Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

Over Christmas of 2015, I went home to visit my parents like I usually do. As part of that visit, I typically raid their DVR (since I refuse to pay for cable channels I don't want) to catch up on shows I'm interested in. My dad, who shares my tastes, mentioned SyFy's new show The Expanse was good, so I enjoyed two episodes.

Then I promptly forgot to watch the rest and went home. 

Flash forward, and I'm reading of best of list of SF/F books and I notice a book from a series called The Expanse. Yep, it completely flew over my head that the show was based on a novel. So I promptly purchase the first book, Leviathan Wakes, and began reading.

Set in the not-too-distant future, in which humanity has colonized Mars, some moons and the asteroid belt, Leviathan Wakes follows Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante as they investigate the destruction of their original ship and its crew by a mystery vessel. Meanwhile, washed up Belter cop Joe Miller searches for clues surrounding the disappearance of a young woman, falling in love with her as he does. They all stumble upon the same conspiracy: an alien proto-molecule that grows. And somebody is encouraging it. 

One of the reasons this makes for a great book (and also great television) is the depth of the worldbuilding. It's close enough to our current time to feel real, but alien enough to achieve that aura of the fantastic. James S.A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) extrapolates from current science, so everything seems plausible, from Belter physiological differences caused by exposure to space to the political stand-off between Earth and Mars. 

And its characters are frustratingly human. I wanted to strangle Holden's self-righteous neck every time he broadcast another transmission to the solar system without considering the consequences - but I know people who would do the same. Miller's obsession with Julie vacillates between creepy and endearing - yet ultimately proves a saving grace. The characters work as well as they do precisely because they're flawed yet still balance each other. Despite having only two POVs, it's a well-constructed ensemble cast.

I'll confess that I struggled a little with the plot at the beginning. Miller's storyline, in particular, moves slow to start and bears the brunt of the early worldbuilding, only picking up once he's off Ceres. Holden's POV, meanwhile, is a chaotic bender of ship destruction (understandably a bit more exciting) that never really lets up. Everything ratchets into high gear about midway through, when Holden and Miller stick their noses into what's happening on Eros. That escape sequence is burned into my mind for its disturbing detail.

The ending wasn't what I expected either, and I'm usually a good guesser. For the first book in a series, it stops in a good place - an immediate conflict resolved, but with many loose ends remaining. It leaves you hungry for more of the story.

Despite all that, it wasn't quite a five-star book for me. Parts of it were stunning, but I didn't get that feeling through the whole thing like I wanted. But I'm hopeful that I'll get that wow factor in one of the sequels - Caliban's War is sitting in my to-read pile.

Maybe I should actually go catch up on the show now.

Grade: 4/5

Memorable Quote:

Holden knew the other two were waiting for him. Waiting to hear how he was going to save them. They looked at him expectantly. He tried to appear calm and thoughtful. Inside, he panicked. He had no idea where to go. No idea what to do. Ever since they’d found the Scopuli, everywhere that should have been safe had turned into a death trap. The Canterbury, the Donnager. Holden was terrified of going anywhere, for fear that it would be blown up moments later.
— Leviathan Wakes, pg. 159
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