes.
"Drive" focuses on the scientist Solomon Epstein and his invention, the Epstein Drive. This drive is what allows space travel to take place, which in turn allows space colonization to occur. As far as the fluidity of the story itself, "Drive" can be read at any point, and was woven into Season Two of the show.
It's currently difficult to find "Drive," but it will be re-released as an ebook on March 15th, 2022.
The Churn takes place just before Leviathan Wakes (the first novel in the series), and is set on Earth. More precisely, it's set in future-Baltimore, which is governed by crime lords.
If you’ve already watched the show, you’ll be familiar with a certain gruff mechanic, and will enjoy getting a glimpse of their pre-space life. If not, the backstory helps understand not just this character, but what motivates people to want to leave Earth in the first place.
The Butcher of Anderson Station
Fred Johnson is a pivotal figure in Leviathan Wakes. His reputation from previous military excursions plays a key role in the story, impacting not only how Jim Holden and the crew deal with him, but the decisions he makes as well.
The Butcher of Anderson Station goes into that history, expanding on the events that led to making him either a hero or a villain––depending on whom you ask.
Compiled graphic novel
The Expanse Origins
Originally released as four digital webcomics, the Origins graphic novel combines those issues. Each offers more backstory on four of the series' main characters: James Holden (Issue 1), Naomi Nagata (Issue 2), Alex Kamal (Issue 3), and Amos Burton (Issue 4).
Each issue focuses on the key events that drove the characters to become part of the fateful crew in Leviathan Wakes.
This is the first book of the series, and launches readers into the expansive solar system. Though mankind has managed to colonize much of it, interstellar travel is still beyond humanity’s grasp.
We meet Jim Holden, executive officer of the Rocinante, a ship hauling mined ice from Saturn to the asteroids known as ‘the Belt’. During a run, the Rocinante crew encounter a ship that puts the Roci in possession of a secret many people in the system would kill for.
On the Belt, Detective Miller is looking for a missing girl. His investigation takes him off the station and leads him directly to Holden. As they realize their paths are aligned for a reason, it becomes clear this girl may be the key to everything.
War threatens between planets while revolution brews in the Belt. Holden and Miller are the only ones who can navigate to the truth through secrets, corporate lies, and insidious politics.
The Last Flight of the Cassandra
Published inside of The Expanse Roleplaying Game rulebook, the short story "The Last Flight of the Cassandra" is lesser known than the other titles on this list.
It’s set during the first half of Leviathan Wakes, after the Canterbury is destroyed. It has characters that aren’t in the rest of the series, but it offers a glimpse at how difficult and varied life is in the Sol system.
Caliban’s War explores the politics on Earth and Mars in detail and depth.
Jim Holden and his crew are fighting space pirates, desperate to keep the peace for the outer planets. When they’re called to help look for a missing girl on Ganymede, they find themselves once again in the middle of political turmoil.
On Ganymede, a monstrous alien super-soldier attacks representatives from both Mars and Earth, sowing chaos in its wake. Holden and his crew discover that the protomolecule is continuing to wreak unexpected devastation. Once again, they have to try and navigate solving an alien mystery while convincing the leaders of two planets to not go to war.
Caliban’s War expands both the scope of the plot in the Sol system and includes four new character point of view chapters.
Gods of Risk
Focusing entirely on Mars, Gods of Risk takes readers into the terrorism plaguing Martian city Londres Nova.
While the story centers around a 16-year-old teenage chemist, it also gives us insight into a certain Martian Marine who is treated as a traitor for helping Earth in Caliban’s War. Additionally, though we hear a lot about the red planet throughout the other stories in the series, we don’t actually spend too much time on its surface. This novella changes that.
Turns out, the protomolecule created more than alien super-monsters. A massive gate appears just outside of Uranus’ orbit, leading to space far outside the Sol system. Holden and his crew find themselves in a large group of ships heading to examine the artifact.
But Holden has amassed countless enemies in his previous excursions, and they've united to destroy him completely.
The destruction on Ganymede has created a food shortage throughout the outer planets and the Belt, raising tensions across the Sol system. All the political and rebel leaders want to be the first to the gate to try and gain control over it. But the gate itself could be a trap, and its use could bring destruction the people of Sol can’t begin to imagine.
Holden is once again the main and most consistent character in the book, in addition to five new character perspectives. Miller also makes some fun appearances, for fans who missed him in Caliban’s War.
The Vital Abyss
The Vital Abyss takes place between Abbadon’s Gate and Cibola Burn, but also offers multiple flashbacks to events that occurred in Leviathan Wakes.
