Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review - Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes – S A Corey

As a rule I am not a big Sci-fi fan. I adore Star Wars but that has more of a fantasy feel to it than most mediums set in space. I always find that the technological babble and science speak gets in the way of the characters and the story.

There are exceptions. I liked “Ender’s Game,” “Retribution Falls” is great and so is “Seahorse in the Sky,” but the classics such as “Hyperion” I found merely okay.

When S A Corey burst on the scene with a highly applauded series that was not regarded as “hard sci-fi” and focussed on characters more than anything else, I was intrigued. Especially as one half of the duo of authors is Daniel Abraham whose work I am a fan of (the other is Ty Franck).

The Blurb:

Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Leviathan Wakes immediately sucked me in. Its opening chapter is terrific and the story instantly accessible. S A Corey have a way of explaining how equipment works without baffling the reader. There are no info dumps and everything is introduced organically and not to the detriment of the narrative.

The story focuses on two protagonists: Jim Holden and Detective Miller. Each chapter alternates between the two points of view which works well by the end of the novel but struggles initially. The reason for this is that Jim Holden is far more likeable of the two.
He is suddenly thrust into a position of authority and responsibility and struggles to find his way. The reader is able to empathise with his situation and root for him. It also helps that he primarily deals with the same crew for much of the first part of the novel. Returning to his chapters are like returning to an old friend.

Holden also possesses a strong moral code. He does not believe in killing unnecessarily and is still somewhat of an idealist. Despite this, he is also heavily flawed. His uncompromising views mean that occasionally he unwittingly makes rash decisions with catastrophic consequences. Throughout though he remains retains a certain charm. His crew adore him and demonstrate this through their unwavering faith in his decisions.

Speaking of Holden’s crew they are all very likeable as well. Naomi is perhaps the most realised of them but Amos also provides comic relief. The only character that slightly suffers from anonymity is perhaps Alex.

Miller’s world on the other hand, is a little chaotic. The scope is vast (literally the whole of space) and as he continues to investigate the disappearance of a young girl he interacts with a range of people. It is through Miller that S A Corey introduces a lot of their worldbuilding. Unfortunately this is a little clunky in places and despite liking Miller I always found my interest levels peak when I returned to the familiar Holden.

Miller is quite a dark character. Divorced and cynical he very much believes in doing what needs to be done. This too is an uncompromising outlook and quite often he clashes with Holden which makes for great reading.

Miller has two partners Havelock and Muss who disappear from the story just as the reader is starting to get to know them.  It is a shame as both were potentially good characters.
The contrast between the Holden and Miller is one of the best things about the novel. As one character grows, the other slowly descends. It is a fascinating study on human nature as both characters are inherently good.

The plot is great. The mystery is slowly unravelled and for a large part of the novel it is never clear whether the secret everyone is trying to keep is alien or man-made. It is also not clear who is on whose side which adds to the intrigue.

The action sequences are well handled with just enough detail provided to grasp what is going on, without leaving the mechanics open to any real challenge.

The ending is excellent. Most of the plot is wrapped up nicely but it is clear that this is the start of a longer series. If I am honest I would have preferred a slightly different ending in some respects. One of the characters seemed to be heading for a perfect resolution until events changed. This is only a minor point however.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first novel in the Expanse series. It is not often that I am eager to read the next book in a sci-fi series but this is definitely the exception.

My rating 8.5