Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in an ongoing series of books called The Expanse, also a television show of the same name airing on the SyFy network. In my never-ending search for new reading material, these novels seemed to keep popping up wherever I looked. They earned some pretty high praise as well, having been likened to Game of Thrones “IN SPAAAACE” (emphasis mine) across numerous media outlets and even having the endorsement of George R. R. Martin himself. Sounded promising.
In this universe, humans have expanded to colonize the planets of the solar system, with the main power centers being Earth, Mars, and a series of loosely organized mining colonies scattered throughout the Asteroid Belt. Earth and Mars, the respective economic and technological hubs of humanity, are prosperous rivals while the Belt colonies exist more on the periphery, looked upon with derision by many within the two greater powers. As a result, there is a growing desire for greater autonomy in the colonies, a sentiment encouraged by the Outer Planets Alliance, a fledgling pseudo-governmental organization with a significant portion of its members not above resorting to terrorist tactics to advance their goals. Leviathan Wakes follows the adventures of two main point of view characters; James Holden and Joe Miller. Holden is the Executive Office aboard an ice freighter responding to a distress signal from a stricken vessel, only to end up in trouble himself after falling into an ambush. On the run and in possession of some troubling information, Holden and his crew find allies in unexpected places as they race to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. Miller, meanwhile, is a detective for a private security firm aboard Ceres Station, one of the Belt’s major population centers. When given a side job to locate a young woman from a prominent Earth family who has run away to the Belt, he inexplicably finds himself engrossed in the case and unable to let it go even as events develop to push him off of it. As the paths of Holden and Miller converge, they gradually uncover a conspiracy that could not only lead to war between Mars and the Belt, but also unleash a deadly pathogen on all of humanity.
I had some mixed feelings about this novel. The first half of the book was a fairly enjoyable, though not exceptional, space opera adventure mixed with a cop/detective drama that didn’t quite seem to pan out. The characters, with the possible exception of Miller, I found to be fairly typical stock personalities and not especially memorable. One instance where this particularly bothered me was the relationship between Holden and his second in command, a woman named Naomi Nagata. I liked her just fine, but (MINOR SPOILER!) I felt that making her a love interest/girlfriend detracted from the character’s potential. Other than providing a good laugh when the crew found out about them, it really added nothing to the story and felt a bit unnecessary and out of place given everything else that was going on. Also, while I found the point of view chapters a great way to explore the characters, later on when Miller and Holden are in the same place I found the transitions between chapters a bit jarring. Jumping back and forth in perspective every few pages between two people seeing the same thing and having a conversation with each other felt choppy and interrupted the flow of the story for me.
That said, the book did have a few things going for it. The action was well done, with hand-to-hand and ship-to-ship fighting sequences exciting and easy to follow. The political and societal tensions between the different groups of humans, which I had expected to be the main draw of this story, were indeed interesting though a bit underdeveloped. There were the beginnings of what could be an intriguing and complex universe here, provided it gets developed into something a bit more unique and substantive as the series progresses. I am curious to see where the story goes, but the sequel really needs to impress me if I am going to continue on from there.