In Retro Review: Leviathan Wakes

A pulpy story with some good action, culminating in cosmic chaos.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)

Published by Orbit, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group, June 2011. Oversized paperback of 582 pages at $17.00

NOTE: I read this because it’s the basis for the upcoming SyFy Channel series The Expanse that premieres on December 14, 2015. This is the first book in the trilogy of the same name.

The cover: Designed by Kirk Benshoff and illustrated by Daniel Dociu, this illustration shows a massive ship skimming past two large asteroids. There a few ships this could be from the novel, but there’s nothing specific about which one it is. This is an okay image and it reminds me of the covers of several science fiction novels of the late 1960s and early 1970s that features outstanding, exotic ships in space. However, I wanted a more specific image from the story for the cover. It’s good, but blase. Overall grade: B-

The premise: From the back cover, “Humanity has colonized the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond — but the stars are still out of reach. Jim Holden is the 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.” I like science fiction stories that start with a small incident and then blow up into situations that suck in every person and race. I’m also a big fan of mysteries, so having one part of this book involve a missing girl sounds intriguing. This premise is enough to peak my interest, but this book could be bloated because of its size. Overall grade: B

The characters: There are two protagonists for this novel, Jim Holden and Detective Miller, and the chapters alternate between each’s point of view like clockwork. Holden is loyal to his crew and will always do what he believes to be right, regardless of what it will do to him. He’s very much a man who wants everything to be made public, letting the public figure out for themselves what’s to be done with that knowledge. This often gets him into trouble, but he is always taking the moral high ground. His relationship with his crew is very predictable after about the first third of the book, but he was enjoyable. Detective Miller is very much the classic tired-of-his-job cop, echoing the tone of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. He’ll let something go if no one is really hurt, but he’ll follow a case all the way to its bloody end. I had thought that he would be a predictable character, but he changes the most as the book goes on. He was very entertaining. Holden’s crew is made up of the typical characters one would expect, with none really standing out on their own. There’s no one antagonist to this novel, because as it progresses other wrongdoers are exposed, until it seems that the entire galaxy is against them. I was extremely worried at a group that’s revealed in the casino, but they quickly became a different sort of threat, alleviating my fears on the book’s direction. Miller is the strongest character in the book, with the others being stock types that work well for the story. Overall grade: B     

The settings: Mankind has no warp drive, so there is no venturing beyond the solar system, though it’s discussed. The settings are Tycho Station, deep space, a space station, and several other locations that lead the characters to discover the truth. Corey did an excellent job in moving the story around several different locations, with each being vividly described and believable. This was a strong element of this novel. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s a lot of start and stop for this novel, with things improving when the protagonists finally join up. The battles between ships were more thrilling than the hand to hand combat that occurs. The final quarter of the novel had me on the edge of my seat as Corey changes the threat seemingly every other chapter — that was riveting stuff! Overall grade: B+ 

The conclusion: A solid conclusion with the impending threat ended, though the fallout from it could provide countless sequels. Overall grade: A

The final line: If this is what the television series will be like, I’ll be watching every episode. A pulpy story with some good action, culminating in cosmic chaos. Overall grade: B+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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