Leviathian Wakes — James S.A. Corey (The Expanse series #1)

Leviathan Wakes was my first step into ‘modern’ science-fiction. The last science-fiction that I actually read from start to finish was Neuromancer by William Gibson and although I enjoyed the book, it’s of a genre of science-fiction that doesn’t really fit in today’s market. I have tried several other books since but I either got lost after three pages of futuristic science explaining how a spaceship works, or simply didn’t get gripped by the story or narrative.

Leviathan Wakes, however, gripped me from the get-go. The prologue had me hooked from the second it started. I knew after reading those few pages, that I wouldn’t be able to put this book down. Had I picked it up in a bookshop and read the first few pages, I would have had to take it home with me.

The rest of the book didn’t disappoint, and despite one section of the book I struggled through, Leviathan Wakes was one of those reads I found very hard to put down. It may not have been the brand of science-fiction that I expect to like (far-flung galaxies, alien civilisations, anything that featured in the TV show Babylon 5…), but it did more than not disappoint–it impressed me.

The story revolves around two main characters, Jim Holden and Detective Miller, with chapters alternating in between the two. At first, I thought that the set-up might become tedious and take away from some of the tension, but Corey jumps from one perspective to the other effortlessly, flawlessly, and without ever losing the pace of the story.

Jim Holden begins the story as the XO of the Canterbury, a water-hauler that travels from the rings of Saturn out to the Belt to bring water to its inhabitants. On their way, they stumble upon an abandoned ship, the Scopuli, with a breached hull and no signs of life. When Holden is sent to investigate by the captain, with a handful of the Canterbury crew as back-up, he has no idea he is about to start the largest inter-galactic conflict that there has ever been, watch his ship be reduced to dust, and become the captain of his crew. Straightforward, sometimes rash, and a little naïve and idealistic every so often, Holden is a really likeable character, with flaws aplenty but more than enough charisma to make up for them. For anyone who has ever watched Babylon 5, he is very much so a Sheridan-like character, which earns him some of the coolest moments in the entire book.

Detective Miller is an aging, divorced detective on the Belter station of Ceres. Disillusioned with his life, he pours all of his energy in his job, although his soul isn’t in it as much as it used to be. So when he is handed a job to find the runaway daughter of some rich family from the central planets, Miller can only be half bothered with it all. But when he starts investigating Julie Mao, the Lunar rich girl who gave up everything she had to join the OPA and side with the Belters, he gets pulled into something bigger than he had ever expected. Miller is the cynic of the book, cold and detached from a lot of what is happening around him, kept together only by the Julie Mao he half-dreams, half-hallucinates and who acts as his mental crutch. Miller’s narrative is worlds away from Holden’s, and serves to demonstrate how different the two men are, without ever having to try too hard.

At times apart, at times together, Holden, Miller, and the crew of the Rocinante (Holden’s salvaged Martian high-tech ship) have to unravel the whys and behind the war in between Mars and the Belt before Earth gets involved, and more importantly, before an alien threat, long-forgotten until some scientists laid their hands on it, fulfils its mission to destroy Earth.

I won’t give any spoilers, the story is way too good for that. I was kept guessing, hoping, wondering, and trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together throughout most of the book. But the plot, despite its brilliance, wasn’t to me what made Leviathan Wakes into such an amazing book.

The characters were.

Never in my life as a reader have I come across such realistic characters. Holden, Miller, Naomi, Amos, Alex, and the rest of the characters we bump into are not simply characters written for a purpose, with a back-story only half-relevant. They are people with flaws and qualities and a thousand emotions that don’t always agree with each other. In the chaos of war and death that surrounds them, their humanity shines through, stands out, and makes them all the more likeable.

For the most part Leviathan Wakes maintains a good pace, although it sagged a bit in the middle. I almost thought that that entire bit would warrant the book get a four-star review, not a five-star one. But then the pace picked up again, the characters went back to being themselves and I was swept away in the action once more.

I couldn’t have chosen better for my first endeavour in science-fiction than this book. It has set the bar very high for whatever I chose to read next, and will certainly be hard to beat. Despite so many elements that I would class as ‘not my thing’, Leviathan Wakes did more than just work, it was a splendid read. The only reason I haven’t jumped into the sequel—Caliban’s War—just yet, is because it was also a hard book, and I definitely felt like I need a breath of fresh air after it.

To anyone who loves science-fiction, or to anyone who wants to dip a toe in the genre, go grab Leviathan Wakes if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.

5/5

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One thought on “Leviathian Wakes — James S.A. Corey (The Expanse series #1)

  1. I loved Leviathan Wakes, and I completely agree that while the plot and the science and the tech and action were cool, it was the characters that turned this from a ho-hum space opera in a phenomenal scifi epic. the sequel is out, and there are few novellas floating around online as well. Space opera this good doesn’t come around very often!

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