I was not expecting to like Leviathan Wakes as much as I did. I picked it up because I liked The Expanse on Scy-Fy and needed to know what happened next, but I picked it up thinking it’d be a slog through overly detailed hard sci-fi and I wasn’t really looking forward to the slog. But it is an extremely enjoyable read and I found myself fully immersed and engaged in the world that James S.A. Corey has created.
If you watched The Expanse, then you know the basic plotline, though the show only covers the first half of the book. However, the basic show follows the basic plot details pretty closely. We follow two characters with alternating POV chapters (the show adds a third character, who I think is probably in the second book). Detective Miller on an asteroid colony and Jim Holden who is the XO of a water freighter. Holden’s ship gets blown up while he and a small crew are off investigating a mysterious distress signal. He then starts a war between Mars and The Belt (a group of colonies on the asteroid belt) by accusing the Martian Navy of blowing his water hauler up. Miller is investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao and discovering that her disappearance may have a lot more to do with this war then anyone thinks. And then it’s just space opera goodness.
Like most sci-fi, Leviathan Wakes is full of political commentary. There is of course a commentary on war and what causes it. And there is a strong theme that money and power create evil. But more interesting to me is the questions the book explores about racial tensions. Mars, Earth, and The Belters all have very strong prejudices against each other and it’s played out in interesting ways throughout the novel. I think it’s an interesting way to look at racial problems in a society where race isn’t as much of an issue.
I love the character of Holden, he’s the self-righteous good guy who just always does the right thing. Except that the book also shows that while sometimes your intentions are good, you can start a war if you’re not careful. Or escalate a war. The book clearly respects him and his strong moral center, but it also acknowledges that sometimes you need people who maybe aren’t quite so moral. And then it says, but sometimes you do.
I have quibbles. There aren’t a lot of female characters, which is why I really like that Scy-Fy added Shohreh Aghdashloo’s character, the story needed another female badly. There are two (maybe?) main female characters and then maybe and additional three or four tertiary female characters. That’s really not a lot of female characters in a story like this. And I have to say there are maybe only two female characters because Julie Mao, while a very important character, mostly exist in Miller’s head for the extent of the novel. She’s not so much a person as she is an idea of a person, and when you don’t really have a lot of female characters in your novel that’s not really that great. That said, I think it works in this novel. Abraham and Frank (the writing pair who make up James S.A. Corey) do a small trick at the end of the novel, and it makes the fact that Julie isn’t really a person kind of work. It’s not great, because it’s still a limited amount of female characters, but I’m ok with it.
The other female character, Naomi, is awesome. I just wish there were more main characters who were also female. For example, Abraham didn’t need to be a guy did he? Or Amos? Or Frank? Or any number of other primary or secondary characters? It’s a weakness in the book, because while I get the idea that females are equal to males in this society I don’t fully see that in action. In other words, I can see the prejudices of today influencing how Abraham and Frank display their vision of the future, even if that future is an egalitarian society.
Even with that quibble, I absolutely recommend it. It’s not a five star book as I’m not sure it goes onto the re-read shelf, but it’s highly entertaining and very fun to read. I definitely place it on the higher end of the four star spectrum.