As some of you may recall I read Leviathan Wakes, the first installment in The Expanse series, a few months back. While not exactly blown away, I did see some potential in the series and decided to give the next book a chance just to see how the story would develop. Minor spoilers for Leviathan Wakes can probably be inferred from the paragraphs that follow, but everything is largely spoiler free.
Caliban’s War takes places several months after the end of the previous book. The action this time centers around Ganymede, a major food source for the Belt colonies and one of the last remaining joint operations between Earth and Mars following a fragile truce established at the end of Leviathan Wakes. This uneasy peace is soon shattered when an alien creature appears on the moon and wipes out a contingent each of Earth and Martian marines. As the feuding governments attempt to sort through the confusion, signs of an even larger conspiracy emerge, as do increasingly volatile reactions from the alien protomolecule gestating on surface of Venus. The story this time unfolds from the point of view of four characters, with familiar face James Holden accompanied by newcomers Praxidike Meng, a botanist from Ganymede, Sargent Roberta “Bobbie” Draper, a member of the Martian Marine Corps, and Chrisjen Avasarala, a high-ranking official in the Earth’s government.
While I was somewhat lukewarm in my feelings about the first novel, I found this installment a bit more to my liking despite still having some reservations. Story-wise, I thought this book was pretty good. Entertaining and action packed throughout, the book hit its stride early on and kept it pretty much throughout with the exception of two minor snags. The first of these snags was one conflict near the end getting resolved just a little too easily and the other was a tendency in the middle to use repetitive word choices per chapter only to have them just as quickly disappear. Overall though, while this might not have been the most thought provoking of novels, the story was fun and the series is beginning to get more complex as the intrigues expand the universe gets filled in as more key players begin to emerge. It seems to be on the verge of making the jump from a made for film or TV action/adventure series into something just a little bit more.
As for the characters, I found them somewhat of a mixed bag. Expanding the cast to include more point of view perspectives was definitely a good move that made for a much better read. In particular I liked Avasarala, a tough as nails Indian grandmother who also happened to be one of the most powerful and competent people in the solar system. Her character simultaneously added much needed senses of levity, diversity, and control, not to mention some fantastic one-liners. Combined with Srgt. Draper, it was nice to see a pair of good female characters considering Naomi’s treatment in the first book (she fared a bit better this time around). We also got to know the rest of Holden’s crewmates a bit better, most notably Amos, whom I also really liked. I wish we got into the heads of these people a bit more, but I did get the sense that this will be happening soon, something that bodes well for future installments.
Speaking of Holden, there’s just something about him I don’t react well to; he’s like a combination of Dudley Do-Right and Captain Kirk-lite that I can’t help but think of as a bro. Also frustrating is that the author had a tendency to diminish other characters when they’re around Holden to make him seem more impressive rather than write him up to their level; I just didn’t buy everyone around him so easily falling in line as a subordinate or suddenly morph from capable professionals to bungling underlings. I did like him a bit better in this novel than I did the previous, but he may be the reason I drop the series. Following the Game of Thrones analogy used to market the first book, I worry that I’m in the situation of being intrigued by the Song of Fire and Ice series but not being so sure about that Jon Snow fellow. Since James S.A. Corey doesn’t seem to have the same bloodlust for killing off main characters as George R.R. Martin, this may not end well for me.
These reservations aside, the series was intriguing enough to bring me back (again) for at least one more book. This installment ended on a pretty big cliffhanger that I’d like to see resolved and now that there are a few characters I’m starting to care about I don’t mind throwing the next installment, Abaddon’s Gate, into my library wait-list. If I stop reading there, I’ll let you know; otherwise I’ll do an update later on in the series. With six novels currently out in print and three more planned, I’d like to post about other books as well.