Book Review – Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

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Leviathan Wakes is a space opera published by Orbit Books that follows the split narrative of Jim Holden, an idealistic captain, and Joe Miller, a detective whose best days are behind him. In the future humanity has spread throughout the solar system, branching off into different cliques. Earth is still home but their navy is old and sluggish. The people of Mars have poured money into making the red planet a new Earth and have the shiniest and sleekest ships in the solar system. The Belt are all the other inner planets, where they have to import oxygen and water and these places have become the slums of the system. A search for a missing girl ties both Holden and Miller into a plot that could have lasting effects for all of humanity, and as tensions rise between the three factions they have to try and find out what’s going on. 

First of all I want to mention that James S.A. Corey is actually a pseudonym for two writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which is revealed in the ‘about the author section’. I’m not sure why they used a pen name when the secret isn’t hidden. It seems unnecessary to me, unless people are less likely to buy a book that has two authors’ names on it? It just struck me as odd. 

I love space and and sci-fi and I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast page-turner with an interesting plot and both of the main characters had strong personalities, and their opposing viewpoints and opinions of things made for some interesting contrasts. Holden always tries to do the right thing and believes in truth, while Miller knows that there’s a time and a place for that, and his cynicism provides a counterpoint to Holden’s naivete. Although Leviathan Wakes is a space opera it borrows liberally from other genres. Miller’s story feels like a noir detective story, and there are elements of horror as well. At times this can feel derivative but I really like mashing-up genres so I liked how they meshed together. The supporting cast are good too, especially the rest of Holden’s crew as the dynamic between them provided a lot of laughs. One thing I love about this book is that the characters all come off as real people and most importantly they make mistakes and bad decisions, and these decisions have consequences. 

The story is very fast-paced and driven, so there’s not much time spent on the history of the world. The cultures are dabbled in and we get a good picture of the situation, but it’s a very broad view. I don’t mind this as sometimes worldbuilding can make a story very bloated, and I think we get enough so that we understand the situation between humans without being bogged down in minutiae. But you should be warned that this is very soft sci-fi. The science is here to serve the plot and it’s aim isn’t to give a realistic extrapolation of humanity’s journey to the stars. I don’t mind this, but some might, so just keep that in mind.

There were plenty of twists and turns to keep me interested and it’s very much an ‘action blockbuster’ kind of book. It’s the first of a trilogy called The Expanse, and I believe there are other books set in the universe as well. It’s also going to be made into a television show for Syfy, and I think it’s well-suited for that medium, and if that’s a success you can be sure you’ll be hearing more about these books. 

Overall I found Leviathan Wakes very enjoyable. While sometimes it is derivative I liked the characters and story kept me interested. The fact that it lacks hard science may dissuade some sci-fi fanatics but it’s an exciting, fast-paced story and I’ll definitely be getting the next book. It’s not the type of space opera that makes too many comments about the human condition and our place in the universe, but it is a lot of fun. 

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