I’ve been wanting to read a space opera for a long time but I never new quite where to start. When everybody started raving about author-duo Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham’s Expanse series and how accessible it was, my first space opera was chosen. It turned out to be fun but didn’t get to me on a deeper level.
by James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit, 2011
Paperback: 561 pages
Series: The Expanse #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence: The Scopuli had been taken eight days ago, and Julie Mao was finally ready to be shot.
Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach. Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of 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 – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he 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 Scopuli” and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be 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 against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
As a Space Opera newbie, I have always understood the expression to mean a story that is pretty much universal and could take place anywhere but happens to be set in space, with space ships instead of cars or planes or boats, with interplanetary travel instead of just intercity travel, etc. Well, this is pretty much true for Leviathan Wakes. At its heart is a mystery story, wrapped in conspiracies, padded with lots of action. It would have worked just as well set on Earth – but let’s face it, inserting a space ship makes most things instantly cooler.
The story is told alternately out of Holden and Miller’s perspective. I liked Holden immediately but over time, his constant righteousness, his naiveté and sometimes downright too-goodness got on my nerves a bit. I still like him but surprisingly, Miller – who is a lot less easy to identify with – grew on me over the course of the novel. Miller is this dark, brooding cop on Ceres station, a Belter to the bone, and dealing with personal demons galore. He may also be a little bit out of his mind but I thought his character offered nice layers of complexity. Figuring out what really made him tick was at least as much fun as unraveling the conspiracy.
Through our two protagonists’ eyes, we get to see quite a bit of the solar system that humanity has populated. In addition to Earth, Mars is populated, as well as the Belt, and to me that was the most interesting part. Terraformed Mars? Fine, show me the entirely new culture of Belters. People who are born in such an environment are automatically different from Earthers. Because of the difference in gravity, Belters usually grow extremely tall and (to our Earther eyes) very skinny. They also have their own slang, whic to me read like a mix of bad English, Spanish, and the occasional German mixed in. It gives the place a lot of character though and I had fun walking around Ceres station with Miller.
Holden lost a bit of sympathy over time but in general, I love the dynamic between him and his crew. It’s amazing that most of them never get to say very much (Alex) but still feel like proper characters. Maybe my brain also just inserted Firefly characters into the blanks… which reminds me. This book has been compared to Firefly and I honestly don’t see why. It is a fun and engaging story with space ships and battles and a big, evil conspiracy, but I just don’t see the parallels. Seriously people. Let it go. We’re all mourning the Serenity but not every crew on a space ship that banters back and forth is automatically our favorite of crews.
Plotwise, I thought it was solid. I never got close enough to the characters or stories to feel that pull. On the other hand, I looked forward to picking the book up again. This is one of those books that I enjoyed while reading but it didn’t make me want to read the next instalment right away. Maybe this year, maybe next, I’m in no hurry. But whenever I feel like an easy-to-read yet sprawling space opera again, I’ll pick up Caliban’s Hour. Overall, I liked Leviathan Wakes, but it offered only a few things that were new to me. Then again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an action-packed detective story in space. Recommended for a fun and surprisingly quick read.
THE GOOD: Miller is a great character, there is almost non-stop action and an intersting mystery.
THE BAD: I would have enjoyed more politics, more world-building and character depth.
THE VERDICT: 500 pages full of fun, action, and a lovable crew – plus Miller’s own particular brand of crazy. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s a thorougly enjoyable read – like Annalee Newitz said on io9: “A Hollywood blockbuster in book form.”
RATING: 7/10 – Very good.
The Expanse Series:
- Leviathan Wakes
- Caliban’s War
- Abaddon’s Gate
- The Butcher of Anderson Station
- Gods of Risk
7 thoughts on “Review: James S. A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes”
Glad you enjoyed it even if it didn’t connect with you on a deeper level. I just started this a few days ago after reading the three shorter works they wrote that fit within the same universe. I’m enjoying it so far and suspect I will continue to do so. This is the kind of stuff I grew up reading so I generally make a connection with it on that level.
Not sure if the characters would be any better from a connection standpoint but I would recommend Alastair Reynold’s Chasm City to add to your list. I’ve also read really good things about Chris Woodrings’ trilogy (the first is Retribution Falls) but I have yet to read them. I’ve heard those compared to Firefly but not LW.
By the way, I’m doing a giveaway for the 3 short Expanse stories (one in an actual anthology…so you get the whole anthology) on my site. Deadline to get in on it is the end of the day if you are interested.
Thanks for the recommendations. Alastair Reynolds’ “Revelation Space” is sitting on my TBR pile and I’ve actually read Chris Wooding’s “Retribution Falls” – also a lot of fun and in that case, the Firefly comparison is more understandable.
I’ll head over to your blog right now and enter (aaaand, I’m already back). That anthology has been on my radar anyways. Thanks for the tip!
Happy to see you enter.
I have the Revelation Space books but haven’t read them. Chasm City was my first experience with Reynolds and it is one of my favorite novels in general.
I didn’t care much for this one throughout, but I still kind of what to know what happens in the next book. One space opera I recently really enjoyed is The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. It comes out in a few weeks and I thought it was amazing.
I got an e-ARC of the Karen Lord book – but that book and I have a weird relationship. While reading, I really enjoyed it. It was fresh and confusing and mysterious. But when I put it aside, I didn’t feel like picking it up again. Which is why I still haven’t finished it (and now my e-ARC is expired). I’ll just get myself a paper copy and try again. Maybe it was just my mood. I hear nothing but good things about Karen Lord.
I’m very curious about reading Lord’s novel. I’ve read great praise from authors/editors I admire and yet have read some well reasoned reviews on Amazon that give it fair to middling marks. Gotta try it.