Book One of The Expanse
Published by Orbit Books
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
The solar system is populated by the expanding civilization of man, Mars is terraformed and “Belters” those humans who navigate the spaceways, form an underclass of sorts. A space ship has been destroyed and another space station is being quarantined, for lack of a better term and the daughter of a rich and powerful family has gone missing. Thus sets the stage for James S.A. Corey’s explosive Leviathan Wakes, a superb space opera that has just about everything a reader of space-based science fiction could want, hell a reader of entertaining literature could want.
The driving characters in this novel are police detective Miller, and a ship’s captain Holden. Miller is working the case of the aforementioned missing young woman, which of course turns out to be more than simply a missing person’s case. Holden’s ship hauls ice across the solar system and when his ship, the Canterbury, is attacked, rash decisions lead to a potential galactic war between Earth, Mars, and the Belters. Holden’s actions lead he and his crew to cross paths with Miller as the far ranging conspiracy behind the missing girl and the attack on the Canterbury prove to have much in common.
Corey (who everybody reading this review probably knows is the shared pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) pens and unabashed, fun, rollicking read in Leviathan Wakes. The influences seem to be unabashedly all over the map in this novel, everything from Firefly to the manga Planetes to recent characters from Green Lantern (the Red Lanterns, specifically). In addition to the SF influences / homages, Leviathan Wakes often feels like a noir/myster, with Detective Miller straddling that grey line in order to get to the heart of the mystery with which he becomes increasingly obsessed in ways that play with his mind. Miller could easily be part of a 30s detective film and conversely, Corey makes him fit in with this story just as well.
Holden’s crew is very much a family and from my most recent reads, I was reminded of the crew of the Ketty Jay from Chris Wooding’s terrific Retribution Falls. I mentioned in my review of that book, the parallels I found with Firefly. The landscape in Leviathan Wakes, though confined ‘only’ to our solar system plays off both epic and personal, space after all is large, but the sense that all the characters have a comfortable level of knowledge of the solar system much like seasoned business travelers would have a good working knowledge of the United States. Part of what makes the solar system so believable is how the problems of big business seemingly controlling things from behind the scenes and the clash of societies mirrors today’s world, just on a larger canvas.
Much like Abraham did in The Dragon’s Path, the narrative is told through a cycling of third-person POV characters, though here we only see the aforementioned Miller and Holden. Again, this style of storytelling makes sense considering Abraham is something of a protégé of George R.R. Martin and Franck is GRRM’s assistant, and this is by no means a negative thing. Martin does this better than any writer, so why not adopt a style that proved effective, unless you can’t pull it off. Fortunately for readers, this one specifically, Corey pulled it off very well.
Leviathan Wakes is one of the best opening volumes to an SF series in recent memory, one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read in 2011 and a novel that only has me hungry for more in the series. This is a Space Opera I want to see more of on the shelves.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford
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