Book Review: Caliban's War

Book Review: Caliban's War

No, I still have not watched The Expanse TV show. But as promised, I picked up Caliban's War pretty quickly after reading (and greatly enjoying) Leviathan Wakes, and I have to say - it was a much better read.

Caliban's War picks up some time after the events of Leviathan Wakes. The protomolecule is ensconced on Venus, doing Lord knows what. The Rocinante has been hunting down pirates. But all that changes when Ganymede, breadbasket of the Outer Planets, is attacked. The OPA sends Holden and his crew to investigate, and they're soon swept up in the search for a missing girl, which will lead them straight into a brewing war between a rogue Earth military faction and, well, pretty much everyone else.

If I had to give a reason for why I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor...well, tell you what. I'll give you two.

1. The new characters add much-needed depth and diversity. With the addition of Bobbie Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala, we've got a 50/50 split on gender (yay!). Honestly though, Avasarala's POVs are my favorite of the book. As an elderly Indian grandmother, she's the kind of character you rarely see in SF/F and yet she's so compelling. It's utterly fascinating to watch her manipulate the political sphere, pulling strings and bluffing her way around in contrast to Holden's (and even Bobbie's) shoot first, questions later approach.

And Praxidike Meng provides a heart to the story that was missing from the first book. Miller's search for Julie Mao bordered on creepy most of the time, but in Prax we get the pure love of a man whose daughter is missing and who'll do anything to get her back. Prax's search drives the book, and honestly, he has the most character growth (with the possible exception of Bobbie). Of all the characters, he's the farthest from his comfort zone, and he's so easy to cheer for as he recovers from his depression and takes on tasks he never dreamed of (like helping the Rocinante crew get a protomolecule hybrid off the ship).

Even Bobbie provides a change of pace - she's our first truly Martian character, and her trope-y space marine adds another, more military dimension to the story. We empathize easily with the loss of her troops to the Ganymede attack and her fish-out-of-water feelings on Earth. She's especially fun toward the end of the book, when Corey finally lets her loose on bad guys.

2. The pacing was much steadier throughout. Unlike Leviathan Wakes, we already know the world, so Corey can skip a lot of the worldbuilding and go straight to the plot. Caliban's War benefits massively from that freedom, and the plot structure is much tighter, moving from big action to big action in all of the plotlines (including Avasarala's, with her close watch on Venus). With Leviathan Wakes, I felt like the book didn't really hit its stride until the Eros incident; here, I was hooked from the Ganymede attack, and everything kept pulling me forward.

This isn't to say it's perfect by any means. The plot retreads a lot of the same points as the first book around missing girls and weaponizing the protomolecule and the nefarious company Protogen, simply adding more direct confrontation and a slightly lower body count (hey - I said slightly). The actual protomolecule itself does very little until the end, which basically makes the book feel in places like it's twiddling its thumbs before the main entree arrives. 

Likewise, Holden hasn't gotten any less annoying, and I don't really have a good reason to care about him and Naomi staying together (honestly, I like everyone on the Roci better than Holden). So the thread about their relationship being damaged by Miller's influence on him fell a bit flat for me. (That point loss is made up for by the deepening of Amos' backstory though - ye gods!)

But you know what? This one had the "wow" factor that I was missing in Leviathan Wakes. I had a much stronger emotional anchor to the story via Prax and I can forgive the retreading of plot elements when the plot is better balanced overall. I definitely recommend this one, and I'm excited to pick up Abaddon's Gate.

Grade: 4.5/5

Memorable Quote:

Won’t Admiral Nguyen see through all this?” Errinwright asked. He was in a hotel room somewhere on the other side of the planet. It was night behind him, and his dress shirt was unbuttoned at the top.

”Let him,” Avasarala said. “What’s he going to do? Go crying to his mama that I took his toys away? If he can’t play with the big kids, he shouldn’t be a fucking admiral.
— Caliban's War, pg. 129
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