Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey

(2012-09-25)

Book Two of The Expanse        
http://www.the-expanse.com     
Published by Orbit Books         
ISBN13: 978-0-316-12906-0       
Review copy courtesy of the publisher    

Although the war in the solar system came to something of a conclusion in Leviathan Wakes, tension and potential for greater conflict still exists.  The events spinning out of James Holden’s actions on Eros are not without their repercussions.  The MacGuffin of these books – the protomolecule – is now on Venus and being observed by the governments/military of both Mars and Earth while an Event on Ganymede similar to the vomit-zombies from the previous novel occurs. It is different enough to throw further speculation about the protomolecule’s nature and the group responsible for the Ganymede outbreak into rampant speculation.

On Ganymede, which provides a great deal of agriculture for the solar system, a botanist named Prax tries to track down his daughter after the outbreak and resultant conflict on the moon between Earth and Martian forces. After trying without luck to find her, he connects with Holden and his crew and hires them.  Meanwhile, Martian Marine Roberta “Bobbi” Draper, the lone survivor of the skirmish on Ganymede, finds herself suffering PTSD during interviews with the government who are trying to find the root cause of the skirmish and outbreadk. During these ‘interviews’ Bobbi comes to the attention of Chrisjen Avasarala, a cunning, vicious politician who seeks to bring peace to the solar system.  So we have our rotating cast of POV characters in place – Bobbi, Holden, Prax, and Avasarala.  What I ultimately appreciated most in this novel was how Corey (Abraham and Franck) brought these characters together as the novel progressed.  Sort of like how you might like to see friends from one social circle meet friends of another social circle and ultimately, get a long with each other.  While there was some friction between the four characters – their strong-minded individuals so it is to be expected – Corey played it out nearly perfectly.

The plot itself is fairly familiar, ship on the run trying to find a missing girl, same macguffin from previous novel, interplanetary politics.  But so what, the novel is a lot of fun and perhaps more fun than it’s predecessor because we can see more of the characters both new and old.  With familiar situations established, Corey can delve further into the interpersonal relationships of the crew of the Rocinate, and more importantly, give us new strong characters to follow.  While Prax is an interesting character, the ladies really shine in Caliban’s War. Bobbi is a complex character - a large, imposing woman whose thoughts and actions come across very naturally and realistic.  Conversely, the ascerbic Avasarala provides some snarky humor throughout. Her uncompromising attitude is balanced by her interactions with her family. There’s also a good deal of political weaving especially through her character as she interacts with people very high up in the solar system’s hierarchy including a particularly grin-inducing scene with one individual at the novel’s conclusion. I hope to see much more of her in this series as it progresses.

The crew of the Rocinate is very much a family with Holden at the head and Naomi, his lover and friend, working out their emotional issues against the backdrop of the hunt for Prax’s daughter and a potentially impending war in the solar system. 

Caliban’s Hour successfully builds on the groundwork laid out in Caliban’s Hour, even if some of the story beats remain the same.  The pacing chugged along at a great clip, I thought the character development was excellent, and the potential for future volumes in this series – which could at this point easily be subtitled The Adventures of Holden and Crew – provides me with great hope for future reading.  So does the ending, but any more would be spoilers.  Franck and Abraham are building a very memorable and engaging series in The Expanse, one that will hopefully last for quite a few more books/installments.

 

Highly recommended

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

 

An afterthought (that I’m sure has crossed the minds of many) – Joss Whedon should just hand over the keys to Abraham/Franck and allow them to tell stores in the Firefly universe. The folks running Dark Horse should be on the call, too, since they are publishing the stories in that universe in comic book form and Mr. Abraham has experience writing in that media.

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