Though it’s told in first-person present through one character, this is a story about a group of prisoners living in the isolation of space. They share how they were brought there, giving us a glimpse into the crimes and perceived justice of the Belt.
The gates are open. They lead to multiple habitable planets, and the interstellar land grab is just beginning. Thousands of people begin settling in a new colony, even though a powerful corporation argues they have the official claim to the planet. Holden and his crew are in the middle of growing resentment between settlers and their new corporate overlords.
Guided by the insistent but ephemeral voice of Miller, the Rocinante crew try to learn more about the alien civilization that built the gates. When disease strikes the planet, Holden may be the only one who can find the cure.
Cibola Burn is the first book where two character viewpoints return from previous novels. Bobbie Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala are back for the prologue and epilogue, respectively. In addition to Holden, there are four new character narratives that add to the universe.
This comic miniseries is really more of an expansion of the show, rather than the canon of the books; but to maintain the integrity of our completionist summary, we’re including it.
The four-comic series follows Chrisjen Avasarala and Martian Marine Bobbie Draper as they investigate a secret weapons ring. The first issue picks up where the Season Four finale of the show left off, and covers the events between then and the first episode of Season Five.
The interstellar land rush continues, and as more colonists leave, the structures of the Sol system crack. Ships disappear in the Rings, private armies assemble, terrorism spreads through the inner planets, the sole sample of the protomolecule is stolen, and the future of the Belt is threatened.
The crew of the Rocinante is split up for most of the book, though because we get the return viewpoints of Alex, Naomi, and Amos, we don’t miss out on any of their escapades. As they all face their own version of chaos, the story offers an interesting perspective on how power shifts during times of widespread instability.
Nemesis Games is also the first book where we don’t have the threat, presence, or question of the protomolecule as the main antagonist, but instead get to see how the seeds the alien presence planted are starting to bloom and cause destruction.
With the political structure of the Sol system in chaos, the rebellion that has stirred in the Belt for generations finally explodes into power.
The Free Navy, a group of violent Belters, are tackling Earth through their piratical attacks on black-market ships. The colony ships attempting to head to new planets are largely undefended, and the vast enormity of space makes it impossible to guard them on any plausible scale.
Holden and his crew are asked to make a desperate run to a station in the middle of the gates, but the power struggle proves more explosive than they anticipated.
With 19 character perspectives, Babylon’s Ashes is the most in-depth and varied book of the series. Many of these viewpoints are from previous books. How these old characters come back into play in new and interesting ways adds to the complexity and intrigue that makes the series such a captivating experience.
Set on Laconia, one of the newly inhabited planets, Strange Dogs might not, on the surface, feel connected to the series.
But considering the plot is about a pack of dogs that can bring both people and animals back from the dead, as well as fix broken objects, this novella practically screams protomolecule.
30 years has passed since the events in Babylon’s Ashes. There’s a new Earth-Mars Coalition, but the Belt has taken over as the superpower of the Sol system. However, the system now expands across a thousand suns, and many of the new colonies are struggling.
On the lost colony of Laconia, an enemy with a new vision for humanity emerges. Mankind, distracted by their own wars, doesn’t see that forces beyond human nature have already been unleashed.
Of all the books in the series, this is the one where the reader truly sees how unmatched humanity is to alien technology. The characters have been so embroiled in power struggles and war that the mystery of the protomolecule has been largely forgotten. Now we learn that humanity's own arrogance may be their demise.
One of the most successful colonies is the planet Auberon, but a new set of conquerors is on their way to take it over.
In Auberon, readers see the dynamics of power extending into the outer reaches of space, and are reacquainted with an old friend who fled Earth in the chaos of Babylon’s Ashes.
We’ve made it to the penultimate novel in this expansive world.
1,300 gates have allowed the new human empire to expand across the galaxy. But as colonizers continue to build in alien ruins, they start unleashing the mysteries and threats that ruined these ancient civilizations in the first place.
The crew of the Rocinante are scattered, and Holden is a prisoner in the palace of the new authoritarian regime. As some fight to end the regime, others search for information on the genocide that occurred before humanity ever crossed the gates.
This is the first book where Holden is only seen as a character viewpoint in the prologue, giving the novel a different feel than the rest. The other characters are all returning faces, with the exception of one new perspective.
The final book in the series releases November 16th, 2021, so the good news is there’s time to get caught up.
With characters’ lives hanging in the balance, mysteries that still need to be solved, and questions demanding answers, Leviathan Falls promises to be an intense, action-packed thrill ride into the outer reaches of the galaxy.