FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, 55 chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series and will have at least two sequels: Caliban’s War and Dandelion Sky.
ANALYSIS: When it comes to reviewing science fiction, I’m hardly qualified considering how little of the genre I read, but even I can recognize great science fiction when I see it, and Leviathan Wakes definitely fits the bill.
Written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes is a space opera novel set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system and are on the verge of launching their first generation ship. It’s a future that immediately feels authentic because of the numerous details and believable concepts — Belters with their altered physiques and different worldviews, Inner/Outer planet prejudice, the effects of gravity on spaceships and space stations at different g-force — used by the authors to flesh out the setting. At the same time, Daniel and Ty do an excellent job of making sure the reader isn’t overwhelmed with too much information. So not only is there a sense of realism with the book’s futuristic setting, but it’s also easy to grasp.
As far as characters go, Leviathan Wakes features two main protagonists in James Holden and Detective Miller. Holden is the Executive Officer of an ice hauler, who eventually becomes the captain of the Rocinante, and is defined by his uncompromising moral fiber, a strong sense of loyalty to his crew, and his naiveté towards women and relationships. Miller on the other hand, is a washed up/world-weary detective for Star Helix security, who becomes too close to a case and is willing to do whatever it takes to see things through to the end. Miller is basically the polar opposite of Holden, so even though they are fighting for the same cause, an interesting dynamic arises between the two protagonists, especially regarding morality. Differences aside, both Holden and Miller are deeply compelling characters because of their fully developed personalities — Miller speaks to an imaginary Julie Mao, for example — human flaws, and sympathetic dilemmas. At least for me, I found it impossible not to root for the protagonists’ survival and success in matters like solving the Julie Mao case, Holden hooking up with Naomi, and Miller finding absolution. The supporting cast (Naomi, Alex, Amos, Fred Johnson, Julie Mao) meanwhile, is a bit underdeveloped, at least compared to Holden & Miller, but they work well as complements to the main characters.
Story-wise, Leviathan Wakes alternates between the narratives of James Holden and Detective Miller. Holden’s narrative involves broadcast information that sparks a war between Mars and the Belt and forces the XO and his crew on the run, while Miller’s narrative is heavily influenced by noir with the detective trying to figure out how Julie Mao, the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), the sudden decline of organized crime on Ceres Station and the Mars/Belt conflict are all connected. With the disintegrating racial tensions between Earthers and Belters added to the mix, Miller’s narrative felt a lot like reading a Richard K. Morgan novel. Once the two narratives converge on Eros and events start escalating, however, the action really heats up with the book’s climactic moments on Tycho Station and Eros bringing to mind Neal Asher and Peter F. Hamilton, while the novel’s horror elements involving the protomolecule eerily recalled Ridley Scott’s Alien and the Dead Space video games. Through it all — including moments both epic and intimate, exciting and thought-provoking — Leviathan Wakes is an incredibly well-crafted story highlighted by smart plotting, unexpected surprises, skillful pacing and a rewarding feeling of satisfaction once the book is concluded.
Overall, Leviathan Wakes is an amazing book. In fact, there is not a single negative thing I can say about the novel, which delivers in all phases including setting, characterization, story, pacing, prose, and pure entertainment. Simply put, Leviathan Wakes is the best novel I’ve read in 2011 — so far — and maybe the best thing Daniel Abraham has ever written, while introducing a remarkable new talent in Ty Franck. My only concern is whether the sequel will be able to live up to the lofty standards set in Leviathan Wakes, but I’m confident that Daniel and Ty will give it their best shot and I look forward to seeing the results of their efforts in Caliban’s War.