Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

It’s been a while since I’ve read a good space opera. Or maybe I never have, and Leviathan Wakes has simply opened my eyes to how wonderfully engaging a great book can be. I picked it up because I’d heard how great The Expanse TV series was. I read a few chapters, watched the first episode, then compared notes.

Yep, I was hooked. I bookmarked the link to the series and hunkered down to enjoy the rest of the book.

The story takes place a few hundred years in the future. Humanity has expanded beyond the confines of Earth to other places in the solar system such as Mars, Ceres, and Eros. People born in space, known as Belters, have their own culture, language, and physical traits altered by a lifetime in zero-g. This has created a rift between them, the haughty Earthers, and the technologically superior Martians, creating an inter-planetary hotbed of political and military turmoil.

Point-of-view switches religiously between two characters. Holden is an Earther ice miner among Belters, with few ambitions beyond avoiding responsibility and the next time he gets to sleep with his flavor of the week. Miller is a divorced Ceres cop who has “lost that loving feeling” for just about everything.

Miller (left) and Holden (right) from The Expanse

Things heat up when Holden’s ice mining ship (and girlfriend) are blown to smithereens while responding to an emergency transmission of a derelict ship by unknown bogies. What’s the rub? Their ship would have happily bypassed the distress call had Holden’s ever-present and mostly naïve conscience not got the better of him. Holden ignored orders and called it in, making their captain legally responsible for the distressed ship, and placing ultimate responsibility for the ship and crew’s destruction squarely on his shoulders. In another well-meaning but blundering move, Holden find evidence that Mars may be responsible for the attack, broadcasts the facts to the universe at large, and kicks off an even bigger conflict.

Meanwhile, poor downbeat Miller gets a case to investigate, kidnap, and retrieve some rich girl called Julie Mao. Disinterested at first, the case takes a few turns that make Miller scratch his head, engaging him in a way he hasn’t been engaged for a long time. The elusive Julie begins appearing to him as a hallucination, a figment of his imagination he clings to as if she were a real person, and driving him to find the people responsible for what Miller is increasingly convinced is foul play, even at the cost of his go-nowhere career.

Leviathan Wakes weaves these characters and plots together with mastery. While Holden’s self-righteousness and repeated bungling was annoying at times, Miller was a conflicted character of startling complexity. The war between apathy, doing the right thing, and the moral questionability of how he achieved his results were a hotbed of conflict between he and his ethical opposite Holden, whose righteous actions always seem to do more harm than good. The plot itself keeps you guessing, introducing twist after turn. It drew me in until the very last page, leaving me sad, satisfied, and curious about where the illustrious authors were going to take the universe they’d so skillfully crafted.

Like a good space opera, Leviathan Wakes gave just enough science and realism to keep me interested without inundating me with details, engaging me with the characters and plot for the entire journey. I’d recommend this book to anyone who appreciates well-painted characters, a believable universe, and a driving plot that will leave your jaw hanging.