Review: “Leviathan Wakes,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

For some reason I just up and decided to read James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (Book One of The Expanse) even though my TBR stack is sky-high already. I’m so glad I did.

Julie Mao, of the ship Scopuli, was captured along with her shipmates by some sort of invader. When everything falls silent she escapes the locker she was thrown into and looks for her crew. What she finds is inexplicable and horrific–they’ve been transformed into something else. When XO Jim Holden comes with his ship the Canterbury in response to Scopuli’s distress signal, they find it’s a trap. While Jim and several other crew members check out the Scopuli, stealthed ships blow up the Canterbury. Preliminary evidence would make it seem that the Martian Congressional Republic Navy is to blame–but why? As tensions in the solar system escalate–between Earth, Mars, the Belt, and the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance)–Holden and his crew find themselves manipulated from side to side. Meanwhile, Detective Miller, a cop on Ceres station (part of the Belt) is tasked with looking for Julie, the missing girl whose parents are wealthy and influential. As conditions on the station deteriorate, he becomes obsessed with finding her. Could she be the key to finding out what’s going on?

There’s a strong element of body horror that makes itself apparent at the beginning. It then vanishes for so long that I was beginning to think it wouldn’t come back, but rest assured that it does. It turns the story into an excellent dark blend of sci-fi and horror that’s right up my alley.

The solar system is in a precarious balance, and it makes a great setting for tensions to blow sky-high. Mars and Earth are at an uneasy sort of truce. The Belt relies on others for necessities like water, so it doesn’t like to make enemies, but many Belters do see “Inners” (people from the inner worlds) as outsiders at best, enemies at worst. The OPA isn’t helping matters any, and there are various corporations sticking their noses in where they don’t belong. There’s also organized crime on Ceres station, and Miller has noted that various low-level members have gone missing lately without a trace.

The characters are wonderful. Okay, so the image of the grizzled old cop who drinks too much is old, but Miller is rescued by his obsession with Julie, which becomes more important to him than alcohol ever could be. He starts imagining her speaking to him after he’s looked through all of her belongings and files, even to a point of hallucination at one or more points. Jim Holden is great–he’s naive and idealistic, which means he doesn’t really belong in the time he’s in. Every time he finds something that he thinks shouldn’t remain a secret, he blasts it out to the universe and nearly every time triggers unintended violence. He also thinks he’s falling in love with his chief engineer, Naomi, but she’s watched him fall in and out of love with so many other people that she’s skeptical. It does become difficult to keep track of all of the characters given the scope of this book, however.

I love things like: when a couple of people suffer radiation poisoning, while it’s true that they have very advanced means for treating it, it’s still a slow, agonizing process with permanent damage caused and pills they have to take for the rest of their lives. Too often in sci-fi the treatment comes after agonizing damage, yet somehow miraculously heals all. Also, Holden’s ideal that all knowledge should be transparently available is tested deeply and in a variety of circumstances.

This is a long, complex novel with a lot going on, and it’s absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend it.

Content note: body horror, bigotry, murder, gore, suicidal ideation, mass murder.

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