Review: Leviathans Wake by James S.A Corey

‘There were two sides fighting—that was true enough—but they weren’t the inner planets versus the Belters. They were the people who thought it was a good idea to kill people who looked or acted differently against the people who didn’t.’

***Trigger warnings for body horror, gore, blood loss, gun violence, alcoholism and genocide.***

I recently realised when looking at my shelves that a lot of the science fiction I read tends to be standalone, trilogies or companion series. The Expanse series (both books and show) has been on my radar for a long time so thought it was time to read it and I have one question. Why did none of you warn me how anxious I would be for these characters?!

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

I’m someone who falls in love with characters very easily. Not so much as an attraction type way but more that I’ll be doing laundry and wondering are they okay. I’m still worrying about this bunch and it’s been weeks now! What I love though is this book is equal parts plot and character focused with a world that is brutal just because space is like that and there’s very little can be done about it.

Each chapter alternates between Holden and Miller, eventually having both stories converge together. All the while these stories are happening in tandem, we’re confronted with two drastically different two points from these men. Miller, a down on his luck detective reminiscent of many is clearly a man who will do everything that is absolutely necessary. Contracted to a private security firm on Ceres Station, he has seen and done many things in the name of maintaining the peace. Sacrificing his mental health, his marriage and his own morality. Noone put’s better than himself when he says;

‘For thirty years, Miller had worked security. Violence and death were familiar companions to him. Men. Women. Animals. Kids. Once he held a woman’s hand while she bled to death.’

pg 123

The book presents us with this as straight up facts as if being told what he had for lunch. Something he focuses on all through the story is the figure of a woman he sees guiding him, starting off as his ex wife Candace. Shaking her head in the corner at his missteps. Soon enough he replaces this specter with Julie Mao, the girl he is tasked with finding. I have seen this in so many detective stories and it doesn’t go unnoticed in the book, how Miller’s grip on reality might be a little unstable but he definitely works to paint a portrait of a more flawed man looking for redemption.

Then we have Jim Holden and his crew. These were the main focus of my anxiety reading this book since I was willing to donate my own holiday leave for them to cut a break. Naomi, Amos, Shed and Alex all look up to Jim and value his leadership. Jim also wants the best for his crew, but he’s no exemplary figure either. His obsessive focus on the woman he is currently with is pointed out on many an occasion, by his longtime colleague Naomi and his love Ade. He also makes rash decisions based on sudden events, granted his anger is warranted but his delivery of a distress signal he sends out causing political mayhem between Earth, the Belt, Mars and others doesn’t even register with him.

I loved when these two finally met and it really did well to guide what became the smaller moments of the plot. The story itself this book is telling is huge in scale. It also jumps between many things from being a detective story to a political thriller, all while being a space opera with a constant question of what right does humanity have when it goes out to explore space. It has a lot going on and it really delivers on the epic nature of the story. But how it really impresses me, is how it keeps coming back to the smaller story and the threads connecting these two and their experiences. We’re being showed two men having to make difficult decisions, but we the readers are left to decide who was right and it’s something I like seeing come back to modern science fiction.

I have mild critiques, mostly of how the characterisation of both our main characters can be a little too steeped in their respective tropes but I am still really impressed with the world building that is done on a lesser scale but works for a big story. Holden for example, belongs to an Earth family that’s not quite your standard nuclear one. in his own words;

With five fathers and three mothers, the sleeping arrangements were always complex at his house, but the discussions about who was bedding with whom were never hidden from him. It left him with a strong aversion to hiding his own activities.

I like that both the authors chose to add this in, it makes sense how family structures would differ in a world in where humans are living in space. There’s also the mention of how physiology differs for ‘Belters’ since they don’t grow up in stable gravity like Holden, a man raised on Earth. They are taller, have slightly longer limbs. They have different values and appreciation for things we would take for granted like water and oxygen supply. Even used as a comment to call out how we would take it for granted. I did enjoy the smaller attentions to detail for the rest of the larger series.

Overall, this was extremely impressive. Especially as a start to a longer science fiction series. I loved the higher stakes, the characters and the story overall. I do know it comes to an end later this year so that is one reason I decided to pick it up and also I realised all the long series I read are fantasy so this will be a nice companion to those. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★/5

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