Review of Leviathan Wakes – Book 1 of The Expanse by James A. Cory

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I’ll be honest – although I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, I did approach it with some scepticism. All too often, I’ve picked up a recommended space opera that is supposed to be character-led, with plenty of action and a sharp, well-rounded world, only to find that it isn’t. Because writing a really good space opera takes a lot of skill. Although I did have some hope about this particular offering – James A. Cory is the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who wrote this together. And Leviathan Wakes was also shortlisted for both the Hugo and Locus Awards last year.

Humanity has colonised the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. Jim Holden is an officer on an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for. War is brewing in the system, unless Jim can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopulleviathani and rebel sympathiser Holden, he realises that this girl may hold the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are againstem. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

This whole tale – that spans the Solar system – is told through Holden and Miller’s viewpoints. Both characters are complex and convincing, with dislikeable traits as well as their evident strengths that get them through the repeated danger they find themselves running towards. There are also solid reasons why they are busy putting themselves in harm’s way, which I liked. I do get a tad fed up when the plucky heroes keep muscling their way to the danger zone, as everyone else is busy fleeing. During the book, the characters go through a variety of adventures which completely yank them out of their previous lives and take them on a journey that changes their viewpoint about most things. Miller, in particular, is extremely poignant near the end.

The world is detailed, layered with awkward corners and believable factions that are busy blaming each other for the unfolding terror unfurling in their midst. And all this comes to us filtered through the protagonists’ viewpoint – this isn’t a book where the author sees fit to jump out of the characters’ heads and serve up chunks of omniscient point of view. The result is that the narrative tension doesn’t ever let up. The storyline powers this long book from beginning to end – all 561 pages of it. So I was locked into the plot for every single page and would have happily gone on reading another 500…

That doesn’t happen very often. Though I’m a sucker for a really tight, well-written space opera, they aren’t all that thick on the ground. Certainly not one with the readability, tight plotting and strong characterisation that Leviathan Wakes offers. I’m going to give myself a late Easter present and buy the next instalment – Caliban’s War – stories of this quality don’t come along every day of the week.
10/10

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